Interviews August 24, 2017

Acts of Faith: Talking Religion, Law, and Empire with Dr. Anna Su

Dr. Anna Su

Religious freedom is back in the news. Just last week, the State Department released its report on religious freedom for 2017. Speaking at its unveiling, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pledged solidarity with a diverse group of persecuted religious groups: Iranian Baha'is and Christians, Chinese Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists, Pakistani Ahmadiyya Muslims, Saudi Arabian Shia Muslims, and Turkish non-Sunni Muslims, among others. Government officials did not miss the opportunity to extol the US's "long, strong tradition"  of promoting religious freedom abroad.

No sooner than these announcements were made, reporters began pointing out the gap between rhetoric and reality. In a series of blistering questions, journalists underscored inconsistencies in the administration's stated prioritization of persecuted Christian refugees; the restrictions on travelers from several majority-Muslim countries; the politicization and selectivity of its interventions; and the absence of any self-reflexivity, particularly in relation to spikes in hate crimes directed at American Muslims. China promptly followed suit, questioning America's moral authority on religious freedom amid white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville.

The history of America's interest in religious freedom abroad is the focus of Dr. Anna Su's first book, Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power (2016). As Su shows, the US has a long history of intervening in countries on behalf of religious freedom. Su tracks the development of official government policies toward religious freedom: first as part of its "civilizing mission" in the Philippines from 1898, then in the democratization of Japan after World War II, and finally through the championing of human rights in Iraq and elsewhere. Working at the intersection of history and law, Su is currently Associate Professor in the University of Toronto's Faculty of Law. She previously earned an SJD from Harvard Law School, and worked as a law clerk for the Philippine Supreme Court and a consultant to the Philippine government negotiating panel with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Su presented at the Harvard International & Global History Seminar earlier this year. While she was in town, the Foundation caught up with Su to discuss the shifting valences of religious freedom and American empire, as well as the benefits and dangers of watching historical films starring Tommy Lee Jones.

Aden Knaap

INTERVIEWER: How did you come to combine law and history?

ANNA SU: I'm originally a lawyer. Initially, I had no plans of going to graduate school, or being an academic for that matter. So I never really imagined ending up here and writing this book. But I guess the topics of this book–constitutions, religion, international law–have always fascinated me. I wanted to write about the situation of the Muslims in the Philippines because it's something that I grew up with, seeing the conflict in the news. I've always been fascinated by Islamic law, but there was nowhere for me to study that in the Philippines. So I used the opportunity at Harvard to do a bit of research on that and found it really fascinating.

At Harvard, I did an LLM—a one year Master's program meant for lawyers with foreign law degrees. I wrote a paper on how an Islamic state could exist within a federal Philippines. At the time, many commentators said that even if the Philippines conceded to what some Muslim groups were demanding, they would not be able to do that under the current constitution because of a provision on the separation of church and state. But I guess I was more interested in what the other side were thinking: how would they argue for that under Islamic law? It was eye-opening to read about the wide-ranging debates amongst Islamic law thinkers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries on how Islam could grapple with modernity in light of the situation in the Philippines. In the course of researching this paper, I came across this debate where some Filipino Muslim leaders went before the U.S. Congress just before independence in 1945 imploring the U.S. government not to include them in the soon-to-be independent Philippines. They thought that they were too different and that being part of the Philippines would not be a good idea. They wanted a separate state, to be on their own. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. That got me started on this track. I wanted to explore the motivations of the people involved and get a sense of the paths not taken. My doctoral studies were helpful in providing a foundation to do work that combines both law and history.

INTERVIEWER: What effect did being in post-Iraq America have on your research interests?

SU: I came to the US in 2007 and Iraq seemed to be the only thing that people cared about. It was the main foreign policy preoccupation. I remember one of the biggest questions then was whether Islam and democracy could be made compatible. I took almost all of the classes available on law and religion. I also had Noah Feldman as my supervisor, who went to Iraq as an advisor to the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority, so that was always in the background I guess. Being in the US and learning more about the history gave me the ability to articulate my opposition to the Iraq invasion in a more informed way. This was also around the time when the US Supreme Court was in the midst of deciding Boumediene v. Bush, a very important case that asked whether the foreign detainees held at Guantanamo Bay prison had any constitutional right to challenge their detention. To me, it was really striking that the discussion centered on the applicability of the Insular Cases, a set of decisions by the Supreme Court in the early twentieth century regarding the status of the territories acquired by the US in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War. So both on the history side and the law side, the question of empire was, in a rather bizarre way, back in fashion. These were all influential in helping me come up with my dissertation project. I suppose one can say that I arrived in the US during an auspicious moment.

