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Spectral Legal Personality in Interwar International Law: On New Ways of Not Being a State


That spirits and gods, devils and idols, should be endowed with legal rights and enjoyments is again a practice as common as it seems to be ancient.

Perhaps you will go to the length of saying that much the most interesting person that you ever knew was persona ficta.

In May 1926, the German Society for International Law discussed the foundational question of the subjects of international law. “Who can appear independently before international forums? only states? or also others, particularly individuals?” asked the speaker, Godehard Josef Ebers, a professor at the University of Cologne. The topic possessed a strange novelty. “In the nineteenth century one hardly even considered the problem,” Ebers noted incredulously. Now it appeared both neglected and pressing. The society's resolutions that year recognized that ever more non-state “factors”—including groups such as minorities as well as individuals—were emerging as the bearers of international rights and duties. The appearance of these new subjects suggested a transformation in the deep conceptual substructure (Grundauffassung) of international law, which had hitherto recognized states alone as international persons.

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From September 2017, she will be Assistant Professor in Modern European History in the Department of History at Princeton University. This article has been enriched by thoughtful feedback from Nehal Bhuta, Andrew Fitzmaurice, Stefanos Geroulanos, Fleur Johns, Benedict Kingsbury, Maks del Mar, Dirk Moses, Samuel Moyn, Teemu Ruskola, Gerry Simpson, Glenda Sluga, and Miloš Vec, as well as members of the Alchemists reading group at the University of Sydney. She is especially grateful to Norman Spaulding, Elizabeth Anker, Paul Saint-Amour, and the other conveners and participants of the Law and Humanities Junior Scholar Workshop for their wonderful feedback and engagement at their 2016 meeting at UCLA. Translations from the German are the author's own.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
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