The Shifting Origins of International Law
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 July 2015
Both state-centrism and Eurocentrism are under challenge in international law today. This article argues that this double challenge is mirrored back into the study of the history of international law. It examines the effects of the rise of positivism as a method of norm-identification and the role of methodological nationalism upon the study of the history of international law in the modern foundational period of international law. It extends this by examining how this bequeathed a double exclusionary bias regarding time and space to the study of the history of international law as well as a reiterative focus on a series of canonical events and authors to the exclusion of others such as those related to the Islamic history of international law. It then analyses why this state of historiographical affairs is changing, highlighting intra-disciplinary developments within the field of the history of international law and the effects that the ‘international turn in the writing of history’ is having on the writing of a new history of international law for a global age. It concludes with a reflection on some of the tasks ahead, providing a series of historiographical signposts for the history of international law as a field of new research.
- INTERNATIONAL LEGAL THEORY
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1 See also Koskenniemi, M., ‘Histories of International Law: Dealing with Eurocentrism’, (2011) 19 Rechtsgeschichte 152CrossRefGoogle Scholar, at 161. The term ‘idealist or doctrinal histories’ indicates, according to Koskenniemi, those histories of international law that ‘focus on lawyers and philosophers and view the past through debates about legal principles or institutions’. By ‘realist’ narratives, reference is made, by contrast, to those histories ‘that concentrate on State power and geopolitics and view international law's past in terms of the succession of apologies for State behaviour’ and periodize accordingly.
2 Besides their ‘reductionism’; see, in more detail, Koskenniemi, M., ‘Histories of International Law: Significance and Problems for a Critical View’, (2013) 27 (2)Temple International Law and Comparative Law Journal 215, at 219Google Scholar.
3 ‘International Law’, Encyclopedia Britannica, accessible at the ‘MIT Western Hemisphere Project’ at <http://web.mit.edu/esg-conscience/www/resr/ilaw.pdf> (accessed 17 June 2014). The updated edition of the entry ‘International Law’ in the Encyclopedia Britannica provides another perspective on the origins of international in world history and does not contain the quoted reference anymore, see M. Shaw, ‘International Law’ (updated 13 March 2013) Encyclopædia Britannica Online, <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/291011/international-law> (accessed 17 June 2014).
5 See, e.g., Kennedy, D., ‘The Mystery of Global Governance’, (2008) 34 Ohio Northern University Law Review 827Google Scholar.
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7 See, e.g., C. Joerges and E. U. Petersmann (eds.), Constitutionalism, Multilevel Trade Governance and International Economic Law (2011).
9 A. M. Slaughter, A New World Order (2004).
10 See, e.g., Walker, N. ‘Late Sovereignty in the European Union’, in Walker, N. (ed.), Sovereignty in Transition (2003), 3–32Google Scholar
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12 A new ‘social-science functionalist paradigm’ has been put forward by J. P. Trachtman. This variant of a neo-functionalist approach,12 which is based on an interdisciplinary methodology rooted in new institutional economics (including constitutional economics) and applies different techniques, including, among others, price theory, transaction costs economics, game theory, or contract theory, is, indeed, one that accepts that ‘the state is contingent, and that international law tends to constrain – indeed, to mould – the state on the basis of its functional efficiency’. Trachtman, J. P., The Future of International Law, Global Government (2013), 18Google Scholar.
13 See, e.g., A. Clapham, Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Actors (2006).
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15 See, e.g., Zumbansen, P., ‘Transnational Law, Evolving’, in Smits, J. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Comparative Law (2012), 899–925.Google Scholar
16 These are partly managed from what D. Bethlehem, in his examination of the demise of the ‘geographic citadel of statehood’ considers are the growingly empowered sites of a ‘technocratic post-Westphalian world. See Bethlehem, D., ‘The End of Geography: The Changing Nature of the International System and the Challenge to International Law’, (2014) 25 EJIL 1, at 15CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For examples, see at 16 and 17.
19 On the ‘turn to history’ in international law, see, e.g., Lesaffer, R. C. H., ‘International Law and Its History: The Story of an Unrequited Love’, in Craven, M., Fitzmaurice, M., and Vogiatzi, M. (eds.) Time, History and International Law (2006), 27CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See also Skouteris, T., ‘Engaging History in International Law’, in Kennedy, D. and Beneyto, J. M. (eds.), New Approaches to International Law: The European and American Experiences (2012), 99CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
21 Becker Lorca, A., ‘Eurocentrism in the History of International Law’ in Peters, A. and Fassbender, B. (eds.), Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law (2012), 1034Google Scholar.
