International Law and the Ides of March: A Response to David Kennedy

Nikolas M. Rajkovic
2018 Tilburg Law Review  
My response to this year's Montesquieu lecture focuses on Professor Kennedy's invitation to imagine the liberal institutional order as having been a dream-like experience, from which international elites have abruptly awoken. Yet, I engage that invitation by altering the framing somewhat. Perhaps the experience that was the liberal institutional order was a kind of theatre as opposed to merely a dreamscape. The 'deliberate' enactment of a geopolitical and geo-economic imaginary, 1 but where
more » ... ry, 1 but where liberal actors forgot over time that this ruling imaginary required a convincing public performance. 2 Using my frame, the ensuing decay or collapse of the imaginary then invites a different kind of cautionary tale, where the scene of awakening is a prologue. The actual plot involves a settling of economic, political and legal debts incurred by liberal elites to sustain an imaginary that now confronts declining domestic and international purchase. My emphasis on the theme of debt is not random. It flows from the symbolic timing of Professor Kennedy's lecture: given on the eve of what the Roman calendar called the Ides of March, or the ceremonious time for settling debts. In this way, my response weaves Professor Kennedy's rich institutional analysis and use of metaphors with the figurative moment of his intervention. In doing so, I argue, the wider narrative might be less of a 21 st century dreamscape disrupted, and more of how international lawyers are now confronted by a long and virtual enactment of the Ides of March. How so? The liberal institutional order was committed to the rule of law only under one condition: its governing lawyers could decide where and when law's rule was applicable. The 'Invisible College' 3 profited visibly from that arrangement in recent decades via intimate access to public policy, discourse and relevance. 4 Yet, the normative contradictions, social disequilibria and ecological consequences incurred have been stunning. The challenge now is to grasp the severity of that indenture for the discipline and profession, and its implications for the rule of law topos going forward. 5 This brings me to what I value most in Professor Kennedy's lecture and intervention: its disruptive proposition vis-à-vis how international orders are perceived sociologically. He focuses on something a good number of international lawyers do not consider as intrinsic for their job description: imagination. I interpret Professor Kennedy's use of imagination as suggesting that international lawyers are governed, like everyone
doi:10.5334/tilr.131 fatcat:xuda3bdllbdadgnykle7gw3b3q