Historical Perspectives on the New Haven School

by Jose Minan

Seeking to examine historical perspectives on the New Haven School, the first panel of the Young Scholars Conference was a dialogue between two generations of international law scholars. In his opening remarks, moderator Michael Reisman cautioned scholars against consigning to history the set of tools employed in the New Haven School, finding a continued utility and intellectual value in their use. Indeed, both presenters on the panel, Chris Borgen and Paul Berman, relied upon and responded to theories developed by the New Haven School in their own papers.

In Whose Public, Whose Order?: Imperium, Region and Normative Friction, Chris Borgen examines one particular aspect of the New Haven School, the notion of diverse systems of public order, and discusses its relationship to the post-9/11 world, where there exists a systemic normative friction between legal systems. While most scholarship during the Cold War focused on the bipolarity of the international arena, the contemporary environment remains one dominated by a diversity of public orders. With each system possessing different concerns and motivations, Borgen noted that the techniques of the New Haven School must adapt to the current multipolar context, and the possible conflicts that arise from the pursuit of a universal conception of the good.

Paul Berman, in his work A Pluralist Approach to International Law, expands upon ideas of the original New Haven School by examining them through the lens of Robert Cover’s work on legal pluralism. Recognizing the involvement of multiple actors in the creation of state interests, Cover’s work provides an additional and beneficial perspective for international law scholars in understanding multiple actors and sources of causation. Berman was careful to note that this perspective is not, in fact, in opposition to the original New Haven School, but rather reinforces the notion that nation-states are simply one type of actor in today’s global arena.

Discussants Sarah Cleveland, Siegfried Wiessner, and Andrew Willard offered differing perspectives on the theories proposed by the papers. While Willard found the two papers to be very closely integrated and very compatible with the New Haven School, Cleveland described them as “two ships passing in the night” which, though about the New Haven School, were examining completely separate issues within the School. Wiessner noted that a basic premise of the New Haven School, namely that law serves human beings and maximizes human life, remains true across any type of system or historical era. Willard remarked that the value of the tools created by the New Haven School becomes even more obvious in a multi-polar world because the NHS does not privilege any particular actor over another; it merely examines who are the most important actors in a given context. As Professor Lung-chu Chen observed from the audience, the flexibility of the New Haven School with its contextual, problem-oriented focus, ensures its continued utility even in the contemporary environment.


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