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Sovereignty, International Law, and the French Revolution

Part of Studies in Legal History

  • Author: Edward James Kolla, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Qatar, at Georgetown University, Washington, DC
  • Date Published: February 2019
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316631348


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About the Authors
  • The advent of the principle of popular sovereignty during the French Revolution inspired an unintended but momentous change in international law. Edward James Kolla explains that between 1789 and 1799, the idea that peoples ought to determine their fates in international affairs, just as they were taking power domestically in France, inspired a series of new and interconnected claims to territory. Drawing on case studies from Avignon, Belgium, the Rhineland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy, Kolla traces how French revolutionary diplomats and leaders gradually applied principles derived from new domestic political philosophy and law to the international stage. Instead of obtaining land via dynastic inheritance or conquest in war, the will of the people would now determine the title and status of territory. However, the principle of popular sovereignty also opened up new justifications for aggressive conquest, and this history foreshadowed some of the most controversial questions in international relations today.

    • Expands the study of the history of international law to the French Revolution and goes beyond the areas in which this history has recently boomed
    • Enriches the history of the Revolution by using legal methodology that helps unravel some perennial debates in the historiography of the Revolution
    • The chapters follow case studies in discrete locations; these case studies display both innovations in each case as well as continuity through the whole period of the book
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'When the right of peoples to self-determination creates an international law immediately to the advantage of the French Revolution and ultimately for our present world, a brilliant paradoxical book explaining how the French Revolution was a key experiment for our modernity.' Jean-Clément Martin, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

    'Kolla's bold and thought-provoking study transforms our view of the French Revolution's importance for international law. Kolla persuasively argues for positive advances, rooted in the doctrine of popular sovereignty, and for an indirect 'ripple' effect which provided an important foundation for the decisive nineteenth-century advance in international law.' Hamish Scott, University of Oxford

    'Kolla makes a major contribution towards the development of modern international law. By combining political narratives with legal analysis he sheds new light on the impact of revolutionary ideas, in particular with relation to popular sovereignty, on international relations and their legal organization.' Randall C. H. Lesaffer, Tilburg Law School, The Netherlands

    'In this brilliant and thoughtful study of international law during the French Revolution, Kolla presents a fascinating history of the principle of national self-determination, as it developed over a century before Woodrow Wilson brought this idea to Versailles. Kolla's book will be of great interest to historians of modern Europe, political theorists, and legal scholars.' Dan Edelstein, Stanford University, California

    'This is a masterful history of the relationship of the French revolutionary period (undelineated here) to the development of the international legal principle of popular sovereignty … This book should be a standard reference in the history of international law. Essential.' S. R. Silverburg, Choice

    'Through case studies ranging from Corsica to the Netherlands, Kolla elucidates a thoughtful argument that combines a rigorous approach to international law with a well-crafted historical narrative. … Kolla has brought a fresh and nuanced perspective to the question of the impact of the French Revolution on diplomacy and international law. … Highly Recommended.' Joshua Meeks, H-Diplo

    'Kolla's well-researched and careful analysis of specific cases provides an excellent insight into how an idea of political legitimacy, fundamentally important to the modern world, evolved over a decade of conflict.' Richard Harding, H-France

    '[Makes] a convincing case for the relevance of the French Revolution because of its manifest inconsistencies and contradictions, not despite them.' Howard G. Brown, American Historical Review

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2019
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316631348
    • length: 352 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 30 mm
    • weight: 0.6kg
    • contains: 7 maps
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Lists of maps
    1. Popular sovereignty and international law on the periphery of France
    2. The union of Avignon and the challenges of self-determination
    3. Revolutionary power and the annexation of Belgium
    4. Strategic interests, survival, and the left bank of the Rhine
    5. Between subject and sovereign states: the sister republics in the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy
    Selected bibliography.

  • Author

    Edward James Kolla, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Qatar, at Georgetown University, Washington, DC
    Edward James Kolla is Assistant Professor of History in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service in Qatar, Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

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