The Great Unifier


I am a great believer in international law. I believe that the world would be a better place if international law were universally embraced and upheld. Moreover, I believe that the principles underlying international law spring from sources that are universal. One may ascribe it to my upbringing or my nature, nevertheless, to me international law is nothing less than a process of revelation, emanating from the divine source. To my mind, international law is a massive, cosmic inspiration. Looking at Hindu, Judaic, Islamic, Confucian, Western or Indigenous sources of law, one is struck by the deep similarities at the philosophical level. It is clear that at bedrock, we are talking about the same things and that we care equally about the fate of our world and about each other. Every legal tradition attests to a communion with the source of all wisdom. The light of justice, though it may pass through glass of varying colors, is traced to a single source.

The resulting image is dazzling, even in its present imperfect form. And yet, it is not final. Nor is it a mere image. It is a living proposition forever illuminated by a living source. International law is a process. A process of discovery and revelation. And I believe it has an objective source, one that is located simultaneously within us and without us. When we tune to it we experience harmony, both within and without. My mentor, Prof. Yutaka Tajima says that “law is a tool to persuade people to resolve disputes.” I see this tool as a kind of tuning mechanism whereby we may, through trial and error, come into closer proximity with the grand harmonic scheme. Justice is a process of attention. It divides this attention between the issue at hand (usually discordant) and the experience of perfect pitch that inheres in each of us. It uses law a way of resolving discord into harmony. And just as the laws of musical harmony are universal and immutable, so too is justice hard-wired into our living matrix. When we tune to it, the harmonies we create generate energies of their own and society flourishes.

Theorists point to striking dichotomies in comparing the different sources of law. This provokes questions: Are human rights more properly a matter of protecting individuals or guaranteeing collective success? Which category of rights is primary: political or socio-economic? Do human rights spring from sacred or secular sources? These questions have stimulated much debate. These debates are the bread and butter of many a legal theorist. But more interesting to me is the overarching theme of justice. Whatever their differences, all judicial traditions attempt to balance the needs of individuals with collective stability. All attempt to balance the priorities of survival with notions of freedom of individual will. And, ultimately, it may not be terribly important whether the spirit of international law is essentially religious or secular positivist. For me, in all honesty, justice is more basic than either. We are standing on very good ground when we affirm and uphold it.

I believe that international law ultimately unites us all. That it will is my dream. What obstructs is simply the failure to avail ourselves of the tools. Currently the prerogatives of power seem to obviate any consideration of justice. Yet, where people have taken up the tools of law in earnest, harmony has inevitably prevailed. And the resonances produced instill hope for all. So we must listen carefully to the music around us for we are, each and collectively, custodians of universal harmony.
My belief that international law is the answer to the existential challenges we face as a planet has urged me to take action. A few years ago, I started doing research and writing for my father, Prof. Philip Jimenez (Santa Clara University School of Law). Researching Japanese-US relations, I was struck by, to paraphrase Napoleon, “the inability of force to organize anything.” That is, hegemony ultimately fails to produce stability. A respectful friendship between the two countries requires the latitude to disagree. Friendships that can endure no balancing are ultimately unstable. US hegemonic force has been unable to to order the region in the way that a respectful partnership might. As a result of these conclusions, we presented a very effective case at Seikei University for reordering US-Japan relations. Success there spurred me on. And Japan became my spiritual-legal-philosophical adoptive country.

Perhaps it was Prof. Tajima’s statement that “the essence of law is unspoken” that freed me to entertain the idea that beneath the disparate forms of jurisprudence, we ultimately come together in tacit understanding. Certainly, the Japanese emphasis on emptiness does allow for the kind of constructive negativism that the heated debates of the West cannot afford. I feel profoundly lucky to have found my legal purpose in Japan.

The more I researched the more I became enticed by the dream of an all-inclusive summary of law that will “universalize” international law and allow its majestic norms to moderate and guide our human family. I was tasked to write a paper to be included in a Festschrift in honor of our dear family friend Prof. Kim Moon Hwan who was stepping down as president of Kookmin University in Seoul. My father gave me great freedom to pursue any course that I saw fit. I suggested writing about what I termed the “justice vaccuum”–a situation wherein justice is a rare commodity existing in a troubled space, producing a malaise consisting of cynicism and hopelessness. I was writing about the international space. I was writing about the stark absence of justice in the lives of so many. I wondered what needed to be done to strengthen the institutions and organs of international law. I wondered what needed to be done to bring the world into alignment with the laudable principles so fervently championed by the human rights movement and by passionate jurists everywhere and at all times. I began to see international law as an Archimedean lever, capable of moving the world. While the paper was deeply flawed, it nevertheless stimulated interest in addressing the problem, which was really my true intention.

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