A rival history of self-determination

Deborah Whitehall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The storyline of the rights of peoples to self-determination during the 20th century gives cause to reconsider the relationship between historical and legal time. Rosa Luxemburg’s 1915 Juniusbroschüre presents one invitation to such analysis. By focusing on her question of when and how and why self-determination gains or loses traction as a goal for socialist internationalism, chinks appear in the familiar memorialization of national rights. The life of the concept no longer begins with liberal international law in the atrophied form decided after war. Before there was law, duelling internationalisms struggled (in war and theory) for authority to govern the world, including the shape of internationalism and its conceptual premise. Rediscovering Luxemburg’s pamphlet reveals something of the fuller complexity of the preceding moment and the rhythms of memorialization. Luxemburg represents a marginal corner of the relevant contest for the idea of self-determination: from her offering, the synchronic juncture figures as a battle between rival internationalisms; a strategic struggle between opposing socialist factions; and more personally, a quest for recognition of and for herself as a minor person.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)719-743
Number of pages25
JournalEuropean Journal of International Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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