journal reviews

Reviewed by: George Rodrigo Bandeira Galindo

Ignacio de la Rasilla del Moral, In the Shadow of Vitoria: A History of International Law in Spain (1770-1953) Studies in the History of International Law, Leiden: Brill, 2018, 353 p., ISBN 978-90-04-34322-1

1Despite the insistence - often seen in some intellectual circles – to detach international law from the mindset of the nation-state, the fact is that the modern international legal discipline would be impossible without the nation-state and the intellectual apparatus that supports it. Comparativists have exhaustively shown that there is no single legal system deprived of outside influences. It is undeniable that many international legal norms and institutions are based upon domestic analogies and, more importantly, they are interpreted and taught under the influence of national realities.

2In the Shadow of Vitoria: A History of International Law in Spain (1770-1953) is an excellent example of how international lawyers should go deep into national realities to better understand, diachronically, the way international legal discourse operates. It is the entangled character of the global and the local that explains – although in variable dimensions – both the creation of international institutions and the outbreak of civil wars; the »fatherhood« of international law and the enduring of dictatorships.

3Ignacio de la Rasilla del Moral is undoubtedly one of the most prolific researchers of the history of international law nowadays. As acknowledged by the author himself, almost every chapter of the book is based upon earlier (and often shorter) versions published in edited books and scientific journals. De la Rasilla has also been responsible for bringing fresh air to historical international legal studies by combining an excellent command of historical sources and a creative (and critical) reading of them.

4The book, as made explicit in its title, comprises an almost 200-year period, from 1770 to 1953. The year of 1770 was chosen as the beginning of the book's narrative because it was the date when the teaching of public international law, natural law and the law of the peoples was first established in Spain. The narrative ends in 1953, during the Cold War, when Spain realigned to the Western block. Although such marks seem essential to the book's narrative, the author does not adequately explain the reasons for choosing them. While 1770 is a mark related to the intellectual history of international law in Spain – the academic recognition of the subject in Spain's educational system – 1953 is more related to an event relevant for Spain's diplomatic history. It is true that De la Rasilla makes explicit that his method combines, among other fields, intellectual and diplomatic history. However, such a lack of better explanation shows that a dialogue between intellectual and diplomatic history is sometimes tricky and not self-evident at all.

5In the Shadow of Vitoria comprises five chapters. Chapter 1 begins in 1770 and finishes in the end of nineteenth century. Chapter 2 deals with the impact of the Spanish-American War (1898) whereas chapter 3 is devoted to the inter-war years – what the author names »The Silver Age of International Law in Spain.« Chapter 4 is wholly devoted to the Spanish Civil War, and Chapter 5 encompasses the post-Civil War years, ending in 1953.

6De la Rasilla's narrative of the long nineteenth century of the study of international law in Spain is greatly influenced by Martti Koskenniemi's idea (or sensibility) of the emergence of an esprit d'internationalité in the 1870s. Although the impact of such sensibility in Spain represents, in itself, a significant contribution to international legal studies – mainly because Koskenniemi devotes no in-depth analysis to Spain in his The Gentle Civilizer of Nations – it has some limitations. There is a tendency in the book to see in the years before the 1870s a less evolved stage of international law, expressed in ideas that emphasize the »unsystematic« or »natural law-oriented« character of works produced in that period. An effort to understand how international lawyers reacted against ideas associated with the esprit d'internationalité would represent an impressive contribution to historical international legal studies. In this sense, Spanish scholars' deep attachment to natural law and scholasticism can be a perfect example of a counter-sensibility that perhaps has impacted even contemporary international lawyers, in the shape of an anti-esprit d'internationalité.

7One of the greatest (and original) merits of the book is to provide an in-depth analysis of the persistence of Francisco de Vitoria in the imagination of Spanish international lawyers. De la Rasilla acutely shows that Vitoria's two renaissances – one in the nineteenth century, the other in the inter-war years – fulfilled different functions, both related to projects for the international legal order and Spain's position in the world. However, such renaissance was also profoundly related to Spain's internal political and social situation. Vitoria played an essential role in the crafting of liberal as well as conservative ideas about international law in Spain. In this sense, the shadow of Vitoria is essentially one that is seen in the shape of political preferences about law and international relations.

8The inter-war period was rich in contacts established between Spanish and foreign scholars. The ties of James Brown Scott with Spanish academic institutions and his role in giving Vitoria a pivotal position in the origins of international law clearly shows that the »shadow« operated in an inside-outside dynamic, where foreign authors stimulated intellectual movements made by Spaniards and vice versa. The presence of Vitoria would be important for the consolidation of the League of Nations since his conception of international law could justify an »anti-sovereignist ethos« that would give the League a broader space to act in the international realm.

9However, in De la Rasilla's view, Vitoria and other Spanish Theologians were also used in a completely different fashion in the Civil War years: to justify the »just cause« of General Franco's troops. Also, after the Civil War, with Spain's isolation, several international lawyers re-oriented their work towards history, especially with a Neo-Scholasticism tone, playing their reading of Vitoria an essential function in this move.

10Perhaps because almost all chapters were published earlier, the book shows some editorial inconsistencies, just like repeated information about people (i.e., James Brown Scott and Camilo Barcia Trelles). Other parts could be deleted or better inserted in the context of the book. For example, there is a lengthy discussion in Chapter 4 about how foreign authors reacted from an international legal perspective to the Spanish Civil War. It is not clear how this discussion fits into an analysis of how international law was thought and practiced in Spain.

11One of the major premises of the book is that, because international law in Spain remained in the shadow of Vitoria, it »has overshadowed the historical evolution of the study of international law in the country.« Such an argument certainly demands a better analysis. First, because, apart from developments in the technique of historical research, it is highly contestable any argument about »historical evolution.« Second, it may suggest that »historical evolution« is associated with higher adherence to international legal debates developed outside Spain. If this is so, the book may be read as a contribution to the reinforcing of a peripheral role of Spanish international lawyers in the world. Instead, the way Vitoria was read in Spain may show a unique way of practice and think about international legal issues. Such uniqueness, of course, may have its dark and bright sides; in any case, it would represent a relevant share of Spain to the international legal discipline.

12Ignacio de la Rasilla del Moral has undoubtedly produced a highly thoughtful study on how international law was practiced and conceived in a country that is uncontestably entangled (for the good and the bad) to the origins of modern international law. It is the result of extensive research on multiple sources and critical reflection on them. Besides that, the author brings his arguments in an elegant and well-written fashion. A significant challenge to the research on the history of international law in the future is one that the book eloquently responds. In the Shadow of Vitoria faces the complex links between the local and the global without the recourse to a laudatory national tradition or the forgetfulness hidden in many universalistic ideas.

Review by 23. September 2019
© 2019 fhi
ISSN: 1860-5605
First publication

  • citation suggestion Reviewed by: George Rodrigo Bandeira Galindo, Ignacio de la Rasilla del Moral, In the Shadow of Vitoria: A History of International Law in Spain (1770-1953) (23. September 2019), in forum historiae iuris, https://forhistiur.de/2019-09-bandeira-galindo/