Justice Among Nations: A History of International Law.

Author:Wolfrum, Rudiger
Position:Book review
 
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Justice Among Nations: A History of International Law. By Stephen C. Neff. Cambridge MA, London: Harvard University Press, 2014. Pp. viii, 628. Index. $45.00, 33.95 [pounds sterling], 40.50 [euro].

As a history of international hew, Justice Among Nations: A History of International Law stands in line with the works of Douglas M. Johnston, The Historical Foundations of World Order: The Tower and the Arena (2008), of Wilhelm G. Grewe, The Epochs of International Law (2000), of Gustavo Gozzi, Diritti e civilia: Storia e filosofia del diritto internazionale (2010), and of Dominique Gaurier, Histoire du droit international: Auteurs, doctrines et developpement de I'antiquite b Taube de la periode contemporaine (2005). The very interesting bibliographic essay at the end of the book, which takes the place of a standard list of sources, mentions other similar works. The book's author, Dr. Stephen Neff, is a reader in public international law at the University of Edinburgh. He attempts to implement a different approach from the works mentioned above, as he explains in detail in the introduction as well as in the first part of the bibliographic essay, which I highly recommend studying. The author states: "[I]deas of justice in international relations go back a great deal further--practically as far as recorded history itself. This history is accordingly an exploration of the various ways in which conceptions of justice have played a part on the world stage" (p. 2). He continues: "Where does it [the legal system] come from? And why is it obeyed? International law is not so much a list of rules, as a response to the challenge of devising answers to these befuddling queries" (id.). As he also notes,

Our concern will not be so much with the actual content of that law--which we can safely leave in the hands of professional lawyers--as with the general nature and character of it, how it has been made, how it has been interpreted, how it has been applied in practice, and, above all, with how the answers given to these basic questions have changed over the years. (Id.)

To put it more concretely and positively, the author is interested in specific legal doctrines and practice. As he acknowledges, he is quite selective; he deals neither with all topics of international law nor with all doctrines. This restraint is understandable, although it is a pity, in particular, that topics at the beginning of the time frame of public international law (i.e., the rules of diplomacy and the law of the sea) receive less attention than they deserve.

Part I, ""Law and Morality Abroad," covers antiquity, the end of the Middle Ages in the European reckoning, and a bit beyond to 1550. Why this year was chosen is unclear, unless one considers it decisive that Nostradamus (1503-1566) started his yearly predictions then. Part I is subdivided into three chapters: "Doing Justice to Others," "Keeping Kings in Check," and "New Worlds and Their Challenges." These tides are very well chosen, precisely describing the content of each chapter.

The first chapter concentrates mostly on China, ancient Greece, and pre-imperial Rome, along with the dealings of these entities with either foreigners or societies beyond their jurisdiction. The different approaches advocated by ancient China and Rome are striking and well explained. The statement that ancient "China would make no further important contributions to the science of international law" (p. 39) sounds harsh, but it is well founded. Instead, the author might have considered India more closely; India had its own advancement in this context, principally in relation to international humanitarian law and the rules on diplomacy.

The starting point for additional reflection is the development of natural law in ancient Greece and its refinement under Roman law. In particular, the differentiation between natural law and ius gentium is still extremely enlightening and relevant. The issue of natural law is further discussed in chapter 3, where the author deals more intensively with the ius commune developed by practicing lawyers (in contrast to the natural law developed by scholars), the relationship between the two concepts, and their impact on the public international law to be analyzed. The theory that ius commune contributed to the development of international law is of interest and a challenge for further research. The author returns to natural law later in his book; his considerations on international law directed by this leitmotiv are exceptionally interesting and distinguish themselves positively from other studies on the history of international law.

The second chapter concentrates on the relationship between the pope and the emperor of the so-called Holy Roman Empire. The author is correct in stating that the Saxon emperors beginning with Otto I (912-973) considered themselves as successors of the Roman emperors. But that status was already true for Charlemagne (742-814), as recent exhibitions in...

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