International Conference: Sovereignty as Trusteeship for Humanity – Historical Antecedents and their Impact on International Law

Tel Aviv, June 16-17, 2014

Trusteeship

The concept of sovereignty is one of the most contested and heavily theorized ideas in the intellectual history of constitutional and international law. Yet, despite its prominence, the classic debate over sovereignty often overlooked theories that embedded the concept of sovereignty within a larger, global system that could generate other-regarding obligations. In this conference we will revisit the debate over the meaning of sovereignty in this context and explore the notions of sovereignty that subject it to duties toward others in the history and theory of sovereignty and of international law.

The fundamental idea – that sovereignty functions as part of a system that assigns global resources among humankind – can be found already in Greek thinking. Grotius refers in his De jure belli ac pacis to Cicero’s metaphor of the globe as a theater where sovereigns’ right to exclusive title resemble the right of theater goers to occupy their seats for the duration of the show. Also for Wolff and Vattel, sovereignty has a cosmopolitan purpose. In Vattel’s view, “earth belongs to mankind in general” and therefore sovereigns are obligated toward humankind to use the resources under their control efficiently and sustainably. Kant offered a secular basis for the same proposition, referring to the principle of equal entitlement. Later on, during the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, scholarly assertions about the existence of an “association of states,” an “international community” or of “international solidarity” informed their reading of the state as a unit at the service of humanity.

The conference will explore the historical context for the emergence of the debate over the meaning of sovereignty and its contours: when, by whom and why were such competing accounts of sovereignty developed? How could their analysis enrich our understanding of the history of the concept and whether such unraveling raises a more nuanced account of what sovereignty meant and what it may mean for us today. Furthermore, we would like to explore whether and how constitutional theories addressed these concerns and to what extent they have influenced the international legal discourses on this subject. Such exploration may address alternative perspectives and interpretations and examine the relationships between the different approaches to sovereignty (as well as the relations with the private law concept of property) and further explore the influences of these ideas on general international law and some of its specific legal doctrines.

The conference brings together political theorists, lawyers and historians to debate these aspects in the history, theory and legal doctrine related to sovereignty.

 

Conference participants include:

Eyal Benvenisti, Tel-Aviv

Jean L. Cohen, Columbia University

Evan Criddle, William and Mary Law School

Sergio Dellavalle, University of Turin (Italy)

David Dyzenhaus, University of Toronto

Andrew Fitzmaurice, University of Sydney

Evan Fox-Decent, McGill University

Daniel Loick, Goethe Universitaet Frankfurt

Doreen Lustig, Tel-Aviv

Li Ming, Peking University

Mira Siegelberg, Harvard University

Benjamin Strausmann, NYU

Michel Troper, Université Paris X

Lorenzo Zucca, King’s College