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This essay investigates the intellectual history of one of the purportedly most “revolutionary” concepts of post-1945 international thought—the concept of supranationality. While the literature has generally analyzed the concept as a direct continuation of progressive cosmopolitan ideas, or, to the contrary, as a political watchword formulated after 1945 to promote the European project, this essay highlights other, more ambiguous origins for the concept. It retraces the early uses of the concept in French debates. It argues that the irruption of supranationality in the political and legal vocabulary was far from revolutionary, as is typically claimed—without referring directly to the writings of the great classical philosophers. Rather, the concept drew on earlier discourses whose emergence can be identified in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century debates, ranging from Catholic thought to international law. To retrace the genealogy of supranationality in the decades preceding the supranational vogue of the 1950s contributes to illuminating the complex intellectual origins of the European Union and of international thought more generally.



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I would like to thank the anonymous readers for their stimulating comments, which greatly improved the manuscript. In developing the ideas presented here, I have also received very helpful input from Einar Wigen and the participants of the workshop on The “International”: Entanglement of Language, History and Global IR at the London School of Economics and Political Science.



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1 Armitage, David, “The Fifty Years’ Rift: Intellectual History and International Relations,” Modern Intellectual History 1/1 (2004), 97109. See, for instance, Sluga, Glenda and Clavin, Patricia, eds., Internationalisms: A Twentieth-Century History (Cambridge, 2017); Duranti, Marco, The Conservative Human Rights Revolution: European Identity, Transnational Politics, and the Origins of the European Convention (New York, 2017); Coates, Benjamin Allen, Legalist Empire: International Law and American Foreign Relations in the Early Twentieth Century (New York, 2016); Neff, Stephen C., Justice among Nations: A History of International Law (Cambridge, MA, 2014); Mazower, Mark, Governing the World: The History of an Idea, (London, 2013); Guilhot, Nicolas, ed., The Invention of International Relations Theory (New York, 2011); Koskenniemi, Martti, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law, 1870–1960 (Cambridge, 2001).

2 Congress of Europe, Résolution culturelle (The Hague, 1948), 15.

3 Vauchez, Antoine, Brokering Europe: Euro-lawyers and the Making of a Transnational Polity (Cambridge, 2015); Bailleux, Julie, Penser l'Europe par le droit: L'invention du droit communautaire en France (1945–1990) (Paris, 2014).

4 Weiler, Joseph H. H., “A Quiet Revolution: The European Court of Justice and Its Interlocutors,” Comparative Political Studies 26/4 (1994), 510–34.

5 Schumacher, Nestor, Der Wortschatz der europäischen Integration (Düsseldorf, 1976), 102.

6 Bailleux, Penser l'Europe par le droit; Davies, Bill, Resisting the European Court of Justice: West Germany's Confrontation with European Law 1949–1979 (Cambridge, 2012).

7 E.g. Habermas, Jürgen, The Crisis of the European Union: A Response (Cambridge, 2012).

8 Mainly, the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and its digitalized collection, especially useful for the identification of pre-twentieth century uses (; the library of Sciences Po, in Paris; the digitalized books on Google Books; the collections on Jstor and Web of Science.

9 Skinner, Quentin, “The Sovereign State: A Genealogy,” in Kalmo, Hent and Skinner, Quentin, eds., Sovereignty in Fragments (Cambridge, 2010), 2646, at 27; Bevir, Mark, “What Is Genealogy?”, Journal of the Philosophy of History 2/3 (2008), 263–75.

10 Koselleck, Reinhart, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (New York, 2004), 87.

11 Cooper, Frederick, Citizenship between Empire and Nation: Remaking France and French Africa, 1945–1960 (Princeton, 2014).

12 See Wigen, Einar, State of Translation: Turkey in Interlingual Relations (Ann Arbor, 2018); Pernau, Margrit, “Whither Conceptual History? From National to Entangled Histories,” Contributions to the History of Concepts 7/1 (2012), 111.

13 See Mazower, Governing the World, chap. 1.

14 Other similar uses of the term are to be found at the same period in German literature. It seems to have entered English and Italian vocabularies only a few years later.

15 On the French case see Harrison, Carol E., Romantic Catholics: France's Postrevolutionary Generation in Search of a Modern Faith (Ithaca, 2014).

16 Vilallonga, Borja, “The Theoretical Origins of Catholic Nationalism in Nineteenth-Century Europe,” Modern Intellectual History 11/2 (2014), 307–31.

