The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 92, No. 4 (1998)

Confronting Difference: The Puzzling Durability of Gentili’s Combination of Pragmatic Pluralism and Normative Judgement

Benedict Kingsbury

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The four hundredth anniversary of Alberico Gentili’s De jure belli (1598) has been little noticed outside his native region in Italy. The history of international law generally has received less attention in recent decades than its importance warrants, but there are signs of renewed interest. This Editorial Comment makes a case for the continued importance of the study of Gentili. It focuses on a persistent feature of international law, the problem of reaching normative judgments in a heterogeneous world while simultaneously accommodating deep cultural, social, and religious differences. It argues that Gentili’s approach to this problem, which combined a pragmatic pluralistic understanding of international society and a willingness to make judgments based on his own narrower moral, religious and political commitments, has remained prominent in international law as a strategy for dealing with difference. That this approach endures, despite its poor grounding in modern normative theory and its evident practical defects, is a disconcerting challenge at the heart of contemporary international law.