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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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1. Nékám Alexander, The Personality Conception of the Legal Entity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938), 25.

2. Maitland Frederic William, “Moral Personality and Legal Personality,” Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation 6 (1905): 194.

3. “Wer kann vor internationalen Instanzen selbstständig auftreten? nur die Staaten? oder auch andere, insbesondere Individuen?” “Man hat sich im 19. Jahrhundert mit dem Problem so gut wie gar nicht befaßt.” Ebers Godehard J., “Sind im Völkerrecht allein die Staaten parteifähig?Mitteilungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Völkerrecht 7 (1926): 7. On Ebers, see Stolleis Michael, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts in Deutschland, vol. 3, Staats- und Verwaltungsrechtswissenschaft in Republik und Diktatur, 1914–1945 (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1999), 276, 282–83.

4. “Die Anzahl der Einzelvorgänge legt den Gedanken nahe, daß neben oder vielleicht entgegen der prinzipiellen Auffassung von der alleinigen Völkerrechtssubjektivität der Staaten ein geänderte Grundauffassung für das Völkerrecht zum Durchbruch kommt.” See Knubben Rolf, Die Subjekte des Völkerrechts: Allgemeine Lehre von der vollen und beschränkten völkerrechtlichen Rechts- und Handlungsfähigkeit, Handbuch des Völkerrechts, vol. 2, part 1 (Stuttgart: Verlag von W. Kohlhammer, 1928), v. Knubben similarly noted that the subject had only emerged as an important area of inquiry in recent times.

5. “Gleichwohl began erst in der letzten Zeit der Zauber dieser Irrlehre zu schwinden.” Verdross Alfred, Die Verfassung der Völkerrechtsgemeinschaft (Vienna and Berlin: Verlag von Julius Springer, 1926), 116. One of the twentieth century's most important international jurists, Verdross (1890–1980) has more recently been resurrected as an early exponent of human “dignity” as a fundamental legal value. See Simma Bruno, “The Contribution of Alfred Verdross to the Theory of International Law,” European Journal of International Law 6 (1995): 3354 ; and, for the latter point, Moyn Samuel, “The Secret History of Constitutional Dignity,” Yale Human Rights and Development Journal 17 (2014): 3973 .

6. Politis Nicolas, The New Aspects of International Law: A Series of Lectures Delivered at Columbia University in July 1926 (Washington: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1928), v.

7. Ibid., 30–31.

8. Ibid., 30. See also Henri Rolin's assessment that, in this area, “positive international law is still in a transitory and contradictory stage.” Henri Rolin in the discussion following Idelson Vladimir R., “The Law of Nations and the Individual,” Transactions of the Grotius Society 30 (1944): 75.

9. Dunn Frederick S., “The International Rights of Individuals,” Proceedings of the American Society of International Law at Its Annual Meeting 35 (1941): 14.

10. Hersch Lauterpacht in the discussion following Idelson, “The Law of Nations and the Individual,” 66. Lauterpacht had already argued for the expiration of the old view in 1927. See Lauterpacht Hersch, Private Law Sources and Analogies of International Law: With Special Reference to International Arbitration (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1927), 7479 . Lauterpacht's wartime assessment was shared by countless others. As just two other examples from around the time of the second world war, see Hans Aufricht's 1945 view that interwar innovations in the area were clear indicators of the future shape of international law: “[P]rogress in international law will presumably follow the general trend of the inter-war period”: “new persons or personal units—States, individuals and supranational agencies—will emerge as legal entities.” Aufricht Hans, “On Relative Sovereignty: Part II,” Cornell Law Quarterly 30 (1945): 346; or Philip Jessup's 1947 observation that “there has welled up through the years a growing opposition to this traditional concept [of states as the only subjects of international law].” If resistance to a new order persisted, it nevertheless seemed to him a sensible intellectual endeavor to start “with the hypothesis that a change in the old fundamental doctrine has been accepted”: Jessup Philip, “The Subjects of a Modern Law of Nations,” Michigan Law Review 45 (1947): 384.

11. Lauterpacht in the discussion of Idelson, “The Law of Nations and the Individual,” 66–67.

12. Clearly, for many of those bound up in these legal structures, conflicts over legal abstractions such as personality had very real, material, even violent consequences: see, for example, Wheatley Natasha, “Mandatory Interpretation: Legal Hermeneutics and the New International Order in Arab and Jewish Petitions to the League of Nations,” Past and Present 227 (2015): 205–48; Wheatley Natasha, “The Mandate System as a Style of Reasoning: International Jurisdiction and the Parceling of Imperial Sovereignty in Petitions from Palestine,” in The Routledge Handbook of the History of the Middle East Mandates, ed. Arsan Andrew and Schayegh Cyrus (Abingdon: Routledge, 2015), 106–22. For an exploration of how mandate and minority populations themselves reflected on—and helped shape—the theory of international legal personality, see Wheatley Natasha, “New Subjects in International Law and Order,” in Internationalisms: A Twentieth-Century History, ed. Clavin Patricia and Sluga Glenda (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 265–86.

