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The ‘Gentle Civilizers’ and the Law of Civil War, 1891–1966
Ville Kari (Helsinki)

  • Room 920, Melbourne Law School 185 Pelham St Carlton 3053 Australia (map)
Kari, Chile.jpg

The state practice underlying the classical doctrine of civil war occurred mainly between the American revolution (1775–1783) and the American civil war (1861–1865). After the Alabama arbitrations, international practice began to shift towards ever more open-ended and indirect approaches to civil war, such as the ad hoc recognition of insurgencies and the doctrine of state responsibility. But as a scholarly doctrine, the classical law of civil war had a ‘second coming’ in cosmopolitan legal circles between the 1890s and the 1960s. Its basic tenets were revived in the wake of the Chilean civil war by scholars such as Carlos Wiesse and Marquis d’Olivart. Soon, the Institut de Droit International became seized of certain aspects of the matter, and after the turn of the century a more or less continuous Continental-style doctrinal tradition of scholarship on civil war was constituted.

This seminar explored the rise and fall of this scholarly doctrine of civil war. The phenomenon was examined loosely in the context laid out in Martti Koskenniemi’s monograph ‘The Gentle Civilizer of Nations’. Accordingly, this presentation examined the project of a series of scholars and their works that sought to codify and to reinforce a formal legal framework for civil war and insurgency under international law. At the same time, the work of these scholars was undermined by the impression that the state practice upon which they now founded their thinking had largely been abandoned, watered down or made obsolete in the preceding decades. At certain significant junctures, such as the Spanish civil war or the Geneva Conference of 1949, these fundamental problems would surface and give rise to much scholarly agony, frustration and demands for alternative approaches.

Register for this seminar here.


Ville Kari is a Visiting Doctoral Fellow at the Laureate Program in International Law at Melbourne Law School in 2018. He is a postgraduate student of international law at the University of Helsinki and a Research Fellow at the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights. His thesis Erik Castrén and the Classical Doctrine of Civil War in International Law explores the rise and fall of the classical law of civil war, in particular through the concepts of belligerency and recognition thereof. Observing the demise of these concepts alongside the age of sail and the law of neutrality, Ville hopes to shed new light on the dead end of the classical doctrine among international legal scholars between and after the world wars, when the teachings of elder scholars such as Erik Castrén rapidly gave way to new trends such as humanitarian intervention and international peacekeeping.