INTERVIEWER: So the chapters that bookend Exporting Freedom—on American religious colonialism in the Philippines from 1898 and in Iraq from 2003—were the kernel of the book from the start?

Cover of Anna Su, Exporting Freedom: Religious Liberty and American Power (2016)

SU: Yes, from the very beginning that's what I wanted to do. Initially the book wasn't going to be about American religious freedom in general; I was thinking specifically about the separation of church and state and why that was always the model that the US exported. I wanted to look at different modes of exportation–either by imposition or annexation, through the diffusion of international norms as well as through the use of American advisers in constitution-making scenarios around the world in the postwar period. That seemed too big and unwieldy and I had to narrow down the project.  So the concept of exporting religious freedom came late. As did the title. Actually, my original title was rejected—"Freedom's Law"—because Ronald Dworkin had already written a book under that title, which was also published by Harvard Press.

INTERVIEWER: Right. I can imagine you probably didn't want to come up against Ronald Dworkin.

SU: I cannot, nor do I want to! This is also a completely different type of work. It was actually Sam Moyn who helped me come up with the title. He said to me, "what is the thesis? That should be the title." One thing that I would point out to graduate students is that, unless you already have a book contract, you cannot use your dissertation title for the book. So if you have a very unexciting title in mind, use it for the dissertation.

Again, I was in graduate school at a time when there were so many books being produced on American empire and the US in the world: Paul Kramer's The Blood of Government (2006); Christopher Capozzola's Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen (2008); Charles Maier's Among Empires (2006); Niall Ferguson had two books on the US and British empires; there were so many. It was also a good time to study religion in public affairs. Charles Taylor had just published his magnum opus A Secular Age (2007). So I guess my own interests converged with the literatures circulating at that time.

INTERVIEWER: How did your understanding of American colonialism change when you moved to the US?

SU: I was at this conference at Yale on religion and human rights two weeks ago. There, I spoke about America's past of promoting religious freedom as part of a colonial project and how that continues to be part of the historical baggage of every contemporary government effort to promote religious freedom internationally. Even if we believe that religious freedom is a valuable thing, that all people should have it, you will still encounter some sort of pushback in China, in India, and many other places based on this colonial past. After the panel, one of the audience members came up to me and asked whether I learned this in the Philippines. She said I seemed so critical and that the Filipinos she'd met weren't that critical. I replied, "to be honest, I only learned all of this when I got to the US." Obviously, you have people there who have always been critical, but Filipinos generally have a pretty positive attitude towards the US. You can see that in Manila—it seems like three hundred years of Spanish occupation did nothing compared to fifty years of America. The city's very American, but with a Spanish mentality. It's a weird combination.

At law school in the Philippines, we took it for granted that Philippine constitutional law includes a lot of American cases because we have a provision on the separation of church and state in our constitution. But we only learned the doctrine and none of the background. It seemed obvious that it would be there because of the history of Spanish clerical abuse, but we did not know anything about US President William McKinley, for example, and the reasons why there was this insistence on the separation of church and state in his Instructions to the American legislative commission for the Philippines.  So I got to Harvard and I was super confident—I thought it would be a repeat of what I learned in the Philippines. Not really, it turns out. I didn't realize there was so much debate going on behind these cases and that these were ongoing since its founding. So it was not only about hearing critical voices but, for the most part, that's what I thought I was missing before I came to Harvard. It does seem odd to get the critique from the so-called metropole, not the periphery.

INTERVIEWER: How did your argument for the dissertation change as you began delving into the sources: reading the President McKinley's Instructions, for example? Or did it not change; did it confirm your suspicions?