13. Such an inquiry doubles as a case study of law's capacity to construct its own “virtual facts”: like other sciences (social and otherwise), law treats a range of abstractions or categories as if they were facts, although they are only “indirectly connected to empirical phenomena.” Law's “persons” are the classic example. Samuel Geoffrey, “Epistemology and Comparative Law: Contributions from the Sciences and Social Sciences,” in Epistemology and Methodology of Comparative Law, ed. van Mark Hoecke (Oxford and Portland: Hart, 2004), 44 (emphasis in original). See also Annelise Riles, “Is the Law Hopeful?” Cornell Law Faculty Working Papers, Paper 68. (accessed September 22, 2016).

14. See Hacking Ian, “Making Up People,” London Review of Books 28 (2006): 2326 .

15. See Clifford Geertz's classic essay Local Knowledge: Fact and Law in Comparative Perspective,” in Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 167234 , quoted here at 232.

16. Ruskola Teemu, Legal Orientalism: China, the United States, and Modern Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 23. Ruskola employs “a thicker notion of law as a social technology that produces in part the world in which it exists and the subjects whom it disciplines,” 36.

17. Dayan Colin, The Law is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), xii.

18. Esmeir Samera, Juridical Humanity: A Colonial History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), 3.

19. Dayan, The Law is a White Dog, xi.

20. See, for example, Bhuta Nehal, “The Role International Actors Other than States Can Play in the New World Order,” in Realizing Utopia: The Future of International Law, ed. Cassese Antonio (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 6175 ; Carty Anthony, “International Legal Personality and the End of the Subject: Natural Law and Phenomenological Responses to New Approaches to International Law,” Melbourne Journal of International Law 6 (2005): 534–52; Portmann Roland, Legal Personality in International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); and Nijman Janne Elisabeth, The Concept of International Legal Personality: An Inquiry into the History and Theory of International Law (The Hague: T. M. C. Asser Press, 2004). For an important overview of and critical intervention in the theory of international personality, see Parfitt Rose, “Theorizing Recognition and International Personality,” in The Oxford Handbook of International Legal Theory, ed. Orford Anne and Hoffman Florian (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 583–99. For a useful compendium of classic statements on the subject, see Johns Fleur E., ed., International Legal Personality (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).

21. See, especially, Gierke Otto, Das deutsche Genossenschaftsrecht, 4 vols. (Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1868–1913); Maitland Frederic William, “Translator's Introduction,” in Political Theories of the Middle Age, ed. Gierke Otto, trans. William Frederic Maitland (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1900), viixlv ; Laski Harold, “The Personality of Associations,” Harvard Law Review 28 (1916): 404–26.

22. See, for example, Lon Fuller on the “theory of the juristic truth of fictions”: Fuller Lon L., “Legal Fictions,” Illinois Law Review 25 (1930): 378.

23. “Wohl aber ist sie Meisterin zu bestimmen, was vor ihr als Rechtssubjekt gelten soll. Wenn sie sagt: das soll so behandelt werden, als wäre es eines, so hat das den gleichen Wert, als wenn sie sagt: das ist eines. Insofern ist die juristische Person für den Juristen eine Wirklichkeit; für andere auch, sie sehen sie nur nicht.” Mayer Otto, Die juristische Person und ihre Verwertbarkeit im öffentlichen Recht (Tübingen: Verlag von J. C. B. Mohr, 1908), 17.

24. Law's capacity to conjure new subjectivities as legal beings had few limits: this kind of “reality” could be ascribed to most anything in a given case, argued Alexander Nékám in an interwar study: “matter or spirit, existing or fancied, living or deceased. Any of these, if regarded as a unit requiring social protection, will become a subject of rights.” Nékám, The Personality Conception of the Legal Entity, 34. As the American lawyer Arthur J. Machen likewise wrote: “even a purely imaginary being may have legal rights. For example, our law recognizes and enforces trusts for the benefit of unborn children. So, a heathen code might recognize a right of Jupiter or Apollo to enjoy the sweet savour of a hecatomb or a burnt offering, and might enforce this right by judicial proceedings instituted in the name or on behalf of the divinities in question; and yet those deities, although ‘subjects of rights,’ would not be real persons.” Machen Arthur W. Jr., “Corporate Personality,” Harvard Law Review 24 (1911): 263.

25. “A corporation cannot possibly be both an artificial person and an imaginary or fictitious person,” reasoned Machen in 1911: “That which is artificial is real, and not imaginary: an artificial lake is not an imaginary lake, nor is an artificial waterfall a fictitious waterfall. So a corporation cannot be at the same time ‘created by the state’ and fictitious.” He continued: “If a corporation is ‘created,’ it is real, and therefore cannot be a purely fictitious body having no existence except in the legal imagination. Moreover, a corporation cannot possibly be imaginary or fictitious and also composed of natural persons. Neither in mathematics nor in philosophy nor in law can the sum of several actual, rational quantities produce an imaginary quantity.” Machen, “Corporate Personality,” 257. Note also Cohen Morris R., “Communal Ghosts and Other Perils in Social Philosophy,” Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 16 (1919): 673–90; and Dewey John, “The Historical Background of Corporate Legal Personality,” Yale Law Journal 35 (1926): 655–73.

