Neutrality is one of the most controversial issues in public international law and international relations history. Its remoteness from the United Nations system of collective security has rendered its discussion less topical. The significance of contemporary self-proclaimed ‘permanent neutrality’ is limited. Recent scholarship has taken up the theme as a general narrative of nineteenth century international relations: between the Congress of Vienna and the Great War, neutrality was the rule, rather than the exception. In intellectual history, Belgium’s neutral status is seen as linked to the rise of the ‘Gentle Civilizer of Nations’ at the end of the nineteenth century. International lawyers’ and politicians’ activism brought three Noble Peace Prizes (August Beernaert, International Law Institute, Henri La Fontaine). The present contribution focuses on the permanent or compulsory nature of Belgian neutrality in nineteenth century diplomacy, from the country’s inception (1830-1839) to the Franco-Prussian War (1870). The subject has generally been left to political or diplomatic historians. This would suggest a lack of conceptual primary-source material. I argue, on the contrary, that political and diplomatic exchanges were steeped in in international law-discourse. As the discursive arena of international politics, international law was impossible to evade. Hence, Belgian nineteenth century neutrality cannot be properly understood without having recourse to legal sources.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Law in the Long Nineteenth Century (1776-1914)
Subtitle of host publicationFrom the Public Law of Europe to Global International Law ?
EditorsInge Van Hulle, Randall Lesaffer
PublisherBrill | Nijhoff
ISBN (Print)978-90-04-41208-8
Publication statusPublished - 28 Sep 2019
EventInternational Law in the Long Nineteenth Century: From the Public Law of Europe to Global International Law - KUL, Mgr. Sencie Instituut, Leuven, Belgium
Duration: 24 Nov 201625 Nov 2016

Publication series

NameStudies in the History of International Law
PublisherBrill - Nijhof
ISSN (Print)1874-1793
NameLegal History Library
PublisherBrill/Martinus Nijhoff
ISSN (Electronic)1874-1793


ConferenceInternational Law in the Long Nineteenth Century
Internet address

    Research areas

  • legal history, international law, neutrality, Belgian history, political history, diplomatic history

ID: 47503781