19 February 2019

LECTURE: Hersch Lauterpacht Memorial Lecture 2019 – Professor Tom Ginsburg on “Democracies and International Law” (Cambridge, 12/13/14 March 2019)

As the Hersch Lauterpacht Memorial Lecture 2019, Professor Tim Ginsburg (UChicago) is holding a three-part lecture on how democracies have behaved in international law.

A series of three lectures by Professor Tom Ginsburg, Leo Spitz Professor of International Law, Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Research Scholar, Professor of Political Science, The University of Chicago Law School.

All lectures are held at the Lauterpacht Centre at 6 pm on Tuesday 12 March, Wednesday 13 March and Thursday 14 March with a Q&A at 1 pm on Friday 15 March (sandwich lunch from 12.30 pm).

Lecture summary: Since at least the time of Immanuel Kant, scholars and diplomats have speculated that democracies act differently on the international plane, with consequences for both international and domestic governance.  The most recent manifestation of this view is the so-called “liberal” theory of international law, prominent in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which argued that democracies were especially likely to cooperate with each other in deep and meaningful ways. Because electoral cycles introduce some uncertainty in policy, placing some issues “beyond the state” would allow for more stability in policy. International law was thought to be especially attractive to new democracies, as domestic institutions were weak and not likely to be particularly credible.

Liberal theory had something of a teleological quality in terms of its predictions.  As the number of democracies expanded, and as their economies became more integrated, it was assumed that there would be further incentive for other states to join the club.  The view suggested that international law would contribute to the expansion of democracy itself, a view that was advanced by Thomas Franck’s famous argument about an international right to democratic governance.  When viewed from our current moment, these aspects of liberal theory appear naive.  Most notably, we have been facing, in the rich industrial democracies of the world, a rise in populism, which has taken as its primary target the international institutions associated with globalization.  Brussels and Luxembourg are the bogeymen in Europe; the International Monetary Fund and the The Inter American Court of Human Rights are the targets in Venezuela and La Paz.  The anti-globalist backlash is, very largely, a backlash against international law and the imposition of norms that originate from outside the territorial nation state, to be deployed by cosmopolitan elites at the expense of the decisional freedom of the single sovereign people. 

In these lectures, I conduct a comprehensive empirical examination of whether and how democracies actually do behave differently with regard to the core activities of international law.  Next I examine whether and how international legal institutions actually are supporting democracies in an era of backsliding, in accord with the predictions of liberal theory.  Finally, I speculate on the implications of the above for the future of international law, by looking at recent examples of authoritarian use of international agreements.

The Hersch Lauterpacht Memorial Lecture is an annual three-part lecture series given in Cambridge to commemorate the unique contribution to the development of international law of Sir Hersch Lauterpacht. These lectures are given annually by a person of eminence in the field of international law. 

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