The Return of the Standard of Civilization

By Fidler, David P. | Chicago Journal of International Law, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

The Return of the Standard of Civilization

Fidler, David P., Chicago Journal of International Law

"The nexus between Civilisation and International Law is a basic question of International Law."

-Georg Schwarzenberger, 1955(1)


Those who teach international law are familiar with presenting Article 38(1) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice ("ICJ")2 as the authoritative list of the "sources" of international law. Some teachers might engage students in discourse about the "source" of the sources: is it positivism or natural law? But rarely, I would wager, does a teacher have his or her students think about the following questions: from where did the sources listed in Article 38(1) come, and who bounded the choice to positivism and natural law?

These questions point to the development of international law. The answers to these questions force us to see international law as the living artifact of "Western civilization." International law grew out of the Westphalian system of sovereign States that emerged in Europe in the 17th century.3 International law has, thus, deep civilizational roots.4 As the Westphalian system expanded beyond Europe,5 international law followed in its wake. The European great powers and the United

States succeeded in imposing aspects of Western civilization on the rest of the world. Through this process, international law became a universal system, and the sources of international law likewise were universalized. The expansion of Western civilization, including international law, produced what I call the "Westphalian civilization."

A remnant of this expansion is found in Article 38(1)(c) of the ICJ Statute, which states that "general principles of law recognized by civilized nations" are a source of international law.6 In truth, each source listed in Article 38(1) was connected to what used to be called the "standard of civilization" ("SOC"). During the 20th century, this standard and the phrase "recognized by civilized nations" became embarrassments to the international legal profession: These terms were unfortunate relics of an arrogant age during which a certain segment of humanity deemed itself the guardian and organizer of the human race. As the SOC seemed to disappear in the last half of the 20th century, international lawyers perhaps believed that they were leaving behind an unsavory part of international law's history to enter a more enlightened era.

Historical relics sometimes, however, haunt the present. In some cases, such relics reappear to teach us that history changes less than we think. In the post-Cold War era, events have resurrected the SOC. Some scholars have argued that we have reached the "end of history" with regard to the organizing philosophical principles for human civilization.8 Others have claimed that what the post-Cold War era is witnessing is not civilizational harmonization but the "clash of civilizations."9 Still others believe that civilizational harmonization is occurring but in ways that are detrimental.10

Debates about globalization have also raised issues related to the role of civilization in global relations. Many commentators see globalization as a force of homogenization that is causing diverse political, economic, and cultural systems to conform to Western ways.11 The collapse of Soviet communism and the developing world's "revolt against the West"12 give globalization a Western flavor. Peoples and

governments differ in their reactions to the civilizational portents of globalization. For some, globalization promises the dark age of McWorld-a civilization in which the forces of homogenization swallow diversity.13 For others, globalization contains opportunities to create a global civilization that will allow humanity to overcome its attachment to tribal politics.14

Once upon a time, Western nations used international law to impose on nonWestern countries policies, institutions, and values embedded in Western civilization. The SOC was the operative international legal principle in this effort at civilizational harmonization, and it helped create a Westphalian civilization. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Return of the Standard of Civilization


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.