Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill is Senior Research Fellow, at All Souls College, Oxford and practises as a barrister from Blackstone Chambers, London.
The seventh edition of Brierly’s Law of Nations: An Introduction to the Role of International Law in International Relations, (and here on google books) now edited by Professor Andrew Clapham, was published by Oxford University Press last year. It is now fifty years since Sir Humphrey Waldock’s sixth edition of Brierly was published, but it has been well worth the wait. In my view, no one who reads Andrew Clapham’s new edition can fail to embrace the law of nations, to go on to study it in yet greater detail, and to be excited and enthused by the prospects ever and always being thrown up by the quest for order over chaos. What is more, Brierly will still just about fit in your pocket.
I first came to Brierly, in the sixth edition edited by Humphrey Waldock, in 1967. It was among the first readings set by my Oxford college tutor, Ian Brownlie, whose first edition of Principles of International Law had just appeared the year before. Together, these two works must certainly take a lot of the credit for setting me off on the road to international law.
Like many classic texts, Brierly has lasting appeal; it is highly readable, almost conversational, essentially an essay in nine parts, a curriculum of essentials, of bases. But it is certainly not conservative or hidebound by tradition, or old-fashioned, or the product of blinkered vision or boxed-in thinking. Brierly himself saw his book as an ‘introduction’, something to supplement the text books – rather a subversive thought, if you think about it.
For Brierly, perhaps surprisingly, is often radical, if carefully so. We see this in his approach to international law, already in 1928, as also comprising individuals among its subjects, as encompassing a sense of community, drawing on ‘a sense of solidarity across traditional borders’ (Clapham, Preface, xvi).
A great strength of the present edition, additional to its remarkable modernising, is the way in which Andrew Clapham has managed to put yet more Brierly into Brierly. He carefully and astutely draws on Brierly’s other writings to explain, to elaborate, and sometimes even to rescue ideas which Brierly often set out before their time. And how sharp were his perceptions! Consider his views on Vattel’s acceptance of the state of nature as an analogy appropriate to describe relations between States: ‘Thus the doctrine of the equality of states, a misleading deduction from unsound premises, was introduced into the theory of international law’ (36; also 146f). And later, ‘By cutting the frail moorings which bound international law to any sound principle of obligation, [Vattel] did it an injury which has not yet been repaired’ (39). Read the rest of this entry…