Archive for sociology

Discussion Paper: “Doing Justice: The Politics and Economics of International Distributive Justice” by Joel Trachtman

Posted in Discussion Papers and Commentary, General Thoughts and Comments with tags , , , , on November 24, 2008 by jeremyleong


We just posted a discussion paper by Prof. Joel Trachtman. This paper was presented at a recent ASIL conference on distributive justice and international economic law. (See To an extent, this short piece is like the interdisciplinary law scholar’s manifesto. Essentially, Trachtman sketches out the different roles that political science, economics and sociology can play in distributive justice discourse.


Importantly, he identifies each discipline’s strengths and weaknesses as analytical tools and where one discipline can cover the weaknesses of the other. His point? The endeavor of distributive justice is itself interdisciplinary. Has Trachtman taken morality discourse away from the exclusive domain of the moral philosopher and placed it in all our hands?


I don’t think so. If anything, Trachtman has provided a framework in which moral discourse which finds itself in a legal framework can be critiqued. For example, suppose one argues that Law A should be enacted because it provides distributive justice in a strictly Rawl-sian sense. Trachtman would point out that this argument suffers from “limited consensus”; “limited knowledge of causation”; “limited knowledge of remedies”; or “limited inducement”. Read the paper to find out what he means by this.


Different disciplines simply bring different notions of normativity. Moral normativity and legal normativity are merely pieces of the human puzzle. Maybe the complexity of human thought makes it difficult for us to wantonly rule out anything analytical tool. Yet, thanks to Trachtman, at least we have a framework in which we can evaluate the utility of those tools.


The paper can be found at


As always, please feel free to respond or comment.



The Death of Conservative Intellectualism (Some Say)

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments with tags , , , , on November 9, 2008 by jeremyleong


Warning: This post is not really about international law per se. It will, however, pretend to say something about globalization and the permeation of political ideals.


Yesterday’s WSJ has a thoughtful piece about the demise of conservative intellectual tradition in the US. See Mark Lilla at Columbia University reviews where the conservative intellectual tradition stands today, in the aftermath of Republican defeat in the US Presidential Elections. His prognosis, “(t)he Republican Party and the political right will survive, but the conservative intellectual tradition is already dead. And all of us, even liberals like myself, are poorer for it.”


I am, by no means, a credible commentator on American politics. However, I know that American politics is not “the be all and end all” of, well, all politics. There is reason to believe that conservative political thought is alive and well in some parts of the world. (Definitely so, in parts of Asia and Europe.) In the event that Prof. Lilla is correct, is there opportunity for conservative political thought in the US to rejuvenate itself from the outside? Can American political thought gain from that of other states?


The logical answer is: Of course. It has from its inception. The US Declaration of Independence echoes John Locke and Montesquieu, as does the Federalist Papers. The fact is that political thought has time and again transcended territorial barriers. I think of Metternich during the Congress of Vienna as an old example. Some say that the Congress of Vienna was an international agreement to suppress revolutionary ideals in favour of conservative policy all across Post-Napoleonic Europe. Today, inklings of liberal political thought can be found in human rights instruments, international trade agreements etc etc.


Then, the pertinent inquiry shifts to whether American political thought has become so insular that it will resist the permeation of any values from the outside. In a “flat” world where information and discourse is transmitted seamlessly and rapidly, there is no reason why it should. Access to foreign sources of political thought is widely available to the American polity. To say that American political thought has nothing to gain from outside will be nothing short of intellectual arrogance. However, it would not be incomprehensible arrogance. The perception that the US has been a political “thought leader” for the past half century and beyond is a very palpable one. Nonetheless, if conservative politicians in the US consider that some intellectual rebirth is needed, there is no harm looking for it beyond American soil.



As for the ultimate question of whether the US conservative intellectual tradition is, in fact, dead? Perhaps, Prof. Daniel Drezner will have something to say about it on his blog (or even ours).

Jus in Bello and Sociology

Posted in General Thoughts and Comments with tags , , , , , , on October 16, 2008 by jeremyleong


I recently came across a 2007 film called “Soldiers of Conscience”, which examines the psychological effects of war on soldiers. It provides accounts from 4 US soldiers who enlisted during the latest Iraq war but later sought status as “conscientious objectors”. It appears that one question that the filmmakers asked was “when is killing in combat permissible?”


I have yet to watch it. However, the methodology provoked some thought. The ultimate question of when killing in combat is permissible is a central question of jus in bello or the law of the conduct of warfare. This is a question which clearly transcends its ostensible legal nature into that of other disciplines, such as morality. The filmmakers here were perhaps conducting a little sociological survey of their own. However, this approach is not new.


In “Of War and Law”, Prof. David Kennedy (now at Brown University) built on his previous work in “Dark Sides of Virtue” to examine jus in bello with sociological and linguistic tools. He argues that the language of international law in this field has eroded the personal responsibility of soldiers and politicians in the conduct of war.


He notes, “(t)he problem for military professionals is no longer a lack of humanitarian commitment. The military has built humanitarianism into its professional routines. The problem is loss of human experience of responsible freedom and free decision-of discretion to kill and let live. For military officers and soldiers, renewing the experience of responsibility will require a reinvigorated sense of command responsibility, and an ethic across the force of refusing to allow the permissibility or privilege of force to lighten the decision to kill.”


This begs a follow up question. How are sociology (conducted in this manner) and constructivist theory in international relations methodologically related or unrelated? I suppose while the father of constructivism, Wendt, justified treating states as real, unitary actors to which intentionality can be attributed, he also accepted that the state is an agent of domestic actors. However, he assumes that states are constituted by internal structures that combine a collected idea of the state. Kennedy, on the other hand, peers beneath that assumption to look at the various actors behind the agency.


Is it then possible to achieve a “grand” theory of international relations social constructivism which integrates the two levels of analysis? Or has that been done already?