17 Bell, David A., The Cult of the Nation in France: Inventing Nationalism, 1680–1800 (Cambridge, MA, 2003).

18 Noiriel, Gérard, “Socio-histoire d'un concept: Les usages du mot ‘nationalité’ au XIXe siècle,” Genèses 20/1 (1995), 423, at 22.

19 Jennings, Jeremy, Revolution and the Republic: A History of Political Thought in France since the Eighteenth-Century (Oxford, 2011), 233–34.

20 Weil, Patrick, How to Be French: Nationality in the Making since 1789 (Durham, NC, 2008); Rosanvallon, Pierre, Le sacre du citoyen: histoire du suffrage universel en France (Paris, 2008).

21 See Wilder, Gary, The French Imperial Nation-State: Negritude and Colonial Humanism between the Two World Wars (Chicago, 2005).

22 Déloye, Yves, École et citoyenneté (Paris, 1994).

23 De La Rallaye, Léonce Roumain, Le libéralisme jugé par “La Civilta Cattolica” (Paris, 1864), 131.

24 Roumain de la Rallaye, Le libéralisme jugé par “la Civilta cattolica”, 176. Unless specified otherwise, translations are the author's.

25 Other examples may be found in Roca, Abbé, La crise fatale et le salut de l'Europe (Paris, 1885); Leroy-Beaulieu, Anatole, La papauté, le socialisme et la démocratie: Ouvrage suivi de l'encyclique pontificale sur la condition des ouvriers (Paris, 1892).

26 d'Alveydre, Alexandre Saint Yves, Mission des souverains, par l'un d'eux (Paris, 1884), 3.

27 Ibid., 7.

28 See Burbank, Jane and Cooper, Frederick, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference (Princeton, 2010), 8087.

29 Saint Yves d'Alveydre, Mission des souverains, 29.

30 Ibid., 391.

31 Ruyssen, Théodore, “La guerre et le droit,” Revue de métaphysique et de morale 14/6 (1906), 796825, at 807.

32 Favre, Rémi, “Un exemple de pacifisme juridique: Théodore Ruyssen et le mouvement ‘la paix par le droit’ (1884–1950),” Vingtième siècle, revue d'histoire 39/1 (1993), 3854.

33 On the general context see Tilly, Charles, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1992 (Cambridge, MA, 1992), 96126; Charle, Christophe, La crise des sociétés impériales (Paris, 2001).

34 Bartolini, Stefano, Restructuring Europe (Oxford, 2005), 56115.

35 Hobsbawm, Eric J., Nations and Nationalism since 1780 (Cambridge, 1992), 101–30.

36 On the cultural and intellectual context see Burrow, John W., The Crisis of Reason: European Thought, 1848–1914 (New Haven, 2002).

37 Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations; Coates, Legalist Empire, 59–85.

38 Neff, Justice among Nations, 217–339.

39 Jouanjan, Olivier and Zoller, Elisabeth, Le “moment 1900”: Critique sociale et critique sociologique du droit en Europe et aux États-Unis (Paris, 2015).

40 Stolleis, Michael, Public Law in Germany, 1800–1914 (New York, 2001), 419–60.

41 Berend, T. Iván, An Economic History of Nineteenth-Century Europe: Diversity and Industrialization (Cambridge and New York, 2013), 295.

42 Neff, Justice among Nations, 271.

43 Haferkamp, Hans-Peter, “The Science of Private Law and the State in Nineteenth Century Germany,” American Journal of Comparative Law 56/3 (2008), 667–89.

44 Zitelman, Ernst, Internationales Privatrecht (Leipzig, 1897), 25.

45 Triepel, Heinrich, Droit international et droit interne (Paris, 1920), 2426.

46 Kahn, Franz, Über Inhalt, Nature und Methode des internationalen Privatsrecht (Jena, 1899), 3739.

47 For instance, Lorenzen, Ernest G., “Internationales Privatrecht, by Ernst Zitelmann,” American Journal of International Law 9/3 (1915), 767–70.

48 Beaud, Olivier and Wachsmann, Patrick, La science juridique française et la science juridique allemande de 1870 à 1918 (Strasbourg, 1997).

49 Pillet, Antoine, Recherches sur les droits fondamentaux des états (Paris, 1899).

50 Pillet, Antoine, Principes de droit international privé (Paris, 1903), 59.

51 Ibid., 15.

52 Eg., De La Grasserie, Raoul, Du fédéralisme (Paris, 1907).

53 See Mazower, Governing the World, chap. 3.

54 Wehberg, Hans, The Problem of an International Court of Justice (Oxford, 1918), 112.

55 Krabbe, Hugo, The Modern Idea of the State (New York and London, 1922), 245.

56 Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations, 315.

