Seminar: ‘The Limits of Liberal Legalism’ – Ian Hurd (Northwestern)

This is event is co-hosted by the Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group and the International Legitimacy Project. More information here:



Scholarship on international law in political science is dominated by a liberal paradigm that separates legal from political domains. By assuming that law is a manifestation of cooperation and that cooperation is a normative good, the liberal model is in invested from the very beginning in a political commitment to increasing compliance. This leads to pathologies that Judith Shklar identified in as ‘legalism,’ and for global governance scholarship it slants research away from empirically grounded analysis and toward boosterism of international governance. This article examines this intellectual framework and sets it alongside an alternative that puts politics back into the analysis of international law. I show the differences between the two and outline the research agendas that follow from them. With different theories of how law and politics are related, they lead to competing policy prescriptions about whether international law is naturally progressive and deserving of deference.



Ian Hurd is Professor of Political Science and Director of the International Studies program at Northwestern University. He has worked for many years at the intersection of international law and international politics with a focus on international organizations. His latest book is How to Do Things With International Law which traces how the idea of the international rule of law produces contemporary international politics. His earlier work on the UN Security Council includes the book After Anarchy: Legitimacy and Power in the UN Security Council, which won the Myres McDougal Prize of the Policy Sciences Society and the Chadwick Alger Prize of the International Studies Association. His is co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of International Organizations. He has served chair of the International Organization section of the International Studies Association and been a visiting scholar at the American Bar Foundation, the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, EHESS in Paris, WZB-Berlin, Sciences Po in Paris, among others.


This event is free, open to all and no registration is required.