Historical Thinking about Human Protection: Insights from Vattel

Routledge Handbook of Ethics and International Relations

Author/s (editor/s):

Luke Glanville

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Publication type:

Book chapter

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Historical Thinking about Human Protection

Luke Glanville, ‘Historical Thinking about Human Protection: Insights from Vattel’, in Brent J. Steel and Eric A. Heinze, eds, Routledge Handbook of Ethics and International Relations, Abingdon: Routledge, 2018, pp.308-17.

This chapter focuses on the thinking of Swiss diplomat and jurist Emer de Vattel (1714‒1767). Vattel was a particularly influential pre-Kantian theorist who not only embraced rights and duties to assist and protect strangers beyond borders but also gave sustained attention to the nature, scope, and implications of these rights and duties. In his treatment of the ethics of human protection, Vattel grappled with the tension between the rights of sovereign states to manage their own affairs and the rights of others to ensure the wellbeing of the people within these states.

The first two sections of the chapter examine Vattel’s discussion of this tension between duties to distant strangers and duties to one’s own people. The next two sections then detail his arguments about the permissibility of assisting or rescuing others in the absence of sovereign consent. The chapter concludes by considering how Vattel’s work can make a valuable contribution to our thinking about the ethics of human protection today.

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