22 The term is used by Gathii, J. T., ‘Africa and the History of International Law’, in Peters, A. and Fassbender, B. (eds.) Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law (2012), 1034, 407Google Scholar.
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24 An early exponent was C. H. Alexandrowicz, An Introduction to the Law of Nations in the East Indies (16th, 17th, and 18th centuries) (1967). See, e.g., T. O. Elias, Africa and the Development of International Law (1972). See also Skouteris, F. Johns T., and Werner, W., ‘Editor's Introduction: Taslim Olawave Elias in the Periphery Series’, (2008) 21 (2)LJIL 289.Google Scholar
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26 On the ‘turn to history’ in international law see, e.g., Koskenniemi, M, ‘Why History of International Law Today?’, (2004) 4 Rechtsgeschichte 61CrossRefGoogle Scholar. R. C. H. Lesaffer, ‘International Law and Its History: The Story of an Unrequited Love’, in Craven, M., Fitzmaurice, M., and Vogiatzi, M. (eds.) Time, History and International Law (2006), 27Google Scholar. See also Skouteris, T., ‘Engaging History in International Law’, in Kennedy, D. and Beneyto, J. M. (eds.), New Approaches to International Law: The European and American Experiences (2012), 99CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
27 See, e.g., Peters and Fassbender, supra note 21, and A. Orakhelashvili (ed.) Research Handbook on the Theory and History of International Law (2011).
28 See, to mention but a few, the ‘Periphery series’ published by Leiden Journal of International Law, especially, Johns, F., Skouteris, T., and Werner, W., ‘Editors’ Introduction: Alejandro Álvarez and the Launch of the Periphery Series, (2006) 194 LJIL 875CrossRefGoogle Scholar. See, e.g, recently, Kemmerer, A., ‘Towards a Global History of International Law? Editor's Note: A Book Review Symposium on Bardo Fassbender and Anne Peters, The Oxford Handbook on the History of International Law’, (2014) 25 (1)EJIL 287CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
29 See, e.g., Brill's Studies in the History of International Law <http://www.brill.com/publications/studies-history-international-law> (accessed 31 October 2014) and, more recently, the Oxford Series on the History and Theory of International Law <http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/category/academic/series/law/htil.do> (accessed 31 October 2014).
31 See, e.g., in particular, Koskenniemi, M., ‘A History of International Law Histories’ in Peters and Fassbender, supra note 21, at 943–71Google Scholar.
32 See Oxford Bibliographies of International Law (ed. A. Carty) at <http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/obo/page/international-law> (accessed 31 October).
33 Jouannet, E. and Peters, A., ‘The Journal of the History of International Law: A Forum for New Research’, (2004) 16 Journal of the History of International Law 1, at 2Google Scholar
35 A must read in this genre is R. Tuck, The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and the International Order from Grotius to Kant (1999). See also A. Brett, Changes of State Nature and the Limits of the City in Early Modern Natural Law (2011).
36 See Koskenniemi, M., ‘Vitoria and Us. Thoughts of Critical Histories of International Law’, (2014) 22 Rechtgeschichte 119Google Scholar. See also Orford, A., ‘On International Legal Method’, (2013) 1 (1)London Review of International Law 166, at 170–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar and Koskenniemi, M., ‘Histories of International Law: Significance and Problems for a Critical View’, (2013) 27 (2)Temple International Law and Comparative Law Journal 215, at 229–32Google Scholar.
39 See, e.g., E. Nys, Les origines du droit international (1894).
40 H. Grotii, De Jure Belli ac Pacis, libri tres (1625).
41 See G. Schwarzenberger, ‘The Standard of Civilization in International Law’, (1955) Current Legal Problems 212. See also G. Gong, The Standard of Civilization and the International Society (1984).
42 Koskenniemi, M., The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870–1960 (2002)Google Scholar.
45 See, e.g., M. Garcia-Salmones, The Project of Positivism in International Law (2013).
46 J. Austin, The Province of Jurisprudence Determined (1832).
47 Neff, S., ‘Jurisprudential Polyphony: The Three Variations on the Positivist Theme in the 19th Century’, in Dupuy, P. M. and Chetail, V. (eds.), The Roots of International Law (2014), 303Google Scholar.
48 Anghie, A., ‘Finding the Peripheries. Sovereignty and Colonialism in Nineteenth Century International Law’, (1999) 40 Harvard International Law Journal 1, 21Google Scholar
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50 L. Oppenheim, International Law (1905/1906).