57 Coates, Legalist Empire, 88–95.

58 Lindeiner-Wildau, Klaus Von, La supranationalité en tant que principe de droit (Leiden, 1970), 18.

59 Schumacher, Der Wortschatz der europäischen Integration, 98.

60 Wehberg, The Problem of an International Court of Justice.

61 Neff, Justice among Nations, 266–67.

62 Snow, Alpheus H., “The Law of Nations,” American Journal of International Law 6/4 (1912), 890900.

63 Ibid., 892.

64 Ibid., 892–93.

65 Snow, Alpheus H., “International Law and Political Science,” American Journal of International Law 7/2 (1913), 315–28, at 316.

66 Ibid., 317.

67 Ibid., 318.

68 Snow, “The Law of Nations,” 898.

69 On the context see Jouanjan and Zoller, Le “moment 1900”; Sacriste, Guillaume, La république des constitutionnalistes (Paris, 2011); Bates, David, “Political Unity and the Spirit of Law: Juridical Concepts of the State in the Late Third Republic,” French Historical Studies 28/1 (2005), 69101; Jones, H. S., The French State in Question: Public Law and Political Argument in the Third Republic (Cambridgeand New York, 1993).

70 Blanquer, Jean-Michel and Milet, Marc, L'invention de l’état: Léon Duguit, Maurice Hauriou et la naissance du droit public moderne (Paris, 2015), 8384.

71 Beaud, Olivier, “Hauriou et le droit naturel,” Revue d'histoire des facultés de droit et de la culture juridique 6 (1988), 123–38.

72 Barroche, Julien, “Maurice Hauriou, juriste catholique ou libéral?”, Revue française d'histoire des idées politiques 2/28 (2008), 307–35.

73 Guieu, Jean-Michel, Le rameau et le glaive: Les militants français pour la Société des nations (Paris, 2008), 154.

74 Laqua, Daniel, “Reconciliation and the Post-war Order: The Place of the Deutsche Liga für Menschenrechte in Interwar Pacifism,” in Laqua, ed., Internationalism Reconfigured: Transnational Ideas and Movements between the World Wars (Londonand New York, 2011), 209–38, at 212.

75 Snow, Alpheus H., “Le droit des nations,” Revue générale de droit international public, 19 (1912), 309–18.

76 Martti Koskenniemi, “Nationalism, Universalism, Empire: International Law in 1871 and 1919,” paper presented at the Whose international Community? Universalism and the Legacies of Empire conference, Columbia University, 2005, 3.

77 Duranti, The Conservative Human Rights Revolution, 51.

78 In the same direction see Elias, Norbert, “Thomas More's Critique of the State: With Some Thoughts on a Definition of the Concept of Utopia,” in Elias, Essays I: On the Sociology of Knowledge and the Sciences, vol. 14 (Dublin, 2009), 212–57.

79 Redor, Marie-Joëlle, De l’état légal à l’état de droit: L’évolution des conceptions de la doctrine publiciste française: 1879–1914 (Paris, 1992), 297347.

80 Cited in Baumert, Renaud, La découverte du juge constitutionnel entre science et politique (Paris, 2009), 306.

81 Ibid., 41–3.

82 Hawkins, Mike, “Corporatism and Third Way Discourses in Inter-war France,” Journal of Political Ideologies 7/3 (2002), 301–14.

83 Weil and Porter, How to Be French, 53.

84 See Conklin, Alice L., A Mission to Civilize: The Republican Idea of Empire in France and West Africa, 1895–1930 (Stanford, 2001), chap. 5.

85 Ibid., 176.

86 Cooper, Citizenship between Empire and Nation.

87 Herrera, Carlos Miguel, “Un juriste aux prises du social: Sur le projet de Georges Scelle,” Revue française d'histoire des idées politiques 21/1 (2005), 113–37, at 113.

88 Scelle, Georges, Le pacte des nations et sa liaison avec le Traité de paix (Paris, 1919).

89 Scelle, Georges, “La doctrine de Léon Duguit et les fondements du droit des gens,” Archives de philosophie du droit et de sociologie juridique 1–2 (1932), 83119.

90 Scelle, Georges, Précis de droit des gens (Paris, 1932), 2.

91 Ibid., 8.

92 Scelle, Georges, Précis de législation industrielle (Paris, 1930).

93 Ibid., 57.

94 Ibid., 13.

95 A famous controversy opposed them in 1925, when Scelle was appointed to the University of Paris by the minister, while the law faculty had elected Le Fur. In the face of the troubles that resulted, Le Fur was finally given the position. Milet, Marc, La Faculté de droit de Paris face à la vie politique: De l'affaire Scelle à l'affaire Jèze 1925–1936 (Paris, 1996).