SU: I would say it complicated my views about American power generally. I had a somewhat clear idea of what I was going to say in the chapters on the Philippines and Iraq. The similarities were quite striking, especially in terms of the rhetoric of bringing the blessings of liberty to oppressed peoples. So my starting point was to show how and why religious freedom always seemed to be part and parcel of these nation-building activities. I also knew Japan would be there. Those three case studies were relatively easy. I couldn't believe nobody had written about them before. What was challenging was trying to figure out what thread went through each of them; to come up with a coherent explanation and then connect that both to religious freedom and later on to human rights, since I argued that conceptions of religion changed from being part of the civilizing mission early on to being part of human rights promotion later. I also had to reflect on the implications of that shift. What was qualitatively different from promoting religious freedom as part of a civilizing project to promoting it as part of this pantheon of human rights that we presently have? It's very easy to say that everything is just a repeat of the past but I think that's lazy and untrue. There are certainly continuities, but there are also discontinuities, and we need to look at those, too, in order to have a more complex understanding of how today's norms came to be.

In addition, I didn't know what I was going to find in the middle: after the Philippines in 1899, Japan after World War II, and Iraq in 2003. I knew nothing about Woodrow Wilson, and I knew nothing about the 1970s. Also, those two case studies are the ones that don't involve the US constitution. And so they took a lot of research, and a lot of praying.

INTERVIEWER: I imagine it was a good time to be working on both Wilson and the 1970s—Harvard history professor Erez Manela had published his pioneering history of international society, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (2007); and Yale law professor Sam Moyn had just released The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (2012), in which he argued that the 1970s was the breakthrough period for human rights.

SU: Yes, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to consult with them while I was writing the dissertation version of the book. I'm grateful for these scholars for coming up with these books, because they were really helpful in providing a big picture of their respective periods and identifying what were the big historiographical questions. I focus on religious freedom in law and lawmaking and high politics among government actors so our stories overlap in certain areas. One of the challenges in writing the book was to engage separately with the main historiographies of the six periods I covered, but at the same time advance an overarching argument that could also generate a new set of conversations. So having these books come out at the time, they served as interlocutors as I was working on my own project.

I do remember getting scared while writing the dissertation because of the publication of Andrew Preston's book, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of the Faith: Religion in American War and Diplomacy (2012). It was and remains the book when it comes to religion in American foreign affair. I remember thinking to myself, "what more can I add?" But thankfully (as I later learned), there's always room for more things to say.  It was a really helpful book in terms of pioneering the turn to religion in the study of U.S. foreign affairs and setting up the stage for books like mine and many others in this field. I like to think of Exporting Freedom as a complement to Andrew's book.

INTERVIEWER: Did you draw inspiration from sources other than academic histories?

SU: Maybe this is a great example of how graduate students master the art of procrastination: before I wrote a chapter, I would watch a movie that was set in that particular period. Because my book encompasses several discrete time periods within the twentieth century, rather than focusing on a few continuous decades, I felt that a movie would set me in the general mood of that period.

I must have watched five or six in total but, unfortunately, I can only remember one and it was a really bad movie: Emperor (2012), starring Tommy Lee Jones as Douglas MacArthur, for the chapter on post-World War II Japan. You know, just to get in the mindset of why America wanted to remain in Japan or what they decided to do with Emperor Hirohito. Even before the attack on Pearl Harbour, Americans had a very racialized view of who the Japanese were, and how the Chinese were different from the Japanese. I think I watched Letters from Iwo Jima (2006) afterwards because of how terrible Emperor was–the script, the acting, it was all so terrible.

INTERVIEWER: I'd be interested to hear what you discovered about the disjuncture between America's domestic situation with regards to religion and its foreign policy. Picking up on your chapter on Japan, for example, how did American discussions about religion within the US differ from their discussions about religion abroad?

SU: That was around the time when the US Supreme Court was still trying to figure out what the principle of the separation of church and state meant and there was a considerable amount of discussion going on–not just among lawyers–about what separation should mean. But these conversations didn't travel to Japan. So all the criticism and discussion happening at home wasn't exported abroad. What you had, instead, was a very ossified version of religious freedom that got exported and presented as a gift to other people, without any space for other interpretations. I thought that was really fascinating. I believe it was unthinking on their part—the Americans thought, "they don't have Protestants and Catholics over there so this kind of debate that we're having in the US is not necessarily applicable." But it could be unthinking precisely because it was based on assumptions about what proper religion was or what the other people were all about. Even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the idea of an emperor who supposedly descended from the sun god was ridiculed in the American press. So it could have been that they wanted to enshrine the separation of powers in Japan's constitution because of the role of the emperor in Japanese military aggression, or it could also be due to narrow American conceptions of religion.  Of course, they didn't consider what this would mean for Japan.  For instance, a particular constitutional provision banned any kind of state funding that would benefit religious institutions. This was later relaxed by the Japanese Supreme Court in a 1997 decision, which acknowledged that absolute separation is impossible.

