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is a plausible idea of the moderate character of the Grotian tradition of
thought, but it is clear that it is a considerable departure from the conven-
tional point of view in international law. It is also a departure from Wight™s
position, to the extent that conventional legal positivists and naturalists
would now presumably be in the Grotian-rationalist tradition rather than
being forms of realism.
Bull™s argument also rested on the proposition that the concept of inter-
national society is identical with the concept of a society of states. Since
he was beginning from the concept of a state and states-system, this was
more or less inevitable, although neither Wight nor the early interna-
tional lawyers were quite so committed to the statist membership of the
societas gentium. Indeed, Bull™s argument implied the somewhat bizarre
conclusion that the conventional Grotian position in international law,
with its eclectic theory of international personality, actually lacks a prop-
erly de¬ned concept of international society. Moreover, Bull™s view of the
concept of international society was not simply statist; it adopted a posi-
tivist theory of the sources for the rules of international law. Bull famously
asserted that an international society is created when states ˜conceive them-
selves to be bound by a common set of rules in their relations with one
another, and share in the working of common institutions . . . they regard
themselves as bound by certain rules in their dealings with one another™.62
The crucial point here is that international society is dependent on the
will or volition of states to submit themselves to a set of rules, and that is
an essentially positivist position. This comes through very clearly in Bull™s
discussion of the question of whether natural law theories of the sixteenth
century (including Grotius™s own) constituted a universal international
society during that period, which I discussed earlier.
One reason why Bull was able to get away with this argument was that
his idea that it is only Grotians who conceive of international relations
in terms of the idea of an international society relaxed the pressure to
maintain the old position that Grotians formed a distinctive school of
thought by virtue of their eclectic theory of international personality. In-
stead, while he began using the concept of international society in a very
narrow way, a certain looseness entered into his understanding of the
idea of a Grotian tradition. As Bull commented in a revealing footnote
in The Anarchical Society: ˜I have myself used the term “Grotian” in two
senses: (i) as here, to describe the broad doctrine that there is a society
of states; (ii) to describe the solidarist form of this doctrine, which united
Grotius himself and the twentieth-century neo-Grotians, in opposition
to the pluralist conception of international society entertained by Vattel

62 Bull, The Anarchical Society, p. 13, emphases added.
36 Beyond the anarchical society

and later positivist writers.™63 Even the ˜solidarist™ conception of interna-
tional society, which is presumably intended as an attempt to give a more
authentic representation of Grotian and neo-Grotian legal thought, is lo-
cated within a ˜broad doctrine™ that equates international society with
a society of states. This tends to lead to the idea that the speci¬cally
Grotian conception is really about solidarity between states, and that its
eclectic theory of international personality is merely a normative claim
that individual well-being is the ultimate criterion for determining the
worth of actually existing international arrangements.
Consequently, there was little to prevent Bull from depicting Grotius
himself as committed to an absolutist conception of sovereignty and a
˜Hobbesian™ premise about the membership of international society.64
Wight, by contrast, tended to link Grotius more closely to liberal thinkers
like John Locke on the grounds that both adopted a view where natural law
could continue to have some force even in the context of an established
civil society, and suggested that this was the basis for their view of in-
ternational relations as an ˜institutionally de¬cient™ but still ˜quasi-social™
condition, where both natural and man-made positive law applied.65 Bull
represented Grotius™s ˜institutionally de¬cient™ view of international soci-
ety simply as a medievalist hangover, a consequence of the fact that ˜[i]n
Grotius™ time these institutions existed only in embryo; the international
society he describes is an ideal or normative one, for which there was
as yet little concrete historical evidence™.66 There was little awareness on
Bull™s part of the political theoretical signi¬cance of this ˜institutional de-
¬ciency™, nor of the way in which Wight had used the connection between
Grotius and Locke to open rationalism out to a more voluntaristic theory
of political obligation.
Of course, that shows that Bull realized that Grotius™s work contained
a ˜domestic model™, even if it was only to be dismissed as a ˜medieval
residue™. One of the crucial features of Bull™s argument is that he did retain
a sense of Grotian dualism and eclecticism; but within a new set of param-
eters that, in my view, drastically limit its scope. This was contained in
Bull™s distinction between the pluralist conception of international society
held by positivist international lawyers, and a solidarist conception, pre-
ferred by Grotius and especially by the twentieth-century ˜neo-Grotians™,
like Hersch Lauterpacht. Bull describes the solidarist position as mak-
ing two main claims about international society. First, it assumes ˜the
63 Ibid., p. 322n.
64 Ibid., p. 26, and Hedley Bull, ˜The Importance of Grotius in the Study of International
Relations™, in Bull, Benedict Kingsbury and Adam Roberts (eds.), Hugo Grotius and
International Relations (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), pp. 84“5.
65 66 Bull, ˜Importance of Grotius™, p. 90.
Wight, International Theory, pp. 38“9.
The orthodox theory of order 37

