Review of International Studies

Research Article

International law and the limits of global justice



There are two central theses to this article, the first is that a special kind of governance authority is needed for principles of distributive social justice (‘social justice’ from now on) to be applicable to any sphere of human action. The second is that international law does not and cannot represent that kind of governance authority. It is not ‘social justice-apt’, in my terminology. This is due to the limits inherent in the statist character of international law, a character that underlies the point and purpose of international law in the first place. Putting these together, one can conclude that international law cannot be used to govern the global order according to those principles of social justice that liberal theorists typically defend in the domestic context. This shows that if the cosmopolitan project of extending social justice to the global arena does not find an alternative form of governance for the international order (the problem of ‘cosmopolitan coordination’) it ceases to be a viable project.

(Online publication October 14 2011)

Saladin Meckled-Garcia is a Political Philosopher in the department of Political Science at University College London. He is a director of the UCL Institute for Human Rights, and has published research work in the fields of human rights, international justice, social justice theory, and theories of toleration and neutrality. These have appeared in mainstream political philosophy and political science journals.