To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure email@example.com
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
In one of the splendid essays brought together in his Personality in Politics, published just after World War II, British politician and civil servant Sir Arthur Salter speculates about why the USA failed to ratify the League of Nations Covenant, the brainchild of US President Woodrow Wilson. First, Sir Arthur suggests, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a one-time supporter of the idea behind the League, was embroiled in “bitter personal enmity” with Wilson, for reasons that have long remained unclear. Sir Arthur suggests that Lodge’s support could have made a decisive difference: it would most likely have resulted in further support by seven more senators, which would have been enough to secure the required two-thirds majority in the US Senate. But the personal relationship between Lodge and Wilson was such that this never happened.
The intellectual historian John Pocock once observed that with the rise of commercialization, the status of citizens was no longer seen as a function of their actions and their virtues but came to be constructed in juridical terms, in terms of rights and of ownership of things. He posits an opposition between virtue (part of a political way of life) and rights (part of a commercial way of life) that was eventually bridged with the help of the social notion of manners – and this might help explain why we associate the virtue of prudence with a certain kind of prudishness.
An additional role the virtues can play involves helping to evaluate (and thereby possibly even guide) conduct. It is here in particular that responsibility or accountability mechanisms often come up short or can at least be said to be naturally limited. Typically, such mechanisms focus on single instances of conduct, divorced from what preceded or inspired them, or then conduct might be such that it can hardly be caught by rules. Some have pleaded strongly for “intelligent accountability,” but the combination of having rules and organs or agents to apply and enforce them as they relate to particular facts makes such an idea well-nigh impossible. In the typical accountability scheme, the act under review usually gets simplified and stylized. This has heuristic benefits in that it simplifies what actually goes on, but these benefits may come at the cost of proper understanding.
It is not too difficult to claim, in a cocktail party type of way, that global governance should be more virtuous, and that those who run our lives and our institutions should be decent human beings. That is the easy part, if only because it makes intuitive sense that what could possibly be useful in some settings (professional sports, for example) is not so appropriate in other settings. We accept ruthlessness in our professional athletes – indeed, to the point that it might be difficult for them to become truly exceptional without a ruthless streak. But we do not think that quite the same applies to judges, or high-ranking civil servants, let alone religious leaders. Not even our statespersons, even if we would want them to serve the national interest (whatever that may be), are expected to display quite the same amount or sort of ruthlessness. Michael Jordan and Cristiano Ronaldo may be single-minded and ruthless; the Dalai Lama or the Pope may not, and neither may Germany’s long-serving prime minister Angela Merkel.
As the preceding chapters have suggested, there might be merit in paying some attention to the virtues when discussing global governance, both in the abstract and in highly concrete manifestations. Those merits can come in various forms and guises, and can probably be grouped neatly together under three headings. First, the virtues can have some explanatory force: they can help us to understand things we would otherwise be unable to grasp. They can help us understand why Finland’s wartime president Risto Ryti made his “personal” deal with Nazi Germany, or why Sergio Vieira de Mello decided to persuade Cambodian refugees to return to their country of origin.
One cannot open a newspaper these days without some ethical issue being mentioned, often rather prominently so. Sometimes this concerns business ethics: the most debated scandal of 2015, for instance, was the way a car manufacturer had aimed to circumvent emission standards by installing doctored computer technology. What is more, this car manufacturer had done so despite the existence of legal rules on the topic, and despite the circumstance that those rules seem clear enough, if not in their detail, then at least in what they aim to prevent.
While virtue ethics is distinguished from deontology and consequentialism by its focus on the actor and their character rather than specific acts, it can nonetheless be illuminating to analyze particular acts through a virtue ethics prism. Such an analysis may be helpful in coming to understand why, in a specific situation, the actor came to their act. The point here is not so much to appraise the act and assess whether it was good or bad but rather whether the act can be made understandable – and perhaps justifiable – in light of the circumstances of the case and the agent’s character. Put differently, and perhaps more accurately, the idea underlying what follows is that their conduct tells us something about the individual concerned and simultaneously suggests how difficult situations can be approached – atypical though they may be. Much conduct is hemmed in by the context in which it takes place, and thus there is little point in copying other people’s conduct. But it may be possible to draw broader lessons from looking at specific situations and how people responded.
