America, Defender of Democratic Legitimacy?

Posted: 10 Oct 2000

See all articles by James C. Hathaway

James C. Hathaway

University of Michigan Law School; Melbourne Law School; University of Amsterdam


American exceptionalism - a belief that the United States has a unique mission to lead the world, but ought logically to be exempt from the rules it promotes - is at the root of much of the American academy's effort to rationalize the US government's increasing rejection of multilateralism as the cornerstone of modern public international law. Even American scholars who disagree fundamentally on the problems with multilateralism (Kenneth Anderson arguing that it favours anti-democratic intervention by unelected NGOs, Michael Reisman asserting that it privileges elitist state-based lawmaking in the face of more democratic non-state 'lawmaking' processes) can agree on the solution: more unilateralism by powerful states, particularly by the United States. In this critique, James Hathaway contends that the amorphous law-as-policy depictions of the problems with multilateralism disguise a determination to equate valid international law with the priorities of powerful states, and that the presumed solution of American unilateralism reflects a mistaken belief that the United States can be assumed always to operate on the basis of principle-derived autopilot.

Suggested Citation

Hathaway, James C., America, Defender of Democratic Legitimacy?. European Journal of International Law, Vol. 11, Issue 1, 2000. Available at SSRN:

James C. Hathaway (Contact Author)

University of Michigan Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States

Melbourne Law School ( email )

185 Pelham Street
Victoria, 3010

University of Amsterdam ( email )

Amsterdam, 1018 WB

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