Neil Walker, “Containing Global Politics: The Limits of Global Law” (Oct. 23, 2014)

Neil Walker (University of Edinburgh), “Containing Global Politics: The Limits of Global Law”
Thursday, October 23 @ 5:15pm, Room 5409

In recent years scholars, professionals, commentators, jurists and even some politicians have begun to craft and to recognise a new category of law – a ‘global law’ that sets no limits to its jurisdiction in terms of place or citizenship status. Universal human rights programmes, global administrative law, global constitutionalism, the new global law of conflicts, new developments in humanitarian law and the so-called Responsibility to Protect, the extension of the international law category of jus cogens, the revival of a Kantian vision of cosmopolitan law,  the development  of ‘world order ‘ legal treaties and projects for the protection of global public goods in areas like climate change, nuclear arms etc, to name but a few, all feed into this new legal movement. Yet while there is much that is progressive in  this, not least in its reflection of a new global awareness amongst jurists and lawyers long confined to a state-centred perspective, there are also dangers. First, global law does not speak to a single phenomenon, but to a range of trends, sometimes convergent but often divergent. Secondly, in their different ways these various trends stand in a difficult relationship to transnational or global political claims or movements. In  a nutshell, global law purports to ‘contain’ global politics, either by offering itself as a surrogate for politics and political decision on the global stage, or by providing a set of framing procedures for  how global politics should operate. Neither of these forms of ‘containing’ – neither the claim to replicate the substance of global politics nor to discipline its process  – can or should succeed on its own ambitious terms.  If  the new  global law to achieve a productive relationship  with transnational and global political movements  its ‘global’ ambition must be more modestly conceived.

Neil Walker is Regius Professor of Public Law at the University of Edinburgh and currently Visiting Professor at Yale University Law School. His new book, Intimations of Global Law, will be published by Cambridge University Press in December 2014.