International Organizations: Between Technocracy and Democracy

Anne Peters and Simone Peter

in The Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199599752
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Law

International Organizations: Between Technocracy and Democracy


International organisation in the singular is a slightly older idea than the use of the term ‘international organisations’ in the plural. The expression ‘organisation’ to designate an inter-governmental institution was first used in the peace treaties after World War I. Before the word came into general use, international organisations existed, albeit under different labels. This chapter article gives a brief account of the most important historical milestones in the evolution of international organisations until 1945. Then, some material and ideational explanations for the emergence of international organisations in the 19th century are offered. The next sections deal with technicity and technocracy on the one hand, and the democratic and undemocratic aspects of international organisations on the other. It can be shown that the topoi of ‘technicality’, and of ‘democracy’ have pervaded both the institutional design, and the perception of international organisations since their inception, and have stood in a fruitful tension.

Keywords: international organisation; confederation; congress; river commission; international administrative union; League of Nations; functionalism; international civil society

Article.  13131 words. 

Subjects: Law ; History of Law ; International Law

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