Actors, Institutes, and Journals as Cornerstones for the Interwar Development of Comparative Law in Ibero-America, by A Parise

Law is rarely shaped after one single occurrence. Multiple actors, institutes, and journals, for example, can trigger different mutations, even motivating paradigmatic shifts. Occurrences are indeed tesserae of a mosaic. A collective understanding can be attained by looking at a number of occurrences, ultimately helping to explain a paradigmatic shift. This blog entry discusses actors, institutes, and journals from Ibero-America that served as noble stones before World War I. A look into the dialogues and narratives that emerged in that part of the world contributes to unveil some of the main traits around the development of comparative law, assisting in attaining a context enabling more in-depth understandings of the events that followed during the Interwar period. A case in point is the establishment of an Ibero-American Institute – the Instituto Iberoamericano de Derecho Positivo Comparado (Ibero-American Institute) – which was a forerunner in the field and was able to outreach to comparatists by means of a journal.

Building a Comparative Law Mosaic

Institutes and journals served as forums, resulting in a paradigmatic shift in the disciplinary development of comparative law. A comparative legal historical approach to these institutes and journals, and to the comparatists that interacted within them, serves as a reminder that narratives and uncontested dogmas ought to be challenged. Actors nurtured the efforts of the institutes and journals and shared some common traits (e.g., cared for otherness, valued translations, welcomed émigrés), being innovative and having the ability to trigger synergy. They were able to move forward towards the materialisation of a comparative law mosaic. Actors (e.g., Enrique Martínez Paz from Argentina, and John H. Wigmore from the USA), institutes, and journals ultimately helped to leave ostracism behind and to build bridges, within and beyond Ibero-America. For example, comparative law institutes spread on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean during the Interwar period, following earlier efforts that paved the way for the development of comparative law. The Ibero-American Institute was established in Madrid in 1908 with the objective of exploring comparative approximations that dealt with legislative developments in the area of private law. Although it faded away during the Interwar period (Morán 2001, 494), it was an early effort that would pave the way for other endeavours that aimed to develop comparative law during the decades that followed.

Outreaching to other Jurisdictions

Actors, such as Spaniards Alejo García Moreno and Gumersindo de Azcárate, were amongst the founders of the Ibero-American Institute (s.n. 1909, 979-980). García Moreno was a law professor and publicist, while Azcárate was well read in the Americas and had engaged in epistolary exchanges with Wigmore (Clavero 1997, 31; Petit 2018, xxi, lvii, lxxviii, lxxx). The Ibero-American Institute aimed to capitalise the interest that was growing on the Latin world, which was even referred at that time as the “psychosis of the Latin world” (s.n. 1909, 979). That 1908 effort expected to create and disseminate knowledge on comparative law, nurturing the dialogue amongst actors (s.n. 1909, 980). It further aimed to establish delegations in jurisdictions of the Americas and Asia, where the Iberian influence had reached, including, but not limited to, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, and the Philippines (Clavero 1997, 43). The Ibero-American Institute devoted efforts to act as a forum to offer answers to pressing legal questions and to publish a journal informing on legislative developments, with a special care for events in the region (s.n. 1909, 980). The latter effort materialised, while the former seemed not to have fully blossomed (Clavero 1997, 45).

Gaining Momentum through Academic Output

The Ibero-American Institute was involved in the publication of the Revista de Legislación Universal y Jurisprudencia Española (Liendo Tagle 2020, 162). That journal had been launched in 1902; had a broad scope, as indicated in its name (i.e., Spanish and universal); and was deemed of extraordinary quality in regards to theory and doctrine (Clavero 1997, 37; Liendo Tagle 2020, 162). The editors of that journal considered it a forum for the study of comparative law and devoted special efforts to attend initiatives that could deal with the interaction between Ibero-American jurisdictions (Clavero 1997, 42; Petit 2018, xxxviii). As explained by Bartolomé Clavero, the institute and the journal were closely connected, and subscription to the latter entailed membership of the former (Clavero 1997, 43). The Ibero-American Institute found in the journal a way to enhance its activities; while the journal, which had preceded the institute in time, found a means to survive (Clavero 1997, 43). In its drive to develop networks and to gain momentum, the editors of the journal turned the attention towards the Americas and to the ideas of leading actors, such as those of US scholar James Brown Scott regarding international law, even when not being fully in line with the earlier ideals of García Moreno (Clavero 1997, 44). After all, the publication of journals was a core aspect for the emergence of institutes even before the Interwar period on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond, helping to disseminate academic output and ideas.

