Anne Orford (ed). Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. 434pp. Hardback. £60.00/$110.00. ISBN: 9780521859493. E-Book format. $88.00. ISBN: 9780511247866.

Reviewed by Lee P. Ruddin (LL.B: Liverpool); (MRes: London) and (PgCert: Sheffield). Email: leetherudster [at]


The historiography of international law is incontrovertibly Eurocentric. Professor and student alike can testify to shelves of Western bookstores sagging under the weight of texts chronicling the system of sovereign equality set up in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Between the First and Second World Wars, however, the collapse of liberalism and the rise of ideological conflict escorted the retreat from Eurocentric claims to civilizational predominance. The emergence of a global international order emanating through the rubble of London, Paris and Berlin post-1945 occurred simultaneously with the collapse of the idea of an international civilization – the corollary of which is relativism.

More recently greater academic attention is being paid to the legal interaction between European and non-European peoples: the West and its “Other.” Such works present a Saidian-like legal revisionism of an axis of ‘isms’: imperial, colonial and race. Saying that, do not be confused about the book’s thesis. It does not principally explore the notion of an international civilization in nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century thinking on international relations and the state system, fascinating though this may be. Those readers wanting to engage with this idea fundamental to Victorian thinking about relations between Europe and the rest of the world ought to look elsewhere – to the likes of Anthony Anghie and Derek Gregory. However, all is not so doom and gloom, for Anghie contributes a twelve-page appetizer for those not already accustomed with his seminal work: IMPERIALISM, SOVEREIGNTY AND THE MAKING OF INTERNATIONAL LAW.

Between 11/9 (fall of the Soviet Union) and 9/11 (September 11, 2001, attacks) international law has been embraced by policymaker and populace alike (p.396). As a corollary, editor Anne Orford lays out the general thesis – not too mention the relevance for THE LAW AND POLITICS BOOK REVEIW – in the opening chapter: “A jurisprudence of the limit”: ‘By bringing together theorists working on . . . issues from the perspective of history, political theory, philosophy and international law, this book explores what the turn to international law might mean, and what the archive of international law offers as a way of understanding the stakes of this politics’ (p.3).

Similarly, six chapters in and David Kennedy scholarly pens the linkage between law and politics: ‘Political assertions come armed with little packets of legal legitimacy, just as legal assertions carry a small backpack of political corroboration’ (p.146). However, this was not always so. Hilary [*547] Charlesworth and David Kennedy confirm in the concluding chapter: “Afterword: and forward – there remains so much we do not know”: ‘For many years, it was conventional to think of international law as the ‘other’ of international ‘politics’’ (p.401).

Apart from big hitting ‘others’ (namely Eurocentrism and the periphery) other counter-images to international law were explored at the 1st Melbourne Legal Theory Workshop, in July 2004. The conferees discovered links and correlations between international law and domains that might have seemed legally prohibited, so to speak: theology, sacrifice, the market, erotics, fetish, redemption and, most alien of all, bodily flesh (p.404).

The four-hundred-pages-plus hardback is divided into four parts: “Sovereignty otherwise” (pp.33-127); “Human rights and other values” (pp.129-244); “The relation to the other” (pp.245-386); and “History’s other actors” (pp.387-408). Part I and her constituents confront the history of sovereignty. The members of Part II question the dilemma served up by human rights. The essayists in Part III explore international law and its civilizing mode. The chapters in Part IV question the (ir)relevance of international law(yers) in the unfolding war on terror.

A fellow Birkbeckian (Birkbeck, University of London), Costas Douzinas, opens the proceedings with a magisterial thirty-page perspective on sovereignty; traversing from “Bare sovereignty” to a theologico-political form of sovereignty. Aside we are introduced to relativism and nihilism. Four splendid recent works are worth highlighting for further reading (not cited): Douglas Murray’s NEOCONSERVATISM (2005); Melanie Phillip’s LONDONISTAN (2006); Michael Gove’s CELSIUS 7/7 (2006); and Mark Steyn’s AMERICA ALONE (2006). Of a similar disposition, Ian Duncanson kicks-off with a lively historical analysis of the sixteenth-century Anglophone relationship between sovereignty and imperium. Duncanson’s rewriting of English legal history – deriving from a close reading of post-Glorious Revolution material – offers lessons for today’s international lawyers. Those lawyers should likewise take note of Dan Danielson’s contribution relating to the separation of the political from the economic à porops corporate power; and thereby encouraging a challenge to the exclusivtiy of nation-state sovereignty. Connal Parsley’s chapter is a humbling one reminding the reader of political theology of modern sovereignty – in this case, Anglo-Australian.

