Johann Kaspar Bluntschli

From New World Encyclopedia

Johann Kaspar Bluntschli (also Johann Caspar Bluntschli) (March 7, 1808 – October 21, 1881) was a Swiss jurist and politician. His pioneering work on international law served as the foundation for the laws of war enacted at the Hague Peace Conferences in 1899 and 1907. Bluntschli developed a theory of the nation-state, viewing the state as an organic system similar to a living organism, going through a life cycle of birth, growth, and death. Based on this view he argued for the unification of nations such as Germany and Italy, the small constituent parts of which he regarded as no longer significant or capable of functioning independently, but which would flourish as part of a greater whole. He also saw the unification of Protestant churches under one unified church system as a positive move in bringing balance and harmony to religion.


Johann Kaspar Bluntschli was born in on March 7, 1808 in Zurich, Switzerland, the son of a soap and candle manufacturer. From school he entered the Politische Institut in Zurich (a seminary of law and political science), where he studied Roman law (1826-27), under Professor F.L. Keller. He continued to the universities of Berlin (1827-28) and Bonn (1828-29), taking the degree of Juris Doctor (Doctor of Law) in 1829.

Returning to Zurich in 1830, he threw himself with ardor into the political arena, which was at the time unsettling all the cantons of the Confederation. In the same year he published Des Volk und der Souveran (1830), a work in which, while pleading for constitutional government, showed his bitter repugnance of the growing Swiss radicalism. During this period he lectured on Roman Law in the Political Institute. In 1833, he became associate professor and in 1836 professor in the newly founded [[University of Zurich]. Elected in 1837 a member of the Grosser Rath (Great Council), he became the leader of the moderate conservative party.

His opposition toward radicalism and ultramontanism brought him many enemies, and rendered his continuance in the council, of which he had been elected president, impossible. He resigned his seat, and on the overthrow of the Sonderbund in 1847, perceiving that all hope of power for his party was lost, took leave of Switzerland and settled in Munich, where he became professor of constitutional law in 1848.

In Munich, he devoted himself with energy to the special work of his chair, and, resisting the temptation to identify himself with politics, published Allgemeines Staatsrecht (1851-1852), and in conjunction with Karl Ludwig Theodor Brater (1819-1869), Deutsches Staatswörterbuch (11 volumes, 1857-1870). Meanwhile he had assiduously worked on the code for the canton of Zurich, Privatrechtliches Gesetzbuch fur den Kanton Zurich (1854-1856), a work which was much praised at the time, and which, particularly the section devoted to contracts, served as a model for codes both in Switzerland and other countries.

In 1861, Bluntschli received a call to Heidelberg as professor of constitutional law (Staatsrecht), where he again entered the political arena, endeavoring in his Geschichte des algemeinen Staatsrechts und der Politik (1864) to stimulate, as he said, the political consciousness of the German people, to cleanse it of prejudices and to further it intellectually. In his new home in Baden, he devoted his energies and political influence, during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, towards keeping the country neutral. From this time Bluntschli became active in the field of international law, and his fame as a jurist belongs rather to this area than to that of constitutional law. His Das moderne Kriegsrecht (1866), Das moderne Volkerrecht (1868), and Das Beuterecht im Krieg (1878) have remained invaluable text-books in this branch of the science of jurisprudence.

Bluntschli was one of the founders, at Ghent in 1873, of the Institute of International Law, and was the representative of the German emperor at the conference on the international laws of war at Brussels. During the latter years of his life, he took a lively interest in the Protestantenverein, a society formed to combat reactionary and ultramontane views of theology.

Bluntschli died suddenly at Karlsruhe, Germany, on October 21, 1881. His library was acquired by Johns Hopkins University.


Bluntschli was fascinated by the metaphysical views of the philosopher Friedrich Rohmer (1814-1856), a man who attracted little other attention. He endeavored in Psychologische Studien der Staat und Kirche (1844) to apply them to political science in general, and in particular as a panacea for the constitutional troubles of Switzerland. Bluntschli, shortly before his death, remarked, that even though he became a famous jurist, his greatest desire was to have comprehended Rohmer.

In his famous book Das moderne Kriegsrecht (1866; The Modern Law of War) he wrote on the topic of international law. He applied Christian beliefs to the governance of states, especially in the time of war. He claimed that certain principles should be employed to govern the conduct of war between nation-states. His book immediately became the most influential work on international law, and influenced the codification of the laws of war that were enacted at the First and Second Peace Conferences at The Hague, Netherlands in 1899 and 1907.

