What is a topic in international law scholarship? Any answer will most probably include the term “relevance”, perhaps also a reference to some “general interest”. Such a (rather quantitative) answer will evaluate what international law scholars actually write about at a given time. It will conclude from a list of publications that some topics have been considered more relevant than others by international law scholars, as they wrote more about the former topics and less (or nothing) about the others which subsequently may be considered less relevant – even “irrelevant”.
Another way of responding to the question may include a geographical aspect – the question then changes into “what topic is relevant where?” This question occurred to me when I wrote my article “African International Legal Histories” (2018) in response to a call for papers which asked “why it is that we write the [international legal] histories we write” and “what questions we fail to explore”. Continue reading
The question about the historical relation between international law and colonialism (and its legacy) has grown in relevance over the last twenty-odd years. Critical scholars speak of international law’s “complete complicity with the colonial project” – meaning the exploitation and domination of the global south. They point to the ‘dark side’ of the promises of ‘order’, ‘equality’, and ‘(world) peace’ inherent in the enlightened idea of the ius gentium europaeum.
It is important to point out that nineteenth-century contemporaries were already well aware of the relation between international law and colonialism but they did not look at it from a moral perspective. Continue reading
Immanuel Kant’s Perpetual Peace (1795) might still be the most renowned philosophical voice that outlines – with mild irony – the relevance of the law (of nations) for “World Peace”. Borrowing from Kant’s insight that “war … is only the sad recourse in the state of nature (where there is no tribunal which could judge with the force of law)” (Sixth Preliminary Article), the nineteenth century saw an increasing number of successful attempts by scholars, politicians, and peace activists to put into practice third-party tribunals which arbitrated disputes between states by drawing on international law. Continue reading