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The Structural Characteristics of Global Law for the 21st Century: Fracture, Fluidity, Permeability, and Polycentricity

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Global law can be understood as the systematization of anarchy, as the management of a loosely intertwined universe of autonomous governance frameworks operating dynamically across borders and grounded in functional differentiation among governance communities. More conventionally, global law can be defined as the law of non-state governance systems. Global law posits a stable universe of objects of regulation around which governance systems multiply, the inverse of the traditional approach to law grounded on the presumption of a dynamic population bound to static and stable systems. The essay considers the structure of global law in this context, understood as an amalgamation of four fundamental characteristics that together define a new order in form that is, in some respects, the antithesis of the orderliness and unity of the law-state system it will displace (though not erase). These four fundamental characteristics—fracture, fluidity, permeability, and polycentricity—comprise the fundamental structure of global law. These also serve as the structural foundations of its constitutional element, its substantive element, and its process element. The essay considers each in turn in the construction of global law.

Affiliations: 1: W Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar & Professor of Law, Professor of International Affairs, Pennsylvania State University, State College, Pennsylvania; Director Coalition for Peace & Ethics, Washington, D.C., Email:, URL:


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