The Legacy of the Nineteenth Century

Authored by: Martti Koskenniemi

Routledge Handbook of International Law

Print publication date:  December  2008
Online publication date:  January  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415418768
eBook ISBN: 9780203884621
Adobe ISBN: 9781134113095


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The period from the late eighteenth century to the First World War shaped both the humanitarian internationalist approach to international law and, through the vocabulary of legitimacy that accompanied the consolidation of the European states system, its emphasis on sovereignty, state power and the balance of power. Different national perspectives also began to emerge over issues such as colonialism and the law of the sea, with barely disguised national rivalries shaping much of the discourse. Underlying all this, we may discern a fundamental tension between international law as “apology” for state power – which was seen as essential to an effective system of international law – and as “utopia” – or a means of constraining state power. Towards the end of the century, they were expressed in a rhetoric that envisaged international law essentially as a social phenomenon. This chapter reviews some of the intellectual debate that accompanied these developments.

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