“To Internationalize International Law”: the Carnegie Endowment and the Insitut de Droit International, 1910-1921

This paper analyzes the transatlantic network of international lawyers who built the international law profession in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. It demonstrates how changing power dynamics within that network shaped and reflected shifting conceptions of national identity. While common assumptions united lawyers from many countries in a global civilizing project, divergent intellectual traditions and geopolitical contexts created disparate disciplinary formations in each nation. Because the profession originated in Europe, historians have ignored the pre-WWI presence of the United States in this transnational conversation. But the 1910 founding of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP), in Washington, D.C., had profound effects for lawyers in Europe as well as America.

The CEIP’s immense endowment (perhaps $1.2 billion in today’s dollars) promised to reverse the transatlantic flow of ideas. Where U.S. international lawyers had previously looked to Europe for inspiration, now Europeans came to the CEIP in search of funding. The CEIP’s attempt to “internationalize international law” by extending a subsidy to the Institut de Droit International (the world’s oldest and most eminent international legal society) raised contentious questions about the nature of the international law project. Studying these developments reveals the persistence of nationalism among internationalists. Reflecting internal debates about national identity and purpose, U.S. lawyers attempted to reconstruct international law in the American image. European reactions, both before and after WWI, illuminate the extent to which geopolitical power gradients can shape nongovernmental intellectual networks.