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International Law and EmpireHistorical Explorations$
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Martti Koskenniemi, Walter Rech, and Manuel Jiménez Fonseca

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198795575

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198795575.001.0001

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International Law, Empire, and the Relative Indeterminacy of Narrative

International Law, Empire, and the Relative Indeterminacy of Narrative

(p.57) 3 International Law, Empire, and the Relative Indeterminacy of Narrative
International Law and Empire

Walter Rech

Oxford University Press

This chapter describes some key patterns of historical narrative in the Western tradition, such as progressivism, providentialism, cyclical history, ‘history proper’, and existentialist history, and stresses their suitability for political and legal uses. The chapter in particular describes how histories and metanarratives constituted an essential tool for Western scholars and international lawyers to frame colonial and imperial projects, and occasionally also anti-imperial critiques, throughout modern history. It is argued that most historical narratives operated as flexible and powerful rhetorical devices and allowed their proponents to articulate various and conflicting political and legal claims. Yet the chapter also points out that the normative ambivalence of narratives was limited. Not all of them were characterized by the same degree of semantic openness and contributed to imperial or counter-imperial projects in the same manner.

Keywords:   Narrative, metanarrative, cyclical history, progress, providence, contextualism, existentialism, ambivalence

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