He studied at Basel and Geneva. In the same year Vattel, who was born a subject of the king of Prussia , repaired to Berlin in the hope of obtaining some public employment from Frederick II , but was disappointed in his expectation. His diplomatic functions did not occupy his whole time, and much of his leisure was devoted to literature and jurisprudence. A Dublin translation of does not include notes from the original nor posthumous notes added to the French edition. Several other English editions were based on the edition of The edition has a detailed table of contents and margin titles for subsections.
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The greater part of mankind have therefore only a vague, a very incomplete, and often even a false notion of it. The generality of writers, and even celebrated authors, almost exclusively confine the name of the Law of Nations to certain maxims and customs which have been adopted by different nations, and which the mutual consent of the parties has alone rendered obligatory on them. This is confining within very narrow bounds a law so extensive in its own nature, and in which the whole human race are so intimately concerned; it is at the same time a degradation of that law, in consequence of a misconception of its real origin.
There certainly exists a natural law of nations, since the obligations of the law of nature are no less binding on states, on men united in political society, than on individuals. But, to acquire an exact knowledge of that law, it is not sufficient to know what the law of nature prescribes to the individuals of the human race. The application of a rule to various subjects can no otherwise be made than in a manner agreeable to the nature of each subject.
Hence it follows that the natural law of nations is a particular science, consisting in a just and rational application of the law of nature to the affairs and conduct of nations or sovereigns. All those treatises, therefore, in which the law of nations is blended and confounded with the ordinary law of nature, are incapable of conveying a distinct idea or a substantial knowledge of the sacred law of nations.
And that law, which natural reason has established among all mankind, and which is equally observed by all people, is called the law of nations, as being a law which all nations follow. The exigencies and necessities of mankind have induced all nations to lay down and adopt certain rules of right.
For wars have arisen, and produced captivity and servitude, which are contrary to the law of nature; since, by the law of nature, all men were originally born free.
Still this is nothing more than the law of nature which is equally applicable to all mankind. Edition: current; Page:  The Romans, however, acknowledged a law whose obligations are reciprocally binding on nations: and to that law they referred the right of embassies.
They had also their fecial law, which was nothing more than the law of nations in its particular relation to public treaties, and especially to war. The feciales were the interpreters, the guardians, and, in a manner, the priests of the public faith. They differ only in the ideas they entertain of the origin whence that system arose, and of the foundations upon which it rests.
Now, in the questions before us, that cause must necessarily be one or the other of these two—either a just consequence drawn from natural principles, or a universal consent. Edition: ; Page: [vi] The former discovers to us the law of nature, and the latter, the law of nations. Persuaded that nations or sovereign powers are subject to the authority of the law of nature, the observance of which he so frequently recommends to them,—that learned man, in fact, acknowledged a natural law of nations, which he somewhere calls the internal law of nations: and perhaps it will appear that the only difference between him and us lies in the terms.
But we have already observed, that, in order to form this natural law of nations, it is not sufficient simply to apply to nations what the law of nature decides with respect to individuals.
If—setting out with the idea that political societies or nations live, with respect to each other, in a reciprocal independence, in the state of nature, and that, as political bodies, they are subject to the natural law—Grotius had moreover considered that the law must Edition: ; Page: [vii] be applied to these new subjects in a manner suitable to their nature,—that judicious author would easily have discovered that the natural law of nations is a particular science; that it produces between nations even an external obligation wholly independent of their will; and that the common consent of mankind is only the foundation and source of a particular kind of law called the Arbitrary Law of Nations.
Hobbes, in whose work we discover the hand of a master, notwithstanding his paradoxes and detestable maxims,—Hobbes was, I believe, the first who gave a distinct though imperfect idea of the law of nations. He divides the law of nature into that of man, and that of states: and the latter is, according to him, what we usually call the law of nations.
But we shall see in the course of this work, that he was mistaken in the idea that the law of nature does not suffer any necessary change in that application,—an idea from which he concluded that the maxims of the law of nature and those of the law of nations are precisely the same.