Emperor Hirohito's

INTERVIEWER: Moving on from the chapter on Japan, were there case studies that got lost in the process, that you toyed with writing but ultimately decided to abandon?

SU: Of course! This is definitely not how it looked like at the beginning. I don't even know when I settled on having these six case studies. I thought initially that there would be more. The one I initially wanted to include was about the Vatican, specifically the Second Vatican Council of 1962–65. There were interesting American connections, but I realized it just didn't fit with the story I wound up telling. I guess there was a point where everything just clicked. But I assure you it was not a foregone conclusion. There was one very long draft I spent an entire summer working on that ended up in the trash.

The main difficulty had to do with trying to write an interdisciplinary project. I was in a law school, I wanted to be a law professor, and the legal academy has certain hiring requirements. Given the material of my research, I knew it was not going to work as a single or a series of law review articles. But then, at the beginning, I had no idea how to write a history dissertation either. I remember we had to do a third-year presentation of our dissertation projects with everybody in attendance, including our supervisors. There was a debate about how to take my project forward and there was a clear law-history divide. Later on, David Armitage told me that I needed to figure out a way to satisfy both lawyers and historians. I figured I would just write a book.

INTERVIEWER: Were you also conscious of speaking to a policy audience? Because you do make a normative argument at the end about how religious freedom might be salvaged.

SU: Yes, that consciousness mostly has to do with my role as a legal academic. Actually, some critical scholars are quite disappointed with how I don't go quite far enough, in their view. But I feel it also has to do with where my own commitments lie. That is, I do think that religious freedom is good, that it's not just power play all the way down, and that there has to be something done about it. I just don't agree with the way that it was done in the past or part of how it's being done in the present. That informs how I end the book: that there are still a lot of lessons to be taken from this history, and that we have to be aware of it. The book itself, like any work of history, does not have any specific prescriptions, but it was certainly written with an aspiration to inform policy debates. You'd be surprised how little people know of this history. I was. Maybe they'll know Japan, but they'll probably think that the US did a good thing over there, and they won't have any regrets. So it's hard. It's hard changing people's minds. That's the first revolution.

INTERVIEWER: Can you elaborate on what you think are the lessons to be taken from this history? And on the state of American religious freedom promotion today?

SU: In my view, many of the concerns surrounding the contemporary version of having an ambassador for religious freedom within the State Department are a bit overblown. Under President Obama, religious freedom did not occupy the central role in US foreign policy that it did under George Bush. There is a huge difference between promoting religious freedom by imposing it in foreign constitutions and what the State Department has been doing–at least, back when it had a working bureaucracy–where you have the ambassador trying to meet with his counterparts in other places, engage in advocacy on behalf of imprisoned dissenters, and fund projects that could foster interfaith solidarity, among other things. I think those things are relatively benign. As for lessons, I do think current efforts have become more sensitive to the usual critiques and that's a sign of progress. For better or worse, the American initiative has spurred the establishment of similar efforts and offices in the European Union and, at one point, in Canada.

Still, there are two books for which the US religious freedom office is the main target: Berkeley anthropologist Saba Mahmood's Religious Difference in a Secular Age: A Minority Report (2015) and Northwestern political scientist Elizabeth Shakman Hurd's Beyond Religious Freedom (2015). Our books came out at around the same time and we were always put in conversation because of that. In terms of our arguments, I would place myself somewhere in the middle. Hurd, for instance, argues that religion cannot be captured by any kind of definition and that this will always be to the detriment of the people involved because either the government will pick sides or they will amplify the religion factor, in which case they exacerbate religious conflict. Those are fair critiques. But I find it unsatisfying in the sense that it's unclear what is to be done going forward. I don't think it's right that governments should have nothing to do with promoting religious freedom. I mean, they do that for other human rights, why not religion? I recognize many things are problematic with the status quo, but the notion that the whole enterprise has to be abandoned is unrealistic and unhelpful.

