104 Journal of International Law and Diplomacy 98 (2005)

Omnilateralism and Partial International Communities: Contributions of the Emerging Global Administrative Law

Benedict Kingsbury

Read PDFRead PDF
Omnilateralism is both promise and peril for international law, yet it is seldom analyzed. While the issues traversed in current debates on unilateralism and multilateralism are important, there is also a pressing need to face the challenges of omnilateralism and international community. This article examines some contributions the emerging global administrative law might make to achieving the promise, and mitigating the perils, of omnilateralism in transnational governance. In discussing original acquisition in Rechtslehre (The Science of Right), Immanuel Kant drew a useful three-fold distinction: “any thing external is acquired by a certain free exercise of  will that is either unilateral, as the act of a single will (facto), or bilateral [or multilateral], as the act of two [or several] wills (pacto), or omnilateral, as the act of all the wills of a community together (lege).”

Kant’s discussion of original acquisition of property was not framed as a theory of community, nor was it part of his discussion of international relations in Perpetual Peace and other works. Nevertheless, this three-fold distinction may be adapted to shed light on some perennial problems relating to ‘international community’ as a legal idea. For Kant, omnilateralism was made possible by the formation of a civil state. Pending the formation of the civil state, the obligations of individuals were not the same as they might be in a civil state, but each individual was obliged to act in ways that would not impair the eventual realization of the civil state. Departing from Kant to transpose this idea into the very different conditions of contemporary global governance, it is suggested that, while there is not and will not be an international community of general competence comparable to a civil state there exist many partial international communities capable of operating omnilaterally within their special domains of competence. Global administrative law is concerned with the realization of the promise of these partial international communities, and with helping police their boundaries to avoid the perils of overreaching and delegitimation.
This paper argues in Part I that a body of global administrative law is under construction and that this growing body of law is better analyzed as part of the new jus gentium rather than being analyzed simply under the traditional international law model of jus inter gentes. In Part II it is argued that the emerging global administrative may help build legitimate and useful partial international communities with omnilateral competence in specialist areas of global governance, and may help also to ensure that these partial communities do not overreach and claim omnilateral competences they do not have. Part II suggests that the roles global administrative law may play in building and delimiting partial international communities in specialist areas vary, depending Whether the dominant dynamic in a particular area of governance is inter-state pluralism, inter-state solidarism, or transnational cosmopolitanism. The Conclusion briefly notes some normative objections to the idea of global administrative law, but suggests that, on balance, global administrative law could offer a way to better utilize the possibilities, and better minimize the hazards, of omnilateralism, the act of all the wills of a community together.