20 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2022

Date Written: February 11, 2022


Universality has occupied a consistently central but also historically contingent role in conceptions, operations and mobilizations of international law over time. It has taken on a variety of characters as a matter of doctrine, ideology and historical materiality. Universalism has served in international law as a wellspring for both dominant ideologies and modes of resistance: it has underwritten colonial oppression, but has also been adopted for successful resistance to colonialism; and it has reappeared both in imperialist and counter-hegemonic projects in post-colonial legal relations today. Universalism can be doctrinally described as an underlying principle, or abstract tenet, classically related in international law to ends of harmony, equality or autonomy. Understood in terms of dominant ideologies, however, universalism at once obscures and legitimizes the particular interests that drive the operation of international law. This has the effect of naturalizing the interests of the few that are made to apply globally. But universalism can also be comprehended in still more quotidian ways. This essay focuses on an ideological meeting point of universalism between doctrine and daily practice. That meeting point has been a site associated with empire, but it might arguably still be reclaimed and repurposed as a site in support of a different sort of political solidarity under law.

Keywords: universal, particular, ideology, empire, everyday, contestation

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Gordon, Geoffrey, Universalism (February 11, 2022). T.M.C. Asser Institute for International & European Law, Asser Research Paper 2022-04, in: d’Aspremont, J. & Singh, S. (eds.), Concepts for International Law, Cheltenham (UK): Edward Elgar Publishing (2019), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4032775

Geoffrey Gordon (Contact Author)

T.M.C. Asser Instituut ( email )

P.O. Box 30461
2500 GL The Hague, 2517JN

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics