Conflict and Compromise: International Law and World Order in a Revolutionary Age

By Edward McWhinney | Go to book overview

1 LAW AMONG NATIONS
The "Old" and the "New"

It is a commonplace, by now, to say that we live in a revolutionary age. In a sense, of course, the whole of recorded history has been a process of revolution or at least of change, for in no one era has mankind stood completely still. Even the mediaeval "Dark Ages" contained within them the seeds of the Renaissance and Reformation.

What characterizes the present era, however, and differentiates it sharply from earlier periods of historical development, is the very range and intensity of the changes, and the fact that they are occurring on so many fronts. One has, in this regard, to accept the fact that we are dealing with a world revolution that is really a series of continuing revolutions, finding outlets in numbers of different, if complementary, ways.

The first great revolution of our time, completing a process begun with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the subsequent downfall of the old dynasties and empires of Central and Eastern Europe, is what Marxist legal scholars like to identify as the "downfall of imperialism." This began, of course, with the October Revolution of 1917 and the overthrow of the old czarist régime in Russia, and was followed up, after the Central Powers' military defeat in 1918, with the abdications of the Sultan of Turkey, the Emperor of Austria-Hungary, and the German Kaiser. More important than the essentially symbolic replacement of a sultan or emperor by a republican president, were the political changes effected by World War I in the name of nationalism, independence, and liberalism. In deference to Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, the economically viable and politically stable (if unimaginative) dual monarchy of the Habsburgs was replaced by a group of weak and struggling, mutually intransigent "succession states" whose political dif

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