26. Tamen Miguel, “Kinds of Persons, Kinds of Rights, Kinds of Bodies,” Cardozo Studies in Law and Literature 10 (1998): 15. For a recent use of “virtual” as the favored description, see Vermeer–Kunzli Annemarieke, “As If: The Legal Fiction in Diplomatic Protection,” European Journal of International Law 18 (2007): 43: “Yet, the fictive element in ‘legal personality’ is not so much that it is an express twist of reality or an assimilation of one thing to something it is not, but rather its non-tangible nature. ‘Legal personality’ is virtual rather than fictitious.” For a highly stimulating recent account of law's particular use of fictions, see Riles, “Is the Law Hopeful?”: “The truth value of the legal fiction is not simply ambiguous or subjunctive; it is actually quite irrelevant.”

27. If those beyond the pale of civilization self-evidently lacked international personhood, nineteenth century international law massaged the rules of admission as instrumentally and unsystematically as one might expect. As Antony Anghie has shown, African chiefs, for example, were both excluded non-sovereigns and capable of signing treaties with European states that renounced their patrimony: “outside the scope of the law and yet within it,” they had just enough personality to give away their rights. Anghie Antony, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 7677, 81. For old and new work on the boundaries of the community of international law, see Alexandrowicz Charles Henry, An Introduction to the History of the Law of Nations in the East Indies (16th, 17th and 18th Centuries) (Oxford: Clarendon, 1967); Pitts Jennifer, “Empire and Legal Universalisms in the Eighteenth century,” American Historical Review 117 (2012): 92121 ; Umut Özsu, “The Ottoman Empire, the Origins of Extraterritoriality, and International Legal Theory,” in The Oxford Handbook of International Legal Theory, 123–37; Fitzmaurice Andrew, “The Equality of Non-European States in International Law,” in International Law in the Long Nineteenth Century, ed. Lesaffer Randall and van Hulle Inge (Leiden: Brill, 2018), forthcoming.

28. See Arnulf Becker Lorca's tracking of Lassa Oppenheim's changing position on this standard of civilization in the different editions of his classic work International Law: A Treatise between 1905 and 1948: Lorca Arnulf Becker, Mestizo International Law: A Global Intellectual History 1842–1933 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 3536 , and the graph at 362. See, more generally, Gong Gerrit W., The Standard of “Civilization” in International Society (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984); and Anghie, Imperialism, Sovereignty and the Making of International Law. As Rose Parfitt shows in a wonderful article on Ethiopia, many of those states newly admitted into the domain of international law possessed only “hybrid” legal personality; “both sovereign and less-than-sovereign at the same time”: Parfitt Rose, “ Empire des Nègres Blancs: The Hybridity of International Personality and the Abyssinia Crisis of 1935–1936,” Leiden Journal of International Law 24 (2011): 849–72.

29. There are many examples of non-states—especially imperial trading companies—that had enjoyed some kind of international legal standing in previous eras. However, these instances largely failed to produce scholarly reflection on international personality; a substantial jurisprudence on the question emerged only in the interwar years. As Hedley Bull wrote in 1979, what had been widely asserted “about European international relations from the time of Vattel in the mid-eighteenth century until the end of the First World War was the legal fiction of a political universe that consisted of states alone, the doctrine that only states had rights and duties in international law.” But the assertion of this doctrine, he cautioned, should not be mistaken for an adequate account of the “actual course of international political events,” which had always involved actors other than states. Bull Hedley, “The State's Positive Role in World Affairs,” Daedalus 108 (1979): 112. Of the new literature on the trading companies, see, especially, Stern Philip J., The Company State: Corporate Sovereignty and the Early Modern Foundations of the British Empire in India (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); and Clulow Adam, The Company and the Shogun: The Dutch Encounter with Tokugawa Japan (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014).

30. On the mandates system and its effect on the colonial order, see Pedersen Susan, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

31. Berman Nathaniel, “Modernism, Nationalism, and the Rhetoric of Reconstruction,” Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities 4 (1992): 366.

32. Mazower Mark, Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (London: Penguin, 1998), 5.

33. Berman Nathaniel, “‘But the Alternative is Despair’: European Nationalism and the Modernist Renewal of International Law,” Harvard Law Review 106 (1993): 1805; and Saint-Amour Paul K., Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopaedic Form (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).

34. Wright Quincy, Mandates Under the League of Nations (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1930), 303.

35. Metaphor's etymological root—in notions of bringing across or transferring—is thus palpable in these usages: jurists used metaphor to transfer the meaning of personality onto new kinds of subjects, and, at the same time, to forge paths of passage that shipped would-be persons into international law.

