Grotius’ ‘Rule of Law’ and the Human Sense of Justice: An Afterword to Martti Koskenniemi’s Foreword
European Journal of International Law (2020), Vol. 30 No. 4, 1105–1114
10 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2021
Date Written: April 1, 2020
Rereading Grotius in 2019 as a sequel to the 1990 and 2009 European Journal of International Law’s contributions on ‘the politics of international law’, at a time of staggering global inequality, Martti Koskenniemi asks what we can learn from Grotius about the ‘tendency [of humans] to subordinate themselves’ to law and, I may add, the limits of that tendency. While I agree with Koskenniemi that Grotius’ ‘rule-of-law’ conception may help us understand the current backlash against the international rule of law, I suggest an alternative reading of this conception that may assist us even more. Grotius’ understanding of humans and of the importance of corrective and distributive justice as components of the international rule of law helps us see the cry ‘take back control’ as ‘indignation’ about the (social) injustices and global inequality that international institutions (re)produce and as a cry for just international institutions. Koskenniemi’s Foreword rightly asks: what is ‘required of us’? I suggest that we should understand the current backlash as an institutional crisis as well as a crisis of selfhood. Reading Grotius may encourage us to include critical language of distributive justice in our ‘bricolage’ to address ‘legitimate popular grievance’ about the international rule of law and address the human desire for just institutions also at the international level.
Keywords: Grotius, International Law, Justice, Populist Backlash, Globalization
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