Concepts for International Law
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Concepts for International Law

Contributions to Disciplinary Thought

Edited by Jean d’Aspremont and Sahib Singh

Concepts shape how we understand and participate in international legal affairs. They are an important site for order, struggle and change. This comprehensive and authoritative volume introduces a large number of concepts that have shaped, at various points in history, international legal practice and thought; intimates at how the many projects of international law have grappled with, and influenced, the world through certain concepts; and introduces new concepts into the discipline.
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Chapter 57: System

Mario Prost


The idea that international law exists and operates as a system has become a quasiaxiomatic premise of our discipline. Yet why we think of international law as a system, what precisely makes it a system and the normative implications of calling it a system remain largely unaddressed or contested questions. This chapter unpacks the manner in which international lawyers use and mobilize the concept of system in their writings. It begins by attempting a short genealogy of the concept, looking at the historical and political context in which the concept emerged. It then examines the ontological split in the literature between the concept of system as fact and the concept of system as postulate. From there, it goes on to consider three prevailing conceptions of international law as a normative, a purposive and a cultural system.

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