Keywords: globalisation; populism; elites; liberal democracy; international lawyers; legal philosophy.
Taking stock of the impact that economic globalisation has on the growth of inequality within nations and the connected articulation of a variety of new political demands, this paper reflects on the significance of populist claims from an international law perspective. It identifies three challenges that populism poses to international lawyers and human rights activists. The first challenge concerns the threat to liberal democracy, charged with being unable to protect the interests and rights of the ‘real people’ as opposed to those of the elites. The second is the challenge to economic globalisation itself, and the inequalities that it has brought about with all the ensuing consequences from a human rights perspective. The third may be defined as the challenge of ‘national populism’, which targets the international liberal order in the name of a parochial version of national sovereignty. The paper argues that the complexity of these challenges poses not only practical but also theoretical problems concerning, inter alia, the philosophy of international law and the function of international lawyers in the twenty-first century.