When I started teaching international law more than twenty years ago, it was still possible to be an international law generalist. In the U.S. legal academy, the likes of Henkin, Schachter, Franck, and McDougal covered the full range of public international law subjects. (Some even managed to stay on top of private international law, too.) Today, being an international law generalist is impractical; it's simply too difficult to keep current with the breadth of international law. From the scholar's perspective, it's a case of “be careful what you wish for.” A generalist international law orientation used to be possible because there was so little of it, both on the ground and in the scholarship. Those mid-century saplings—the various distinctive fields within international law—have grown to mature oaks, and expert knowledge of their many crevices and branches is beyond the capacity of any single observer. Not only does international law defy individual mastery, but the level of specialization now makes it difficult to talk across these different areas. My colleague in international criminal law might as well be a domestic family law person for purposes of professional points of connection. We both attend the ASIL Annual Meeting, but we no longer really speak the same language.
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