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European New Legal Realism and International Law: How to Make International Law Intelligible


International law remains in many ways a challenge to legal science. As in domestic law, the available options appear to be exhausted by either internal doctrinal approaches, or external approaches applying more general empirical methods from the social sciences. This article claims that, while these major positions obviously provide interesting insights, none of them manage to make international law intelligible in a broader sense. Instead, it argues for a European New Legal Realist approach to international law accommodating the so-called external and internal dimensions of law in a single more complex analysis which takes legal validity seriously but as a genuinely empirical object of study. This article constructs this position by identifying a distinctively European realist path which takes as its primary inspirations Weberian sociology of law and Alf Ross’ Scandinavian Legal Realism and combines them with insights originating from Bourdieusian sociology of law.

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1 Translation: ‘“Empirical” validity can be ascribed to both “juristic truth” and “juristic error” in exactly the same degree.’

2 Translation: ‘A rigorous science of the law is distinguished from what is normally called jurisprudence in that the former takes the latter as its object of study.’

3 H. Kelsen, Pure Theory of Law (1967).

4 This is particularly noticeable in passages where the pragmatist character of ANLR is emphasized (see, e.g., G. Shaffer in this issue). This difference might in part be due to the specific historical – institutional contexts in which each movement operates. European law faculties were (and are) clearly not professional schools as in the United States, but assumed to be proper university faculties with corresponding basic scientific aspirations. Researchers of law are assumed to be legal scientists, not merely scholars.

5 See, e.g., B. Leiter, Naturalizing Jurisprudence: Essays on American Legal Realism and Naturalism in Legal Philosophy (2007); F. Schauer, Thinking Like a Lawyer: A New Introduction to Legal Reasoning (2009); Green, M. S., ‘Leiter on the Legal Realists’, (2011) 30 Law and Philosophy. For discussion of implications, see J. v. H. Holtermann, ‘Getting Real or Staying Positive – Legal Realism(s), Legal Positivism and the Prospects of Naturalism in Jurisprudence’, (Forthcoming, 2015) Ratio Juris – An International Journal of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law.

6 See, e.g., Llewellyn, K., ‘Some Realism about Realism – Responding to Dean Pound’, (1931) 44 Harv Law Rev at 1239 and Radin, M., ‘In Defense of an Unsystematic Science of Law’, (1942) 51 Yale Law Journal at 1271. See also Schauer, supra note 5, at 137.

7 See, e.g., Leiter, supra note 5, at 77–8 and Schauer, supra note 5, at 137–8.

8 See, e.g., Leiter supra note 5, at 60 and 72–3.

9 V. Nourse and G. Shaffer, ‘Empiricism, Experimentalism, and Conditional Theory’, (2014) SMU Law Review at 110. See also Shaffer in this issue.

10 See, e.g., H. L. A. Hart, The Concept of Law (1994), 107; Kelsen, supra note 3.

11 A. Ross, On Law and Justice (1958), 261.

12 Ibid., at 68.

13 Hart, supra note 10, at 91.

14 Ross’ most elaborate and consistent analysis of legal validity can be found in his main work On Law and Justice (1953). Weber's most rewarding analysis of legal validity can be found in his less known work Critique of Stammler (1977). As this is not an exegetic paper, we shall make some simplifications to further the overall purpose of the paper – while of course staying faithful to their overall theories. For detailed discussion of Ross, see, e.g., Holtermann, J. v. H, ‘Naturalizing Alf Ross's Legal Realism: A Philosophical Reconstruction’, (2014) Revus Journal for Constitutional Theory and Philosophy of Law 24.

15 In order to express the relevant distinction, Ross uses two different inflections of the Danish word for valid (gyldig and gældende) which unfortunately do not easily lend themselves to English translation. For linguistic reasons we shall instead be applying Weber's terminology – or, more specifically, Weber's terminology as it is found in Guy Oakes’ 1977 translation. We emphasize this particular choice because, in Weber's original text in German, he actually does not use the term ‘axiological validity’ but writes ‘Gelten-Sollen’ (he does use ‘empirical validity’: ‘empirische Geltung’). And in a new translation of Weber's text, Hans Henrik Bruun translates this as ‘should be valid’. The basic distinction at play is the well-known German dichotomy between Sein and Sollen. Strictly speaking, Weber is therefore referring to a Sollen-validity as opposed to a Sein-validity. We have opted for using Oakes’ translation as his neologism ‘axiological validity’ captures well the intention of Weber, even if it introduces a different term. For the purpose of providing a systematic account, we have therefore also relied on Oakes’ translation of Weber throughout the article. We have however consulted and compared both Weber's original German text and Bruun's new translation, which generally provides a very precise translation of Weber compared to Oakes more idiomatic translation. In the case of the actual citations of Weber in the article, we have however not found that Oakes’ more idiomatic translation changes the intellectual content of Weber's text. We are grateful to Hans Henrik Bruun and Anne Lise Kjær for their input in this regard. See H. H. Bruun and S. Whimster, Max Weber: Collected Methodological Writings (2012), 218 and more generally the glossary to the translation.

