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International law: Vanishing Point of Jurisprudence?


Sir Thomas Erskine Holland (1835-1926) was a British jurist and a theorist of International Law. According to him, the law governing the international community is at a ‘vanishing point of jurisprudence’.[1] Holland believed that both jurisprudence and international law are on the opposite sides of the spectrum and hence can never be met. 

Is International Law actually at a vanishing point?

The dictionary meaning of ‘vanishing point’ is a point of disappearance, cessation, or extinction. Usually a vanishing point is a particular point where two parallel lines, on the same plain, intersect and since Holland believed International Law not belonging to the same category as that of municipal law, the former was considered to be vanishing. The following four, among many reasons were cited as to back up his findings:

  1. No sovereign authority to command;
  2. There exists no sanctions if the rules are violated;
  3. An absence of a judge or arbiter to decide international disputes;
  4. International Law only followed as a moral courtesy by States.[2]

Holland’s views according to today’s scenario

In a world where even a disease has reached every nook and corner of the world, it is safe to say that contemporary times are more cosmopolitan than ever. International Law today has acquired a very different form and shape from before. 

The role of international organizations and treaties, conventions and sanctions cannot be overemphasized in today’s day and age. A very recent example of the trial of Kulbhushan Jadhav at the ICJ shows the vindication of International Law and the respect sovereign countries now show towards each other. Thus, it can safely be said that comparing International Law of today to that of Holland’s times is an immature folly. 

The way ahead: Has Holland’s theory stood the test of time?

The author, among others believe that the ‘New International Law’ as it is called, is made of social interdependence compared to the formal regulations of Diplomatic Relations during Holland’s times. Where Holland was not wrong to say that it is vanishing, he can be criticized for compartmentalizing a subject which had shown tremendous ability to grow. 

The world of today is bound by social, economical, cultural and humanitarian grounds and since no man is an island, Holland’s view of International Law as being a ‘vanishing point’ of jurisprudence is incorrect.



[2] Dr. Ak jain, Public International Law (Law of Peace) & Human Rights, Ascent Publications, 2017.

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Law Wire Team attempts to delve into pertinent (and sometimes not immediately pertinent) questions regarding socio-politics, Law and their interesting matrix.

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