Bob Jacobson on "Rule Sets" and Law

Bob Jacobson on "Rule Sets" and Law

Bob Jacobson, a partner in New Rule Sets Project, LLC (the consulting firm started by Tom Barnett) and the Managing Editor of “Rule Set Reset,” a journal that expands on the ideas of The Pentagon’s New Map, has written reacting to my post comparing and contrasting the idea of “rule sets” to the lawyer’s conception of international law. Bob writes that the post

…reminded me of an assertion by a former grad school chum, an aspiring writer, now a managing partner at one of the nation’s largest law firms: “Lawyers see all phenomena through the lens of the law, so they can only detect and deal with issues visible in the legal spectrum.” I’m not asserting that, but he did. In other words, to paraphrase my friend, we need to see law in the context of everything else…

In the competition between rule sets and laws, I believe that laws reign supreme because they got there first, not necessarily because they’re the best human method for dealing with natural and human phenomena. One of my discoveries as a policy analyst in the California legislature was how many important issues the law could not or chose not to deal with, or dealt with only partially (and usually inappropriately) — this, despite the publication of some 7,000 new bills each two-year session. Effective politics and the law are only loosely joined.

It’s no surprise to me that the broad sweep of Tom’s universe of rule sets is not always congruent with the law. It’s bigger than the law. The problem is that we haven’t invented alternative social tools equal to the task of dealing with phenomena in their totality, either individually or relationally. Instead, we’re left with the old standards-war, diplomacy, a volatile market/globalization, and the law-to solve closing the Gap…

The law is a collection of rule sets-but the law per se, as a category, is also a rule set. It works best under certain circumstances, less well under others. We may be reaching the limits of law as we know it.

I agree with Bob that the international law consists of a sub-set within the broadest conception of all possible rule sets. What I think is especially interesting though, is how non-lawyers approach the ideas of rules in general and how this may affect perceptions of international law. My main point is that international law is a bit different than other “non-law” rules sets because it includes the idea of individual right or entitlement and thus is not as easy to consider in a primarily instrumentalist manner.

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