In recent years, global history has emerged as one important sub-field within historical studies, emphasizing transnational and global connections and interactions, moving away from classical national and state-centric perspectives. At the same time, within the discipline of international law there has been a “historical turn”, which has been stimulated and shaped by critical legal scholars focusing on the question of the imperial and colonial roots of international law and its complicity with imperialism and imperial projects. In international relations, a new wave of interdisciplinary scholarship has examined the history of international thought and the historical evolution of international society, paying special attention to the Global South and non-Western perspectives. Though these three bodies of recent scholarship have emerged almost in parallel, there have been very limited cross-disciplinary exchanges and debates. More importantly, Latin America has been only occasionally a focus of important concern among global historians and historians of international relations and international law. The global history of international law and the inception of Latin American in modern international society could be both insightful windows for discussing the place of Latin America in the emerging field of global history and create interdisciplinary grounds for tracing connections across these separate bodies of scholarship.
The article Globalizing the Latin American legal field: continental and regional approaches to the international legal order in Latin America now published at the special issue of RBPI Rethinking Power in Global and Transnational History (Volume 61 – N. 2 – 2018) proposes a comparative approach to Latin American transnational legal history in order to create some modest grounds for future interdisciplinary research. Indeed, the comparative hemispheric intellectual and legal history of the Americas, as studied in this article, has not yet received the attention that it deserves. Recovering the rise of the Latin American legal field in the context of the inception of the region in international society and the emergence of US continental hegemony offers an opportunity for discussing the elusive and unsettled place of Latin America in debates about both global politics and the boundaries between the West and the non-West.
This paper examines the crucial and complex role played by Latin America in the context of the reconfiguration of a new global legal order in the early twentieth century. The consolidation of a specific legal field in the region contributed to the formation of two opposing continental and regional approaches to international law, as well as legal approaches to diplomacy, which all in turn created the conditions for globalizing the Latin American legal field and thus projecting the legal and diplomatic identity of the region in the international arena. As shown throughout the article, the region was pioneering in the promotion of distinctive continental and regional approaches to international law before and after the creation of the League of Nations through the language of continental American international law and regional Latin American international law. The article compares these two opposing traditions and their legacies, focusing on the international legal thought of Alejandro Alvarez (Chile), Ruy Barbosa (Brazil), Isidro Fabela (Mexico) and Carlos Saavedra Lamas (Argentina). While Alvarez and Barbosa supported a US-led Pan-American liberal international legal vision and a monist continental approach to American international law based on ideas of solidarity and cooperation, Fabela and Saavedra Lamas advocated instead a regional and defensive legal approach to Latin America international law, in defense of assertive notions of non-intervention and a pluralist understanding of other legal traditions outside the region, especially European ones.
The article argues that the two opposing approaches shared a common quest for provincializing international law by projecting and promoting a continental American international law and a regional Latin American international law. This common quest for provincializing international law contributed in turn, as argued throughout the article, to globalizing the Latin American legal field. Yet hegemony and power politics played a central role in the consolidation of the Latin American legal field, since the rise of US hegemony in the Americas and the formation of the so-called US-led Pan-American movement and Inter-American System, contributed to shaping the construction of the discipline of international law on the continent, but also the inception of the region in international society and international institutions, as well as its legal and global identity. While the continental American tradition was more complicit with US hegemony and liberal internationalism, the Latin American tradition defined itself defensively in reaction to US hegemony and interventionism.
The article concludes that the ambivalent attitude of Latin America and Latin American jurists and diplomats towards the rise of US hegemony and the anxiety for being assimilated into an European-led international society was central in defining and accentuating the unsettled and elusive legal and global identity of Latin America, oscillating between the West and the non-West, between a US-led Inter-American System, European-led international institutions, such as the League of Nations, and the progressive incorporation into the emerging global identity of the so-called Third World. The Cold War context was then to contribute to define Latin America as a more cohesive region within the Third World.
About the author
Juan Pablo Scarfi – Universidad Nacional de San Martín , Escuela de Política y Gobierno , Buenos Aires , Argentina (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Read the article
Scarfi, Juan Pablo. (2018). Globalizing the Latin American legal field: continental and regional approaches to the international legal order in Latin America. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 61(2), e005. Epub October 19, 2018.https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201800205