International Law in the Age of Trump

Free Public Lecture

International Law in the Age of Trump

The attitude of the Trump administration to international law and institutions is being greeted with shocked outrage. And there is much cause for concern in relation to the temper and style of the current US President’s international engagements. However, the shock of the new is producing a nostalgia for the old in ways that might cause us to underestimate the continuities between this new form of engagement and older forms. It is not clear that the US before Trump had an unambiguously virtuous relationship to international law and institutions. But nor is it clear that a diminution in US prestige would be a bad thing for most of the world. Are we witnessing ‘the greatest presidential onslaught on international law and international institutions in American history’ (Goldsmith), or are we watching the decline of American Empire with all the attendant dangers?

This lecture is part of a series: The Wednesday Lectures 2017: The Intelligentsia in The Age of Trump, hosted by Raimond Gaita.

It began with Brexit and entered another dimension with Donald Trump's election campaign. Many of the intelligentsia – those who choose or are required by their profession to comment on political affairs – were shocked. Hardly any anticipated that resentment, anger and even hatred could go so deep in parts of the British and American electorates almost unnoticed. When it was noticed few foresaw its transformative power.

In the case of Trump, many were incredulous that someone who had a good chance of becoming president of the US could be so radically disdainful of the practices, conventions and institutions that express and underpin democratic political civility, and pile lie upon lie so fast and shamelessly as to make the idea that reality mattered quixotic. He hasn't changed as president.

But commentators were not only shocked that they didn’t see Brexit or Trump coming. They were unsettled by a suspicion that some of the many reasons they didn’t played a significant role in ensuring that they did. Do we, even now, understand what has happened and why it did?


  • Professor Sundhya Pahuja
    Professor Sundhya Pahuja, Director of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities