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    Thomas D. Williams, Francisco de Vitoria and the Pre-Hobbesian Roots of Natural Rights Theory

    Johnathan R. Razorback
    Johnathan R. Razorback
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    Thomas D. Williams, Francisco de Vitoria and the Pre-Hobbesian Roots of Natural Rights Theory Empty Thomas D. Williams, Francisco de Vitoria and the Pre-Hobbesian Roots of Natural Rights Theory

    Message par Johnathan R. Razorback le Sam 6 Fév - 22:17

    http://www.uprait.org/archivio_pdf/ao7103-williams.pdf

    "Vitoria was a Dominican Friar, as was Aquinas, and was a true intellectual disciple of the latter. When in 1526 Vitoria was elected to occupy the principal chair of theology at the University of Salamanca, he replaced Peter Lombard’s Sententiae as the standard classroom text with Aquinas’ Summa theologiae, and this substitution later became general practice throughout Catholic Europe."

    "Though Aquinas most often employs right (ius) in an objective sense and does not develop a theory of individual rights as such, there are numerous instances where Aquinas uses the term in a subjective or individual sense, in speaking of particular rights."

    "It is common for those of the Anglo-Saxon tradition to attribute the notion of subjective rights primarily to Hobbes and Locke, and thus to identify rights language with other aspects of Hobbes’ anthropology and liberal political theory. Yet a full century before Hobbes began writing on the subject, Vitoria and his followers in the Salamancan school were debating natural rights in a different historical context and with radically different suppositions about the human person. Hobbes himself was unfamiliar with the theories that  emerged from Salamanca, and thus Vitoria can in no way be considered a precursor of Hobbes. Nonetheless, Vitoria’s writings were of enormous importance for political theory not only in Spain, where his thought became somewhat of an orthodoxy, but throughout continental Europe, and effectively set the agenda for subsequent discussions on international law in Catholic Europe until the late seventeenth century.
    Vitoria is commonly regarded as the founder of the “School of Salamanca,” which would include such thinkers as Domingo de Soto, Diego de Covarrubias and the Jesuits Luis Molina and Juan de Lugo. Established in 1218, the University of Salamanca is one of the oldest universities in the world, and already enjoyed great prestige when Vitoria arrived in 1526. Nevertheless, Vitoria infused new vigor into Thomistic and natural law studies at Salamanca, and inspired a following that endured long after his death. The emperor Charles V had frequent recourse to Vitoria’s counsel, which eventually led to the Indians being placed under the protection of the Spanish crown.
    Vitoria’s works can be broken down into two groups: (1) his extensive
    commentaries on the writings of Thomas Aquinas, and (2) his relectiones. For the twenty-year period that Vitoria held Salamanca’s prime chair of theology, he offered yearly formal lectures to the entire student body of the university on topics of particular importance or current interest, in accordance with the statutes of the university. Because of health problems in his later years, Vitoria was not always able to fulfill this obligation, and his relectiones totaled fifteen, of which thirteen have been preserved. Though he did not personally
    publish these lectures, he left copious notes and his students often transcribed his lectures verbatim, which facilitated the publication of his relectiones in 1557. Several of the relectiones became famous, especially
    De indis and De iure belli hispanorum in barbaros, both of which deal with the legal and ethical questions surrounding the Spanish colonization of America. Though of prime importance for the development of political and legal thought in continental Europe, Vitoria’s writings are relatively unknown in the English-speaking world, and his political works were only translated into and published in English
    in 1991.

    [...] Vitoria was introduced to the ethical problems of the conquest of the New World when in the summer of 1523, after eighteen years of studies and teaching in Paris, he returned to Valladolid, Spain to occupy a teaching post at the College of San Gregorio. When three years later Vitoria arrived in Salamanca, he encountered an atmosphere of intense concern for the plight of the Indians of the New World, with missionaries being sent from Vitoria’s convent of San Esteban to the American continent and frequent reports arriving regarding the state of affairs with the indigenous peoples. Vitoria’s first extant document dealing with the topic of the natives of the New World came eight years later. Struck by news regarding Pizzaro’s conquest of Peru, Vitoria resolved to study the question of the situation of the indios in depth, and in November 1534 wrote a passionate letter of denunciation to his religious superior, Miguel de Arcos. He accused the Spanish conquistadores of invasion and aggression and refuted the theological arguments in favor of the conquest, provoking a crisis of the nation’s conscience. In early January 1539, Vitoria pronounced his celebrated lecture
    De indis recenter in ventis, which encapsulated his thought regarding the legitimacy of Spanish claims in the New World, followed by its sequel, De iure belli hispanorum in barbaros, pronounced on June 18th of the same year, and which together earned him the title of Father of International Law.
    Vitoria begins his important
    Relectio de indis by proposing three points for his treatment of the “Indian question,” namely, (1) by what right the Indians have come under the power of the Spaniards, (2) what jurisdiction the Spanish monarchs may have over the Indians in the temporal and civil orders, and (3) what authority the Spanish monarchs and the Church may have over them in the spiritual and religious orders. Vitoria immediately asserts that these international juridical  questions must be considered under the light of divine (and natural) law, since the Indians are not subject to Europe’s human and positive laws. [...]
    In the important third part Vitoria asserts that the Indians have a true right of ownership
    (dominium) of their things and lands, and rightfully possessed them before the arrival of the Spaniards. The concept of dominium forms the linchpin of Vitoria’s entire argument on behalf of the Indians, since the capability of moral and juridical possession distinguishes a morally relevant subject to whom justice is owed. Summing up arguments to the contrary, Vitoria states that only four possible grounds could be put forward to deny the Indians their status as subjects of natural rights: either because they are sinners, or infidels, or simpletons, or irrational. Vitoria refutes all these arguments, one by one. He states that dominium is based on man’s creation not obliterated by sin, and nor is it altered by one’s acceptance or rejection of the Christian faith, and thus neither infidelity nor other mortal sins deprive the Indians of their property rights.
    As for the other two arguments regarding the Indians being simpletons or without the use of reason, Vitoria admits that irrational creatures cannot have property rights. Vitoria repeats the Thomistic argument that human beings differ fundamentally from irrational animals in that the human person does not exist for the sake of another, as do animals, but for his own sake, an argument that is central to the Church’s contemporary understanding of natural rights. Moreover, since irrational animals cannot suffer injustice, they cannot be the subject of rights.
    The Indians clearly are rational, since they have an ordered society, cities, marriage, magistrates, laws, artisans and markets, all of which require the use of reason. Since the distinctive characteristic of human beings is reason, the Indians are human beings and no one has the right to deprive them of their property. Vitoria furthermore adds the important point that rights reside not in the exercise of reason, but in the possession of a rational nature, whereby even children who have not yet attained the use of reason are capable of ownership.
    In the fourth part of his
    relectio, Vitoria proceeds to enumerate and systematically refute what he terms the illegitimate claims by which the barbarians of the New World could be subjected to Spanish rule. Basing his arguments on the previous section in which he establishes the Indians’ legitimate title to their property and lands, Vitoria rebuts eight claims such as the emperor’s supposed lordship over the world, the universal temporal rule of the pope, and the Indians’ sinfulness and refusal to accept faith in Christ. Even if these claims were true, writes Vitoria, the Spaniards would still have no right to occupy these provinces, depose their rulers, or despoil them of their property. In the fifth part of De indis, Vitoria next presents what he considers to be the legitimate claims of the Spaniards concerning dealings with the natives of the New World. He formulates what he calls the “right of natural partnership and communication” (naturalis societatis et communicationis), along with corollary rights to migration and to commerce and free dealings with all peoples. Vitoria adds to this a right to preach the Gospel without interference in the provinces of the New World—leaving the acceptance or rejection of the Christian faith up to their hearers—as well as the protection of the innocent against tyranny, if it should come down to that.
    The Spaniards could have a legitimate title to recourse to arms and occupation only as a last resort, if after having exhausted all other peaceful means to insure these rights, they were to suffer injury and malice at the hands of the Indians. Any attempt to deprive a man of his rights constitutes an injury, and the vindication of injuries provides grounds for a just war. Spain could assert that its conquests had been just only if the Indians had in some way injured the Spaniards by denying them access to their lands or the possibility of preaching the Christian faith, which did not seem to be the case.
    In his epilogue, Vitoria says that given the present situation, the Spanish crown should not abandon contact with the New World, since it would result in intolerable damage to the Spaniards, even though, he notes, the Portuguese have drawn great benefit from their intense commerce with similar peoples without resorting to conquest
    ."

    "What should be clear after this brief exposition is that the question of natural rights was the subject of earnest debate and study in a Scholastic intellectual context long before Hobbes wrote Leviathan in 1651. Moreover, a certain natural rights theory dovetails with the Thomistic understanding of justice, grounded in an appreciation of man’s moral uniqueness as a rational being made in God’s image and likeness. The accusation that Christians, in adopting rights language to articulate moral truth, have appropriated the triumphant Enlightenment political language to their own ends does not stand up to a careful historical analysis. Natural rights were Catholic and Christian before they were “modern,” and understood properly, rights language provides a worthy vehicle for expressing perennial truths about man, society, and the state."
    -Thomas D. Williams, Francisco de Vitoria and the Pre-Hobbesian Roots of Natural Rights Theory, Alpha Omega 7, n°1, 2004, 47-59.


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    « La racine de toute doctrine erronée se trouve dans une erreur philosophique. [...] Le rôle des penseurs vrais, mais aussi une tâche de tout homme libre, est de comprendre les possibles conséquences de chaque principe ou idée, de chaque décision avant qu'elle se change en action, afin d'exclure aussi bien ses conséquences nuisibles que la possibilité de tromperie. » -Jacob Sher, Avertissement contre le socialisme, Introduction à « Tableaux de l'avenir social-démocrate » d'Eugen Richter, avril 1998.

    "La vraie volupté est remportée comme une victoire sur la tristesse [...] Il n’y a pas de grands voluptueux sans une certaine mélancolie, pas de mélancoliques qui ne soient des voluptueux trahis." -Albert Thibaudet, La vie de Maurice Barrès, in Trente ans de vie française, volume 2, Éditions de la Nouvelle Revue Française, 1919, 312 pages, p.40.


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