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In recent years, scholars of international legal history have demonstrated much newfound interest in C.H. Alexandrowicz, a Polish jurist renowned for his anti-Eurocentric revisionist account of Asian and African agency within the meta-narrative of international law. Building on efforts to link his Polish origins with his studies of the Afro-Asian world, especially on matters of imperialism and state personality, my purpose in this Article is to explore these connections through a materially grounded historical sociology of international legal thought. Centering the issue of whether sovereignty is divisible, I situate the historic Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth—extinguished by a series of Partitions in 1772, 1793, and 1795—as a unique divided sovereignty-based polity that provided a basis for Alexandrowicz’s study of the juridical status of non-European sovereigns. This analogy united his overarching critique of nineteenth-century international legal positivism as an unjustifiable denial of both Polish and Afro-Asian sovereignty. In deciphering the materiality of Alexandrowicz’s imagination against this presumption, I build a narrative of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the evolution of its distinct approach to sovereign divisibility. Through analysis of the interplay between internal and external factors, I account for the Commonwealth’s medieval origins, its development in opposition to the consolidating indivisible sovereignty of its absolutist neighbors, its attempts to maintain independence in the face of Partition, and the continued assertions of its variegated legacies following its destruction. This, I argue, provides a novel means of assessing Alexandrowicz’s theory, and the materiality of international law more generally.
While many international lawyers are familiar with Francisco de Vitoria (1483–1546), very few have even heard of Paulus Vladimiri (1370–1435) – a Polish priest and jurist who made striking similar arguments to Vitoria on legal universality and the rights of non-Christians a full century before Vitoria. This divergence of consciousness, I argue, provides a unique opportunity to explore questions of canon, reception, and the role of ‘founding fathers’ within international legal thought. Centring Vladimiri as an ‘Eastern European’ figure, I argue that his non-reception is largely the result of how Eastern Europe implicitly functions as a distinctly liminal space within international legal thought that makes any possible ‘founding father’ from this region immensely difficult to imagine. I examine this dynamic through the differing postwar efforts of the Polish jurists Kazimierz Grzybowski and C. H. Alexandrowicz to include Vladimiri within the international legal canon. In examining the background structures of twentieth-century international law, I conclude that, in a manner directly connected to the liminality of Eastern Europe, neither Soviet nor Third World nor Western imaginations could easily receive Vladimiri within their fundamentally political narratives of normative order that shaped their international legal approaches. However, despite this historic non-reception, I argue that Vladimiri, and the question of Eastern Europe more generally, holds great promise in our current global moment. Particularly, engaging Eastern Europe’s liminal character offers a more sociologically grounded alternative to the reductionist Schmittian view of international law as a product of inescapable conflict in a world of exclusionary ‘greater spaces’.
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