Theology for International Law
Esther D. Reed
Church Times Bookshop £18 (Use code CT158
WHILE the interplay of theology and law is widely reflected on,
international law rarely receives much attention from theologians.
This is strange, not only because the origins of international law
as we understand it are deeply rooted in the writings of 15th- and
16th-century lawyer-theologians, but also because theologians
continue to spend much time reflecting on issues of international
justice, in a generic sense, from a theological perspective.
To what extent, however, are such critiques grounded in a clear
understanding of the discipline they are addressing? Perhaps more
importantly, to what extent are the critiques of contemporary
international law offered by inter-national lawyers themselves
International legal theory is a notoriously opaque subject,
whose very existence (or, at least, value) has been contested by
some. Many still incline towards "realist" approaches, largely
informed by thinking drawn from international relations, which sees
international law as little more than a tool of power, either "in
the raw" or, in more modified versions, in termsof rational choice.
But whichchoices are rational?
Over the past 500 years or so, international law has evolved
from being a constraint on the exercise of unbridled power and
self-interest into a means of facilitating the pursuit of the
self-interest of states. Arguably, more recent trends towards
multilateralism have blunted this to a degree, but the overarching
principles of state sovereignty continue to put narrow
self-interest at the heart of the equation.
Yet it was not always like this. The purpose of this
enthrallingbook is to offer an alternative account that offers a
means of reconnecting current international legal discourse with
its roots, arguing that Thomist natural-law reasoning offers an
account that is "better able to cope with the intractable
disagreement that characterizes 21st-century global relations with
respect to the power and purposes of international law than some
realist sceptics allow", and that "a restatement of Thomist
natural-law reasoning is potentially more realistic - in that it
better relates the good of the one to the many - and hence better
able to cope with today's global uncertainties than prominent modes
of secularist political realism".
In support of this claim, the author offers a "restatement" of
natural-law thinking, blending Barth with Aquinas into a
"Protestant Thomist" approach. This is then used as a vehicle for
exploring key practical issues facing the contemporary
international lawyer, including the questions relating to the
normative force of international law (chapter 3); the use of force
in international relations (chapter 4); humanitarian intervention
and the "responsibility to protect" (chapter 5); the idea of the
"state" as an organising construct; and human rights (chapter
In each of these areas, realist perspectives are explored, and
their explanatory weaknesses are demonstrated when compared with
the insights offered from natural-law approaches, as understood by
the author. It is not the purpose of the book to say what
international law on any of these issues should be: rather, it
seeks to show how theologically informed understandings can inform
perceptions of international law and the manner in which it may be
developed in the pursuit of justice and of peace through law.
This is not an easy book to read - not an easy subject to
explore - but it is a book that repays the reader for having done
Dr Malcolm D. Evans is Professor of Public International Law
at the University of Bristol.