Remembering Some Founding Fathers: Interdisciplinary International Law

While FILA… may be new, the interdisciplinary study of international law at the Fletcher School is not new. Some greats in this field have, and continue to, grace our halls.

We start with Roscoe Pound. Roscoe Pound was one of the founding fathers of the Fletcher School while he was Dean of Harvard Law School. With him driving the enterprise, the Fletcher School was founded as a joint enterprise between Tufts College and Harvard University.

Roscoe Pound was one of the first legal realists. He invented a brand of (what he termed) sociologicial jurisprudence which called for judges to make decisions by weighing up social and economic consequences. No doubt, his scientific approaches to legal philosophy also came from his immense interest in the science of botany.

Next, we have Leo Gross, who was a protege of Hans Kelsen (who I believe also taught at the Fletcher School at some point). Leo Gross’s research and teaching always focused on international institutions and paid special interest to the International Court of Justice. In particular, his scholarship was always keenly rooted to political studies and the political evolution of these institutions.

Another founding father, in more recent times, comes to mind. Robert Hudec taught international trade law at the Fletcher School in the 1980s and 90s. Hudec was a giant in the field and was was once described as a better lawyer than most lawyers and a better economist than most economists. He was a legal realist who recognized that international trade law is “inextricably joined with international trade politics” (J. Trachtman, 2003). He was an empiricist and legal scientist (possibly due to his prior training as a chemist).

Current faculty members have stepped admirably into those footsteps, be it in law and economics; law and social constructivism; law and political realism, etc etc. Due to them, the Fletcher School remains a place where the empiricist meets the reductionist philosopher while having coffee with the historian and sociologist. In that light, FILA… has pretty big shoes to fill.   

But having seen those shoulders on which we stand, I’m pretty confident.



2 Responses to “Remembering Some Founding Fathers: Interdisciplinary International Law”

  1. The rich of history of international law scholarship at Fletcher points to 1) the legacy within which we should be attentive 2) the novelty of our enterprise based on a tradition of innovation 3) the strong rationalist background at Fletcher.

    Cross-disciplinary perspectives on international law expand beyond legal rationalist, realist, and empiricist accounts. If the ultimate goals of our effort include illuminating the creation or development of law and the compliance of states to a law, causes and consequences of law, then we are inextricably led to normative and sociological understanding of international law.

    For example, a founding mother, Toni Chayes, offers a normative account of legal compliance as a predisposition to comply with law because this is general behavior of states–perhaps there is a rationalist origin of such discourse but the theory can include the idea that states comply with law simply because it is, well, law.

    Similarly, the emphasis on rationalist origins of the study of international law may miss some relevant scholarship on the power of individuals–inherently rational and irrational creatures–in constructing international law or the social pressures bringing about a certain behavior. Even the mimetic activities of states can be considered to come not only a rational calculation but also from the idea of mimicry.

    The intellectual tradition at Fletcher is rich but should not be viewed as overly teleological or espoused to a rational even realist approach concerning international law.

  2. jeremyleong Says:

    I absolutely agree, Ivan. In fact, your comments echo of constructivism. One pertinent question there is whether there is such a thing as realist/rational actor constructivism?

    Can rational international actors channel or craft the idealational effects of international law or other institutions to met their own strategic ends? I suppose this is where the concept of “public diplomacy” comes in. Is “public diplomacy” really the business end of the constructivist’s stick?

    Hopefully, we can get some public diplomats to give some thoughts about this in the very near future.

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