International and Comparative Law Quarterly


The Private History of International Law

Alex Mills*

The purpose of this article is to address two related false assumptions, or myths. The first is an assumption of public international law. It is the myth that the history of international law is one of progressive expansion, of increasing concern in public international law with matters traditionally considered private or internal to States, and that this expansion is a relatively recent phenomenon.1 The second is an assumption of private international law. It is the myth that private international law is not actually international, as it is essentially and necessarily a part of the domestic law of States.2 These assumptions, taken together, constitute the myth that public and private international law are discrete, distinct disciplines, with independent, parallel histories. This article addresses these myths through an analysis of the role played by international law theory in the history of private international law.


* Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge. I am grateful to the anonymous referees of the International and Comparative Law Quarterly, and to Professor Philip Allott, Professor Erik Jayme, Dr Pippa Rogerson, Mr Tim Stephens, and particularly Mr Richard Fentiman for their helpful comments and suggestions.