16 Weber, Critique of Stammler (1977), at 128.

17 Ibid., at 126.

18 Ibid., at 128–9.

19 Ibid., at 115. Compare Ross, supra note 11, at 68.

20 Ross, supra note 11, at 19, last emphasis added.

21 Weber, supra note 16, at 129–30.

22 This problem persists even for those pragmatist doctrinal lawyers who reject the scientism of Kelsenian legal positivism. Weakening the epistemic modality of validity-statements in the direction of ‘legally more compelling’ or ‘practically reason giving’ does not per se change the fact that one is doing axiology, i.e. is expressing value judgments/making norm-expressive statements. We are grateful to Brian Tamanaha for pressing us on this point.

23 According to Shaffer: ‘[F]rom an internal perspective of the making of legal arguments before judges, some legal realists will accept Hart's pedigree view on legal sources, while contending that those legal sources play only a partial role in determining how law acquires meaning and has effects [emphasis added]’ see this issue, see also Leiter, supra note 5, at 77–8 and Schauer, supra note 5, at 137–8 ascribing similar views to at least Llewellyn and Radin.

24 That is, except as itself a part of the object of study, see Weber, supra note 16, at 129: ‘[C]onsider the fact that a ‘jurisprudence’ exists’.

25 It is very clear that the early European realists did not commit the error, which Hart explicitly ascribed to at least Ross of defining this particular aspect out of existence. See, e.g., Ross’ unequivocal rejection of crude behaviourism, Ross, supra note 11, at 15.

26 Weber, supra note 16, at 130.

27 Ross, supra note 11, at 37.

28 Ibid., at 75.

30 Ibid., at 77.

31 See Weber, supra note 16, at 129, as quoted above. Ross makes an analogous observation; see A. Ross, Om ret og retfærdighed: En indførelse i den analytiske retsfilosofi (2013), at 152–3.

32 Madsen, M. R., ‘Reflexivity and the Construction of the International Object: The Case of Human Rights’, (2011) 5 International Political Sociology.

33 Bourdieu, P., ‘The Force of Law: Toward a Sociology of the Juridical Field’, (1987) 38 The Hastings Law Journal.

34 In the original text Bourdieu refers to ‘science juridique’ in citation marks, see Bourdieu, P., ‘La force du droit: Éléments pour une sociologie du champ juridique’, (1986) 64 Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 3.

35 Bourdieu, supra note 33, at 814.

36 This argument for a truly integrated approach to law is emblematically evoked in Bourdieu's critique of legal system's theory (see ibid., at 816) which can for present purposes be aligned with the critique of legal positivist conceptions of legal doctrine found in both Ross and Weber as propounded elsewhere in this article.

37 Dezalay, Y. and Madsen, M. R., ‘The Force of Law and Lawyers: Pierre Bourdieu and the Reflexive Sociology of Law’, (2012) 8 Annual Review of Law and Social Science 436.

38 Scholars working in the area of systems theory have developed similar arguments. See for example on the co-evolution of law and other social systems (‘blinde Rechtsevolution’) in G. Teubner, Recht als Autopoietisches System (1989).

39 P. Bourdieu, J.-C. Chamboredon and J.-C. Passeron, The Craft of Sociology. Epistemological Preliminaries (1991).

40 Madsen, supra note 32; P. Bourdieu, Science de la science et réflexivité (2002).

41 Madsen, supra note 32.

42 In the following, we only very briefly introduce these concepts. For further introduction, please see P. Bourdieu and L. Wacquant, An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology (1992); Madsen, M. R. and Dezalay, Y., ‘The Power of the Legal Field: Pierre Bourdieu and the Law’, in Banakar, R. and Travers, M. (eds.), An Introduction to Law and Social Theory (2002).

43 See Bourdieu and Wacquant, ibid., at 97.

44 On the history of law and lawyers in the formation of states, see, e.g., J. A. Brundage, The Medieval Origins of the Legal Profession: Canonists, Civilians, and Courts (2008); L. Martines, Lawyers and Statecraft in Renaissance Florence (1968).

45 A fact much debated in public international law where functionalist notions of international legal order still prevail. See for example Koskenniemi, M. and Leino, P., ‘Fragmentation of International Law? Postmodern Anxieties’, (2002) 15 LJIL 573.

46 The only relative stability of international legal field has been addressed in a number of previous publications. See, e.g., Dezalay, Y. and Madsen, M. R., ‘La construction européenne au carrefour du national et de l’international’ in Cohen, al. (eds.), Les formes de l’activité politique: Èlements d’analyse sociologique XVIIIè–XXè siècle (2006).

47 P. Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice (1977).

48 For a discussion of this point, see Dezalay and Madsen, supra note 37, at 441–2.

49 Bourdieu amply documents this in his seminal analysis of categories of taste as socially determined. See P. Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste (1984).

50 See further in M. R. Madsen and C. Thornhill (eds.), Law and the Formation of Modern Europe: Perspectives from the Historical Sociology of Law (2014).

51 Romano, C., ‘The Proliferation of International Tribunals: Piecing together the Puzzle’, (1999) 31 NYU Journal of International Law and Politics.

52 Public international law scholarship, although long reluctant, has generally accepted this in recent years. See, e.g., A. Boyle and C. Chinkin, The Making of International Law (2007).

53 Bourdieu, supra note 33, at 819–20.

54 P. Bourdieu, Language and Symbolic Power (1991).

55 Bourdieu, supra note 33, at 839; Bourdieu, ibid.

56 Y. Dezalay and B. G. Garth, Dealing in Virtue. International Commercial Arbitration and the Construction of a Transnational Legal Order (1996).

57 J. Hagan, Justice in the Balkans. Prosecuting War Crimes in the Hague Tribunal (2003).

58 J. Hagan and R. Levi, ‘Crimes of War and the Force of Law’, (2005) 83 Social Forces.

59 Cohen, A., ‘“Dix personnages majestueux en longue robe amarante”: La formation de la cour de justice des communautés européennes’, (2010) 60 Revue française de science politique; Madsen, M. R., ‘The Protracted Institutionalisation of the Strasbourg Court: From Legal Diplomacy to Integrationist Jurisprudence’ in Madsen, M. R. and Christoffersen, J. (eds.), The European Court of Human Rights between Law and Politics (2011); Vauchez, A., ‘The Transnational Politics of Judicialization. Van Gend en Loos and the Making of EU Polity’, (2010) 16 European Law Journal.

60 Cohen, A. and Madsen, M. R., ‘Cold War Law: Legal Entrepreneurs and the Emergence of a European Legal Field (1945–1965)’ in Gessner, V. and Nelken, D. (eds.), European Ways of Law: Towards a European Sociology of Law (2007).

61 The model has also been applied across the globe in studies of other international courts. For an example, see M. R. Madsen and S. Caserta, ‘Between Community Law and Common Law: The Rise of the Caribbean Court of Justice at the Intersection of Regional Integration and Post-Colonial Legacies’, (Forthcoming 2015) Law and Contemporary Problems.

62 Vauchez, supra note 59.

63 Vauchez, A., ‘Keeping the Dream Alive: The European Court of Justice and the Transnational Fabric of Integrationist Jurisprudence’, (2012) 4 European Political Science Review.

64 M. R. Madsen, La genèse de l’Europe des droits de l’homme: Enjeux juridiques et stratégies d’Etat (France, Grande-Bretagne et pays scandinaves, 1945–1970) (2010).

65 N. Kauppi and M. R. Madsen (eds), Transnational Power Elites: The New Professionals of Governance, Law and Security (2013).

66 Another European precursor for legal realism inquiry is obviously Eugen Ehrlich. Due to space limitations, we have not integrated his work in our analysis.

67 Holtermann, J. v. al., ‘Kan retsvidenskaben være empirisk? Om aktualiteten af Alf Ross’ empiriske vending i retsfilosofien’, (2013) 2 Retfærd – Nordic Journal of Law and Justice.

68 Shaffer makes the same point in this issue.

69 Weber, supra note 16, at 129.

* Associate Professor, iCourts – Center of Excellence for International Courts, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen [].

** Professor and Director of iCourts – Center of Excellence for International Courts, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen []. This research is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation Grant No. DNRF105 and conducted under the auspices of the Danish National Research Foundation's Centre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts).

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