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Of Law and the World

Critical Conversations on Power, History, and Political Economy

David Kennedy, Martti Koskenniemi

ISBN 9780674290785

Publication date: 08/22/2023

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A searching dialogue between two leading legal scholars exploring the place of law in global affairs.

The modern world is legalized: legal language, institutions, and professionals are everywhere. But what is law’s power in global life? What does all this legality have to do with hegemony, with hierarchy and inequality, and with the diversity of human experience? What is its history and how does that history matter in world affairs? Above all, what does it mean to think “critically” about law and global affairs? In this poignant and iconoclastic book, two leading scholars take us to the heart of the matter, examining law’s relationship with history, power, and political economy.

David Kennedy and Martti Koskenniemi have often inspired each other and are both considered “critical” voices in international law, but they have never explored their similarities and differences as deeply as they do here. Of Law and the World takes the form of a conversation, as the authors reflect on the study of international law, the motivations underlying their research, and the payoffs and limitations of their investigations into law’s role in global affairs. They revisit and renew debates about the past and future of the many legalities that shape our world.

Erudite, open-minded, and informed by decades of experience and observation, Of Law and the World is an unflinchingly honest confrontation with humanity’s struggle to live together.


  • Over the last four decades, David Kennedy and Martti Koskenniemi have occupied a unique space that was, simultaneously, at the top of the international law world and on its cutting edge. This book offers an enthralling tour of the intellectual and professional world they inhabited and sought to disrupt. A front-row seat to a fireside chat about how to plot critique.

    —Vasuki Nesiah, New York University


  • David Kennedy is Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law and Director of the Institute for Global Law and Policy at Harvard Law School. His books include A World of Struggle: How Power, Law, and Expertise Shape Global Political Economy and Of Law and War.
  • Martti Koskenniemi is Professor of International Law, Emeritus, at the University of Helsinki and Director of the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights. He is the author of From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument and The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law, 1870–1960, among other works.

Book Details

  • 320 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press