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History of International Law and Western Civilization

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image of International Community Law Review

This paper discusses the origins 19th-century international law through the works of such scholars as Bluntschli, Lorimer, and Westlake, and then traces out its development into the 20th century. Nineteenth-century international law was forged entirely in Europe: it was the expression of a European consciousness and culture, and was geographically located within the community of European peoples, which meant a community of Christian, and hence "civilized," peoples.

It was only toward the end of the 19th century that an international law emerged as the expression of a "global society," when the Ottoman Empire, China, and Japan found themselves forced to enter the regional international society revolving around Europe. Still, these nations stood on an unequal footing, forming a system based on colonial relations of domination.

This changed in the post–World War II period, when a larger community of nations developed that was not based on European dominance. This led to the extended world society we have today, made up of political systems profoundly different from one another because based on culture-specific concepts. So in order for a system to qualify as universal, it must now draw not only on Western but also on non-Western forms, legacies, and concepts.

Affiliations: 1: University of Bologna, Department of Politics, Institutions, History


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