A Final Thought on Mark Janis’ ‘America and the Law of Nations’
Having now finished America and the Law of Nations, let me add one more thought. I had originally been interested in this book principally for the period between the world wars; my work on the UN has given me a long interest in the collective action failures of the League, and attempts to judicialize aggression as a crime at the ICC has likewise given me an interest in earlier attempts to outlaw war, e.g., Kellogg-Briand. But instead I find that the chapter that most captured my attention was Chapter 4, “Dodge, Worcester, Ladd, and Burritt: Christianity, Courts, and World Peace.”
That chapter argues that to “a surprising extent, the international courts of today are the offspring of nineteenth-century American utopians, religious enthusiasts by and large untrained in the law.” (p. 72.) Antebellum Americans, at that. Given my own steeping in the European history of the later 19th century and the founding of the ICRC, I had always assumed that, to the extent there was what today we would call a transnational social movement toward these kinds of utopian impulses, they would have been centered in Europe. Locksley Hall, The Parliament of Man, all that. I would not have guessed that fifty years or more before, the provincial, remotely located Americans would have been making waves in these matters. But Janis makes a strong scholarly case that antebellum American religious progressivists played a deep and wide role in fostering the spirit of internationalist utopianism that embraced the idea of international tribunals.
But note – and I think this remains relevant today – that historically this progressive movement was located within, and was sheltered by, a still larger, or at least more transcendentally motivating, universalist utopianism – Christianity itself. It is not, so far as I can understand from Professor Janis’s account, the form of disconnected, deracinated cosmopolitanism that is sometimes urged as the basis for liberal internationalism today. Perhaps we have come so far, in the progression of culture, technology, and ever more expansive idealism that the mediating universalisms such as religion can be set aside, but I rather doubt it. Rather, the risk of today’s deracinated cosmopolitan-liberal internationalism is, on the one hand, that it cannot and does not succeed on its own terms – but still manages to neuter, on the other, the one form of large scale political organization that has shown itself itself, even with its many failures, able to deliver to those it governs, the nation-state – particularly expressed as liberal, democratic, and secular (in the sense of divided public-private). Vive Westphalia, &tc.
ps. Reading over the comments, it seems as good a time as any to quote from Thomas Berger:
“Address me not in Christian sentiments,” said the Lady of the Lake, “the which I find too coarse for fine kings. Thine obligation was to maintain power in as decent a way as would be yet the most effective.”
The irony, of course, is that the Lady offers Arthur a nearly pitch-perfect expression of Niebuhrian Christian moral realism.
pps. I can’t resist adding that this is one of the wittiest books I’ve ever read, and (peculiarly) quite possibly the most instructive I’ve ever read, either, on the virtues and vices. Since I include in that list the Bible, Pilgrim’s Progress, Vanity Fair, and the writings of Philippa Foot, that is saying quite a lot. Anyway, I also have always had a weakness for the opening sentence of the novel:
“Now Uther Pendragon, King of all Britain, conceived an inordinate passion for the fair Ygraine, duchess of Cornwall, and having otherwise no access to her, proceeded to wage war upon her husband, Gorlois the duke.
Not everyone shares this high opinion – the yea-sayers include my older brother, my younger brother, my nephew, and my daughter. And the Los Angeles television writer and producer, Tim Maile. The nay-sayers include … my Beloved Wife.