Review of International Studies

Research Article

Right of entry or right of refusal? Hospitality in the law of nature and nations



This article explores the account of international hospitality found in the natural law tradition from Vitoria to Kant. Rather than limit itself to intellectual history, the focus here is on a more enduring theme: the double-bind of hospitality which the natural lawyers encountered in seeking to find a place for the welcome of the foreigner in the ‘law of nations’. Although these thinkers agreed on a natural right of communication, this proved destabilising, even destructive, of the property claims by which hosts establish their domain as properly theirs in the first place. All struggled with this double-bind, though this took different forms, from the concern that the law of hospitality might thereby justify colonial appropriation to fears for how it could threaten sovereignty. Two thinkers arguably find a way out of the double-bind of right of communication-right of property in hospitality, but sacrifice the law of hospitality in the process: Pufendorf, subordinating communication to property, turns hospitality into charity and thereby effectively denies it status as a law of nature; Kant, putting communication first, makes hospitality a matter of right, not philanthropy, but also sees it as instrumental to the development of a global civil condition, where it would be redundant.

(Online publication November 29 2010)

Gideon Baker is Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. His has published on various themes in international political theory, most recently on the ethics of hospitality. On this topic his Politicizing Ethics in International Relations: Cosmopolitanism as Hospitality is forthcoming with Routledge.

* I would like to thank Georg Cavaller, Richard Devetak and Ian Hunter for their invaluable feedback on earlier versions of this article. Though none of them would read the law of nature and nations as I do here, I am very grateful for their constructive criticisms. Thanks also to two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments.