A Religious View of the Foundations of International Law

Charles E. Test, M.D. '37 Distinguished Lectures Series

March 23, 2011
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Jeremy WaldronUniversity Professor, New York University Law School
Author of Torture, Terror, and Trade-Offs: Philosophy for the White House (2010), God, Locke, and Equality: Christian Foundations in Locke's Political Thought (2002), and Law and Disagreement (2001)

Lecture One: Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Over the last ten years there has been something of a crisis in American confidence in, and support for, international law.  As the idea of order and justice in the international realm is considered and rationalized from various perspectives, it seems appropriate to consider also how it might be regarded from the viewpoint of the world’s leading religions.  This lecture will begin the task of considering law beyond the state from a specifically Christian point of view, mapping Christian ideas of peace, community, redemption, and the task of ordering a disordered world onto the kinds of global structures that were imaginable in the first century CE and that are imaginable today.  But it will also consider the difficulties of sustaining a viewpoint of this kind in a multi-faith and indeed increasingly secular world.

Lecture Two: Monday, March 28, 2011
The idea of sovereignty is both central to and troubling for international law. Clearly a religious approach to order in the international realm will endorse the position of most modern international jurists that sovereign independence is not to be made into an idol or a fetish, and that the tasks of order and peace are not to be conceived as optional, which sovereigns may or may not support at their pleasure. At the same time, sovereigns have their own mission in world, ordering particular communities of men and women; and this task, too, should not be slighted. Something similar can be said about ideals of national self-determination. Though Christian commitments are not at odds with the idea of a people taking responsibility for order in their own community, it ought to be highly suspicious of any form of exclusive nationalism, particularly in light of what may be read as the fundamental cosmopolitanism of the New Testament.

Lecture Three: Wednesday, March 30, 2011
It is sometimes thought that a religious view of international law will argue for natural law as a primary basis of international order. Natural law is no doubt important in any Christian jurisprudence. But the most telling part of natural law jurisprudence from Aquinas to Finnis has always been its insistence on the specific human need for positive law. This holds true in the international realm as much as in any realm of human order—perhaps more so, because in the international realm law has to do its work unsupported by the overwhelming power of a  particular state.  So this final lecture will address, from a religious point of view, the sources of law in the international realm: treaty, convention, custom, precedent, and jurisprudence.  Though parchments and institutions are not the final word in human affairs, they are our best hope for peace and justice in the meantime that is given us to order our affairs.

Jeremy Waldron is University Professor and Professor of Law at New York University, a position he holds in conjunction with his recent appointment as Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory and Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.  He was previously University Professor at Columbia University, based in the law school, and before that he was Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics at Princeton University, and Professor of Law in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program at the University of California at Berkeley. 

He has written and published extensively in political theory and jurisprudence. His books and articles on theories of rights, on constitutionalism, on the rule of law, and on democracy, property, torture, security, and homelessness are well known, as is his work in historical political theory (on Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, and Hannah Arendt). He is the author of more than a hundred articles and his books include The Right to Private Property (1988), Liberal Rights (1993), Law and Disagreement (1999), The Dignity of Legislation (1999) God, Locke, and Equality (2002), and a collection of his essays entitled Torture, Terror and Trade-offs: Philosophy for the White House (2010).  His next book is called Partly Laws Common to All Mankind: Foreign Law in American Courts and it is forthcoming from Yale University Press in 2011.

Professor Waldron is a prolific lecturer.  He delivered the Holmes Lectures (on hate speech) at Harvard Law School in Fall 2009, the Tanner Lectures (on human dignity) at Berkeley in Spring 2009, and the Storrs Lectures at Yale Law School in 2007.  He also delivered the 1999 Carlyle Lectures at Oxford University, and the second series of Seeley Lectures at Cambridge University in 1996.  Most recently, he delivered the 2011 Law Lecture at the British Academy. Waldron was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1998, and he has had honorary doctorates in law conferred by the University of Otago and the Catholic University of Brussels. He will receive the American Philosophical Society’s Henry Phillips Prize in Jurisprudence in April of this year.

Born and educated in New Zealand, Professor Waldron studied for degrees in philosophy and in law at the University of Otago. In 1978, he was admitted as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of New Zealand. He received his doctorate in legal philosophy from the University of Oxford.

Video recording is not available for Lecture Two. We apologize for any inconvenience.


The Crisis of International Law and the Strictures of Public Reason

The Sources of Order: Why National Law is Not Enough


Lewis Library 120

Funded by:

The Bouton Law Lecture Fund

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