Puffendorf declares that he unreservedly subscribes to this opinion espoused by Hobbes. Barbeyrac, who performed the office of translator and commentator to Grotius and Puffendorf, has approached much nearer to the true idea of the law of nations. But setting aside the consideration that the consent of mankind is not the basis of the obligation by which we are bound to observe those laws, and that it cannot even possibly take place in this instance,—the principles and the rules of such a law are in fact the same as those of the law of nature, Edition: current; Page:  properly so called; the only difference consisting in the mode of their application, which may be somewhat varied, on account of the difference that sometimes happens in the manner in which nations settle their affairs with each other.
But it does not appear that he discovered the full extent of this idea, since he seems not to approve of the mode of treating the law of nations separately from the law of nature as relating to individuals.
This glory was reserved for the baron de Wolf. But Edition: ; Page: [x] it is just that we should hear what Wolf himself says in his Preface. Perhaps, therefore, it may appear superfluous to give a treatise on the law of nations, as distinct from the law of nature.
But those who entertain this idea have not sufficiently studied the subject. Nations, it is true, can only be considered as so many individual persons living together in the state of nature; and, for that reason, we must apply to them all the duties and rights which nature prescribes and attributes to men in general, as being naturally born free, and bound to each other by no ties but those of nature alone.
The law which arises from this application, and the obligations resulting from it, proceed from that immutable law founded on the nature of man; and thus the law of nations certainly belongs to the law of nature: it is therefore, on account of its origin, called the natural, and, by reason of its obligatory force, the necessary law of nations.
That law is common to all nations; and if any one of them does not respect it in her actions, she violates the common rights of all the others. When, therefore, we would apply to nations the duties which the law of nature prescribes to individual man, and the rights it confers on him in order to enable him Edition: ; Page: [xi] to fulfil his duties,—since those rights and those duties can be no other than what are consistent with the nature of their subjects, they must, in their application, necessarily undergo a change suitable to the new subjects to which they are applied.
Thus we see that the law of nations does not in every particular remain the same as the law of nature, regulating the actions of individuals. Why may it not therefore be separately treated of, as a law peculiar to nations? The treatise of the philosopher of Hall[[e]] on the law of nations is dependent on all those of the same author on philosophy and the law of nature. In order to read and understand it, it is necessary to have previously studied sixteen or seventeen quarto volumes which precede it.
Besides, it is written in the manner and even in the formal method of geometrical works. These circumstances present obstacles which render it nearly useless to those very persons in whom the knowledge and taste of the true principles of the law of nations are most important and most desirable. At first I thought that I should have had nothing farther to do, than to detach this treatise from the entire system by rendering it independent of every thing Monsieur Wolf had said before, and to give it a new form, more agreeable, and better calculated to ensure it a reception in the polite world.
With that view, I made some attempts; but I soon found, that if I indulged the expectation of procuring readers among that class of persons for whom I intended to write, and of rendering my efforts beneficial to man-kind, it was necessary that I should form a very different work from that which lay before me, and undertake to furnish an original Edition: current; Page:  production. The method Edition: ; Page: [xii] followed by Monsieur Wolf has had the effect of rendering his work dry, and in many respects incomplete.
Had I every-where pointed out what I have borrowed, my pages would be crowded with quotations equally useless and disagreeable to the reader. It is better to acknowledge here, once for all, the obligations I am under to that great master.
Although my work be very different from his as will appear to those who are willing to take the trouble of making the comparison , I confess that I should never have had the courage to launch into so extensive a field, if the celebrated philosopher of Hall[[e]] had not preceded my steps, and held forth a torch to guide me on my way.
Sometimes, however, I have ventured to deviate from the path which he had pointed out, and have adopted sentiments opposite to his. I will here quote a few instances.
I do not even admit of such a denomination, which I Edition: ; Page: [xiii] think equally shocking, improper, and dangerous, both in its effects, and in the impressions it may give to sovereigns: and in this, I flatter myself I shall obtain the suffrage of every man who possesses the smallest spark of reason and sentiment,—in short, of every true citizen. I am shocked at such a decision, and sorry to find it in the work of so great a man.
In the very outset of my work, it will be found that I differ entirely from Monsieur Wolf in the manner of establishing the foundations of that species of law of nations which we call voluntary. Monsieur Wolf deduces it from the idea of a great republic civitatis maximae instituted by nature herself, and of which all the nations of the world are members.