36. Black Max, Models and Metaphors: Studies in Language and Philosophy (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1962), 37.

37. Goodman Nelson, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1968), 73.

38. Boyd Richard, ‘Metaphor and Theory Change: What is “Metaphor’ a Metaphor for?” in Metaphor and Thought, 2nd ed., ed. Ortony Andrew (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 482. See also Keith Holyoak and Pail Thagard's argument that analogy “requires taking a kind of mental leap. Like a spark that jumps across a gap, an idea from the source analog is carried over to the target.” Holyoak Keith and Thagard Pail, Mental Leaps: Analogy in Creative Thought (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995), 7. Jean-Jacques Rousseau articulated something similar in his “Essay on the Origin of Languages” where he argued that languages are “vital and figurative” before they are “systematic and rational”: “That is how the figurative word is born before the literal word, when our gaze is held in passionate fascination.” Rousseau Jean-Jacques, “Essay on the Origin of Languages,” in On the Origin of Language: Two Essays, ed. Rousseau Jean-Jacques and Gottfried Johann Herder, trans. Moran John H. and Gode Alexander (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 11, 13. It is small wonder that recent studies have stressed not only the cognitive function of metaphor but also its epistemic force. Understood as a “conceptualization process,” metaphors make knowledge as well as meaning. In a now classic essay, the philosopher Max Black analyzed metaphor as a lens or filter that “selects, emphasizes, suppresses, and organizes features of the principle subject” (Black, Models and Metaphors, 44–46). By requiring the use of a “system of implications,” metaphors invite readers or listeners into a particular way of imagining a problem, thereby “creating or calling forth the similarities upon which its function depends”: Kuhn Thomas S., ‘Metaphor in Science,’ in Metaphor and Thought, 2nd ed., ed. Ortony Andrew (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 533. On metaphor's epistemic force, see also: Brown Theodore L., Making Truth: Metaphor in Science (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003), 29, 32; and generally, Lakoff George and Johnson Mark, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Bowdle Brian F. and Gentner Dedre, “The Career of Metaphor,” Psychological Review 112 (2005): 193216 ; and Gentner Dedre, Holyoak Keith J., and Kokinov Boicho N., eds., The Analogical Mind: Perspectives from Cognitive Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001). For a recent survey of philosophical approaches, see Camp Elisabeth and Reimer Marga, “Metaphor,” in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Language, ed. Lepore Ernest and Smith Barry C. (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2006), 845–63.

39. In this sense we can liken metaphors to legal fictions more broadly, which have often played a role in the development of new legal doctrines. As Lon Fuller wrote in a classic series of articles, “fictions are, to a certain extent, simply the growing pains of the language of the law.” Fuller Lon L., “Legal Fictions,” Illinois Law Review 25 (1930–31): 379. He characterized “exploratory fictions” as “constructions ‘feeling the way’ towards some principle,” akin to “scaffolding.” Fuller, “Legal Fictions,” 527–29. In Maksymilian del Mar's phrasing, fictions capture the law in a “plasticine” moment at the “coalface of legal change.” Mar Maksymillian del, “Legal Fictions and Legal Change,” International Journal of Law in Context 9 (2013): 444. (Note also del Mar's suggestion that there are also analytical reasons to keep metaphors and fictions separate, at 451). For a parallel exposition, see Berger Benjamin L., “Trial by Metaphor: Rhetoric, Innovation, and the Juridical Text,” Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association 39 (2002): 3038 ; and Riles, “Is the Law Hopeful?”

40. Nietzsche Friedrich, “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” in Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche's Notebooks of the early 1870's, trans. and ed. Breazeale Daniel (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1979), 84.

41. Saint-Amour, Tense Future, 8, 314.

42. Georges Scelle, James Leslie Brierly, Nicholas Politis, and others emphasized that the state itself was a fiction or abstraction, and in so doing looked to establish the individual as the only real subject of law. For a thorough overview of this tradition, see Nijman, The Concept of International Legal Personality, 126–243. See also Koskenniemi Martti, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law, 1870–1960 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 305–9; Bhuta, “The Role International Actors Other than States,” 64–65. One can connect this tradition to simultaneous debates in a nascent international criminal law regarding the international liability of individuals; see Lewis Mark, The Birth of the New Justice: The Internationalization of Crime and Punishment, 1919–1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014). Against the revisionism of jurists such as Scelle and Politis, those defending the traditional view of international personality looked to defend the inimitable “reality” of the state. See, for example, the 1928 edition of Lassa Oppenheim's classic text: “In contradistinction to sovereign States which are real, there are also apparent, but not real, International Persons—such as Confederations of States, insurgents recognised as a belligerent Power in a civil war, and the Holy See. All these are not, as will be seen, real subjects of International Law, but in some points are treated as though they were International Persons, without thereby becoming members of the Family of Nations.” He maintained that international personality could not be attributed to chartered companies, monarchs, churches, diplomatic envoys, private individuals, nor to organized wandering tribes.” Lassa Oppenheim, ed. McNair Arnold, International Law: A Treatise, 4th ed., vol. 1 (London: Longman's, Green and Co., 1928), 134.

