Divided Sovereignty: International Institutions and the Limits of State Authority, Carmen Pavel

Reviewed by Steven P. Lee



Carmen Pavel argues in this excellent study that states are not by themselves sufficient to guarantee protection of basic human rights. In this sense, the state is, as she puts it, an incomplete institutional form. Therefore, it is appropriate to adopt a political system in which sovereignty is divided between states and international institutions, such as the International Criminal Court, whose purpose is to avoid states’ abusing their power by depriving their citizens of those rights. She conceives such a division of sovereignty as “an insurance scheme against the possibility that states may fail to fulfill their duties” to protect rights (p. 27). Such a division of sovereignty increases the probability that individuals will have their rights respected.

In addition to this substantive argument, Pavel makes an important methodological argument. Theorizing about justice is too often stuck at the abstract level. The work of theorists should embrace what Pavel calls institutional thinking, which includes the understanding of empirical social science on the effectiveness of institutions in human governance. Such an understanding is important not merely for the implementation of abstract moral ideals but for their formulation as well. Our theories must be sensitive to institutional facts. This leads her in a pragmatic direction. In the end, s

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