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Opening Reflection The Elegance of International Law

Mar 31, 2020

Laurel E. Fletcher

Volume 46 (2019) - Issue 1

The title for our conference comes from a 2012 talk David Caron delivered at the American Society of International Law Conference when he was president of the society. Titled “Confronting Complexity, Valuing Elegance,” David urged that we approach complex legal problems with the aim of arriving at elegant solutions.

Complexity, for David, was the notion that there are non-obvious relationships embedded in the phenomena we are trying to tackle. Whether it be complexity in nature, like climate change, or man-made complexity, like the technology revolution.

David advised that to surmount the ambiguity and indeterminacy of complex problems, we need to approach the effort with skill and humility; devotion and insight. Even when we cannot fully comprehend our challenge, we must continue on our path of discovery. As David was speaking to colleagues, the destination of that path was to find elegant solutions to legal challenges.

Borrowing from fields as diverse as architecture and mathematics, David argued that an elegant solution was one that solved multiple problems simultaneously—even problems we did not believe to be related. What distinguished a merely adequate solution from an elegant one was that the latter would mask the hard work required to devise it: it would appear to be an effortless achievement.