David Kennedy’s twenty-five page article best catalogues the interchange between law and politics. After dispensing with what commitments humanitarianism eschews, he tackles the fundamental dichotmy faced by humanitarians – engaging the world without power politics. This is pragmatism personified (as is Florian F. Hoffmann’s later contribution) – reinforced with a list of suggestions (pp.152-155). Further still, Kennedy reasons that, ‘The universal vocabulary of human rights can seem to promise the existence of an ‘international community’ that is simply not available’ [*548] (p.134). Talking of which, let us reference another Harvard don, and the Massachusetts mass-producing mastermind, Niall Ferguson:

The old, post-1945 system of sovereign states, bound loosely together by an evolving system of international law, cannot easily deal with these threats because there are too many nation-states where the writ of the “international community” simply does not run. What is required is an agency capable to intervening in the affairs of such states to contain epidemics, depose tyrants, end local wars and eradicate terrorist organizations (Ferguson 2005, at p.24).

Nearing the end, Kennedy briefly discusses the Democratic Party (US) and – considering their favourite pastime of Bush-bashing – asks what they do would differently? Again, let us turn to Ferguson: ‘Wait a second. Here are two grim situations, each likely to spiral out of control. But in one (Sudan) Obama recommends military intervention, while in the other (Iraq) he recommends military withdrawal. Am I missing something?’ (Ferguson 2007). Ferguson is right on the mark here, for – what some see as the president-in-waiting – Obama is seemingly playing politics with humanitarianism.

Anne Orford’s chapter originally explores the relationship between trade (sacrificial) laws on the one hand and democracy (abandonment) on the other. In a forty-page treatise encompassing trade and human rights discourse, the University of Melbourne professor asks, must we sacrifice our democratic values in favour of market logic? Further still, what is the aptitude of human rights to proffer a secular response to the requirements of the market? On the downside one can get too bogged-down in the biblical-like analogies (between Christianity and international politics). This particular issue colonizes the subsequent chapter too, and Judith Grbich’s charting of messianism.

Liliana Obregón’s input is a particularly penetrating one concerning civilizational discourse. After tracing the French lineage of civilisation and European jingoism – the dichotomy civilization/barbarism becoming the definitive axis – we are introduced to ‘Creole legal consciousness’ (p.248). Obregón’s masterful piece – cataloguing Creole essayists – ‘allows us to depart from the homogenization of the region and period’ (p.263). Such fantasies of identity enveloped by civilization and barbarism acted as a midwife to the birth of international law in Latin America. The subsequent contribution is the lengthiest of them all, penned by Frédéric Mégret (comprising fifty-pages). The globalization of law is molding expectations that globalization can be harnessed for the greater good of mankind. Correspondingly, globalization is having ostensible exclusionary effects. This chapter – one case study of a work in progress – focuses on the exclusion of non-Western people during the 19th century from the protection of the laws of war. Mégret examines how this exclusion can facilitate an elucidation of the crisis of the laws of war in the context of the “war against terrorism.” In a similar vein to that of the preceding contributor, Obregón – and her cataloguing of academics of the day – Mégret’s analysis reminds one of Robert [*549] Irwin’s (2006) unrivalled text. When questioning the (non) applicability of the laws of war, diplomat Robert Cooper instantaneously springs to mind. The former Blair aide and author of the critically acclaimed pamphlet The Breaking of Nations penned a further controversial article entitled “The new liberal imperialism,” in which he states: ‘Among ourselves we keep the law but when we are operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle’ (Cooper 2002). From non-combatants to the female other, Diane Otto’s chapter will no doubt prove a welcoming read; for ‘Otto focuses on the designation of woman as other in the texts of international human rights law’ (p.25). This is followed by Juliet Roger’s naming of the mutilated woman as other too.

Despite the often maze-like biblical references and what at times reads like a eulogy to Algerian-born deconstructionist, Jacques Derrida, this ought to be an international lawyer’s vade mecum.

Anghie, Anthony. 2006. IMPERIALISM, SOVEREIGNTY AND THE MAKING OF INTERNATIONAL LAW. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.


Cooper, Robert. 2002. “The new liberal imperialism,” Guardian, April 7th.,,4388912-110490,00.html

Ferguson, Niall. 2007. “Sure, Barack, you didn’t vote for war in Iraq. That was the easy part.” Sunday Telegraph, 18th February.

Ferguson, Niall. 2005. “COLOSSUS: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE. London: Penguin.

Gove, Michael. 2006. CELSUIS 7/7: London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.


Murray, Douglas. 2005. NEOCONSERVATISM: WHY WE NEED IT. London: Social Affairs Unit.

Phillips, Melanie. 2006. LONDONISTAN: HOW BRITAIN IS CREATING A TERROR STATE WITHIN. London: Gibson Square Books.

Steyn, Mark. 2006. AMERICAN ALONE: THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT. Washington: Regnery Publishing Inc.

© Copyright 2007 by the author, Lee P. Ruddin.