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international arbitration, non-state law, commercial arbitration, lex mercatoria, utopian literature


A completely denationalised law is of course a utopia. But it is a utopia not just in the broad sense of being unrealistic, at least for the present, and perhaps also for the future. No, it is a utopia in the very literal sense of the word. Recall what utopia means in Greek: no place. Delocalised arbitration, non-state law, is, quite literally, no-place law. It thus makes up a utopia in the central meaning of the term.

International Commercial Arbitration should be just about money. But its scholarship is full of invocations of dreams, visions, faith, utopia. These are not merely ornamental. Rather, they invite us to read the scholarship as utopian literature. Doing so yields unexpected insights into the state of globalised law, and the precarious place of arbitration within it


This is an un-refereed author version of an article published in Ralf Michaels, Dreaming Denationalized Law: Scholarship on Autonomous International Arbitration as Utopian Literature, 1 London Review of International Law 35-62 (2013). Final version located at:

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Law merchant, Legal polycentricity, Commercial arbitration agreements, Arbitration (International law), Utopias in literature