Rabkin is suspicious of the motives that lurk behind arguments for transnational law and critical of the efficacy of existing international institutions. More important, he claims that submission to international legal standards and to the organizations that are supposed to supervise their implementation directly undermines normative commitments to self-government that are foundational to the liberal-democratic tradition, especially as understood in the United States.
There is much to like about this book. Its author clearly cares deeply about the values he perceives to be under attack by advocates of global governance.
Law Without Nations? Why Constitutional Government Requires Sovereign States
The book is wide ranging and combines an impressive familiarity with the development of Western political and legal thought and detailed knowledge of contemporary history. Law Without Nations can be separated into three general parts. The first part sets the stage by posing the debate over transnational law against the backdrop of current tensions between continental European governments and the United States over the conduct of U.
Rabkin traces the historical development of the concepts of sovereignty and international law, focusing on the works of Bodin, Grotius, Vettel, Rousseau, Hume, and Kant, as well as on the debates surrounding the American Founding. For Rabkin, this tradition places primary emphasis on the connections between sovereignty and constitutionalism.
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According to Rabkin, in this tradition, international law plays only a limited role. It is understood as a body of norms that regulate the interactions of sovereign states, but leave each state to regulate its own internal affairs. Rabkin then turns to the development of U. His attack on the latter vision rests on two central arguments.
First, advocates of universal, transnational law have typically ignored practical concerns about enforcement of the norms they advocate. As a consequence, Rabkin argues, much of what passes for international law lacks a fundamental characteristic of law: The second, more fundamental objection Rabkin raises to notions of global governance is that he sees such efforts as fundamentally in tension with a commitment to the ideal of democratic, constitutionally constrained self-government.
Central to this ideal, which Rabkin identifies with John Locke, is the role of legislative authority in creating binding law. In the seventh and eighth chapters, Rabkinfinally makes this volume well worth reading. He proves his worth here for there arefew students of the world of NGOs, Europeanunelected bureaucrats, and internationalhuman rights conventions that are notsimultaneously true believers. Rabkin is notand is at his cynical P. O'Rourkian best indescribing this world.
He writes, in particular,of the various U. Thus, he fails to appreciate thedifficulties of his contemptuously writing ofcontemporary internationalists that "rightstalk escaped from the confines of settledconstitutional orders, first into the neverlandof international conferences, then on to thereal world of deadly conflict.
But happily, his penetratingfocus here is not early-modern history butthe strange world of human rights advocatesthat took shape in in the U. As important and powerful as the seventhchapter is, the eighth is still more so asRabkin outlines how "European experiencesuggests this obvious lesson: Talk about humanrights may not lead very far but arrangementsto regulate trade can end upreaching very far indeed.
Law Without Nations?: Why Constitutional Government Requires Sovereign States by Jeremy A. Rabkin
What demands attention, asRabkin makes so very clear, is this body'spower to consolidate trade laws along withother "accepted" international law, and itswillingness to accept amicus briefs. The otherwisereadily ignored hortatory and moralizinginternational conventions on humanrights, thus soon may be able to gain legalstanding by being incorporated into enforceabletrade agreements. In short, Rabkinwarns that "the Appellate Body might evolveinto an international counterpart of the EuropeanCourt of Justice" in which it couldaddress both the economic concerns of countries,as well, as the interests of NGO advocacygroups trying to force changes in laborlaws, or social and environmental practices inanother country or, just as likely, in theirown.
Considering the four ambitious goals ofthis book, on balance one must conclude thatit will dissatisfy the professional and scholarlyreading public neoconservative academicsmay be the exception. His intellectual historyof the early modern era fails to incorporatemany of the most important figures andentirely misses the most significant contemporaryinheritance from that period, thediffering views of internationalism developedby Grotius and Vattel. His remarks onthe development of American political institutionsand constitutional structures are appropriateonly for those without an understandingof the complex interplay of Britishconstitutionalism and Reform Protestantismin the social, political, and economic spheresin early-national America.
His critically importanteffort to link, in a necessary fashion,state sovereignty and liberal rights, is moresuccessful than the previous two goals butstill, in the end, falls short. And in Rabkin'sbringing to light the nature of the ambitionsharbored by adherents of various internationalorganizations, surely almost all internationalistacademics and practitioners willfind little of value.
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It is, however, concerning this last subjectwhere Rabkin makes an enormously importantcontribution. Unlike his unsatisfactoryexploration of the other matters, his notesand broad reading in the field suggest that hehas mastered it and can serve, Beatrice-like,as a guide to his readers through this bizarreworld of shadows. Here, freed from hisotherwise burdensome and blind devotion tothings American, national, and liberal, heoffers fair warning to his readers of thedangers of the International Criminal Court ICC and even more presciently, I fear,those of the WTO. In doing so, he draws afrightening analogy between the s "commerceclause" jurisprudence of the UnitedStates Supreme Court and the contemporaryaspirations of the WTO court.
His remarkshere are powerful and should be read byevery man or woman who shares with Rabkinhis suspicions of projects that promise salutaryworld government through universalschemes. The link that Rabkin makes clear betweenthe s Supreme Court and the emergingnew jurisprudence is that they share a certainTrojan Horse quality: In short, what Rabkin leads his reader tounderstand is that with the Supreme Courtcurrently unwilling to advance progressivecauses and with little immediate hope fornational political success, international organizationshave come to provide an alternativeand undemocratic conduit for Americanprogressives to achieve their domestic politicalobjectives.
This book, then, with a more sustainedfocus on what Rabkin understands so well,contemporary international law and organizations,and far less attention paid to inadequatelydeveloped or researched themes inearly-modern intellectual history or Americanconstitutional development, could havebeen a truly great and most timely work thatwould have provided readers with a muchneeded corrective to the dangerously optimisticreveries of most students and advocatesof international organizations. Thisbook is, often, that book. Too bad, in tryingto do far too much, it isn't consistently thatbook.