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In this challenging book, Dr. Anghie examines a series of episodes in the legal history of the relations between the West and non-Western polities. He argues that they possess common features, reproducing at different epochs and in different ways an underlying pattern of domination and subordination – and doing so despite continued professions of idealism and universal values by the (Western) lawyers and leaders who have been dominantly engaged.
The first of these episodes dates from the earliest phase of international law. Of the five studied, it is the least institutional. Rather it is an episode of justification and apology – Vitoria's attempt to deal with the rights of the Amerindians faced with Spanish colonization. Of course, Vitoria was dealing with this problem after the event and he was teaching (a generation after Columbus) in the Catholic tradition of moral–religious theory and not as a self-perceived international lawyer. But his work, Anghie argues, inaugurated our subject. From the beginning, international law was not exclusively concerned with the relations between states but, and more importantly, with the relations between civilizations and peoples. Moreover these were relations of domination. Colonization and Empire were present at the creation, and the apologetic use of universalist ideals has never been abandoned, whatever new forms it may have taken.
The second episode is that of the 1884–5 Congress of Berlin and the final stages of colonial expansion.
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