Monday, October 6, 2014
Over the last two days, various editions of The New York Times have published an article by Christopher F. Schuetze entitled “A Bigger World of International Law.” This intriguing article discusses the growing interest in the study of international law across the globe; however, it mentions the prevailing role and influence of certain universities—especially Oxford, Cambridge, and east coast universities in the United States—in this critical educational enterprise. While Mr. Schuetze notes that the field of public international law “is gradually spreading globally,” a small number of universities in Europe and the US “hold a disproportionate sway when it comes to training the international-law elite.” In my own post-JD legal education, I pursued graduate legal studies at Oxford under the late Sir Ian Brownlie, then the Chichele Professor of Public International Law. He was a great legal theorist and superb teacher, but he was also an accomplished legal practitioner who thoroughly comprehended the inextricable nexus of legal concepts and their application to the people’s of the world in the context of the rule of law.
To this day I am grateful for the experience of learning under Sir Ian for I saw under his tutelage that it is not simply where public international law is taught that makes it a worthy pursuit but, more importantly, what is taught given the vital subject matter. This is the challenge to all those who are involved in the teaching and learning of public international law today; in particular, it is a challenge to those who teach law in the Catholic academy as my friends and colleagues who teach in institutions that rely on the moniker “Catholic” possess a substantial opportunity to mold what is taught about public international law.
In the early twentieth century the Canadian-born American practitioner and legal academic James Brown Scott recognized the significant contributions to public international law made by the sixteenth century Dominican Francis de Vitoria and Jesuit Francis Suàrez. It was not so much the “where” but the “what” that was important to Scott. In addition to circulating his own commentaries on these early fathers of public international law, Scott was instrumental in having their works published by the joint effort of Oxford University Press and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the Classics of International Law series.
Due to the influences of Brownlie and Scott, I saw a need some years ago to bring students to an awareness of the de Vitoria- Suàrez contributions not only to public international law but to the idea of natural human rights. In order to take action on this need, I taught at several different institutions a course I dubbed as “Natural Law and Natural Rights.” It was ambitious in the sense that it required a good deal of reading each week; however, in studying with Sir Ian, I realized that reading a sizable corpus of primary sources every week was and remains essential to the task. As my course evolved, I came to the further realization of the bond between the work of the early Catholic pioneers of public international law and the evolution of American republican democracy. Should anyone be interested in seeing how my syllabus and reading list matured, I would be pleased to share these texts with anyone who may inquire. And who may be interested? Surely those of the Mirror of Justice community who support the view that there is such a thing as Catholic legal theory that is relevant to teaching law and to contributing to the rule of law. While most institutions that are considered part of the Catholic academy may not be viewed as members of “the international law elite,” to borrow from Mr. Schuetze’s phrase, international law is taught in these schools, and they are in an excellent position to provide those interested in this important subject matter with something of far greater substance than the name of the institution, i.e., the “what” is to be taught, which has a critical bearing on the progress of public international law and the durability of the rule of law.