The virtues may not only be inspiring or exemplarist in the way discussed in the previous chapter but may also help define or circumscribe what can be expected from persons in particular positions. If it is true that being an accountant entails different things from being a doctor, it may (or must) be possible to provide at least a rough description of the position in terms of the virtues. And this, in turn, can be achieved by looking at various occupants of a position and distilling what is worthy of emulation and what is best not repeated. This is a difficult task in that circumstances are rarely the same – a positive and definitive job description, valid for all times and situations, will not be possible. But what might be possible is to provide a rough description – things to pay attention to when appointing individuals and monitoring their performance.
As highlighted earlier, whenever things go wrong, the immediate and inevitable response is to call for better rules, new rules, different rules, new institutions, or better institutions to apply the rules that already exist – or a combination of the above. This is curious, as usually there are some rules in place, and often enough, those rules were considered perfectly fine before things went wrong. Moreover, there is not always a lack of institutions to apply them either, whether on the international or domestic level. Still, time and again, rules are manipulated, ignored, stretched, departed from, bent, or reinterpreted. Even relatively clear and settled rules can suffer this fate, let alone rules that are less clear. It is the general argument of this book that a focus on virtue ethics may well come to be of assistance.
We live in a normative universe: a world of rules. Those rules can be legal rules, moral rules, sports rules, rules of the game. They can be formal or informal. On the road, we are subject to traffic rules. At home, we are embedded in frameworks set by rules concerning marriage, childcare, education. And when we tell our children how to behave, we tend to refer to rules. In Peter French’s pithy formulation: “We teach rules, not lives.”
Amongst international lawyers, the approach to international law often labelled constitutionalism properly emerged at some point in the late 1990s, perhaps mostly inspired by millenarian anxieties. A short century after Oswald Spengler declared the decline of the West, and three quarters of a century after José Ortega y Gasset bemoaned the revolt of the masses marking the end of civilization, some international lawyers expressed concern about the survival of mankind, and proposed that only a reconstructed international law could come to the rescue – and quite a few of these international lawyers hailed from Germany.
This was curious, or so it seemed. The West, far from declining, had just triumphed over the East in the beginning of the 1990s. Western values (typically those endorsed by constitutionalist international lawyers) had already assumed prominence, so much so that Francis Fukuyama could famously proclaim the end of history, inspired by Germany’s national philosopher G. W. F. Hegel. And Germany itself had just been reunited (or united, as the case may be – these matters are politically sensitive).
Since rules - legal, ethical or otherwise - cannot determine their own application, they require persons of flesh and blood to interpret and apply them in concrete cases. Presidents and prime ministers, judges, prosecutors, mediators, leaders of international organizations, and even religious leaders and public intellectuals make decisions on how best to understand rules and how best to apply them. It stands to reason that their character traits influence the sort of decisions they take. This book provides the first systematic framework for discussing global governance in terms of the virtues, and illustrates it with a number of detailed examples of concrete decision-making in specific situations. Virtue in Global Governance combines insights from law, ethics, and global governance studies in developing a unique approach to global governance and international law.
The chapters collected in this Cambridge Companion together demonstrate a few things about the law of international organizations – and law generally perhaps – that may not always be realized. A first point to note is that international organizations are active in nigh-on all walks of life, as these chapters suggest. There are few human activities with which international organizations have no point of contact. Whether it concerns energy provision or the movement of persons across the globe; whether it concerns disarmament or financial stability or the governance of resource extraction, international organizations are often involved in one way or another. And even in those policy domains where there is no single overarching international organization (most conspicuously perhaps the heavily fragmented domain of environmental protection), there are nonetheless entities active which may not generally be considered international organizations (largely because their founding fathers shy away from using that label), but which are remarkably similar to international organizations in all but name.