Any undertaking in international law assumes a certain theory. Even those who argue for the significance of practice over theory already assume a theoretical framework that prioritizes practice. As long as one seeks to demonstrate the validity of his or her argument, he or she needs a solid and coherent theoretical framework.
To construct such a theory, one must learn from history. Even a genius cannot create his or her theory without having the knowledge and appreciation of the accumulated works and experiences of humanity. These accumulated works and experiences include the actual history of humanity and the history of ideas constructed by past thinkers. Even those who claim that they have created some completely new theory cannot do so without relying on preexisting ideas and concepts. The very concept of “new” or “revolutionary” ideas presupposes the existence of “old” or “existing” ideas.
Thus, the study of theory and that of history cannot be separated from each other. And because any undertaking in international law assumes some theory, those who are engaged in such an undertaking need to study the theory and history of international law. The “Theory and History of International Law” Interest Group (THIL) invites anyone who is interested in international law to study this stimulating linkage.
In carrying out this task, we must be aware that international lawyers have, often unconsciously, followed domestic model thinking in appreciating international legal phenomena and theorizing on international law. They tend to understand international law by adopting ideas and concepts of and on their domestic law, to which they are most accustomed. International lawyers have also, again in many cases unconsciously, followed a modern, West-centric way of thinking in appreciating the world at large. Most of the cognitive and evaluative tools through which we understand and assess things and phenomena are those provided by modern Western thinkers.
Members of the THIL come from various countries with diverse bodies of knowledges, experiences and assumptions. By seeking to liberate ourselves from our narrowly defined perspectives and understandings of the world, we can secure sound inter-subjective understandings of and on international law. To carry out this task, we must be courageous enough to doubt our own assumptions and preoccupations. “Everything (including one’s own presumptions and understanding of the world) can be doubted” should be the credo of the Interest Group.
ONUMA Yasuaki, founding convenor, Theory and History of International Law Interest Group, Asian Society of International Law