According to him, the voluntary law of nations is, as it were, the civil law of that great republic. This idea does not satisfy me; nor do I think the fiction of such a republic either admissible in itself, or capable of affording sufficiently solid grounds on which to build the rules of the universal law of nations which shall necessarily claim the obedient acquiescence of sovereign states.
I acknowledge no other natural society between nations than that which nature has established between mankind in general. It is essential to every civil society civitati that each member have resigned a part of his right to the body of the society, and that there exist in it an authority capable of commanding all the members, of giving them laws, and of compelling those who should refuse to obey. Nothing of this kind can be conceived or supposed to subsist between nations.
Each sovereign state claims and actually possesses an absolute independence on Edition: ; Page: [xiv] all the others. They are all, according to Monsieur Wolf himself, to be considered as so many individuals who live together in the state of nature, and who acknowledge no other laws but those of nature, or of her Great Author.
Now, although nature has indeed established a general society between mankind, by creating them subject to such wants as render the assistance of their fellow-creatures indispensably necessary to enable them to live in a manner suitable to men,—yet she has not imposed on them any particular obligation to unite in civil society, properly so called: and if they all obeyed the injunctions of that good parent, their subjection to the restraints of civil society would be unnecessary. It is true, that, as there does not exist in Edition: current; Page:  mankind a disposition voluntarily to observe towards each other the rules of the law of nature, they have had recourse to a political association, as the only adequate remedy against the depravity of the majority,—the only means of securing the condition of the good, and repressing the wicked: and the law of nature itself approves of this establishment.
But it is easy to perceive that the civic association is very far from being equally necessary between nations, as it was between individuals. We cannot therefore say that nature equally recommends it, much less that she has prescribed it. Individuals are so constituted, and are capable of doing so little by themselves, that they can scarcely subsist without the aid and the laws of civil society.
But as soon as a considerable number of them have united under the same government, they become able to supply most of their wants; and the assistance of other political societies is not so necessary to them as that of individuals is to an individual.
These societies have still, it is true, powerful motives for carrying on a communication and commerce with each other; and it is even their duty to do it; since no man can, without good reasons, refuse assistance to another man.
But the law of nature may suffice to regulate this commerce, and this Edition: ; Page: [xv] correspondence. States conduct themselves in a different manner from individuals. It is not usually the caprice or blind impetuosity of a single person that forms the resolutions and determines the measures of the public: they are carried on with more deliberation and circumspection: and, on difficult or important occasions, arrangements are made and regulations established by means of treaties.
To this we may add, that independence is even necessary to each state, in order to enable her properly to discharge the duties she owes to herself and to her citizens, and to govern herself in the manner best suited to her circumstances. It is therefore sufficient as I have already said that nations should conform to what is required of them by the natural and general society established between all mankind.
But, says Monsieur Wolf, a rigid adherence to the law of nature cannot always prevail in that commerce and society of nations; it must undergo various modifications, which can only be deduced from this idea of a kind of great republic of nations, whose laws, dictated by sound reason and founded on necessity, shall regulate the alterations to be made Edition: current; Page:  in the natural and necessary law of nations, as the civil laws of a particular state determine what modifications shall take place in the natural law of individuals.
I do not perceive the necessity of this consequence; and I flatter myself that I shall, in the course of this work, be able to prove, that all the modifications, all the restrictions,—in a word, all the alterations which the rigour of the natural law must be made to undergo in the affairs of nations, and from which the voluntary law of nations is formed,—to prove, I say, that all these alterations are deducible from the natural liberty of nations, from the attention due to their common safety, from the nature of their mutual correspondence, their reciprocal duties, and the distinctions of their various rights, internal and external, perfect and imperfect,—by a mode of reasoning nearly similar to that which Mon-Edition: ; Page: [xvi]sieur Wolf has pursued, with respect to individuals, in his treatise on the law of nature.
