Amidst the horrors of World War I, Bacon suggested that a stronger system of international law was necessary. He listed six “principles of justice, universal and fundamental,” including life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, equality before the law, and the right to property. He proposed more concrete measures to ensure that they were enshrined in international law:
They are declared by the Supreme Court to be the universal and fundamental rights, and from this source all other rights can be derived which nations should enjoy… The Supreme Court has rightly declared that the rights of municipal law are also rights of international law, and, in so doing, has solemnly stated that the principles of justice apply alike to individuals as to nations. We, in this country, must admit this to be so; we cannot overrule the Supreme Court of the United States. Its decision is law for us, and, armed with its authority, it is for us to insist that these principles be recognized by the nations of the world, just as they are recognized and must be recognized by us.”
Are those rights great? Yes. But the argument that the U.S. should impose those values on the rest of the world has often met with mixed results — notably in Iraq since 2003.
In terms of strengthening international law, sure enough, the subsequent decades after Bacon’s article would see the adoptions of the United Nations in 1945, the World Bank in 1945, the International Monetary Fund in 1945, and the Geneva Conventions in 1949 — but not without tens of millions in unnecessary bloodshed. Debates still linger to this day (and presumably always will) about how much power international bodies should have to dictate law versus sovereign states setting policies within their own borders.
New Rules of Conduct Needed for Nations: Robert Bacon, Former Ambassador to France, Discusses the Breakdown of International Law and Suggests a Remedy
From September 10, 1916
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