Martti Koskenniemi (University of Helsinki): "Facebook, Global Community and the Law"

May 4, 2017, 4:30 pm6:00 pm
McCormick Hall, Room 101


Event Description

In a rare political manifesto, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg recently published an open letter lamenting that when he began,  the idea of “bringing us closer together and building a global community…was not controversial." Without mentioning Trump or Brexit,  he suggested that this was no longer so, that “across the world there are people left behind by globalization, and movements for withdrawing from global connection." And so, to get back on track, he suggested action on five areas of cooperation – community-building, safety, information, civic engagement, and inclusion. As I read this, I was carrying out research on the 16th century Spanish theologian Francisco de Vitoria's lament on the state of Christendom and the world, the clash with Turkey, and the atrocities in the New World. He called for an understanding that “the whole world [was] in a sense a commonwealth [with] the power to enact laws which are just and convenient to all men," and that these laws had “the sanction of the whole world."

Over again during the 500 years that separate Vitoria from Zuckerberg, “global community,” has been proposed as the appropriate framework for thinking about politics, progress, and the law. Zuckerberg did not write about law but he did focus on what he called “governance." In this talk I wish to respond to Zuckerberg by examining some of the obstacles lawyers have encountered in their search for a “global legal community." I appreciate his opening, but I am skeptical about its chances of success. Though I agree with some of his proposals, I think a more careful analysis of the failure of past globalism is needed before an effective response to the present backlash can develop. Progress cannot be attained by proposing more of the same.  Law might be helpful in providing the analysis but also as a means to think anew about how to go forward. 

Martti Koskenniemi is Academy Professor of International Law at the University of Helsinki and Director of the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights. He was a member of the Finnish diplomatic service (1978-1994), Judge with the Administrative Tribunal of the Asian Development Bank (1997- 2002), and member of the International Law Commission (UN) in 2002-2006. He has worked with several UN agencies and bodies and pleaded with the International Court of Justice. He has held lengthier visiting professorships in, among other places, NYU, Columbia University, University of Cambridge, London School of Economics, and Universities of Brussels, Melbourne, Paris, Sao Paulo and Utrecht. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and has a doctorate h.c. from the Universities of Uppsala, Frankfurt and McGill. His main publications include From Apology to Utopia; The Structure of International Legal Argument (1989/2005), The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870-1960 (2001) and The Politics of International Law (2011).  He is currently working on a history of international legal thought from the late medieval period to the 19th century.