The Perils of Global Legalism

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The Perils of Global Legalism
By Eric A. Posner
University of Chicago Press, 2009
296 pp. $29.00
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This book is a spirited attack on "excessive faith in the efficacy of international law." Posner focuses on the thinking of American and European legal intellectuals who see international law as normatively good for the world regardless of whether it serves specific state interests. These "global legalists," he claims, have "long since dropped the conventional view that international law is based on the consent of states; international law transcends the interests of states and holds them in its grasp." Posner sees global legalism as utopian -- built on unsustainable premises about human nature and the practicality of transferring domestic legal traditions to the international level. Several chapters take an interesting look at the proliferation of international courts and tribunals, arguing that these legal venues have performed better than other international bodies partly because they have limited jurisdictions that can be controlled by states. Posner may be right that international law matters when it serves nation-states' interests. But in a world of shared values and common problems, it should not be surprising that many states want to build global systems of laws and institutions that go beyond his minimalist vision.