The Concept of International Law in an Era of Populism

  • Lea Ina Schneider


Nowadays, the world is experiencing a populist trend that is enhancing a nationalist viewpoint, which has contributed to the perception that international law is currently in a state of crisis. Populists attack international law calling it a device used by global elites to dominate policymaking and designed benefit themselves at the expense of the common people. This essay must be understood against this current trend and will explore how state behaviour that originates from a populist attitude affects international law. It attempts to answer the following questions: Why and how does populism challenge the very idea of international law? What are the effects of populist governments on international law? And what role would international law play in a populist era? This essay concludes that populists attack international law because the international legal system, as it developed after the 1990s, is based on values and concepts such as international solidarity which go against the identity and nationalistic politics of populists. Populist governments’ attitude towards international law ranges between an instrumental approach and a rhetoric-based principled opposition that if enacted in practice, would significantly change international law’s nature as it has developed after 1990. In general, populists promote a concept of international law as a law of coordination and aim to reduce it to an instrument for furthering national interests.


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