INTERVIEWER: Looking back at the history, do you see an abnegation on the left of religious freedom? Reading your book, it seemed that by the late-2000s it's really only the conservatives being associated with religious freedom in a way that perhaps didn't occur earlier.

SU: I think that's a great observation, and especially salient in our current moment. Since its founding, politics has always been intertwined with religion in this country and it's a mistake to think that it all just came out in the 1970s. Still, religious freedom used to be a consensus ideal. The big difference, I think, is the change in religious demographics: in particular, the rise in numbers of those unaffiliated with any organized religion, as well as those who do not profess any religion.

You can see the implications of this sociological transformation in the book with respect to the promotion of religious freedom abroad. During the occupation of the Philippines–we're talking about the late nineteenth century here–it was common to discuss the merits of the occupation using religiously-inflected language. Missionaries were an influential part of American society and their influence was emblematic of the Protestant hegemony of the period. Sure, you had debates amongst Protestants themselves (not to mention Protestant-Catholic battles) but until about the 1920s-1930s, they were, for the most part, talking on common ground. By the eve of the Second World War, FDR was appealing to religion writ large, not just Christianity, and deeming religion essential for any democracy. In the 1970s and later on in the 1990s, especially during the legislative drafting of the International Religious Freedom Act, I suppose you can see the provincialization of religious freedom. It slowly becomes, at least primarily, the concern of Christians. When you get to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, it's only the Christian right that pushes for religious freedom in the new Iraqi constitution. That's still where we are today.

Of course, this story is only one side of the story of American religious freedom, but it is a striking picture as to how American views of the world have been shaped by developments at home. There's a forthcoming book by Yale's Tisa Wenger called Religious Freedom: The Contested History of an American Ideal, which I suppose will give a more holistic view in terms of merging the foreign and domestic narratives.

On the domestic side, however, one observation is that the shrinking number of people who are still affiliated with organized religion have developed some kind of siege mentality. Their positions seem to be more extreme, in a way, because they feel like they are being persecuted, rightly or wrongly. The funny thing is that non-religious folks also feel the same way. It's an absurd situation, but here we are.

A great example is the case of Burwell v Hobby Lobby Stories, Inc (2014), where the Supreme Court ruled that closely-held corporations can claim freedom of religion. That decision was based on a statute called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1994, which, interestingly enough, was supported and advanced by Democrats. It was passed by an almost unanimous vote in both houses. Twenty years later, you have the same statute, but it's being used only by Republicans. And now, many are calling for the statute's repeal. What changed? I don't think it's an abnegation of the left in general, but rather the absence of a discernible and vocal religious left (if such a thing exists). The thing is, religion has become akin to a foreign language such that religious freedom only makes sense to believers; otherwise, it's viewed as harmless superstition or an excuse for bigotry. Needless to say, this is not good.

INTERVIEWER: The field of international and global history has come under fire for being Eurocentrism in disguise. Your book is very much centered on the US. In focusing so much on the US, were you concerned that you might be over-emphasizing America's influence over religious freedom?

SU: This is always one of the questions I get about the book. I do think that the twentieth century is the American century, for better or worse.  I don't think we can get around that fact. Of course, the US was never the only country promoting religious liberty. For instance, even though both the British and the US empires were engaged in similar activities, much of it within Britain was privatized and, in many instances, British missionaries went against the policy of the British government. In contrast, there was a stronger and deeper connection between American missionaries and the American government. And there are differences in self-conception. The US is the only developed country that has this very unique conception of being "blessed by God but also spreading religious liberty" (although, for the most part, religious liberty back then only meant Christianity, at least in the beginning). They didn't see any difference between religious liberty and promoting Christianity, and they don't see that as a possibility at all with other religions.  This religious character is not present to the same extent in Great Britain, even at the height of its empire. And it is a fact that religious freedom has a special place in the American founding story and in how the United States dealt with the world. I don't think it's overemphasizing to write a book about that.

I was also very sensitive to the historiographical debates around top-down models of history and the view that top-down diplomatic histories are passé at this point. So I was really worried about that at the beginning. But at the same time, if I'm going to talk about law-making and constitution-writing, it really has to be a top-down story. Of course, you can tell other stories involving the law that do not involve the state. But for what I wanted to do, and especially in trying to get into the mindset of an occupying power, it has to come from the government.

