This worldview assumed that shared norms and transnational institutions would transform the state based-order. In this context, the use of force is considered appropriate only for humanitarian ends meeting a set of predetermined axioms laid down in chapter 7 of the UN Charter. Yet for any strategy to be effective—in an international order subject to change—a clear political aim is required, which might deviate from the general rule. Preoccupied with universal postulates, legal normativism has lost sight of the particular. The argument put forth in this article is that the failure of contemporary western foreign policy in the twenty-first century to address this limitation or to prioritize political ends has led to strategic confusion from Afghanistan to Syria and Ukraine. In this context, it might be useful to reappraise the utility of abstract rationalist approaches to global governance and return instead to an earlier understanding of statecraft that avoided premature generalizations and treated norms as maxims of prudence rather than axioms requiring universal application.