Emer De Vattel and the Externalization of Sovereignty

Journal of the History of International Law, Vol. 5, pp. 237-292, 2003

56 Pages Posted: 22 Nov 2003

See all articles by Stephane Beaulac

Stephane Beaulac

University of Montreal - Faculty of Law; Dentons Canada LLP


The paper examines the history of the mental-social phenomenon that is the word 'sovereignty' and how it was utilised to develop public international law. It focuses on the seminal work of Emer de Vattel, 'Droit des Gens,' published in 1758. The argument is that 'sovereignty,' which had been introduced and used in relation to internal governance, was transformed in order to create a legal scheme for the new reality of the society of nations. Thus the purpose for which Vattel resorted to 'sovereignty' was to carry out its externalization and hence transpose this idea-force from the internal plane to the international plane. With this new 'external' sovereignty, the ruling entity was now to enjoy exclusive power to govern, which entailed being the sole representative of the people both internally and externally, and also meant that it could not be submitted to any foreign state or to any higher law externally. Vattel's utilisation of the word 'sovereignty' has had an extraordinary effect on the shared consciousness of society, including that of the emerging international society. The impact of the externalization of 'sovereignty' is still very much present today in the way international relations are conducted within the Westphalian state system as well as in the way public international law regulates such affairs, which is often called the 'Vattelian' legal system.

Keywords: International Law; Legal History; History of International Law, International Legal Theory; International Relations

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Beaulac, Stephane, Emer De Vattel and the Externalization of Sovereignty. Journal of the History of International Law, Vol. 5, pp. 237-292, 2003, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=471382 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.471382

Stephane Beaulac (Contact Author)

University of Montreal - Faculty of Law ( email )

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