International Arbitration, from Athens to Locarno

By Jackson H. Ralston | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
IDEALS OF INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNALS AS DEVELOPED BY THE WRITERS

83. Preliminary observations. -- During the long decline of the Roman Empire no attention was paid, so far as history informs us, to any systematic study of the relations between states, for in the modern sense they had no existence. In truth, up to about the year 1800 there was little useful, and practically no effective, thought bestowed upon the judicial settlement of disputes between nations save by a handful of persons. Of course from time to time appear individuals possessed by dreams upon the subject. Even when we discover them their ideas will seem usually very general and always vague.

While once perhaps in a generation some one more advanced than his fellows may have written against war and for arbitration, it will be found that usually his contemporaries knew him not; or if they did, they ignored his preachments in this direction. It has been left to the literary antiquarian of the present day by accident or design to stumble upon his productions, with a tendency on the part of the discoverer to exalt their importance. For to have been really significant they should have had a contemporaneous influence or directed later followers. The fact is that, vague and uncertain though they were, they were too much at variance with their times to move any of the leaders of their day and generally passed speedily into oblivion.

We may venture to believe that if no one of the authors, even Grotius (except those writers within the past one hundred and fifty years whom we shall introduce to the reader), had ever lived, the cause of international judicial action would have been in no wise retarded. The subject was latent till there came about the right conjunction of growth of civilization, softening of manners, general diffusion of intelligence (even though this be yet rudimentary), and a certain rigidity in the structure of nations. There had to be bodies capable of contracting and being contracted with and whose constituents felt responsibility for their actions.

True it is, as we have found elsewhere, that during all the years now under examination there were from time to time arbitral settlements of disputes. Each tribunal was, however, an isolated fact, not a regular proceeding based upon the ideas of authors or pursuant to any theory or predetermined plan.

-115-

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