The Law of Nations and Natural Law 1625-1850

Université de Lausanne, Section de Philosophie, Anthropole, CH-1015 Lausanne
Simone Zurbuchen (Lausanne); Lisa Broussois (Lausanne)
05.11.2015 - 06.11.2015
Frank Grunert, Lisa Broussois

This workshop constitutes the second conference of the international research network Natural Law 1625-1850 ( The network is focused on natural law as an academic institution. The ambition is to combine traditional approaches to natural law as a set of ideas with a comprehensive history of academic reception, transmission, and uses that takes into account institutions, political and legal contexts. This ambition will be realized by supplementing the published record of natural law – its textbooks and treatises – with a much wider range of sources. A significant number of scholars in thirteen European countries are currently investigating natural-law texts, commentaries, and pedagogical programs that form the core of a large digitization project. The current focus of the Swiss part of the international project is the teaching of the law of nature and nations at the Academies of Lausanne and Geneva. The main representatives of the école romande du droit naturel (Barbeyrac, Burlamaqui and Vattel), who contributed greatly to the dissemination of the law of nature and nations, especially in the French speaking parts of Europe, are fairly well known. However, during the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth century, the subject was taught by a great number of professors, some of whom played an important role in local learned societies, in legal practice and in politics. This extensive academic activity is now being researched. Biographies, bibliographies as well as archival materials will be published on the website:
The subject of this second international workshop is the law of nations (ius gentium). For a long time there was no clear distinction between the ius inter gentes and the ius intra gentes, but during the Enlightenment, the law of nations came to denote “the science which teaches the rights subsisting between nations or states, and the obligations correspondent to those rights” (Vattel), i.e., the discipline that is called today public international law. The aim of the workshop is to bring out the peculiar traits of the law of nations as it was conceived within the tradition of modern natural law. In order to assess its importance, this project needs to be envisaged on the background of recent scholarship on the history of public international law. During the past thirty years, the history of public international law has become an important field of research in various disciplines. New discussions of the origin, growth, and evolution of international law from the fifteenth century until the end of World War II are at the origin of different proposals for re-interpreting the history of international law and legal discourse, mainly from the perspective of those who were largely excluded from participating in this discourse, such as colonized nations, indigenous peoples, and religious or cultural minorities. By putting into question the classical narrative of international law as a success story of progress, the new de-centered interpretations aim at showing how international law was used by the center as a means to dominate and exploit the periphery, by revealing the hegemonic character of legal discourses and human rights principles. Much of the recent literature testifies to an overall attempt at re-interpreting the history of international law and legal discourse in terms of an ideology legitimizing European colonialism and imperialism. One of the guiding questions in this workshop is whether and to what extent the law of nations as it was conceived within the tradition of modern natural law beginning with Grotius’ De iure belli ac pacis (1625) fits into this counter-narrative of the history of international law. In a recent article, Emmanuelle Tourme-Jouannet points out that the justification of colonization was by no means the central aim of the modern law of nature and nations. Unlike Grotius, the main representatives of this tradition in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries paid comparatively little attention to the antagonism between “civilized” Europeans and “barbarian” others. They were more concerned with the “barbarians” within Europe and aimed at developing a code of conduct suitable to discipline the European nations. The main question after the peace of Westphalia was how to bring independent sovereign states or nations into peaceful coexistence. As Kant pointed out in critical vein in his essay On perpetual peace, this implied that war was considered to be a legitimate means to restrain aggression. This explains why the law of war (jus ad bellum, jus in bello) was part of the law of nations. So far, accounts of the history of the modern law of nations have mainly focused on a restricted number of classical treaties such as the published works of Grotius, Pufendorf, Thomasius, Rachel, Bynkershoek, Wolff and Vattel. While lesser known figures have occasionally been dealt with in the specialized literature, we still know comparatively little about this very rich tradition of moral and legal thinking and its influence on the law and legal practice in various European countries. In this context, the fact that the law of nature and nations constituted, from the late seventeenth until the middle of the nineteenth century, a teaching subject at a great number of Universities and other institutions of higher education throughout Europe, no doubt plays a crucial role. The workshop will bring together participants in the research network Natural Law 1625-1850, who are currently working on archival materials related to the law of nations in various European countries, and specialists on the history of international law dealing with more general questions such as those mentioned above. The results of the workshop will be published in a volume that will be part of a series that Brill is expected to publish under the general editorship of the three directors of the network, Frank Grunert (Halle), Knud Haakonssen (St. Andrews/Erfurt) and Diethelm Klippel (Bayreuth). This particular volume will be edited by the organiser of the conference, Simone Zurbuchen (Lausanne).


