Jessup at the United Nations: International legacy, transnational possibilities

Last month saw the publication of a new book edited by Professor Peer Zumbansen: The Many Lives of Transnational Law: Critical Engagements with Jessup’s Bold Proposal. The book collects the papers originally given at a 2016 conference at King’s College London than marked sixty years since Philip Jessup delivered his landmark lectures on ‘transnational law’. The conference was held in the direct aftermath of the Brexit referendum, when the multilateral order that Jessup had a hand in building felt under siege. In the context, the conference was an exhilarating and convivial oasis of ideas and debate, now captured in this book.

My chapter examines Jessup’s time at the United Nations as a US representative: “This chapter examines the interplay between Philip Jessup’s experience of the early years of the United Nations and the development of his scholarship, in particular his inclusive and pragmatic conception of ‘transnational law’. It is contended that Jessup’s UN experience informed writings that evince a practitioner’s feel for the role of diplomacy in the workings of international law, as well as aliveness to the possibilities of novel institutional forms and processes. The chapter goes on to apply Jessup’s scholarly insights to contemporary challenges of the UN, focusing on the Sustainable Development Goals. The achievement of the SDGs emerges as a thoroughly transnational challenge, requiring application and coordination of each of the strands of Jessup’s famous definition of ‘transnational law’.”

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