52 The brief excerpt devoted to positivism in international law is not orientated to present any alternative to it as a method of norm-identification in international law. It should be kept in mind that the interest of the author is historiographical and that, as such, it lies exclusively with making more visible the exclusionary effects that the foundational myths which emerged on the wake of the consolidation in the late nineteenth century of a Western state-centric system have generated in the study of the history of international law. Moreover, because the work of historians of international law has been – and remains – greatly conditioned by what one might call the strong gravitational force of the history of positivism in international law, it was, in the author's view, necessary for the sake of the argument, to briefly examine the context in which the predominance of positivism for international law took hold in the discipline. This is done in order to animate the extension of the gaze of the history of international law into new domains and methods of historical research at a time when both Eurocentrism and state-centrism are under challenge in international law. The author is grateful to the LJIL's board of editors for raising this point.
53 Haggenmacher, P., ‘La place de Francisco de Vitoria parmi les fondateurs du droit International’, in Truyol y Serra, A., Machoulan, H., Haggenmacher, P.et al., Actualité de la pensée juridique de Francisco de Vitoria (1988), 29Google Scholar.
56 Cauchy, E., Le droit maritime international consideré dans ses origines et dans ses rapports avec le progrès de la civilisation (1862), 33.Google Scholar
58 See, e.g., de la Rasilla del Moral, I., ‘The Ambivalent Shadow of the Pre-Wilsonian Rise of International Law’, (2014) 7 Erasmus Law Review 80–97Google Scholar
59 ‘It is hoped the series will enable readers as well as specialists to trace international law from its faint and unconscious beginnings to its present ample proportions, and to forecast, with some degree of certainty, its future development into that law which Mirabeau tells us one day will rule the world’, J. Brown Scott, ‘Preface’, in T. Erskine (ed.) The Classics of International Law, Richard Zouche, Iuris et iudicii fecialis, sive, iuris inter gentes, et quaestionum de eodem explicatio (1911), at 2.
63 That temporal bias is the same one which made Grewe note that, ‘only in the last fifty years has the question of whether a law of nations existed in the Middle Ages been answered in the affirmative by scholars of international legal science’. W. G. Grewe, The Epochs of International Law (2000).
65 K. H. Ziegler, ‘Die römischen Grundlagen des europäischen Völkerrechts’, (1972) IV Ius Commune 1.
66 Ziegler, K. H., ‘Continuity and Discontinuity in European International Law: Ancient Near East and Ancient Greece’, in Marauhn, T. and Steiger, H. (eds.), Universality and Continuity in International Law (2011), 133Google Scholar.
67 C. G. Weeramantry, Islamic Jurisprudence: An International Perspective (1996).
68 It should be clear that the reference by the author to the neglected study of the Islamic history of international law is exclusively orientated to exemplify one of the areas of the history of international law that has been affected by the consequences of the double exclusionary bias bequeathed by the foundational myths of international law. It is beyond the historiographical scope of this work to venture into examining from ‘what conception of international law does the Islamic history of international law come [from]’ or, by the same token, to explore ‘to which alternative starting points does it point to’. It should also be apparent that it is beyond the scope of this historiographical deconstruction of the exclusionary effects bequeathed by the foundational myths of international law to explore ‘what Islamic international law actually looks like’ and ‘how it does in fact resonate with different conceptions of international law and its origins’, neither it is to ‘show how different conceptions of international law would well give a more prominent place to Islamic International law’ or to elaborate on the extent to which ‘Islamic international law unsettles prevalent conceptions of international law’ or ‘for the same matter how informal mechanisms beyond positivism and state-centrism would resonate with Islamic international law’. These are all fascinating questions and the fact that they may rise to the surface of the internationalist mind is indicative of the promising venues for intellectual engagement and future research not just with the neglected domain of the Islamic history of international law – referred to here only for exemplary purposes – but also with many other neglected domains, as the study of the history of international law continues to liberate itself from the effects of the double exclusionary bias regarding time and space as well as from the associated overlapping and reiterative focus on a series of canonical authors and events to the detriment of others. The author is grateful to the LJIL's board of editors for raising these questions and he is confident that further works in the field of the islamic history of international law will engage with them in their appropriate context. See further, I. de la Rasilla and A. Shahid, (eds.) History of International Law and Islam (Forthcoming, 2016).
69 Rechid, A., ‘L'Islam et le droit des gens’, (1937) 60 Recueil de Cours de l'Academie de Droit International de la Haye 371, 385–6Google Scholar.
