Legal empire: international law and culture in U.S.-Latin American relations
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During the first decade of the twentieth century, U.S. Secretary of State, Elihu Root, used international law as mode of contact and communication in which he could persuasively present U.S. cultural values in terms of social, political, and economic expectations as a way of creating change within Latin American societies. This represented a less intrusive and seemingly more respectful way of exerting influence in the region all for the purpose of addressing Washington's concerns with national security and economic stability. Though the United States, as expressed by Root, articulated certain moral and ethical principles of conduct in foreign relations and invited Latin America to adopt those principles, the true focus and concern within international law from the U.S. perspective was creating a world in which U.S. political and economic interests could thrive. As adopted and deployed by Elihu Root, international law projected certain cultural constructions that defined America's understanding of civilization, which had the effect of creating more rigid boundaries of separation among nations. America's definition and application of civilization to foreign affairs installed further support for intervention by the United States when Latin American nations did not satisfy the cultural expectations of the United States. Constructions of gender and race within international law laid a foundation for scientific and political inequality among nations while also establishing basic expectations for behavior. Root's civilization expected nations to act with manly strength and self-mastery in all things, especially in resolving disputes and satisfying financial obligations. Failure to meet those preconditions to civilization signified an uncivilized and racially inferior nation in need of the civilizing paternalism of the United States. The legal discourse within international law that Root stimulated produced mixed responses and results. Politicians like Luis Drago of Argentina communicated within the legal forum to assert an independent Latin American identity under the law. Yet this same ruling class of elites to which Drago belonged communicated their support for those legal principles articulated by Secretary Root when that ruling class could advance their domestic programs of economic development and policies based on racial superiority.
Table of Contents
Routes to empire -- Imperial international law -- Laws of culture -- Conclusion