Our colleagues continue to demonstrate the great range of ideas that call Hartford, Connecticut home.
Mark Janis is writing once again about the struggles of those seeking to use ethical concepts to tame global conflict. And he has much to teach in his most recent article, Americans and the Quest for an Ethical International Law, 109 W. Va. L. Rev. 571-609 (2007), his third publication since I assumed custody of the dean’s bookshelf.
Start with the observation that we are now, as we were in the era immediately preceding the Civil War and during each of the World Wars of the 20th century, at a time when the obstacles loom large for Americans hoping to use international norms and institutions to foster peace among nations. One view of our current moment might be that after more than two centuries of leading the way on international cooperation, the U.S. government has suddenly been commandeered by a narrow band of ideologues flush with power now that the U.S. stands as the world’s only superpower. This is a cartoon view indeed, but Mark is fortunate, as we all are, that such views often find their way into print so that we can earn a living by rebutting them.
Perhaps you prefer instead the alternative view that powerful Americans have never had any interest in international law or cooperation and have used both only when and where lip service to international norms serves our more parochial interests. Mark manages to find this lopsided view being hinted at or worse by luminaries in the field such as Martti Koskenniemi, Professor of International Law at the University of Helsinki and a Global Professor of Law (don’t you love Sextonian gradiosity?) at NYU; and Alfred van Staden, Professor of International Relations at Leiden University. Mark then uses his hard won knowledge of the history of international law within American thought to thoroughly discredit this one-sided approach. Taking us on a wondrous tour of American thinkers from James Kent through Woodrow Wilson, Mark shows the longstanding idealism and faith in international law that has been a hallmark of one sort of important American thinker. The source of faith in international cooperation may have included Christianity (Kent); deep anti-war sentiment (David Low Dodge, Noah Worcester, William Ladd, Elihu Burritt); and an idealized notion of ethical imperatives (Woodrow Wilson). And the proposed vehicles for effectuating international cooperation may have varied to include international courts (Dodge, Worcester, Ladd); peace societies and international cooperation (Burritt) and, of course The League of Nations (Wilson). Yet Mark’s article leaves no doubt that the search for an ethical basis upon which to ground meaningful international law has always been a hallmark of one important strand of American thought. And along the way, he tells a nice story too about the origins and successes of international arbitration as a means of solving conflicts between nations. Bravo.
Deborah Calloway’s recent writing suggests that any search for an ethics to spread across the globe might profitably begin with one we can locate within ourselves, if we know how to look. In Volume 9 of the magazine Bodhi, her article, "are you listening? contemplative lawyering", (pp. 130-34) tackles the challenging question of how to use skills acquired in meditation as part of daily law practice. She nicely deploys quotes from students in her contemplative lawyering class as she tells the story of how students benefited from skills learned there. But the article’s finest lesson comes when Deborah calls upon the reader to do an exercise in which he or she tries to listen simultaneously to two individuals telling separate stories. We all know the fruitless nature of this endeavor from experiences managing a phone conversation while trying to talk with someone in our office. But Deborah profitably compares this experience to the one of being distracted by an inner voice, while simultaneously listening to a client or someone else tell a story. The inner voice might be trying to craft the perfect reply while the person is still speaking or worse still trying to solve some unrelated problem. But either way there can be little doubt that it’s much harder fully to listen to another if you are inwardly talking to yourself at the same time. This is a worthy topic for reminders even if not all would agree with Deborah’s conclusion that as a listener a lawyer will know just what to say when the speaker is done, even if the lawyer doesn’t begin formulating an answer in his or her mind before the speaker is finished. It’s great to see someone grappling with the connection between listening skills and law practice, the kind of thing that is far too seldom the subject of good writing. Well done.
Congratulations to you both!