In that treatise it is made to appear that the rules, which, in consequence of the natural liberty of mankind, must be admitted in questions of external right do not cancel the obligation which the internal right imposes on the conscience of each individual. It is easy to apply this doctrine to nations, and—by carefully drawing the line of distinction between the internal and the external right—between the necessary and the voluntary law of nations—to teach them not to indulge themselves in the commission of every act which they may do with impunity, unless it be approved by the immutable laws of justice, and the voice of conscience.
Since nations, in their transactions with each other, are equally bound to admit those exceptions to, and those modifications of, the rigour of the necessary law, whether they be deduced from the idea of a great republic of which all nations are supposed to be the members, or derived from the sources whence I propose to draw them,—there can be no reason why the system which thence results, should not be called the Voluntary Law of nations, in contradistinction to the necessary, internal, and consciential law.
Names are of very little consequence: but it is of considerable importance carefully to distinguish these two kinds of law, in order that we may never confound what is just and good in itself, with what is only tolerated through necessity. Edition: current; Page:  The necessary and the voluntary law of nations are therefore both established by nature, but each in a different manner; the former as a sacred law which nations and sovereigns are bound to respect and follow in all their actions; the latter, as a rule which the general welfare and safety oblige them to admit in their transactions with each other.
The necessary law immediately proceeds from nature; and that common mother of mankind recommends the obser-Edition: ; Page: [xvii]vance of the voluntary law of nations, in consideration of the state in which nations stand with respect to each other, and for the advantage of their affairs. This double law, founded on certain and invariable principles, is susceptible of demonstration, and will constitute the principal subject of this work. There is another kind of law of nations, which authors call arbitrary, because it proceeds from the will or consent of nations.
States, as well as individuals, may acquire rights and contract obligations, by express engagements, by compacts and treaties: hence results a conventional law of nations, peculiar to the contracting powers.
Nations may also bind themselves by their tacit consent: upon this ground rest all those regulations which custom has introduced between different states, and which constitute the usage of nations, or the law of nations founded on custom.
It is evident that this law cannot impose any obligation except on those particular nations who have, by long use, given their sanction to its maxims: it is a peculiar law, and limited in its operation, as the conventional law: both the one and the other derive all their obligatory force from that maxim of the natural law which makes it the duty of nations to fulfil their engagements, whether express or tacit.
The same maxim ought to regulate the conduct of states with regard to the treaties they conclude, and the customs they adopt. I must content myself with simply laying down the general rules and principles which the law of nature furnishes for the direction of sovereigns in this respect.
A particular detail of the various treaties and customs of different states belongs to history, and not to a systematic treatise on the law of nations. Such a treatise ought, as we have already observed, principally to consist in a judicious and rational application of the principles of the law of nature to the affairs and conduct of nations and sovereigns.
The study of the law of nations supposes therefore a pre-Edition: ; Page: [xviii]vious knowledge Edition: current; Page:  of the ordinary law of nature: and in fact I proceed on the supposition that my readers are already, to a certain degree at least, possessed of that knowledge.
Nevertheless, as it is not agreeable to readers in general to be obliged to recur to other authorities for proofs of what an author advances, I have taken care to establish, in a few words, the most important of those principles of the law of nature which I intended to apply to nations. But I have not always thought it necessary to trace them to their primary foundations for the purpose of demonstration, but have sometimes contented myself with supporting them by common truths which are acknowledged by every candid reader, without carrying the analysis any farther.
It is sufficient for me to persuade, and for this purpose to advance nothing as a principle, that will not readily be admitted by every sensible man. The law of nations is the law of sovereigns. It is principally for them and for their ministers that it ought to be written. All mankind are indeed interested in it; and, in a free country, the study of its maxims is a proper employment for every citizen: but it would be of little consequence to impart the knowledge of it only to private individuals, who are not called to the councils of nations, and who have no influence in directing the public measures.
If the conductors of states, if all those who are employed in public affairs, condescended to apply seriously to the study of a science which ought to be their law, and, as it were, the compass by which to steer their course, what happy effects might we not expect from a good treatise on the law of nations!
We every day feel the advantages of a good body of laws in civil society:—the law of nations is, in point of importance, as much superior to the civil law, as the proceedings of nations and sovereigns are more momentous in their consequences than those of private persons.
Vattel: Law of Nations
Emmerich de Vattel
Emer de Vattel
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