Teaching International Law at King Leopold’s Foreign Office: Léon Arendt’s Droit des gens-course (1904)

Activity: Talk or presentationTalk or presentation at a conference


The private papers of Léon Arendt (1848-1924), director of Political Affairs in the Belgian Foreign Office from 1896 to 1912, offer a unique insider’s view on an often little-studied aspect: the
in-house teaching of international law. For centuries, the practice of international relations had no strong connection with the formal obtention of a university degree. Legal advice was often sought externally At the turn of the twentieth century, due to King Leopold II’s involvement, Belgian universities offered more specialised courses. Léon Arendt ,doctor of law and of political and administrative science, entered the ministry in 1870. His 175 page-long handwritten course on the law of nations (“Droit des gens”) was divided into two parts (“Political relations between states”, 64 p. – “Conflicts between Nations”, 103 p.), counting each five chapters. Arendt tailored the conceptual analysis to the essential definitions, contrasts and exceptions, amply illustrated by examples. He did not exclude that natural law would continue to be of high importance.I will analyse two aspects: First, permanent neutrality, Belgium’s legal regime from 1830 to 1919, which Arendt saw as a ‘restriction considérable de la souveraineté’. Second, peaceful dispute settlement, in the wake of 1899, allows to confront his analysis with the de lege ferenda normative statements of Descamps, who actively pleaded for the transformation of the concept of neutrality through the imposition of mandatory arbitration.
Period16 Sep 2021
Event titleLaw(s) and International relations: actors, institutions and comparative legislations
Event typeConference
LocationOrléans, France
Degree of RecognitionInternational