The empire of international legalism

Ian F Hurd*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


The international rule of law is a political system of governance. It rests on the expectation that governments will abide by their legal obligations and so defines what counts as appropriate behavior for states. The relationship between law and politics in global governance is better understood as an empire of global legalism than as an anarchic world of sovereign states. Legal justification is the lingua franca of legitimation contests among governments, as states strive to show that their preferred policies are lawful and that those they oppose are unlawful. Seeing the world this way helps to show the political content of international law: neither a neutral framework that sustains all viewpoints nor an inherently progressive contribution to global order, international law is a political system of governance that advances some interests at the expense of others, and our attention should be directed toward assessing which interests are served by the turn to global legalism and at whose expense.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)265-278
Number of pages14
JournalEthics and International Affairs
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Empire
  • International law
  • International rule of law
  • Legalism
  • Rule of law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Political Science and International Relations

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