An Enlarged Sense of Possibility for International Law: Seeking Change by Doing History
Accepted paper, forthcoming in: Venzke, I. (ed.) ‘Situating Contingency in International Law’
Amsterdam Center for International Law No. 2020-05
19 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2020
Date Written: January 31, 2020
This chapter explores the so-called ‘Turn to History’ in international legal scholarship. Interest in the intellectual history or ‘history of ideas’ of international law has surged around the last turn of the century. Nijman contextualises this development and stages three possible approaches of why and how to study ideas and theories of the past. A central proposition is that the field of ‘History and Theory of international Law’ ultimately aims to establish a dialogue between international legal thought then and now. In this way (and by employment of e.g. the Cambridge School method) a critical distance emerges with respect to our own international legal thinking and its underlying political and moral ideas. The meaning of international law ideas changes through time and use – in the study thereof lies the critical potential and value for our own thinking. As such, ‘doing history’ comes with what Quentin Skinner calls ‘an enlarged sense of possibility’.
The chapter argues for a ‘doing history’ that liberates us from the hegemonic constraints that past thought and beliefs may place on our imagination. It builds on Roberto Mangabiera Unger’s image of ‘frozen politics’ and ‘false necessity’ to argue that change of our institutions is possible. In short, the chapter argues that doing history produces awareness of the contingency of received beliefs, values and institutions, and as such produces a sense of possibility – and arguably – responsibility. It suggests/recognises a capacity to reimagine and act. It is transformative and empowers to establish (institutional) change and get our (global) act together. An empowerment we desperately need. The chapter ends by alluding at the change sought: Unger and Ricoeur are brought together in a brief argument for the reinmagination of just institutions.
Keywords: History and theory of international law, international legal method, Roberto Mangabiera Unger, Paul Ricoeur, international institutions, social change
JEL Classification: K33
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation