Constitutionalism as Mindset: Reflections on Kantian Themes About International Law and Globalization

Martti Koskenniemi


Globalization is a topic of some anxiety among international lawyers. On the one hand, its fluid dynamics — fragmentation, deformalization and empire — undermine traditional diplomatic rules and institutions. On the other hand, the effort to reimagine international law in purely managerial terms appears intellectually shallow and politically objectionable. To avoid marginalization and instrumentalization, many lawyers have begun to think about international problems through a constitutional vocabulary and have often cited Kant in that connection. This Article argues that, while it is always possible to grasp the world through a constitutional vocabulary, this does not provide determinate answers to international problems. Instead of an institutional architecture or a set of legal rules, constitutionalism is best seen as a mindset — a tradition and a sensibility about how to act in a political world. Contrary to a widespread assumption, Kant’s political writings may also be read in this fashion and, if so, a meaningful international transformation might necessitate not only legislative or institutional intervention but a professional and perhaps spiritual regeneration.

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