70 This could be shown by many other examples such as, e.g., to mention but one among several highly neglected historiographical areas, the evolution of norms and rules to regulate inter-community relations between different pre-Columbian peoples in the Americas. See, as one of the very few existing references, W. Preiser, Frühe völkerrechtliche Ordmungen der aussereuropäischen Welt (1976), See an updated and extended version in French, R, Kolb, Esquisse d'un droit international public des anciennes cultures extra-europeennes. Amérique precolombienne. Iles Polynésiennes. Afrique Noire. Sous-continent indien. Chine et régions limitrophes (2010).
71 See the celebrated work by P. Haggenmacher, Grotius et la doctrine de la guerre juste (1983, republished 2013).
74 See, e.g., M. J. van Ittersum, Profit and Principle: Hugo Grotius, Natural Rights Theories and the Rise of Dutch Power in the East Indies, 1595–1605 (2006).
75 For a contextualist perspective of the School of Salamanca, see, e.g., A. Brett, Changes of State Nature and the Limits of the City in Early Modern Natural Law (2011).
76 See also W. Rech, Enemies of Mankind: Vattel's Theory of Collective Security (2013).
78 M. Koskenniemi, ‘The Case for Comparative International Law’, (2011) Finnish Yearbook of International Law 5.
79 For a recent addition to the line of literature, with several contributions addressing the ‘origin and evolution of the international legal order’, see P. M. Dupuy and V. Chetail (eds.) The Roots of International Law/Les fondements du droit international, Liber Amicorum Peter Haggenmacher (2013).
80 Compare the seminal role attributed to Bin-Hassan-el-Shaybani who published in the ninth century the Siyar-i-Kebir that is ‘considered the world's earliest treatise of international law as a separate topic’ with the publication of the ‘Tractarum represaliorum’ in the Italian Rinascimento where Bartolus de Sassoferrato ‘famously stated that empire had sovereignty de jure and the city-states had sovereignty de facto – a statement which, for some, offers a first theoretical expression in late Medieval Europe of the concept of independent states under a body of norms governing inter-state relations. See further C. Weeramantry, Islamic Jurisprudence: An International Perspective (1988), at 130 and B. De Sassoferrato, Tractatus Represaliarum (1354) in Consiliorum Bartoli Libri Duo (Libri Duo) (1996)
81 A. Becker Lorca, ‘Eurocentrism in the History of International Law’, in Peters and Fassbender supra note 21, at 1034.
82 See, e.g., I. de la Rasilla del Moral, In the Shadow of Vitoria – A History of International Law in Spain (Forthcoming, 2015).
85 W. Preiser, Frühe völkerrechtliche Ordmungen der aussereuropäischen Welt (1976). See an updated and extended version in French, R. Kolb, Esquisse d'un droit international public des anciennes cultures extra-europeennes. Amérique precolombienne. Iles Polynésiennes. Afrique Noire. Sous-continent indien. Chine et régions limitrophes (2010).
86 B. Paradisi, Storia del diritto internazionale nel medio evo: L'età de transizione (1956).
87 S. Verosta, ‘International Law in Europe and Western Asia between 100 and 650 AD’, (1964-III) 113 Courses of the Hague Academy 485.
89 Preiser, W ‘Die Epochen der antiken Volkerrchtsgeschichte’, (1956) 11 Juristenzeitung 737–44Google Scholar.
90 Wolfgang Preiser, Der Völkerrechtsgeschichte. Ihre Aufgaben und Methoden (1964).
91 Steiger, H., ‘Universality and Continuity in International Public Law’, in Marauhn, T. and Steiger, H. (eds.), Universality and Continuity in International Law (2011), 35Google Scholar.
93 Wijffels, A., ‘Early-Modern Scholarship on International Law’, in Orakhelashvili, A. (ed.), Research Handbook on the Theory and History of International Law. (2011), 23–60Google Scholar.
94 See H. Steiger, Die Ordnung der Welt. Eine Völkerrechtsgeschichte des karolingischen Zailtalters (741 bis 840) (2010).
95 See, e.g., D. J. Bederman, International Law in Antiquity (2007); A. Altman, Tracing the Earliest Recorded Concepts of International Law (2012).
96 See, e.g., S. Neff, Justice Among Nations: A History of International Law (2014), See also, among others, S. Laghmani, Histoire du droit des gens: Du jus gentium imperial au jus publicum europaeum (2004). D. Gaurier, Histoire du droit international: Auteurs, doctrines et développement de l'Antiquitié à l'aube de la période contemporaine (2005).
