THE DEGRADATION OF THE INTERNATIONAL LEGAL ORDER: THE REHABILITATION AND THE POSSIBILITY OF POLITICS by BILL BOWRING

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-6478.2008.00450_1.x
Publication Date01 Dec 2008
AuthorUPENDRA BAXI
Book Reviews
THE DEGRADATION OF THE INTERNATIONAL LEGAL ORDER: THE
REHABILITATION AND THE POSSIBILITY OF POLITICS by BILL
BOWRING
(London: Routledge-Cavendish, 2008, 243 pp., £95.00 (hbk), £30.00 (pbk))
I
In this remarkably insightful monograph, Bill Bowring offers rich provo-
cation concerning some current practices undermining the foundational
doctrines of international law and the parlous state of the theory and practice
of human rights. But the method involves biopsy rather than autopsy; the
`degradation of the international legal order' remains here animated by the
prospect of `rehabilitation of law' and the `possibility' of a new `politics'.
Inherent to any description of `degradation' remains a certain normative
framework. An international legal order becomes possible with a certain
level of normatively, and makes no sense outside normative constraints on
state conduct even when directed to an aggressive pursuit of national
interest. Bowring rightly sources the core normativity in three realms: the
prohibition of the use of individual or concerted force save when, and to the
precise extent, authorized by the UN Security Council acting under Chapter
VII of the UN Charter; in a strict regime that confines the right to individual
and collective self-defence to a rigorous burden of justification and imposes
the requirements of `reasonable' and proportional' use of force; and the
requirements of the regimes of international humanitarian law (IHL) and
international human rights (IHR). Overall, as an international law practi-
tioner and as a publicist, Bowring believes in the power of the `black-letter
law' tradition and contests in its name theoretical practices of realism as well
as postmodernist approaches. However, the brilliance of Bowring, as we note
shortly, lies beyond positivist or instrumental approaches.
`Degradation' differs from deliberate non-compliance. Non-compliance
entails a practice that remains at least norm-oriented, that is, the concerned
states at least cognize normative constraints but offer a different contextual
interpretation of the core standards. In contrast, `degradation' remains
overtly transgressive, a state of affairs which altogether dispenses with the
need to justify state conduct, otherwise held applicable by the global
hegemonic actors to the subaltern states. Thus viewed, it is clear that
`degradation' provides for Bowring an important marker of critical morality
under whose auspices the so-called positive amorality of state action may be
551
ß2008 The Author. Journal Compilation ß2008 Cardiff University Law School. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd,
9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA

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