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Legal scholars, lawmakers and, increasingly, the general public seem to place ever-increasing hope in the potential of law and legal theory, and of enforceable uniform international legal standards. Many appear to believe that identifying and enacting laws and a legal framework that correspond worldwide to human rights will solve the age-old problem of legalized barbarism. The historical propensity of courts, even in democratic states, to legitimate and enable racist policies provides compelling evidence that the current level of faith in law is misplaced.

This Article argues the limitations of law and legal theory, contesting the view that on their own they will have more than minimal impact on society and even on courts. No matter how good they are in conception; how correctly they embody contemporaneous understandings of universal human rights; or how flawlessly they may be phrased to connect the signifier of legal language to the signified concepts that language purports to represent, law and legal theory can only be a small part of the elements that would fashion judiciaries into a bulwark against ideologies and practices of repression.