solidarity, or potential solidarity, of the states comprising international
society, with respect to the enforcement of the law™, in contrast to the
pluralist belief that ˜states are capable of agreeing only for certain min-
imum purposes which fall short of the enforcement of the law™.67 This
seems to be essentially a procedural point, relating to the question of
how international law is enforced, rather than anything to do with the
actual content of international law, and hence of the normative princi-
ples underpinning international order. It generally refers to the degree
of consensus among the members of international society and the extent
of their commitment to international law, maybe even against their own
immediate self-interest.
The second solidarist claim is that ˜the members of international so-
ciety are ultimately not states but individuals™.68 The point here is that,
although international society is institutionally composed of states and
the enforcement of law depends on the degree of solidarity among them,
the legitimacy of this international society of states is derivative from ˜the
universal community of mankind™.69 In other words, the value of interna-
tional society is determined in terms of its contribution to the well-being
of individual human beings (and, rather problematically, presupposes
some rough consensus among states about precisely what that involves).
This contrasts with the pluralists™ view that the primary purpose of inter-
national society is to maintain peaceful coexistence between states with
radically different cultural and political systems, and that consequently it
is justi¬able for states to adopt a ˜convention of silence about the place
in their society of their human subjects™.70 Unlike pluralists, solidarists
would tend to regard a state that was violating the rights of its subjects
as a pariah, against which all the other members of international society
would be justi¬ed in adopting interventionist or coercive policies.
Bull recognized the normative attractiveness of the solidarist concep-
tion of international society, but he had serious reservations about it, not
the least of which was his concern that it did not take proper account
of the actual circumstances of modern international relations. He was
worried that the degree of consensus it required did not exist, partly be-
cause of cultural pluralism, and that assertions of the common purposes
of states in international society would likely be self-interested and to the
detriment of weaker states, for which sovereignty was an important as-
set: ˜If a right of intervention is proclaimed for the purpose of enforcing
standards of conduct, and yet no consensus exists in the international
community governing its use, then the door is open to interventions by

67 68 Ibid., p. 68.
Bull, ˜Grotian Conception™, p. 52.
69 70 Ibid.
Ibid.
38 Beyond the anarchical society

particular states using such a right as a pretext, and the principle of ter-
ritorial sovereignty is placed in jeopardy.™71 This did not mean Bull was
ruling out solidarism for ever. Towards the end of The Anarchical Society,
for example, he put forward a powerful argument to the effect that the
future of international society depended on cultivating precisely the kind
of ˜cosmopolitan culture™ that could underpin genuine solidarity among
states, ˜rooted in societies as well as in their elites™ and which ˜may need to
absorb non-Western elements to a much greater degree if it is to be gen-
uinely universal™.72 As things stood, however, Bull regarded the modern
international society that actually existed as one that was more pluralist
than solidarist, and had become increasingly so as it had expanded to
include non-European states and hence a greater range of cultural di-
versity. Even in one of his last, and most solidaristically inclined, works,
Bull still warned that ˜[t]he cosmopolitan society which is implied and
presupposed in our talk of human rights exists only as an ideal and we
court great dangers if we allow ourselves to proceed as if it were a polit-
ical and social framework already in place™.73 Grotian solidarism, then,
is attacked on two different fronts: it is vulnerable to the accusation of
being nostalgic, because it contains a ˜medieval residue™; and it can be
criticized for being utopian, because it prematurely asserts the existence
of a genuinely cosmopolitan culture in modern international society.
Often without realizing it, the numerous scholars today who use con-
cepts like the ˜Westphalian system™, the ˜Grotian tradition™ and the ˜soci-
ety of states™, or who base their work on Bull™s de¬nitions of international
society and solidarism, are therefore committing themselves to a pecu-
liarly narrow and twisted perspective on order in modern world politics.
The very idea of a society of states is itself something of a hybrid, and it
is quite incorrect to suppose, as so many do, that it accurately re¬‚ects a
Grotian tradition of thought about international political and legal order
that goes back to the dawn of the modern era in the seventeenth century.
The theory that we have today squeezes Grotius™s extremely eclectic and
wide-ranging account of the law of nations into a small box that was
constructed in the early nineteenth century for the speci¬c purpose of
defending the independence of dynastic monarchs against the onslaught
of the French Revolution and Napoleonic imperialism. One result of
this is that we have a warped picture of early modern international legal
thought that simply does not do justice to many of the central issues that
animated Grotius and his successors. Another result is that we have an
historical narrative of the development of political and legal order in the
71 72 Bull, The Anarchical Society, p. 317.
Ibid., p. 71.
73 Hedley Bull, The Hagey Lectures, University of Waterloo, Mimeograph, 1984, p. 13.
The orthodox theory of order 39

modern world that is blinkered in its outlook, not by any real considera-
tion of what is signi¬cant to us today, but rather in accordance with the
needs of nineteenth-century reactionaries. In chapter 2, I will try to take
Grotius out of that box. I will look more closely at his account of the law
of nations and try to discern what his central propositions were without
making the standard assumption that anything that does not ¬t in with
the logic of the states-system is clearly nostalgic, idealistic and, either
way, ˜un-modern™. This will, I hope, open up a new set of possibilities for
our understanding of the nature of order in modern world politics, which
I will then go on to explore in the rest of the book.
2 The Grotian theory of the law of nations




