Academic journal article World History Bulletin

From World War to World Law: Elisabeth Mann Borgese and the Law of the Sea

Academic journal article World History Bulletin

From World War to World Law: Elisabeth Mann Borgese and the Law of the Sea

Article excerpt

Introduction

The life and work of Elisabeth Mann Borgese reveal an essential connection between the world federalist movement that thrived immediately after World War II and the global environmentalist movement that began to gather force two decades later. Between 1945 and 1951, Elisabeth Mann Borgese (E. M. B.) played a key role in the Committee to Draft a World Constitution at the University of Chicago. In 1967, she took up the cause of ocean conservation, and her contribution to the creation of the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea marked a significant advance for both transnational environmentalism and the principles articulated by the world federalist movement.

In August of 1945, Chancellor Robert Maynard Hutchins convened the Committee to Draft a World Constitution at the University of Chicago to address the new dangers posed by nuclear war. As the only woman to be part of this project at its inception, E.M.B. began as an assistant to the Committee but rose to be the editor of, Common Cause, the quarterly journal published by the University of Chicago as a forum for the Committee and its research. Although the world federalist movement was greatly weakened by the Cold War polarization of the 1950s, she would not abandon its goal of building a framework for intelligent cooperation and democratic accountability on a global scale. In the mid-1960s, she resumed her work with Hutchins at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, where she focused on advancing the cause of ocean conservation. During this period, she also contributed to the research of the pioneering environmentalist think tank, the Club of Rome. (1)

In 1970, E. M. B. proposed and organized the first Pacem in Maribus (Peace in the Oceans) Conference in Malta. This conference led to the creation of the International Ocean Institute, an NGO dedicated to ocean conservation that she cofounded, along with the Maltese diplomat Arvid Pardo, in 1972. In the realm of international law, the Pacem in Maribus Conference became a seminal forum for the international process of deliberation that would produce the Third United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. After a little more than a decade, this process culminated in the drafting of the unprecedented Law of the Sea treaty of 1982. (2) Her chief contribution to this treaty was to defend the principle, first developed with her colleagues at the University of Chicago in the late 1940s, that a global commons, such as the seabed under international waters, must be recognized and protected as "the common property of the human race." (3)

Background

Born in 1918 to the German author Thomas Mann and Katia Pringsheim Mann, Elisabeth came of age on a continent shadowed both by total war and by the rise of totalitarian government, before her family immigrated to the United States in 1938. As the youngest daughter in an extraordinary family, E. M. B. grew up in an atmosphere where free inquiry, cosmopolitanism, and feminism were part of her intellectual inheritance. Her father was a critic of hyper-nationalism and anti-Semitism in Germany before the rise of Hitler, and her mother was the granddaughter of one of the most outspoken European feminist authors of the nineteenth century, Hedwig Dohm. One of Dohm's most famous statements ("Die Menschenrecht habt keine Geschlecht" or "Human rights have no gender") appears as the epitaph on Dohm's headstone, and was a credo that inspired E. M. B. to advocate a social order that affirmed not only cosmopolitan democracy but also unprecedented freedom from traditional conceptions of gender. (4)

Although Elisabeth's father was perhaps the most famous German author of the twentieth century, Thomas Mann was a better exemplar of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism than he was of any particular national culture. The novel for which he won the Nobel Prize, Buddenbrooks, presents itself as the chronicle of a merchant family in decline. …

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