Is there such a thing as an ‘international law’ of which to be afraid? Can international law be seen as a coherent set of norms? Or is it, rather, something experienced radically differently by different individuals and groups in different parts of the world? And what do the different sets of international law seek to change or justify today?

In Who’s Afraid of International Law? noted authorities in this field respond to Raimond Gaita’s invitation to explore ways in which international law constitutes a certain way of talking and being; one that might have both ameliorative and malign effects.
The result is an extended and rich conversation about international law’s aspirations and limitations, its nuances and rigidities, achievements and failures, relevance and irrelevance. (Monash University Publishing)

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Raimond Gaita

Since 1999, Raimond Gaita has curated a public lecture series in Melbourne known as the ‘Wednesday Lectures’ where experts from different fields reflect on a topic chosen by Gaita, examining the ethical complexities of politics. Who’s Afraid of International Law? comprises seven essays developed from the 2011 series on the theme of international law and its discontents, edited by Gaita and Gerry Simpson. Gaita notes, in his prelude to the book, that throughout the series he has attempted to ‘create a conversational space in which it was possible to speak of the dignity of politics without that sounding like an oxymoron’. One of the strengths of the book is that each essay does exactly this. However, they also tackle the big questions about international law’s aspirations and limitations across fields such as development, climate change, history and crime. There is something particularly engaging and immediate about essays that were first delivered as lectures. In particular it is a pleasure to be in Gaita’s ‘conversational space’ in both his prelude and substantive chapter, as he invites the reader to walk with him through his thought processes, assumptions and conclusions on the universality of international criminal law and the idea of a common humanity. He explores concepts of violation, of dignity and how we might understand the Holocaust and the concept of genocide that it produced. He ultimately suggests that international law can act on the world like great literature: it can be universally experienced but in distinctive ways. These are deeply intelligent and thoughtful pieces of writing that demand to be read and reread.

Kate Gauld , Alternative Law

Raimond Gaita’s chapter on “The Universality of International Criminal Law and the Idea of a Common Humanity” concludes this wonderful volume on such an intellectual flight in legal philosophy and law and literature, that the author even finds himself constrained to apologize (p. 174). In sum, this book manages to be of equal importance for scholars, practitioners and students of international law alike. Although chapters in an edited volume are always necessarily of varying quality, every single one contributes to making the book a must read for everyone who is interested in a deeper understanding of international law beyond standard narratives. Third World Approaches to International Law and Critical Legal Studies made us see international law in a different light. This book makes us afraid of it.

Raphael Schäfer, , Heidelberg. Rezenzionen.

Who’s afraid of international law? provides a highly original, diverse and sophisticated collection of commentaries addressing the character, significance, possibilities, successes and failures of international law. Its multidisciplinary perspective, incorporating the humanities, the social sciences and law, makes the book a unique contribution to critical literature on international law. Raimond Gaita and Gerry Simpson provide a breath of fresh air that pushes the boundaries of critique in a variety of new, challenging and engaging ways.

Gaita’s chapter is a powerful defence of the importance and value of literature and emotion in informing ethical and legal understanding. His contribution is a good example of the holistic integration of legal, philosophical and psychological insights which this book provides, through his perceptive and sensitive account of what makes the crime of genocide different from other crimes. ‘Survivors of genocide who know of the genocidal intentions of their persecutors suffer different and deeper trauma than those who have survived mass murder. People who are victims of genocide and the contempt intrinsic to genocide suffer terrible harms. In addition, they suffer the distinctive evil of being treated as pollutants of the earth. Worse still, some of them suffer from the knowledge that their loved ones were the victims of the same contempt. This wholly conditions the nature of their trauma’ (p. 186). This is an exceptional book of intellectual, ethical and legal depth, gathering a multitude of perspectives that merit significant attention. It will reward readers with greater understanding of international law, its possibilities and its limits.

Noam Schimmel, University of Oxford, International Affairs


Raimond Gaita

Introduction: Who’s Afraid of International Law?
Gerry Simpson

On Being Afraid of International Law
Gerry Simpson

Changing the World: The Ethical Impulse of International Law
Sundhya Pahuja

Who’s Afraid of the International Criminal Court
Tim McCormack

Who’s Afraid of a Climate Treaty
Robyn Eckersley

Remembering 1948: Who’s Afraid of International Legal History in the Israeli–Palestinian Conflict?
Catriona Drew



Gerry Simpson, Sundhya Pajuja, Tim McCormack, Robyn Eckersley, Catriona Drew, Raimond Gaita

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