Europeans have long justified a right to something or other by invoking ‘prescription’ (that is, the creation of a legal entitlement by the passage of time). Yet for all the importance of prescription in the creation of international geopolitical order, no genealogy of the idea has emerged from historical or legal scholarship. This article will explore the relationship between prescription and empire within private, public, corporate, and ecclesiastical legal contexts. The idea of prescription is then considered within the specific ideological context of European imperialism between 1580 and 1640, when a series of diplomatic disputes and intellectual debates were had in Europe principally regarding maritime navigation and foreign dominion by ‘donation’. The metamorphosis of prescription in legal and political thought from Justinian (483–565) to Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) is therefore explored. Additional colour is given to this intellectual history by contrasting how corporate interests in North America attempted to justify their foreign land holdings in forts, ports, and hinterland by invoking ‘prescription’ during the early stages of colonial expansion. The case will be made for historians of early modern imperialism and international law to take closer notice of the opportunism of those prepared to justify prescription in theory and practice.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Cavanagh: Prescription and Empire from Justinian to Grotius
Edward Cavanagh (Univ. of Cambridge) has posted Prescription and Empire from Justinian to Grotius (Historical Journal, forthcoming). Here's the abstract: