David D. Caron’s scholarship on the legitimacy of international law and international institutions was ground-breaking, expansive in its reach and its impact, and elegant in its analysis, form, and structure. The questions of legitimacy that he addressed in his writing represent some of the most urgent and important matters of international law, and some of the most difficult. They are questions about how power can be exercised fairly, how justice can be achieved in a diverse international community, and how institutions can be deployed to mitigate the world’s greatest challenges.
Grappling carefully with these complex questions, Caron examined the meaning and function of legitimacy in international law across a range of contexts in international law, from the Security Council, to arbitration, to international dispute resolution more broadly, and beyond. One might be tempted to call him a generalist, except that such a label would belie his deep expertise in so many areas of international law. His ability to both dig deeply in individual contexts and look across specialized fields, across the expanses of public and private law and all that lies at their intersections, and to assess international law more broadly, made his work in legitimacy especially powerful. Moreover, Caron’s scholarship did not merely work from inside the concept of legitimacy to assess its meaning; it also took a step back and questioned the appropriateness and significance of the rise of attention to legitimacy in international law. “Is this discussion justified?” Caron asked, then still in the early years of the academy’s attention to this concept. “Does the presence or absence of legitimacy really matter? Why do we care, and is our concern justified?”