Skip to main content
Skip to McMaster Navigation Skip to Site Navigation Skip to main content
McMaster logo

Research in Progress Seminar (RIPS)

Dr. Catherine Frost, Associate Professor and Rebekah Pulled, Ph.D. Candidate, McMaster University, February 5 - Vattel’s concept of states’ interests and the foundations of the global legal and institutional order

Feb 03, 2020

The Department of Political Sciences Presents:

A Research in Progress Seminar Talk 2020

Who: Dr. Catherine Frost and Rebekah Pullen
Where: Kenneth Taylor Hall (KTH 709)
When: Wednesday, February 5, 2:30PM - 4:00PM

Vattel’s concept of states’ interests and the foundations of the global legal and institutional order

Emer de Vattel’s 1758 The Law of Nations is one of a select handful of works that framed the birth of modern international law, and his writings on states’ interests and global diplomacy were pivotal for the American founding. One of Vattel’s notable innovations is the idea that states should be understood as “moral persons.” This framing brings states under the regulation of the law of nature, while stipulating changes in how that law applies to sovereign entities as bearers of interests. Vattel’s understanding of interests begins with a bedrock commitment to mutual help among mankind, with the aim of advancing general wellbeing and human “happiness.” This in turn dictates distinct rules for, and limits on, states’ actions. As moral persons, states must anticipate the future and determine how to respond, but the way that interests are arbitrated cannot simply mirror the private or personal level since states face a higher burden of judgment. Tracing the influence of Vattel’s thinking through the design of twentieth century international institutions – including how it surfaces in the discourse of international relations as a field – is instructive. More significant, however, may be the lapses or patterns of forgetfulness that surround the transmission of Vattelian thinking. Restoring his nuanced view of state responsibilities highlights tensions around how the concept of interest is used to justify or validate action in the current world order.

Catherine Frost is a professor of Political Science at McMaster University in Canada. She writes on issues in political theory including representation, community, nationalism and identity, as well as on communications theory, literature and new media. Her current research looks at political founding and constituent power, with a special focus on Declarations of Independence and the origins of law.

Rebekah K. Pullen is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Political Science at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada and specializing in International Relations. Her research explores the political problems of nuclear weapons through pop culture and the theoretical implications of nuclear imaginings and anticipatory politics. She holds an a M.A. in Global Governance from the Balsillie School of International Affairs, at the University of Waterloo and has presented her work in Canada and internationally in Political Science, International Relations and Geography. She currently holds an Ontario Graduate Scholarship, and is a former Junior Research Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo.