The Enactment of Irony: Reflections on the Origins of the Martens Clause

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The Martens clause has made F. F. Martens one of the ‘household names of our profession’. Since its first appearance in the preamble to the 1899 Hague Convention (II) on the Laws and Customs of War on Land, the clause has incessantly been puzzled over, historicized, celebrated, and re-enacted. Much of the extant discourse, however, is geared towards normative construction of the clause. This article, by contrast, seeks to depart from normative construction of the clause and draw attention, instead, to the discourse it has generated. To facilitate discursive exploration and demonstrate its pertinence, I offer a critical reading of the clause’s origins as the enactment of an irony. Thus, the making of the clause saw words used to express something in the opposite of their literal meaning. In time, the clause itself came to represent that which is entirely the opposite of what it was first used for. These and other ironies underpin how the clause itself, its making, and Martens’ role therein are interpreted, historicized, and celebrated today. They also pave the way for critical explorations of the clause’s epistemic significance.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)847–869
JournalEuropean Journal of International Law
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2014

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