The Rule of International Law

By Waldron, Jeremy | Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

The Rule of International Law


Waldron, Jeremy, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy


I.

This Article will focus on how one should think about the rule of law in the international arena. Asking about the rule of law in the international arena is not just asking whether there is such a thing as international law, or what it is, or what we think of particular treaties (such as human rights covenants), or of the value of customary international law, or of the enforceability of international law in our own courts. The phrase "the rule of law" brings to mind a particular set of values and principles associated with the idea of legality. (1) These values and principles are the ancient focus of our allegiance as lawyers. The rule of law is one of the most important sources of the dignity and honor of the legal profession, and an awareness of the principles and values that it comprises ought to be part of all lawyers' professional ethos, something that disciplines the spirit and attitude that lawyers bring to their work.

True, the rule of law is not the only value that lawyers serve. Lawyers must serve justice too, for justice is part of law's promise. (2) And, of course, lawyers serve the interests of their clients and of society generally. But the rule of law constrains lawyers in their pursuit of these other goals: they pursue justice and the social good through the rule of law, not around it or in spite of it. This Article will talk particularly about the obligations the rule of law imposes upon lawyers as they act in various capacities.

Is it clear what the rule of law demands of lawyers in the international arena? Many people think it demands less in the international arena--that it demands less of a national government in the international arena, for example, than in the domestic arena--not just because there is less international law but also because a different attitude toward the rule of law is appropriate in international affairs. This Article is skeptical about that suggestion, and I shall present a number of reasons for rejecting it.

II.

To begin with, what does the rule of law require of lawyers in the municipal arena? (3) Usually one thinks of the rule of law as a requirement placed on governments: the government must exercise its power through the application of general rules; it must make those rules public; it must limit the discretion of its officials; it must not impose penalties on people without due process; and so on. But the rule of law applies to the individual, too. So, what does the rule of law require of the ordinary citizen? Well, it requires that she obey the laws that apply to her. She should be alert to changes in the law; she should arrange for her legal advisors to keep her informed of her legal obligations; she should refrain from taking the law into her own hands; and she should not act in any way that impedes, harms, or undermines the operation of the legal system. Every ordinary citizen has these obligations and can properly expect the assistance of her legal advisors.

As the ordinary citizen goes about her business, she may find that there are areas where the law imposes minimal demands. on her or no demands at all, instead leaving her free to her own devices. This is not a matter of regret. Allegiance to the rule of law does not mean that the citizen must wish for more law--or less freedom--than there is. Neither does it require that she play any part in bringing fresh law into existence if she does not want it. She must obey the law where it does exist, but she has no particular obligation where it does not. It is not up to individual citizens or businessmen to do the lawmakers' job for them. For example, they have no duty to extend the scope of the law's constraint (in accordance with common sense, morality, the spirit of the law, social purposes, or anything else), if the sources of law do not disclose an unambiguous enactment to that effect.

We can take this point even further. According to most conceptions of the rule of law, individual citizens are entitled to laws that are neither murky nor uncertain but are instead publicly and clearly stated in a text that is not buried in doctrine. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Rule of International Law
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.