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Is There an Italian Conception of International Law?

Francesco Messineo

Keywords: Comparative international law; Italy; history of international law; legal positivism; natural law; Fascism; Marxism; Catholicism; Alberico Gentili; Pasquale Mancini; Dionisio Anzilotti; Roberto Ago; Angelo Piero Sereni

In 1943, Angelo Piero Sereni wrote The Italian Conception of International Law, a book explicitly aimed at restoring Anglo–American respect for Italian international lawyers after the Fascist period. On the seventieth anniversary of the publication of this work, it is worth considering whether there is, in fact, such a thing as an ‘Italian’ conception of international law. Methodologically speaking, does thinking of international law in terms of national schools make sense? Although a comparative approach to international law is back in vogue, this article questions the validity of any attempt at finding any ‘Italian distinctiveness’ in the intellectual history of the Italian school(s) of international law. Sereni's enlisting of ancient masters to an ‘Italian’ conception between the 13th and 18th centuries is for the most part untenable. While a distinctively Italian conception of international law arguably came into existence in the 19th century with Mancini's theory of nationalities, Anzilotti successfully set out to dissolve this into the 20th century European mainstream of positivist international law. The ensuing absence of an ‘Italian’ conception may give pause for thought to contemporary proponents of ‘comparative international law’.

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