97 A. Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law (2005).
99 For Mutua there cannot be doubt that the denial of African international law is part of a ‘wilful dehumanization used to justify the continent's subsequent enslavement, colonization and exploitation’, a project in which international law ‘construed as the project of European nations’ played a decisive role. See Mutua, M., Review of ‘Africa: Mapping New Boundaries in International Law, Edited by Levitt, Jeremy I.’ (2010) 104 (3)AJIL 532Google Scholar.
100 T. Skouteris, ‘New Approaches to International Law’, in A. Carty (ed.) Oxford Bibliographies Online: International Law (2012).
101 A case in point is, perhaps, the emergence of literature around the life and works of H. Lauterpacht for the last 10–15 years. See, among many other contributions, E. Lauterpacht, The Life of H. Lauterpacht (2012).
103 S. Moyn, The Last Utopia (2010).
104 T. Marauhn and H. Steiger, (eds.), Universality and Continuity in International Law (2011). Onuma, Y., ‘When Was the Law of International Society Born? An Inquiry of the History of International Law from an Intercivilizational Perspective’, (2000) 2 (1)Journal of the History of International Law 1CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For precedents, see Verosta, S., ‘Regionen und Perioden der Geschichte des Volkerrechts’, (1979) 30 Osterreichische Zeitschrift für Offentliches Recht und Volkerrecht 1Google Scholar.
106 T. Duve, ‘European Legal History – Global Perspectives’ (2013) Working Paper for the Colloquium ‘European Normativity – Global Historical Perspectives’ (Max-Planck Institute, 2–4 September 2013) No. 2013–06 accessible <http://ssrn.com/abstract=2292666> (accessed 2 May 2015).
114 The year 2014 saw also the birth of another initiative aiming to rejuvenate the field of the history of international law. The ESIL's interest group on the history of international law (IGHIL) which came to life in 2014 ‘animated by an all-inclusive ethos of infinite curiosity’, declared among its purposes that of seeking ‘to stimulate research on the history of international law in all parts and regions of the globe throughout different historical epochs while contributing to foster ever higher standards of academic excellence in the field’. The website of the ESIL's IGHIL is available at <http://esilhil.blogspot.co.uk/> (accessed 15 January 2015).
115 Diccionario de la Administración Española, Apéndice de 1883, 416–21. See further, de la Rasilla del Moral, I., ‘El estudio de la historia del Derecho internacional en el corto siglo XIX español’, (2013) 23 Rechtsgeschichte 48CrossRefGoogle Scholar. In English, de la Rasilla del Moral, I., ‘The Study of the History of International Law in the Short Spanish Nineteenth Century’, (2013) 13 (2)Chicago-Kent Journal of International and Comparative Law 122Google Scholar.
116 The terminology, ‘first professional generation’ comes from Koskenniemi (The Gentle Civilizer), supra note 42.
117 A. Sela y Sampil, ‘Los procedimientos de enseñanza en la Facultad de Derecho internacional de la Universidad de Oviedo: Derecho Internacional Público y Derecho Internacional Privado’, (1902) XXVI 509 Boletín Oficial de la Institución Libre de Enseñanza 223 at 223.
118 See, especially, Vec, M., ‘National and Transnational Legal Evolutions – Teaching History of International Law’, in Modeer, K. A. and Nilsen, P. (eds.), How to Teach European Comparative Legal History (2011), 25–38Google Scholar. See also Jouannet and Peters, noting how ‘an informal survey of many colleagues worldwide shows that the teaching of the history of international law remains marginal in most countries, especially and above within the internationalist academic world’, supra note 33, at 3.
119 See, on the teaching of the history of international law nowadays, Vec, M., ‘National and Transnational Legal Evolutions – Teaching History of International Law’, in Modéer, K. Å. and Nilsén, P. (eds.), How to Teach Comparative European History (2011), 25Google Scholar.
120 ‘Memoria de 1877’ (1877) I Boletín de la Institución Libre de Enseñanza 21.
125 Katz Cogan, J., ‘Book Review of B. Fassbender and A. Peters (eds.), Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law’, (2014) 108 (2)AJIL 10Google Scholar.
128 See Katz Cogan, supra note 125, at 9 highlighting the ‘lack of a substantial secondary literature . . . especially if one is interested in a global perspective’.
129 See A. Becker Lorca, Mestizo International Law (2014).
133 The expression is from F. Pollock and F. W. Maitland, The History of English Law (1898), at 1: ‘Such is the unity of all history that everyone who endeavours to tell a piece of it must feel that his first sentence tears a seamless web’.