In his book, Paolo Amorosa provides a comprehensive account of the life and career of international lawyer James Brown Scott, and shows how Scott's historical-legal narratives of the "Spanish origin" of international law reflected the rise of the United States as a global power in the early decades of the twentieth century. The book also draws from previously unpublished archival material to establish Scott's relationship to various activist groups of his time, including feminist and religious organizations, mapping the institutional and ideal constellation connected to the crowning of Francisco de Vitoria as the founder of international law.
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Rewriting the History of the Law of Nations description
In the interwar years, international lawyer James Brown Scott wrote a series of works on the history of his discipline. He made the case that the foundation of modern international law rested not, as most assumed, with the seventeenth-century Dutch thinker Hugo Grotius, but with sixteenth-century Spanish theologian Francisco de Vitoria. Far from being an antiquarian assertion, the Spanish origin narrative placed the inception of international law in the context of the discovery of America, rather than in the European wars of religion. The recognition of equal rights to the American natives by Vitoria was the pedigree on which Scott built a progressive international law, responsive to the rise of the United States as the leading global power and developments in international organization such as the creation of the League of Nations.
The book describes the Spanish origin project in context, relying on Scott's biography, changes in the self-understanding of the international legal profession, as well as on larger social and political trends in US and global history. Keeping in mind Vitoria's persisting role as a key figure in the canon of international legal history, the book sheds light on the contingency of shared assumptions about the discipline and their unspoken implications. The legacy of the international law Scott developed for the American century is still with the profession today, in the shape of the normalization and de-politicization of rights language and of key concepts like equality and rule of law.
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