In this study of contemporary French scholarship in the field of international law, I aimed to reveal its reality at the dawn of the 21st century, but I quickly discovered that it is difficult to understand the current trends in this area of scholarship without first placing French international legal thought in the broader context of the evolution of international law itself. It seems that the increased stature of international law and its considerable expansion since 1945 are both accepted and problematic. This evolution is not problematic in and of itself; the problem lies in the increased interest it arouses and the different meanings attributed to it. At the same time, this study is accompanied by inquiries into the nature, purposes, and functions of international law. While such inquiries are hardly new—these issues have always been the subject of study —they lead to new conclusions when undertaken in a doctrinal context that has itself considerably evolved. On one hand, it has never been harder to answer these questions given that contemporary French scholarship is dominated by positivism in all its forms: formalist, pragmatic, utilitarian, objectivist, and historicist. This is not necessarily regrettable, nor does it signal a doctrinal decline; rather, I am simply stating my observation that the supremacy of positivist thinking obliterates and amputates law from part of its critical dimension and its possible responses to the evolution of international law. On the other hand, another intimately related evolution is the decline in major theoretical constructions, even positivist ones, which were the glory of French scholarship during the inter-war period. As a result, it is impossible today to refer to these pre-established theories with certainty. International law is growing and evolving due to an unprecedented need for law at the international level and because contemporary scholars have given up their illusions of absolute, universal knowledge. Instead, they view this evolution as a present phenomenon and examine a whole series of issues that have solutions apparently owing nothing to the great works of the past. Of course, authors still do refer to traditional works, but they are no longer satisfied with traditional solutions. It is troubling to see how much contemporary international law needs theorizing, but at the same time does not encourage firm theoretical commitments because it is in constant motion. Today, public international law scholarship—and all legal experience within international public law—fits within these evolving contexts. As a result, this study of contemporary French scholarship takes account of these contexts to reveal both general and specific trends.

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