Legitimation Through International Law and Legitimation of International Law

The formation of new international and supranational entities has led to an increasing juridification of international relations. The legitimation of these new structures of power often comes into conflict with established national orders. Their claim to precedence vis-à-vis the diplomatic or power political calculations of single states is accompanied by positive norm-setting processes which are legitimated with reference to international law. The project explores narratives of justification in international law and human rights discourses in relation to their concrete empirical applications. It thus brings into the research area important insights about the plurality of legal justifications in context.

In this project we investigated justificatory narratives that refer to international law. Today, these are generally marked by a confrontation between positive and natural law approaches. Their normatively binding character was analyzed the by a historical (history of ideas) perspective on the emergence of the modern discourse of international law. In addition, we analyzed recent discourses in post-revolutionary Egypt and Tunisia with a focus on how transnational standards of justice, such as human rights, are applied locally.

The historical reconstruction was prepared by a conference held in Frankfurt in 2014. Until fall 2015 participants developed their contributions further and addressed, in the light of the discussions at the conference, the nexus between state, law and legitimation in early modern international law. Following another round of discussions of the most important results at a workshop at Villa Vigoni (Italy), contributions were published by Oxford University Press in an edited collection entitled System, Order, and International Law: The Early History of International Legal Thought from Machiavelli to Hegel (2017).

Narratives about the formation of theories of international law are all too often projections from later epochs originating in specific traditions of reception. On the other hand, strictly contextualist approaches are difficult to follow through consistently. For interdisciplinary research, a reflexive, moderate anachronism seems recommendable which recognizes the historic contingency of all theory, but does not succumb to the temptation to expose all thought to the suspicion of (proto-)colonialism and eurocentrism. Rather, the potential of these theories for constructive (or constructivist) reception should be made visible. This makes possible a better exploration of the impact of their visions of global order which developed in a particular discursive domain (international legal thought) and are at the origin of contemporary approaches to legitimizing international law.

In addition to the historical investigations, fieldwork was conducted to investigate the role of international legal norms in transitional justice procedures designed to tackle the atrocities of authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia. It focused on the tensions between the domestic use of criminal law to punish perpetrators and external expectations regarding transitional justice. In Tunisia, a conception of transitional justice prevailed that often matched external expectations but neglected the demands of victims in crucial respects. By contrast, Egypt experienced a strong politicization of transitional justice that undermined the legitimacy of the few efforts that were undertaken in this direction.

The most important publications:

*Steffek, Jens and Leonie Holthaus: “The Social-democratic Roots of Global Governance: Welfare Internationalism from the 19th Century to the United Nations”, in: European Journal of International Relations, 2017, [online] https://doi.org/10.1177/1354066117703176 [28.04.2017].

*Kadelbach, Stefan/Thomas Kleinlein/David Roth-Isigkeit (eds.): System, Order, and International Law: The Early History of International Legal Thought, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Kadelbach, Stefan: “Konstitutionalisierung und Rechtspluralismus – Über die Konkurrenz zweier Ordnungsentwürfe“, in: J. Bung and A. Engländer (eds.): Souveränität, Transstaatlichkeit und Weltverfassung – Tagung der Internationalen Vereinigung für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie (IVR) im September 2014 in Passau, Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie, Beiheft 153, 2017, pp. 97–108.

*Steffek, Jens: “The Output Legitimacy of International Organizations and the Global Public Interest”, in: International Theory 7(2), 2015, pp. 263–293.

 

 

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