43. For a recent account of these remainders, see Brown Wendy, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty (Brooklyn: Zone Books, 2010).

44. Politis, The New Aspects of International Law, 13–14.

45. “Daß solcherlei Staatsfragmente eine Art Rechtssubjektivität erlangt haben, wie Aufständische oder Kolonialgesellschaften und jetzt die Minderheiten oder aber der Völkerbund, entspringt nur dem gleichen Entwicklungsgange, der auch die Staaten erst allmählich zur Völkerrechtssubjektivität zugelassen hat.” Max Fleischmann at the Siebente Jahreversammlung of the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Völkerrecht, in the discussion on May 27, 1926, following Godehard J. Ebers, “Sind im Völkerrecht allein die Staaten parteifähig?” 35.

46. “Der große Gedanke, der diese Gemeinschaften zusammenhält, erfüllt sie mit staatsähnlichen Geiste und führt notwendig zu ihrer staatsähnlichen Behandlung im Völkerrechte: sie kommen der Völkerrechtssubjektivität nahe.” Ibid.

47. “Das ist aber nicht eine normale Entwicklungslinie zur Rechtssubjektivität, sondern eine Ausnahme.” Ibid.

48. “Die herrschende Lehre muß, um dem gerecht zu werden, zu gewagten Konstruktionen greifen: es habe sich hier um eine Antizipation der staatlichen Eigenschaft gehandelt; weil die Kongogesellschaft die Voraussetzungen eines Staates erfüllt habe, so hätte sie auch wie ein Staat behandelt werden können.” Ebers, “Sind im Völkerrecht allein die Staaten parteifähig?,” 12. Emphasis added.

49. On this debate, see, for example, Wright Quincy, “Sovereignty of the Mandates,” American Journal of International Law 17 (1923): 691703 ; Hales James C., “Some Legal Aspects of the Mandate System,” Transactions of the Grotius Society 23 (1937): 85126 ; Matthews E. L., “International Status of Mandatory of League of Nations,” Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law 6 (1924): 245–51. For a landmark assessment of the mandates system in the history of sovereignty, see Pedersen, The Guardians. For an attempt to think about damaged mandate sovereignty as a political and argumentative practice, see Wheatley, “Mandatory Interpretation.”

50. Paul Pic, who used the terminology “virtual,” explained such a distinction by way of analogy: neither a family council nor a tutor had private rights in the property of a pupil whom they controlled. Pic Paul, “Le régime du mandat d'après le traité de Versailles; son application dans le Proche Orient,” Revue générale de Droit International Public 30 (1923): 321–71.

51. Millot Albert, Les Mandats internationaux: Étude sur l'application de l'article 22 du Pacte de la Société des Nations (Paris: Émile Larose, 1924), 117–18 and passim.

52. Stoyanovsky Jacob, La Théorie générale des mandats internationaux (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1925), 8283 .

53. Lee D. Campbell, The Mandate for Mesopotamia and the Principle of Trusteeship in English Law (London: St. Clements Press, 1921), 19.

54. Wehberg Hans, “Die Pflichten der Mandatarmächte betreffend die deutschen Schutzgebietsanleihen,” Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv 25 (1927): 156. Wehberg's reasoning is interesting: he compares the mandates to the suspended sovereignty over the Saar. “Den Widerspruch dieser Theorie von der Souveränität der Mandatländer mit den tatsächlich bestehenden Verhältnissen suchen einige Autoren dadurch aus der Welt zu schaffen, daß sie zwar grundsätzlich dem Mandatlande die Souveränität zusprechen, diese Souveränität aber als zur Zeit ruhend betrachten. Es ist zuzugeben, daß die Ausübung der Souveränität sehr wohl örtlich wie zeitlich suspendiert werden kann, wie das z. B. gemäß Art. 49 V. V. hinsichtlich der deutschen Souveränität über das Saargebiet zutrifft. Aber im vorliegenden Falle muß gesagt werden, daß eine Souveränität, die gar nicht vorhanden ist, auch nicht als suspendiert betrachtet werden kann. Die Behauptung von dem Ruhen der Souveränität setzt den Nachweis voraus, daß die Souveränität den Mandatländern zukommt. Da dies, wie oben dargetan, nicht der Fall ist, kann auch von einem Ruhen der Souveränität nicht die Rede sein.”

