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Beyond Empty, Conservative, and Ethereal: Pluralist Self-Determination and a Peripheral Political Imaginary

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 July 2013


Over the last couple of years, a stream of pluralist theories of international legal order has developed at the intersection of international law and political theory, having immediate implications for conceptualizing self-determination. The understanding of self-determination under the framework of bounded, constitutional, and radical pluralism markedly departs from the previous wave of normative theories in the 1990s: self-determination is now evacuated from the field of national pluralism and struggles over territory.

This article does not question the thrust of pluralists’ recent work, but complements their critical attunement to global disparities of power, and complicates their neglect of nationalism and rejection of territorial reconfigurations as self-determination's core meaning. In doing so, it unearths two visions that come from the (semi-)periphery of the international political order. The first belongs to Edvard Kardelj, pre-eminent Yugoslav theorist of socialist self-management and the Non-Aligned Movement. The second belongs to Leopold Sédar Senghor, the poet and politician, advocate of négritude, a proponent of French West African integration, and a constitutional advocate for the reconfiguration – not abolition – of the French Union, the heir to the French Empire. While they are suspicious of extensive territorial reconstruction, like contemporary pluralists, unlike them they have seen a role for territorial reconfigurations in the name of national plurality.

Copyright © Foundation of the Leiden Journal of International Law 2013 

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95 Ibid. For a deeper critique of Roth's project that challenges his understanding of political violence see Parfitt, R., ‘B. R. Roth. Sovereign Equality and Moral Disagreement: Premises of a Pluralist International Legal Order’, (2012) 23 EJIL 1175CrossRefGoogle Scholar (book review).

96 To approve these territorial reconfigurations in the name of ‘self-determination’, however, will be difficult both because of the lack of grounding in the doctrine (as argued by Roth), and because there are other tropes, such as ‘affected interests’ that emerged from Krisch's radical pluralism, that complicate the idea of straightforward self-determination of a specific group.