In his famous The Theory of the State (1875), Bluntschli expounded his organic theory of the state, carrying the theory to a complete equating of the life of a state and the life of a person. He believed that states, similar to organic bodies, have a life circle of birth, development, and death. When states reach the phase when their existence that is no longer possible, they “die,” that is, they are replaced by another form of organization. Bluntschli argued that good examples of this are ancient states, which were destroyed and in their place other nations were built. He used the same argument to advocate for the unification of German and Italian states:

Sometimes, too, a small state must perish because its people are no longer capable of maintaining their independence, and because it is called upon to enter into the higher collective life of a nation. No unprejudiced German or Italian would deplore the destruction of those petty States which had become useless and impotent, but would rather glory in their fusion into a larger and more important whole.

Bluntschli believed that every state has a double function: to maintain national powers; and to further develop them. In the process of development of national powers, which is important for a state to keep its independence and enforce its legislation, a state goes through four degrees of power:

  1. Petty states, with the lowest degree of power, which are often exploited by other states and which often depend on other states to secure their existence;
  2. Intermediate and peaceful powers (Neutral states), which focus on their own existence and play little role in foreign policy, but usually create positive balance on global political scene;
  3. Great Powers (Grossmächte), often play significant role in the whole geographical region of the world, and shift balance from one part to another;
  4. World-powers (Weltmächte), play role as superpowers in the whole world, creating peace and order in it (i.e. international law).

In addition to his organic theory of the state, Bluntschli believed that the purpose of the state is not only to secure its own existence, but to maintain the private rights of its citizens. This does not mean, however, that the state can serve the purpose of making people happy, since that is not the role of the state. Nevertheless, it can create an atmosphere where such happiness can be created, for individual happiness depends on both physical and spiritual items which only individuals can create for themselves:

The State can confer on no one the delights of friendship and love, the charm of scientific study or of poetical and artistic creation, the consolations of religion, or the purity and sanctification of the soul united with God.

By the end of his life Bluntschli developed an interest in the Protestantenverein, a German society that had the goal of promoting the unity and unification of various established Protestant Churches in the country, through harmony and mutual respect, based on the teachings of Christianity. The society was founded at Frankfurt am Main in 1863 by a number of distinguished clergymen and laymen of liberal tendencies, among whom, beside Bluntschli, were Rudolph Von Bennigsen, Richard Rothe, Heinrich Ewald, and Adolf Hilgenfeld. Even though the main goal, the creation of a federation of all the Churches in one national Church was never reached, the Society established an important equilibrium on the religious scene, by creating the counterbalance to extreme conservative and radical views that dominated at the time.


Bluntschli played an important role in creating the theory underlying international law. He was the founder of the Institute of International Law at Ghent, and his ideas were foundational in the development of the laws of war, enacted at the two peace conferences at Hague, Netherlands in 1899 and 1907.

Bluntschli also played an important role as a spokesman of liberal Protestantism, advocating first for the unification of Germany under Prussia, and then for the creation of the federation of Protestant Christian churches, united on the basis of Christian teachings.


  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1830. Des Volk und der Souveran.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1838. Staats-und Rechtsgeschichte der Stadt und Landschaft Zurich.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1847. Geschichte des Republik Zurich.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1848. Geschichte des Schweizerischen Bundesrechts.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. [1852] 2001. Allgemeines Statsrecht (2 vols.) Adamant Media Corporation. ISBN 1421210428 & ISBN 1421210401
  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1864. Geschichte des algemeinen Staatsrechts und der Politik.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1866. Das moderne Kriegsrecht.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1868. Das moderne Volkerrecht.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1870. Deutsches Staatsworterbuch.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1871. An impartial opinion on the Alabama question and the manner of settling it. Government printing office
  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1872. The foundation of the America union. B. Westermann.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. [1875] 2000. Ontario, Canada: Batoche Books. Retrieved August 18, 2007.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. 1878. Das Beuterecht im Krieg.
  • Bluntschli, J.K. [1878] 1970. Das Beuterecht im Krieg und das Seebeuterecht insbesondere. Rodopi Bv Editions. ISBN 9062034950
  • Bluntschli, J.K. [1878] 2002. Das moderne Völkerrecht der civilisirten Staten als Rechtsbuch dargestellt. Adamant Media Corporation. ISBN 1421245825
  • Bluntschli, J.K. [1881] 2001. Gesammelte kleine Schriften (2 vols.). Adamant Media Corporation. ISBN 0543986349 & ISBN 1421222817

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Adams, Herbert B. 1884. Bluntschli's life-work. John Murphy & Co.
  • Röben, Betsy. 2003. Johann Caspar Bluntschli, Francis Lieber und das moderne Völkerrecht 1861 - 1881. Nomos, Baden-Baden. ISBN 378908395X
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


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