Skip to main content

Instructor: Gerald J. Postema. This course meets TR 9:30 – 10:45 a.m. in CW 105.

This course explores the connections between law and justice on the national and international levels. The central organizing idea is the notion of “the rule of law.” This notion played a very large role in Western political thinking since the middle ages and in modern constitutional thought. Over the last century it has had a strong presence in thinking about the international legal order. The world-wide respect for the ideal is (in part) the legacy of the Nuremberg Trials in which Nazi war criminals were tried by an international tribunal. Yet, those trials themselves seemed to compromise the ideal. The trials and the notion of the rule of law have remained controversial. Some believe that the ideal of the rule of law can be derived from a sound understanding of law itself, others argue that it has its roots in fundamental notions of liberty, others attack it as a piece of Western (or American) ideology. This course will explore the philosophical foundations and practical applications of the notion of the rule of law, and will focus on the importance of the rule of law in the international domain for protection of human rights. Special topics may include (1) law, sovereignty, and international law, (2) the rule of law in emergencies; (3) international enforcement of human rights; (4) international prosecution of crimes against humanity; (5) military intervention on humanitarian grounds.

Readings from classical philosophical sources (Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Kant) and current essays and chapters in legal theory and international law will primarily be available online. Two “recommended” books: Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law and James Nickel, Making Sense of Human Rights.