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Copyright (c) 1993 Virginia Journal of International Law Association
Virginia Journal of International Law

Rethinking Self-Determination

Fall, 1993

34 Va. J. Int'l L. 1


Hurst Hannum *



One method of resolving conflict suggested by a scholar of the Grand Academy of Lagado was to divide the brains of political opponents in half and then transpose the halves. The professor argued that

the two half brains being left to debate the matter between themselves within the space of one skull, would soon come to a good understanding, and produce that moderation as well as regularity of thinking, so much to be wished for in the heads of those ... who imagine they came into the world only to watch and govern its motion: and as to the difference of brains, in quantity or quality, among those who are directors in faction; the doctor assured us, from his own knowledge, that it was a perfect trifle. 1

Although this solution, like others of similar modesty proposed by Swift, has not been widely adopted, the plethora of violent communal and ethnic conflicts in the modern world does occasionally lead one to search for radical responses. In contrast to the "compromise" suggested by the good doctor of Lagado, some have proposed separating warring factions through the "liberation" of oppressed peoples or, depending on one's perspective, through the "dismemberment" of states and empires. Of course, just what territory is being "liberated" is not always clear, as evidenced by the "ethnic cleansing" campaign pursued in the former Yugoslavia.

Separation is often justified by invoking the right of self-determination. Indeed, no contemporary norm of international law has been so vigorously promoted ...
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