Thursday, November 5

Panel 1: The Law of Nations, Europe and the New World
(Chair: Kari Saastamoinen, Helsinki)

09.15 – 10.00 Knud Haakonssen (St. Andrews/Erfurt): Opening Lecture “The Law of Nations in the Natural Law Curriculum”

10.00 – 10.45 Vincent Chetail (Geneva): “Sovereignty and Migration in the Doctrine of the Law of Nations from Vitoria to Vattel”

11.15 – 12.00 Hans W. Blom (Rotterdam): “Popularising by Adapting: Early Dutch Compendia to De iure Belli ac Pacis”

12.00 – 12.45 Pärtel Piirimäe (Tartu): “Barbarians in Early Modern Law of Nations”

Panel 2: The Law of Nations between Pufendorf and Vattel
(Chair: Béla Kapossy, Lausanne)

14.15 – 15.00 Peter Schröder (London): “Seventeenth Century Lex Mercatoria, Natural Law & the Law of Nations”

15.00 – 15.45 Michael Seidler (Bowling Green, KY, USA): “Between Pufendorf and Vattel: the Terrain of Dissertationes”

16.15 – 17.00 Mads Langballe Jensen (Copenhagen): “Jus gentium and Natural Law in Denmark around 1700”

17.00 – 17.45 Katharina Beiergrösslein, Iris von Dorn (Bayreuth): “Natural Law for the Nobility. Natur- und Völkerrecht at the Ritter-Academy Erlangen (1701-1741)”

Friday, November 6

Panel 3: The Law of Nations and the Ecole romande du droit naturel
(Chair: Ian Hunter, Graceville, AUS)

09.15 – 10.00 Simone Zurbuchen (Lausanne): “Teaching the Law of Nations in Lausanne and Geneva in the 18th century”

10.00 – 10.45 Lisa Broussois (Lausanne): “Burlamaqui and Rousseau on the Law of War and the Law of Nations”

11.15 – 12.00 Elisabetta Fiocchi Malaspina (Milan): “The Circulation of the Ecole romande du droit naturel in Eighteenth-Century Italy”

12.00 – 12.45 Gabriella Silvestrini (Alessandria): “Political Law and the Law of Nations: the General Principles of the Duties of a Nation towards herself according to Emer de Vattel”

Panel 4: The Law of Nations from 18th century Germany into the 19th century
(Chair: Simone Zurbuchen, Lausanne)

14.15 – 15.00 Frank Grunert (Halle): “International Law as a topic in German Historia Literaria”

15.00 – 15.45 Thomas Ahnert (Edinburgh): “Christian Wolff’s Jus Gentium and the Scientific Method”

16.15 – 17.00 Diethelm Klippel (Bayreuth): “Kant in Context. The Contemporary Debate on Kant’s Essay On Perpetual Peace”

17.00 – 17.45 Miloš Vec (Vienna): “Mythical Positivism: Natural Law in 19th Century International Law Doctrine”


Lisa Broussois

Université de Lausanne, Section de Philosophie, Anthropole, CH-1015 Lausanne

The Law of Nations and Natural Law 1625-1850, 05.11.2015 – 06.11.2015 Lausanne, in: H-Soz-Kult, 24.09.2015, <>.