Among theorists of international relations today, Hugo Grotius is more
famous for having defended the existence of an international society than
for any substantive propositions he made about what it looks like or how
it operates.1 As I explained in chapter 1, a major reason for this atti-
tude is the way in which the ˜Grotian tradition™ has come to be under-
stood in the context of Martin Wight™s ˜international theory™ and Hedley
Bull™s re¬‚ections on the Grotian conception of international society. Over
the last thirty years or so, the historical analysis of Grotianism by theo-
rists of international relations has moved away from debates about the
sources, content and scope of international law within a societas gentium,
and has instead concentrated on debates about the nature of international
politics within a states-system. Consequently, the Grotian position is
now normally juxtaposed against two alternative political theories of in-
ternational relations: Machiavellian or Hobbesian realism, and Kantian

1 The same criticism could not be made, at least not without serious quali¬cation,
for historians of political and legal thought more generally. For excellent analyses
of Grotius, see in particular Richard Tuck, Natural Rights Theories: Their Origin and
Development (Cambridge University Press, 1977); Philosophy and Government, 1572“1651
(Cambridge University Press, 1993); and The Rights of War and Peace: Political Thought and
International Order from Grotius to Kant (Oxford University Press, 1999). Other no-
table works are Stephen Buckle, Natural Law and the Theory of Property: Grotius to
Hume (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991); David Kennedy, ˜Primitive Legal Scholarship™,
Harvard International Law Journal, 27 (1986), 1“98; Karl Olivecrona, ˜Appropriation
in the State of Nature: Locke on the Origin of Property™, History of Ideas, 35 (1974),
211“30; and Olivecrona, ˜Locke™s Theory of Appropriation™, Philosophical Quarterly, 24
(1974), 220“34. Peter Borschberg™s editorial introduction to Hugo Grotius, ˜Commen-
tarius in Theses XI™: An Early Treatise on Sovereignty, the Just War and the Legitimacy
of the Dutch Revolt, trans. Borschberg (Berne: Peter Lang, 1994) is extremely good.
Unsurprisingly, the journal Grotiana includes numerous detailed and insightful stud-
ies of Grotius: see especially Cornelis Roelofsen, ˜Grotius and the “Grotian Heritage” in
International Law and International Relations: The Quarcentenary and its Aftermath™,
Grotiana, 11 (1990), 6“28, and another good essay is Ben Vermeulen, ˜Discussing
Grotian Law and Legal Philosophy: Marginal Notes to Some Recent Articles on Grotius™,
Grotiana, 6 (1985), 84“92. I make no apologies for the fact that in developing my own
understanding of Grotius™s theory of the law of nations I have made extensive use of these
and other interpretative commentaries on Grotian thought.

40
The Grotian theory of the law of nations 41

cosmopolitanism. This leads to the popular view that the most important
distinguishing feature of Grotianism is its commitment to the idea of a
society of states, in contradistinction to the Hobbesian denial of such a
society and the Kantian insistence on a world community of humankind.
According to the defenders of contemporary ˜Grotianism™, this offers a
valuable way of thinking about international politics because it is more
sensitive to questions about world justice than the realists, while at the
same time being more sensitive to the problems of anarchy and pluralism
than the cosmopolitans.
On the whole, I agree that speculation about international society is
an excellent way of studying international relations. But the conventional
wisdom that we ought to concentrate on the development of a society of
states in modern Europe is too restrictive a conceptual framework, be-
cause it commits us to the idea of a states-system as de¬ning the pattern
of order in the modern world and prevents us from taking other forms of
international order, such as imperial systems, as seriously as we should.
Moreover, the failure to pay attention to the actual content of Grotian
thinking about the law of nations has inadvertently cut us off from an al-
ternative way of thinking about modern international law that could help
us to understand some of those aspects of order in world politics that look
˜anomalous™ from the perspective of the states-system. To begin repairing
some of the damage, in this chapter I am going to take a closer look at
Grotius™s theory of the law of nations. For the reasons outlined above, my
account will differ from much of the existing work on this subject in the
literature on international relations, because I will concentrate less on his
general attitude towards the issue of sociability in international relations,
and more on the details of how he understood the speci¬c rules of the
law of nations in force at the time.
Before proceeding with this enquiry, I ought to acknowledge that an-
other reason why so little attention is now paid to the details of Grotius™s
work is that his style is often obscure. Much of what he had to say about
the law of nations will probably strike an audience today as completely
pointless. When reading Grotius, it is sometimes dif¬cult not to sympa-
thize with Voltaire™s acid remark that ˜he is very learned . . . but what has

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