INTERVIEWER: Continuing on the theme of that top-down approach, I wondered why you chose to focus in the last chapter on Iraq on the Transitional Administrative Law—the provisional Iraqi constitution drafted by the George Bush-appointed committee in 2004—rather than the permanent constitution of 2005. The two constitutions express very different visions of government in Iraq and yet, interestingly, their provisions on religious freedom are almost identical.

SU: The main reason is that the Transitional Administrative Law is the one document that involved the Americans. The religious freedom provision that ends up in the 2005 Iraqi constitution is a copy of the provision in the TAL. For me, what was fascinating was America's insistence on having this language in order to satisfy certain religious sectors in the US. And the sheer arrogance of saying that this is what Iraq needs, without even wondering whether Iraqis wanted it.

American President George W. Bush with Paul Bremer, leader of the Coalition Provisional Authority that administered Iraq between 2003 and 2004

However, even without the United States, I'm pretty sure some version of a religious freedom guarantee would've gotten into the Iraqi constitution. Perhaps they wouldn't have had the statement that Islam and democracy have equal status. But there were (and still are) many constituencies in Iraq who are very cognizant of the developments that were brought about by the human rights revolution. I think Iraq has come to terms with the paradox involved in having a provision that says they're committed to both Islam and democracy. There's even a non-contravention clause. It's fascinating. Nothing like that has happened in any other place.

I don't know whether it's good for Iraq or not. Many critics claim that a lot of it is ornamental since there have been no cases in Iraq on religious freedom since. But maybe you don't even need to use it in order for it to have an effect. They certainly have bigger problems at this point.

INTERVIEWER: This afternoon you'll be delivering a paper on the history of universal civil jurisdiction. Is that the main project you're working on at the moment?

SU: My work on the book provided me with a solid foundation of some of its underlying fields–namely, the history of international human rights as well as law and religion–so I juggle two hats in my work. For this paper, I am putting on my hat as a historian of international norms and institutions. The primary motivation for this paper was a bit of frustration with the general discussion about the International Criminal Court and international criminal law. For an institution that hasn't really come up with much since it was established in 2002, it generates a disproportionate amount of public and scholarly attention. As a result, I think it has skewed the way we think about international justice. I am not questioning or minimizing the achievement that the ICC represents–it's undoubtedly monumental–but I do wonder if our unquestioned turn to it has led us to overlook other mechanisms for pursuing the same goals. After all, international criminal law is still a means, not an end. At the same time, I do not go beyond the confines of law, as some of those in the anti-"anti-impunity camp" might suggest. Ultimately, I still argue for a solution within the confines of a legal system, with all its attendant flaws. (A great place to start in this debate is the 2016 edited volume, Anti-Impunity and the Human Rights Agenda.)

The paper is a historical exploration of civil mechanisms as a means of redressing gross human rights violations. It offers an explanation as to why it declined compared to criminal law alternatives. One of the normative takeaways (I'm in a law school, after all) is to suggest the recovery of some of these civil mechanisms. I point to the Alien Tort Statute or something analogous as an alternative to international criminal liability and ask the question, "why are we not thinking about it?" We're not thinking about it because everybody is fixated on international criminal accountability.

I'm also working on other shorter projects at the moment involving technology and international human rights as well as religion in law. As you may know, there are more than a few timely and fraught issues on this front, including the case of someone who refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding which has been accepted for hearing by the Supreme Court. But I'm hoping that perhaps after tenure I can begin to work on a book-length project on international adjudication. It's a great time to be working on the history of human rights and the history of international law in general, given the so-called "legal turn to history" in the early 2000s. The exciting part is that all kinds of scholars are now getting involved, so it's a vibrant conversation amongst lawyers, historians, sociologists, etc.

Once you start putting norms and institutions under scholarly scrutiny, especially the historical kind, then they are no longer self-evident. I think that should be the case for many of our international institutions, which we have come to take for granted but are now being questioned in the midst of a populist backlash against globalization. If we think there is something still worth salvaging from the status quo (or not), then it's part of the job of the scholar to find ways to justify those choices and hopefully help bring about much-needed changes in structures and mores necessary for a just society.

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