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Right of entry or right of refusal? Hospitality in the law of nature and nations


This article explores the account of international hospitality found in the natural law tradition from Vitoria to Kant. Rather than limit itself to intellectual history, the focus here is on a more enduring theme: the double-bind of hospitality which the natural lawyers encountered in seeking to find a place for the welcome of the foreigner in the ‘law of nations’. Although these thinkers agreed on a natural right of communication, this proved destabilising, even destructive, of the property claims by which hosts establish their domain as properly theirs in the first place. All struggled with this double-bind, though this took different forms, from the concern that the law of hospitality might thereby justify colonial appropriation to fears for how it could threaten sovereignty. Two thinkers arguably find a way out of the double-bind of right of communication-right of property in hospitality, but sacrifice the law of hospitality in the process: Pufendorf, subordinating communication to property, turns hospitality into charity and thereby effectively denies it status as a law of nature; Kant, putting communication first, makes hospitality a matter of right, not philanthropy, but also sees it as instrumental to the development of a global civil condition, where it would be redundant.

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David Hume , Political Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994 [1748]), p. 122

Ian Hunter , ‘Global Justice and Regional Metaphysics: On the Critical History of the Law of Nature and Nations’, in S. Dorsett and I. Hunter (eds), Law and Politics in British Colonial Thought: Transpositions of Empire (Houndmills: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2010), p. 1

Seyla Benhabib , The Rights of Others: Aliens, Residents and Citizens (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 38

Katrin Flikschuh , Kant and Modern Political Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 141

Denis Diderot: Political Writings, trans. and ed. J. H. Mason and R. Wokler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992)

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Review of International Studies
  • ISSN: 0260-2105
  • EISSN: 1469-9044
  • URL: /core/journals/review-of-international-studies
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