Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Are human rights groups like having "the one-legged kid at school" being your grade school soccer team star?

The infamous Glenn Reynolds (aka InstaPundit) has struck again. Is he InstaIgnorance (as Brian Leiter insists) or does he have a point? Here's a shortened version of a reaction to Reynolds' Fox News article on international law and whether international law is being harmed by obtuse rhetoric or is an all purpose tool of Anti-Americanism in 2002. Sadly, my correspondent wishes to remain anonymous. So for our purposes, we will call him Anonyman. To save space, some messages are combined.

The Fox piece] is half-baked ignorance.

Well...he's not an international law guy...and honestly, don't you think he just articulated what a LOT of people are thinking but not saying?

As a constitutional lawyer he should appreciate that law should not follow the whim of the most powerful, that it's a restraint of power etc. I admit that Amnesty and Mary Robinson (most boring woman i've ever seen) are annoying, and diverting, and it's like having the one-legged kid at school being your football squad star, but it's a pretty big leap from 'international law may be weakened because it's got an image crisis becasue of advocates who don't know what they're talking about', to 'international law is a body of rules that serve the interests of civilized nations, and you're trying to turn it into an all-purpose tool of anti-Americanism'. Point one: international law is not there to 'serve the interests of civilized nations'. (Civilized nations, are you joking!? That's colonial talk, which international law jettisoned half a century ago!
The ICJ statute referral to general principles recognised by civilised nations is a curiosity of its time, and longer effective.)

I see your point, but I think that your tirade is aimed at the uninteresting portion of the piece. Civilized nations, uncivilized nations...I agree with you. But I think the interesting (and as of yet unaddressed point) is this: "the overuse of international-law rhetoric may be damaging international law itself." Since international law is, by nature, a bit amorphous, when organizations and nations speak on international law and say doltish things, they can't help but weaken the body of law itself. As far as it being a tool of anti-Americanism, I agree only in the sense that it is natural and observed historically over and over, that those that benefit most from international law (and its principles) use it most (a la the U.S. in the late 18th century and early 19th century), while those constrained by it use it least.

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