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The Fate of Public International Law: Between Technique and Politics

30 Pages Posted: 8 Jan 2007  

Martti Koskenniemi

University of Helsinki - Faculty of Law


Public international law hovers between cosmopolitan ethos and technical specialization. Recently, it has differentiated into functional regimes such as 'trade law', 'human rights law', 'environmental law' and so on that seek to 'manage' global problems efficiently and empower new interests and forms of expertise. Neither of the principal legal responses to regime-formation - constitutionalism and pluralism - is adequate, however. The emergence of regimes resembles the rise of nation States in the late nineteenth century. But if nations are 'imagined communities', so are regimes. Reducing international law to a mechanism to advance functional objectives is vulnerable to the criticisms raised against thinking about it as an instrument for state policy: neither regimes nor states have a fixed nature or self-evident objectives. They are the stories we tell about them. The task for international lawyers is not to learn new managerial vocabularies but to use the language of international law to articulate the politics of critical universalism.

Suggested Citation

Koskenniemi, Martti, The Fate of Public International Law: Between Technique and Politics. Modern Law Review, Vol. 70, No. 1, pp. 1-30, January 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=955377 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2230.2006.00624.x

Martti Koskenniemi (Contact Author)

University of Helsinki - Faculty of Law ( email )

Porthania 5th Floor
P.O. Box 4
Helsinki, FIN-0001 4
+ 358 (0)9 1912 2469 (Phone)
+ 358 (0)9 1912 3076 (Fax)

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