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International Relations

International Relations

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Excerpt from International Relations: Address Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard University, June 29, 1889

I shall have the honour to ask your attention this morning, without preface or exordium, to some thoughts upon the subject of international relations. What I have to say must be both general and discursive, but I hope may not be found altogether without the interest that arises from practical application.

The branch of jurisprudence upon which the rights and intercourse that exist between civilized nations are based, has been commonly called international law. I do not think a lees accurate phrase has often gained acceptance among instructed minds. In this subject, as in so many others, inexact language is both the cause and the result of inexact ideas. The word law, employed in any juridical sense, implies two indispensable elements - a supreme authority by which its obligation is prescribed, and a paramount force by which obedience is exacted. A system of proposed human conduct that lacks either of these conditions may be just and desirable, but it cannot reach the dignity of law. It may appeal, as the precepts of morality do, to conscience, to reason and to policy, but it must remain only persuasive in its requirements, and voluntary in its obligation. Such are the rules that regulate the intercourse of nations.

It does not appear to me, therefore, that the world is much indebted to Jeremy Bentham (if it is particularly indebted to him for anything) for the invention of the term "international law." The older title, "law of nations," if it has a different meaning at all, as has sometimes been claimed, acquires it by being less accurate still.

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