Is justice the first virtue of international institutions?
One of Rawls’s most memorable and famous lines was the claim that ‘justice is the first virtue of social institutions.’ In posing a question that reflects that claim, this chapter might be imagined to be a paean to this most important of late twentiethcentury American political philosophers. To dispel this impression, it might be appropriate to commence with a variation of the words Shakespeare put into Mark Antony’s mouth:1 ‘I have come to bury Rawls not to praise him’. But I shall not say that either. Rawls effectively buried himself as a serious philosopher of international relations with his famous ‘law of peoples’.2 In A Theory of Justice,3 Rawls had imagined a group of people who are ignorant of their own circumstances (the pre-contractual ‘original position’), sitting down to discuss the principles on which their created society would be based. He argued that these negotiators would came up with three principles counted (which he counted) as two and in which the second and then third only came into operation when the higher ones were as fully operationalized as possible – they were, in his terms, ‘lexically ordered’.4
Rethinking International Law and Justice
International Law (excl. International Trade Law)