Political Authority and the International

The Status of "Oriental Nations" in Nineteenth-Century International Law

Historians of international law often argue, following C.H. Alexandrowicz, that the universalism assumed in the natural-law foundations of the early modern law of nations treated non-European sovereigns as equals in international society.  They contrast this natural-law based notion of equality with nineteenth century positivists who treated the law of nations, and sovereignty itself, as a product of European political thought and who, consequently, denied a place in international society to non-European nations.

This paper will explore the standing of non-European nations in the nineteenth century international law and particularly in the work of the jurist Sir Travers Twiss.  I will show that Twiss argued that many non-European nations, including China, Japan, the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, and the ‘African Slave-states’, were equals with European powers in the law of nations.  Twiss was not concerned about the rights of such nations.  He was concerned with their duties.  For Twiss, the equality of non-European nations in international law was a means whereby those nations could be obliged to meet certain standards of behaviour and, in cases where they failed to do so, international society could impose certain measures upon them, including extra-territorial regimes.

Andrew Fitzmaurice is Professor of History at the University of Sydney.  He is the author, most recently, of Property, Sovereignty, and Empire 1500 - 2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2014).


4.00pm Thursday 25 August 2016
Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower
University of Queensland, St Lucia
For further information, please contact iash@uq.edu.au or 07 334 69492


Seminar Room, Level 4 Forgan Smith Tower, University of Queensland, St Lucia