Descendants of Realism?: Policy-oriented International Lawyers as Guardians of Democracy

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date


Source Publication

Critical International Law: Postrealism, Postcolonialism, and Transnationalism. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2014.


This essay revisits the generally accepted status of the New Haven School’s policy-oriented approach as the first systematic post-realist jurisprudence in American international legal thought. It argues that the literature offers little in the way of a systematic analysis of the jurisprudential influence of legal realism on the New Haven School. It further argues that an important but overlooked aspect of Yale’s jurisprudence markedly distinguishes it from legal realism: the lawyer’s professional persona. In line with its central normative commitment, the New Haven School entrusts the (international) lawyer with the magnificent task of advancement of human dignity. This professional identity, I suggest, breaks away from the institutional position familiar to the mid-twentieth century (international) lawyer and directly borrows from Harold Lasswell’s ideal of the policy scientist in a democratic society.

The essay will first follow the trajectory of policy science in Lasswell’s thought, its synthesis of scientific and purposive commitments, and the therapeutic role it ascribes to policy scientists of democracy for social betterment. It will then expose Myres McDougal’s ideal of the international lawyer of human dignity as experts with a vision for a more humane system of international affairs, as intellectuals of enlightenment, as activists propagating the values of human dignity, as edifying social scientists, and ultimately, as guardians and guarantors of the future of liberal democracy.

The New Haven School’s international law, the essay suggests, embraced a new existential rationale entrusted to social therapists in international lawyers: edification of minds and unification of 'personalities' toward a homogeneous global order. This professional image markedly distinguishes the New Haven Jurisprudence from the teachings of legal realists, but a study of its intellectual pedigree in Lasswell’s thought has so far been absent from the international legal theory literature on the policy-oriented jurisprudence.

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