55. Lewis Malcolm M., “Mandated Territories: Their International Status,” Law Quarterly Review 39 (1923): 464.

56. Ibid., 472.

57. Ibid.

58. “Die Entwicklung zu selbständigen Staatswesen soll in einem Zeitpunkt besonders betont werden, in dem sie sich noch im Embryonalzustand befinden, also die ihnen an sich zustehende Souveränität nicht ausüben können.” Marcus Ernst, Palästina – ein werdender Staat: Völker- und staatsrechtliche Untersuchung über die rechtliche Gestaltung des Mandatslandes Palästina unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Rechtes der nationalen Heimstätte für das jüdische Volk (Leipzig: Universitätsverlag von Robert Noske, 1929), 31. Samuel D. Myres analyzed Mandate Palestine in similar terms: “Though not a state in the full sense of the word, it is in the process of becoming such.” Myres S. D. Jr., “Constitutional Aspects of the Mandate for Palestine,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 164 (1932): 3.

59. “Gewiß bedarf jedes Recht ein Trägers. Wenn wir also die Souveränität im Sinne der herrschenden Lehre als ein Recht, nämlich als den Inbegriff der einem vollentwickelten Staatswesen immanenten Hoheitsfunktionen betrachten, dann bedarf auch die Souveränität eines Trägers. Träger eines Rechtes oder eines Inbegriffes von Rechten ist in der Regal eine physische oder juristische Person. Als Träger von Rechten werden im Völkerrecht nach der herrschenden Lahre nur Staaten anerkannt. Nun ist aber anderen Rechtsdisziplinen die Vorstellung nicht unbekannt, daß auch eine noch gar nicht entstandene Person bereits Träger von Rechten sein kann. So kennt z. B. das Zivilrecht die auf einer juristischen Fiktion beruhende Institution des ‘nasciturus,’ d. h. eine physische Person, die zwar erzeugt, aber noch nicht geboren ist, wird von der Rechtsordnung bereits als Träger anerkannt. Daß der ‘nasciturus’ naturgemäß über die ihm zustehenden Rechte nicht verfügen kann, hat mit der Frage, ob er als Träger der Rechte angesehen werden kann, nichts zu tun. Man hat demnach zu scheiden zwischen der Fähigkeit, Träger eines Rechtes zu sein, und der Fähigkeit, das Recht ausüben zu können. Was hindert uns, die fictive Konstruktion des nasciturus auch auf das Völkerrecht zu übertragen und die Mandatsgebiete, die ja noch nicht voll entstehende Subjekte des Völkerrechts sind, als Träger der Souveränität anzusehen?” Pahl Rudolf, Das völkerrechtliche Kolonial-Mandat (Berlin: Otto Stollberg Verlag, 1929), 5152 .

60. “das Völkerrecht kennt, wie das Zivilrecht, verschiedene Grade der Rechtssubjektivität.” Ibid., 147. Emphasis added.

61. “als Gemeinwesen, die sich noch in dr Entwicklung zum Subjekt des Völkerrechts befinden.” Ibid., 148.

62. “da sie ihrer Anlagen auch dazu betstimmt sind, sich entweder in Staaten zu verwandeln oder wiederum im Mutterstaate unterzugehen.” Verdross, Die Verfassung der Völkerrechtsgemeinschaft, 115.

63. “Deshalb, nur deshalb sollen einzelne Menschen, Herr X, Frau Y, Fräulein Z, als ‘Subjekte des Voelkerrechts’ den Staaten und der katholischen Kirche an die Seite gestellt werden, weil sie vielleicht, einmal in ihrem Leben bei einem gemischten Schiedsgericht auftreten duerfen. Es soll ein Voelkerrechtssubjekt denkbar sein, das ein einziges Recht hätte, sozusagen eine internationale Eintagsfliege.” Hold-Ferneck Alexander, Lehrbuch des Völkerrechts, vol. 1 (Leipzig: Felix Meiner Verlag, 1930), 251.

64. Kantorowicz Ernst H., The King's Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997 [1957]), 309. The terminology of “vertical” and “horizontal” appears on page 312.

65. Ibid., 311.

66. See also Aufricht Hans, “Personality in International Law,” American Political Science Review 37, no. 2 (1943): 229, where he observes that part of the difficulty of ascribing international personality to individuals was that “those criteria which are inherent in the state's corporate personality cannot be shown as characteristic of the private individual.” The latter does not have the character of an institution, even if he or she represents it. Often “the corporate structure of the state is deemed the ‘normal’ one, while the private individual is seen as an extraordinary legal phenomenon in international legal relations” (latter quotation at 234).

67. See, for example, Wildenthal Lora, “Rudolf Laun and the Human Rights of Germans in Occupied and Early West Germany,” in Human Rights in the Twentieth Century, ed. Hoffmann Stefan-Ludwig (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 125–44.

68. “so würde sich das ganze Bild der Völkerrechtsgemeinschaft sehr wesentlich ändern.” Rudolf Laun at the Siebente Jahreversammlung of the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Völkerrecht, in the discussion on  May 27, 1926, following Godehard J. Ebers, “Sind im Völkerrecht allein die Staaten parteifähig?” 32.

69. Proposals Submitted by the Polish Government Regarding the Procedure in Connection with Minority Petitions, January 24, 1923, League of Nations Archive, Geneva (hereafter LNA), R1648, 41/25727/7727 (memorandum from the Polish government dated January 16, 1923).

