Are Liberal Internationalists Still Liberal?
Giorgetti and Verdirame (eds.), Whither The West? Debates on Concepts of International Law in Europe and The United States, Cambridge University Pressi, 2021, (Forthcoming)
21 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2020
Date Written: March 22, 2020
Contrary to a widespread perception, the world order created by the UN Charter was not premised on the rejection of sovereignty. It was fundamentally, and in some ways more purposefully than before, souverainiste – not in the sense that it admitted of no higher authority than the sovereign state, for such extreme souverainisme would have been not only inconsistent with the Charter, but also impossible to reconcile with any kind of international law. Rather, the idea underlying the Charter was one of state sovereignty constrained by international law and also deepened by a sense of purpose, namely the flourishing of human communities through the advancement of self-government and human rights. Sovereignty thus conceived was meant to provide support and legitimacy to the new world order. This understanding of sovereignty was not contradicted by the curtailment of certain aspects of state sovereignty under the Charter. Most crucially, sovereign states lost the legal power, if they ever had it, to wage aggressive war.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall, many predicted that international law would take a democratic turn, and complete the transformation that had begun with the UN Charter. There was probably no better moment for international law to fully embrace the democratic ideal, and the principle of self-determination would have been the obvious vehicle for this change. Yet, democracy does not seem to have made much progress as a principle of international law since 1989. Why did the 1989 promises of a democratic turn in international law fail to bear fruit?
The answer may lie in the transformation of liberal internationalism over the last decades. Liberal internationalism had been reshaped by two powerful forces: one ideological (supranationalism), and the other socio-economic (globalisation). Each of these forces stymied the democratic transformation of international law, and changed the concept of the liberal international order in the minds of liberal internationalists.
Keywords: International Law, Sovereignty, Self-determination, Liberalism
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