Legal Pluralism and War

18 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2024

See all articles by Rene Provost

Rene Provost

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: February 29, 2024


Wars are moments of social and political dislocation that uncover assumptions that routinely remain uninterrogated. The nature and function of law in society are questions both so complex and so pervasive that they most often fall into the category of unexamined facets of social life, relegated to the abstract musings of philosophers and legal theorists. Wars sometimes disrupt the normal patters of legalism to suddenly make more concrete and immediate such foundational questions. Thus, warzones are often thought of as lawless spaces, but in fact the problem is more often an overabundance of laws. Conflict situations in which several legal orders make competing claims are not extraordinary at all; arguably, it could be claimed that they are one of the defining legal features of war. The strange and tragic fate of Rainer Beck and Bruno Dörfer offers a striking illustration of the revealing disruption of law in war and the ways in which legal pluralism can help to structure thinking about the concept of law in such a context. Indeed, legal pluralism suggests that this and other examples of disrupted legality in conflict zones are best understood as the interaction and intersection of legal orders that must be mediated rather than resolved by claims of higher authority.

Keywords: war, legal pluralism, humanitarian law, prisoners of war, courts

Suggested Citation

Provost, René, Legal Pluralism and War (February 29, 2024). McGill SGI Research Papers in Business, Finance, Law and Society Research Paper No. 2024-06, Available at SSRN: or

René Provost (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec H3A 1W9

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