A Century of Anarchy?

New Book by Hendrik Simon published with Oxford University Press

Cut-out of the book cover: book title below an image of a circle that is half black and half white

Cutout of the book cover: A Century of Anarchy? War, Normativity and the Emergence of the Modern International Order | Oxford University Press

On May 7, 2024, the new book “A Century of Anarchy? War, Norma­tivity, and the Birth of Modern Inter­national Order” by Hendrik Simon was published by Oxford Uni­versity Press. In the book, which is based on his disser­tation, the PRIF researcher takes a critical look at the wide­spread notion of the “free right to war” (liberum ius ad bellum) and locates the birth of the modern prohi­bition of war under inter­national law in the early 19th century. 

It is generally assumed that sovereign states in the 19th century were “entitled” to use war as a political instru­ment whenever they deemed it necessary. It was only with the founding of the League of Nations, the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the UN Charter that this “right” was gradually outlawed, according to the general inter­pretation of historical develop­ments. The “century of anarchy” in the decision for war was thus followed by a radical trans­formation of inter­national law and inter­national politics towards a general prohibition of the use of force in inter­national relations in accordance with Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter. 

In his book, Simon deconstructs the dictum of a “free right to war” and the associated narrative of progress as a myth in the History of Inter­national Relations and Inter­national Law. Part I of the book outlines a genealogy of modern justi­fications for war that encompasses both political and theoretical discourses since the French Revolution. Here it becomes clear that inter­national violence has been in need of legiti­mization throughout modernity.  

In Part II, Hendrik Simon shows that the “liberum ius ad bellum” was an invention of realist legal scholars in the German Empire who wrote against the main­stream of liberal inter­national legal scholars. In the inter­national historio­graphies between and after the world wars, how­ever, this radical minority opinion was univer­salized as supposedly correct – paradoxically both by “realist” authors such as the Nazi consti­tutional lawyer Carl Schmitt and by liberals such as Hans Wehberg. Liberals wanted to portray inter­national law since 1920 as particularly progressive. With great success: The narrative of the “anarchic” 19th century there­fore served as a contrast to the new inter­national legal order. This black and white thinking on the “old” order before 1920 and the “new” order after 1920 still dominates inter­national historio­graphy today.  

“A Century of Anarchy?” offers a ground­breaking study and a fact-filled read for historians, lawyers and researchers in the fields of Political Theory, Peace and Conflict Studies and Inter­national Relations, as well as for anyone interested in the history of war and the modern inter­national order. Simon not only artfully deconstructs the myth of “liberum ius ad bellum”, but also traces the political and theo­retical roots of the modern prohi­bition of war back to the early 19th century. According to Hendrik Simon, the 19th century was not a “century of anarchy” – it was the era in which the modern inter­national order was born.

Further infor­mation can be found on the website of Oxford University Press.