70. Seventh Meeting (October 6, 1932), Minutes of the Sixth Committee, Records of the Thirteenth Ordinary Session of the Assembly, League of Nations Official Journal, special supplement No. 109 (1932): 44.

71. See, especially, Fink Carole, “Defender of Minorities: Germany in the League of Nations, 1926–1933,” Central European History 5 (1972): 330–57; Steck Peter K., Zwischen Volk und Staat: Das Völkerrechtssubjekt in der deutschen Völkerrechtslehre (1933–1941) (Baden Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 2001). For an account of the minorities system more broadly, see Fink Carole, Defending the Rights of Others: The Great Powers, the Jews, and International Minority Protection, 1878–1938 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

72. “Das positive völkerrechtliche Minderheitenrecht is somit nicht universalistisch, sondern individualistisch aufgebaut. Daher sind die Minderheiten nicht als juristische Personen anerkannt. Nicht ihnen, sondern den Angehörigen der Minderheiten werden Rechte verliehen.” Verdross Alfred, Völkerrecht (Berlin: Verlag Julius Springer, 1937), 226. Emphasis in original.

73. Laun Rudolf, Der Wandel der Ideen Staat und Volk als Äusserung des Weltgewissens: Eine völkerrechtliche und staatsrechtliche Untersuchung auf philosophischer Grundlagen (Berlin: Verlag von Bruno Cassirer, 1933), 282.

74. Junghann Otto, Das Minderheitenschutzverfahren vor dem Völkerbund (Tübingen: Verlag von J. C. B. Mohr, 1934), 7.

75. “Die Interessen der Minderheit sind zwar das Schutzobjekt der Verträger.” Ibid., 16.

76. Sie sind “keine völkerrechtlichen Subjekte”; “Sie sind nur Objekte der internationalen Rechtssetzung.” Ibid., 33–34.

77. “Aber aller juristischen Dialektik zum Trotze setzen die Minderheiten mehr und mehr sich als Eigengebilde durch.” “Die Minderheiten treten uns in ihm noch nicht als volle Persönlichkeiten entgegen, wohl aber als Schemen, die bereits die Umrisse der Persönlichkeit aufweisen. Es vollzieht sich imVölkerrecht etwa dasselbe wie auf der Bühne in Pirandellos ‘Sechs Personen suchen einen Autor.’” Eugen Schiffer at the Siebente Jahreversammlung of the Deutschen Gesellschaft für Völkerrecht, in the discussion on May 27, 1926, following Godehard J. Ebers, “Sind im Völkerrecht allein die Staaten parteifähig?” 42.

78. Pirandello Luigi (trans. John Linstrum), Six Characters in Search of an Author (London: Methuen, 1979), 53, 54.

79. “es sich hierüberall nicht um festumrissene Rechtsfiguren handelt.” Schiffer in the discussion following Ebers, “Sind im Völkerrecht allein die Staaten parteifähig?” 42.

80. “und die Frage der Parteifähigkeit muß deshalb auch für das Verfahren geprüft werden, das vor ihm stattfindet, und aus ihm Gesichtspunkte und Argumente entnehmen.” Ibid.

81. “Zu verschieden sind beide unter den Aspekten des Internationalen. Dem Individuum in einer solchen Parteirolle od. dgl. fehlt der Anspruch auf Ehre und Würde, das Schicksalverworbene ‘jener großen dunklen Wesen voll Geheimnis,’ d. i. der Staaten, von dem die Fähigkeit, Träger konkreter Rechte und Pflichten zu sein, nur wie eine technische und denaturierte Ausstrahlung anmutet.” Wolgast Ernst, Völkerrecht (Berlin: Verlag von Georg Stilke, 1934), 763 (§143). On Wolgast and his Völkerrecht, see Stolleis, Geschichte des öffentlichen Rechts in Deutschland, vol. 3, 296–97, 384, 392, 398.

82. “daß Rechtssubjekt der Rechtsgenosse ist, der—so mittelbar auch immer—an der Rechtsetzung beteiligt ist und an die Normen der Rechtsordnung sich unmittlebar wenden.” Wolgast, Völkerrecht, 764 (§143).

83. “Die Freien, d. i. die Rechtsgenossen, können Normen erlassen, wie nach islamischem Recht z. B. diese, daß ein Sklave gut zu behandeln sei. Damit hat der Sklave nicht etwa als solcher einen Rechtsanspruch auf gute Behandlung; er ist nicht unmittelbar Normadressat, nicht Rechtsgenosse und Rechtssubjekt. Vielmehr sind die Rechtsgenossen allein die Freien. Sie sind als Rechtsgenossen zu gutter Behandlung verpflichtet. Sie sind die Normadressaten, die Rechtssubjekte.” Ibid.

84. Laun offered a similar analysis concerning duties as against rights: Laun, Der Wandel der Ideen Staat und Volk, 279.

85. “nicht Rechtsgenosse der Staaten.” Wolgast, Völkerrecht, 764 (§144).

86. The issue of the capacity to make law—the “jurisgenerative capacity,” as Bhuta refers to it (Bhuta, “The Role International Actors Other than States,” 62)—has served as a long-standing sticking point for arguments concerning the international personality of non-states. See Portmann, Legal Personality in International Law, 9 and passim.

87. “Nur jene sind die Rechtsgenossen der Völkerrechtsgemeinschaft; gleichwohl sind auch die passiven Völkerrechtssubjekte nicht den Sklaven gleichgestellt, wie Wolgast meint. Ihre Stellung ist vielmehr jenen Menschen in einem Staate ähnlich, die Untertanen ohnen politische Rechte sind.” Verdross, Völkerrecht, 52.

88. On the modernist, avant-garde nature of the interwar order, see Berman, “‘But the Alternative is Despair.’”

89. See, for example, Oppenheim, International Law, 521.

90. Politis, The New Aspects of International Law, 18.

91. Higgins Rosalyn, “Conceptual Thinking about the Individual in International Law,” British Journal of International Studies 4 (1978): 3. Higgins presents a key critique of the notion of international legal personality in general, favoring instead a less formal model that proceeded on the basis of “actors” or “participants.”

92. As Edvard Hambro put it in 1941, there existed at least two primary aspects to the personality question, often distinguished, but in fact bound up together: whether individuals were direct subjects of rights protected under international law, and then whether they possessed “the competence to bring an international action to defend these rights.” Hambro Edvard I., “Individuals before International Tribunals,” Proceedings of the American Society of International Law at Its Annual Meeting 35 (1941): 23.

93. In the wonderful German terminology, they were not völkerrechtsunmittelbar, visible instead only through a veil of mediation.

94. Norman Bentwich in the discussion of Vladimir R. Idelson, “The Law of Nations and the Individual,” 73.

95. Ibid., 74.

96. Reparation for Injuries Suffered in the Service of the United Nations (Advisory Opinion), 1949 ICJ Reports 174, quotation at 179. In recent years, the League's petition procedures have found a new champion in Judge A. A. Cançado Trindade, who marks them as a necessary precondition for the human rights revolution: the mandates and minorities regimes, he writes, were some of the “first international experiments to grant procedural capacity directly to individuals and private groups,” which was essential for the “historical rescue of the individual as subject of international human rights law.” Cançado Trindade A. A., The Access of Individuals to International Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 1921 . Emphasis in original. He casts the right of petition as a heroic victory over positivism. See also Cançado Trindade A. A., “Exhaustion of Local Remedies in International Law Experiments Granting Procedural Status to Individuals in the First Half of the Twentieth Century,” Netherlands International Law Review 14 (1977): 373–92.

97. Rolin in the discussion following Idelson, “The Law of Nations and the Individual,” 75.

98. Stone Julius, Regional Guarantees of Minority Rights: A Study of Minorities Procedure in Upper Silesia (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1933), 23.

99. Ibid., 34. Stone contrasted this general procedure to the regional machinery that existed under the special German–Polish Geneva Convention for Upper Silesia. Under the latter regime, equipped with a mixed commission with broad powers, petitioners did have a locus standi: petitioners were juristic persons under the Convention, and their petitions triggered legal procedures. This legal personality represented a “novel and even revolutionary situation.” Ibid., 61 and passim.

100. C.312 M.118. 1926. I., Note by the secretary general concerning the present practice with regard to replies sent to private petitioners in the matter of protection of minorities, June 1, 1926, LNA, R1646, 41/51406/7727.

101. The phrase is from a note by Eric Colban, head of the minorities section, refuting the reasoning of a memorandum written by Lucian Wolf: Lucian Wolf to the British Foreign Office, August 26, 1925, and preceding minute by Eric Colban, September 1, 1925, LNA, R1646, 41/45945/7727.

102. Benes (Minister for Foreign Affairs) to President of the Council, forwarded to the Secretary General, April 5, 1923, LNA, R1648, 41/29051/7727.

103. R. N. Kershaw, Observations on certain points in minorities procedure, April 16, 1926, LNA, R1646, 41/51406/7727.

104. Ibid.

105. Idelson Vladimir R., “The Law of Nations and the Individual,” Transactions of the Grotius Society 30 (1944): 61.

106. That ruptured or discontinuous legal self is neatly captured by Miguel Tamen's reflections on the difficulties of legal personification. “The ‘I’ cannot remember what I cannot remember, cannot go beyond its origin,” Tamen writes: “My literal autobiography of a former nonperson would be a story whose initial chapter would be about how my own story is permeated by the possibility, to which I am now quite foreign, of not being able to tell it at all. One should like to ask: who was the first to have had the brilliant idea of personifying us? But then again the answer could only be ‘some other person.’ Only someone else could have had that idea.” Tamen Miguel, Friends of Interpretable Objects (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 8586 . Emphasis in original. See, generally, Chapters 4 and 5 on “Persons” and “Rights,” respectively.

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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