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Sovereignty versus Natural Law? The Tokyo Trial in Global Intellectual History

The project aims at writing a global intellectual history of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, popularly known as the Tokyo Trial (1946-48), using this celebrated trial of the top Japanese political-military leadership to analyse competing visions of global justice and world order that connected and fragmented actors from across the British Empire, the United States, the Soviet Union, France, the Netherlands, and Asia – Japan, India, China, and Philippines - in the aftermath of the Second World War. By analysing debates about legal philosophy and theology - especially around competing interpretations of natural law and positive law – I show how the trial offered a microcosm for debates on global justice that split the world in the age of imperial crisis and neo-colonial transfiguration, decolonization, and Cold War across the late 1940s and 1950s. By examining the trial and its long-term legacies, I emphasise how global intellectual history as an emerging academic field can benefit from studying multi-sited genealogies and entangled spaces of conceptualizing decolonial justice. The project further intervenes within recent debates about transtemporal intellectual history by demonstrating how 'premodern' and early modern political-legal thought inflected these twentieth-century discursive spheres. It also contributes to discussions about multi-scalar intellectual history by juxtaposing transregional geographies of circulating ideas with local and vernacular nodes of conceptual labour. Ultimately, the project creates conversations between transregional political thought, critical theory, and global intellectual history, even as it seeks to de-provincialize many of the ethical-philosophical assumptions underpinning current debates on sovereign violence and international criminal law.

Nature of the project:

Habilitation Project, with initial funding (February 2017 to January 2019) by LMU Research Fellowship



Participating researchers:

Dr. Milinda Banerjee (LMU)