Benefiting from a Global Contagion

This institute built on the pioneering efforts of comparative law scholars that were engaged in enriching dialogues across continents and oceans. One of these scholars was the comparatist Édouard Lambert from Lyon, who put forward in the 1930s the idea of an institute to link the Americas with Europe (Lambert 1939, 70; Esborraz 2007, 63). That idea was not new, since institutes, such as the abovementioned Ibero-American Institute, had already started to serve as bridges. For instance, the 1910 Bulletin de la Société de législation comparée informed its readers that the organising committee of the Ibero-American Institute gathered renowned experts in the field (Sansas 1910, 229). During the Interwar period, the pages of the Bulletin de l’Institut de droit comparé de Lyon kept offering accounts of comparative law developments in the Americas and beyond. Furthermore, the Société de législation comparée also acted at that time as a transatlantic platform, with sections in the Americas, for example, in Cuba and Peru (s.n. 1939, 381; s.n. 1950, 361). At the end of the Interwar period, France had “taken an increased interest in legal developments in Latin America, as evidenced by frequent visits of prominent jurists […]” (Nadelmann 1949, 579). These efforts took place within the context offered since 1924 by the International Academy of Comparative Law. There, the Americas were well represented, with the Cuban scholar Antonio Sánchez de Bustamante y Sirven being president from 1927 to 1950 (IACL s.d.).

Visualizing a Comparative Law Network

The dialogue amongst comparatists took place at many levels, crossing continents and legal systems. The interest in other jurisdictions was present on both sides of the Atlantic, for example; and the institutes and journals served as catalysts facilitating the circulation of legal ideas. Notably, journals were tools to accelerate the disciplinary autonomy of comparative law, being a core aspect in the life of institutes in Ibero-America and beyond. These forums nourished a broad dialogue, welcoming the collaboration between actors, many of whom were likewise active in national and international circles. Comparative law advanced in various jurisdictions in Ibero-America, often led by the activities of recurring actors. Parallels can be identified in the comparative law efforts that took place across Ibero-America, yet each experience had its own particularities that merit attention. Looking at actors, institutes, and journals shows that circulation, pollination, and vernacular gestation of legal ideas occurred. Comparative law was nurtured within the different institutes and journals that quickly multiplied across jurisdictions on both sides of the Atlantic. These forums could be deemed laboratories for comparatists to develop legal ideas and new methods. Networks of comparatists emerged in that context and were able to accelerate the development of comparative law as a discipline, many times building on earlier endeavours that paved the way and acted as noble stones.

Posted by Agustin Parise (Secretary-General, International Association of Legal Science (UNESCO); Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, Maastricht University (The Netherlands). LLB, LLD, Universidad de Buenos Aires (Argentina); LLM, Louisiana State University (USA); PhD, Maastricht University).

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This blog entry reproduces excerpts of the paper presented at the conference entitled L’Institut de droit comparé Édouard Lambert dans le siècle, held at the Université Jean Moulin Lyon 3 (Lyon, France) on 7 October 2021.

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Suggested citation: Agustín Parise, “Actors, Institutes, and Journals as Cornerstones for the Interwar Development of Comparative Law in Ibero-America”, BACL available at

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  • B. Clavero, “Legislación Universal para Pueblos Modernos, 1868-1914”, V. Tau Anzoátegui (dir), La revista jurídica en la cultura contemporánea, Buenos Aires, Ciudad Argentina, 1997, pp. 31-55.
  • D. F. Esborraz, “La individualización del subsistema jurídico latinoamericano como desarrollo interno propio del sistema jurídico romanista. (II): La contribución de la ciencia jurídica argentina en la primera mitad del siglo XX”, Roma e America, 24, 2007, pp. 34-84.
  • IACL, President, s.d.,
  • É. Lambert, “Activité des centres de Droit comparé. Notice sur le nouvel Institut de Droit Comparé de Córdoba”, Bulletin de l’Institut de Droit Comparé, 2, 1939, pp. 69-72. 
  • F. Liendo Tagle, Prensa jurídica española. Avance de un repertorio (1834-1936), Madrid, Dykinson, 2020.
  • G. M. Morán, “El nuevo milenio ante el reto del derecho comparado en las universidades españolas”, Anuario da Facultade de Dereito da Universidade da Coruña, 5, 2001, pp. 491-520.
  • K. H. Nadelmann, “Book Reviews”, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 97, 1949, pp. 577-579.
  • C. Petit, “Altamira en Chicago”, R. Altamira, Spain. Sources and Development of Law, Madrid, Dykinson, 2018, pp. xi-lxxxv.
  • C. Sansas, “Comptes rendus d’ouvrages”, Bulletin de la Société de législation comparée, 39, 1910, pp. 228-230.
  • s.n., “Le groupe péruvien de la Société de Législation Comparée”, Revue internationale de droit comparé, 2, 1950, pp. 361-368.
  • s.n., “Section des langues latines”, Bulletin de la Société de législation comparée, 68, 1939, pp. 381-383.
  • s.n., “The Ibero-American Institute of Comparative Positive Law”, American Journal of International Law, 3, 1909, pp. 979-983.

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This piece belongs to the “Cross-jurisdictional dialogues in the Interwar period” series dedicated to less-known legal transfers which have had a palpable impact on the advancement of the law. The Interwar period was a time of disillusionment with well-established paradigms and legislative models, but also a time of hope in which comparative dialogue and exchange of ideas between jurisdictions thrived. The series is edited by Prof Yseult Marique (Essex University) and Dr Radosveta Vassileva (Middlesex University). 

Picture Credits: Stevage on Wikimedia Commons