96 Audren, Frédéric, “La belle époque des juristes catholiques,” Revue française d'histoire des idées politiques 2/28 (2008), 233–71, at 252.

97 Fur, Louis Le, Développement historique du droit international: De l'anarchie internationale à une communauté internationale organisée (The Hague, 1932), 548.

98 Fur, Louis Le, État fédéral et confédération d’états (Paris, 1896), 577.

99 Fur, Louis Le, Précis de droit international public (Paris, 1939), 9.

100 Fur, Louis Le, “Fédéralisme et union européenne,” Zeitschrift für ausländisches öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht 11 (1942), 1223, at 17.

101 Deroussin, David, “L'idée corporative saisie par les juristes: De la corporation au pluralisme juridique?”, Les études sociales 157–8/1 (2013), 147–85, at 147.

102 Fur, Louis Le, Races, nationalités et états (Paris, 1922), 149.

103 Le Fur, “Fédéralisme et union européenne,” 23.

104 See, also, Neff, Justice among Nations, 293.

105 On this lasting interpretation of pacifist interwar ideas see Waever, Ole, “The Speech Act of Realism: The Move That Made IR,” in Guilhot, Nicolas, ed., The Invention of International Relations Theory (New York, 2011), 97127. For a recent reappraisal of the League see Pedersen, Susan, The Guardians: The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire (Oxford, 2018).

106 Wertheim, Stephen, “The League That Wasn't: American Designs for a Legalist–Sanctionist League of Nations and the Intellectual Origins of International Organization, 1914–1920,” Diplomatic History 35/5 (2011), 797836, at 801.

107 Le Fur, Développement historique du droit international, 598.

108 Fur, Louis Le, Règles générales du droit de la paix (The Hague, 1935), 236; Koskenniemi, The Gentle Civilizer of Nations, 320.

109 Scelle, Georges, La Société des nations: Sa nécessité, son but, ses origines, son organisation (Paris, 1925), 4, original emphasis.

110 Marbeau, Michel, La Société des nations: Vers un monde multilatéral: 1919–1946 (Tours, 2017), 133–4.

111 Scelle, La Société des nations, 23.

112 Slobodian, Quinn, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Cambridge, MA, 2018); Reinhoudt, Jurgen and Audier, Serge, The Walter Lippmann Colloquium: The Birth of Neo-liberalism (Cham, 2018).

113 Nouvel, Yves, “Le droit interindividuel total,” in Charalambos, Apostolidis and Tourard, Hélène, eds., Actualité de Georges Scelle (Dijon, 2013), 121–32.

114 Quoted in Slobodian, Globalists, 15.

115 Ibid., 94. Hayek, Friedrich, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago, 2007), 231.

116 Le Fur, “Fédéralisme et union européenne,” 19.

117 Quotation translated from Schmitt, Carl, La question clé de la Société des nations: Le passage au concept de guerre discriminatoire (Paris, 2009), 29; in English see Schmitt, , “The Turn to the Discriminating Concept of War,” in Schmitt, Writings on War (Cambridge, 2011), 3074. In this essay, he explicitely challenges G. Scelle and his concept of a supranational law.

118 Le Fur, “Fédéralisme et union européenne,” 21.

119 On the Nazis’ concepts for Europe see recently Dafinger, Johannes and Pohl, Dieter, eds., A New Nationalist Europe under Hitler: Concepts of Europe and Transnational Networks in the National Socialist Sphere of Influence, 1933–1945 (New York, 2018); Elvert, Jürgen, “The New European Order of National Socialism: Some Remarks on Its Source, Genesis and Nature,” in Gosewinkel, Dieter, ed., Anti-liberal Europe: A Neglected Story of Europeanization (New York, 2014).

120 G. Scelle cited in Chabot, Jean-Luc, Aux origines intellectuelles de l'Union européenne: L'idée d'Europe unie de 1919 à 1939 (Grenoble, 2005), 131.

121 See Herrera, “Un juriste aux prises du social,” 124–5.

122 Scelle, Georges, Le sens international (Paris, 1942), 53.

123 Republished in Hayek, Friedrich, Individualism and Economic Order (Chicago, 1958).

I would like to thank the anonymous readers for their stimulating comments, which greatly improved the manuscript. In developing the ideas presented here, I have also received very helpful input from Einar Wigen and the participants of the workshop on The “International”: Entanglement of Language, History and Global IR at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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