McDougal, Lasswell, and W. Michael Reisman sought to apply jurisprudential insights and ideas directly to the study of international law. Apart from the relevance of context, the problem orientation, and the salience of multiple methods of inquiry about law, their approach stressed the importance of specific intellectual criteria for the study of jurisprudence in international law. These criteria included goal-thinking, trend-thinking, scientific-thinking, predictive-thinking, and alternative-thinking. The approach was also explicit in articulating the standards by which one could compare and evaluate all systems of legal thought. These criteria included the procedures used to maintain and establish a clear observational vantage point, the critical importance of focusing both comprehensively and specifically on the actual processes of policy and decision, the development and use of critical intellectual tasks, and the importance of the provisional postulation of fundamental public-order goals. These criteria could be applied in the study of a national system or the entire global system.
The central feature of the New Haven School of International Law was its insistence on universality and comprehensiveness. This approach coincided with the creation of new states out of the debris of colonial rule. The new states were not always new. They were often old and dependent. In order to stake a claim for statehood, doctrines had to be invented and supported by contemporaneous developments in international law and jurisprudence. Nationalist elites seeking freedom from colonial rule would stake a claim to self-determination and independence. This claim of course would be an attack on sovereignty, or at least the colonial version of it. American idealism in the form of Wilsonian internationalism succeeded after World War II in making German colonies a sacred trust of civilization while at the same time paying service to colonial hegemony. Thus, for example, German South West Africa, which was conquered by South Africa in 1917, was given to South Africa to administer as a special international mandate. The precedent created here was that colonial rule was not altogether to be insulated from international responsibility, in particular the sacred trust for the well-being of the inhabitants. After World War II, the dominant victorious allies, namely the United States and the Soviet Union, shared a common objective, supported for radically different reasons, that colonialism become obsolete. The United Nations was created, and a part of its growing mandate was to facilitate decolonization, self-determination, and independence.
The paradox of claims to resist colonial rule was that they were also claims to weaken the sovereignty idea in international law. If self-determination and independence were supported by international legal precepts, then international support for the integrity of sovereignty would be constrained by these competing claims. In short, sovereignty admits limitation, particularly limitations based on international obligations. Thus, the sovereignty idea began to evolve within the framework of a global constitutive process, as expressed in the theories of the New Haven School.
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