Paradigms of International Human Rights Law: An Exchange

Earlier this month, Tom Dannenbaum reviewed Aaron Fellmeth’s new book, Paradigms of International Human Rights Law.  Fellmeth responds to the review below.  Dannenbaum then replies.

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Fellmeth responds:

I appreciated Tom Dannenbaum’s review of Paradigms of International Law.  However, it quickly becomes apparent that the greater part of his comments is based on a misconception about the book, and some unexpected interpretations of the arguments themselves.  Without addressing them in full, I’ll make a few points that should clarify the bases of our disagreement.

Regarding the book’s aim, the title of the review, “A Philosophical Foundation for International Human Rights Law?,” suggests that Dannenbaum read the book as attempting a grand reconciliation of IHRL with ethical theory.  Indeed, he early on suggests that I should have explained “precisely” what is “the presumed interaction between law and moral theory” in the book.  The fact that he reverses the order of my goals, putting the “bridging” first and the structural critique second, when in fact I stated them contrarily, suggests he missed the point.

I wish I could have written a book that ambitious.  But a less abridged reading shows that my stated purpose was much more modest: to “make some progress” in bridging the two fields (p. 2).  There is a world of difference between formulating thought-provoking theses on ethical theory relevant to IHRL, and thereby advancing the dialogue between philosophers and international lawyers (the book’s stated goal), and explaining how ethical theory can justify the entire, diverse and sometimes self-contradictory corpus of international human rights law (the goal he ascribes to the book).

In fact, I do not think the goal Dannenbaum proposes is even realistic.  As I observed in Paradigms, IHRL is not built on a coherent moral theory.  IHRL arose from the moral intuitions of diplomats moderated by power politics, rather than…

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