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Hugo Grotius
Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt - Hugo Grotius.jpg
Portrait of Hugo Grotius
by Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt, 1631
Born 10 April 1583
Died 28 August 1645 (aged 62)
Rostock, Swedish Pomerania
Alma mater Leiden University
Era Renaissance philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Natural law, humanism
Academic advisors Justus Lipsius
Main interests
Philosophy of war, international law, political philosophy
Notable ideas
Theory of natural rights, grounding just war principles in natural law, governmental theory of atonement

Hugo Grotius (/ˈɡrʃiəs/; 10 April 1583 – 28 August 1645), also known as Huig de Groot (Dutch: [ˈɦœyɣ də ˈɣroːt]) and Hugo de Groot (Dutch: [ˈɦyɣoː -]), was a Dutch humanist, diplomat, lawyer, theologian, jurist, poet and playwright. A teenage prodigy, he was born in Delft and studied at Leiden University. He was imprisoned in Loevestein Castle for his involvement in the intra-Calvinist disputes of the Dutch Republic, but escaped hidden in a chest of books that was transported to Gorinchem. Grotius wrote most of his major works in exile in France.

Grotius was a major figure in the fields of philosophy, political theory and law during the 16th and 17th centuries. Along with the earlier works of Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili, he laid the foundations for international law, based on natural law in its Protestant side. Two of his books have had a lasting impact in the field of international law: De jure belli ac pacis (On the Law of War and Peace) dedicated to Louis XIII of France and the Mare Liberum (The Free Seas). Grotius has also contributed significantly to the evolution of the notion of rights. Before him, rights were above all perceived as attached to objects; after him, they are seen as belonging to persons, as the expression of an ability to act or as a means of realizing something.

Peter Borschberg suggests that Grotius was significantly influenced by Francisco de Vitoria and the School of Salamanca in Spain, who supported the idea that the sovereignty of a nation does not lie simply in a ruler through God's will, but originates in its people, who agree to confer such authority upon a ruler. It is also thought that Hugo Grotius was not the first to formulate the international society doctrine, but he was one of the first to define expressly the idea of one society of states, governed not by force or warfare but by actual laws and mutual agreement to enforce those laws. As Hedley Bull declared in 1990: "The idea of international society which Grotius propounded was given concrete expression in the Peace of Westphalia, and Grotius may be considered the intellectual father of this first general peace settlement of modern times." Additionally, his contributions to Arminian theology helped provide the seeds for later Arminian-based movements, such as Methodism and Pentecostalism; Grotius is acknowledged as a significant figure in the Arminian-Calvinist debate. Because of his theological underpinning of free trade, he is also considered an "economic theologist".

After fading over time, the influence of Grotius's ideas revived in the 20th century following the First World War.

Early life

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Grotius at age 16, by Jan Antonisz. van Ravesteyn, 1599

Born in Delft during the Dutch Revolt, Hugo Grotius was the first child of Jan Cornets de Groot and Alida van Overschie. His father was a man of learning, once having studied with the eminent Justus Lipsius at Leiden University, as well as of political distinction. His family was considered Delft patrician as his ancestors played an important role in local government since the 13th century.

Jan de Groot was also translator of Archimedes and friend of Ludolph van Ceulen. He groomed his son from an early age in a traditional humanist and Aristotelian education. A prodigious learner, Hugo entered the Leiden University when he was just eleven years old. There he studied with some of the most acclaimed intellectuals in northern Europe, including Franciscus Junius, Joseph Justus Scaliger, and Rudolph Snellius. At age 16 (1599), he published his first book: a scholarly edition of the late antique author Martianus Capella's work on the seven liberal arts, Martiani Minei Felicis Capellæ Carthaginiensis viri proconsularis Satyricon. It remained a reference for several centuries.

In 1598, at the age of 15 years, he accompanied Johan van Oldenbarnevelt to a diplomatic mission in Paris. On this occasion, the King Henri IV of France would have presented Grotius to his court as "the miracle of Holland". During his stay in France, he passed or bought a law degree from the University of Orleans. In Holland, Grotius earned an appointment as advocate to The Hague in 1599 and then as official historiographer for the States of Holland in 1601. It was on this date that the Dutch tasked him to write their story to better stand out from Spain; Grotius is indeed contemporary with the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Netherlands. His first occasion to write systematically on issues of international justice came in 1604, when he became involved in the legal proceedings following the seizure by Dutch merchants of a Portuguese carrack and its cargo in the Singapore Strait.

In 1608, he married Maria van Reigersberch; they had three daughters and four sons.

Jurist career

Grotius de iure praedae
Page written in Grotius' hand from the manuscript of De Indis (circa 1604/05)

The Dutch were at war with Spain; although Portugal was closely allied with Spain, it was not yet at war with the Dutch. Near the start of the war, Grotius's cousin captain Jacob van Heemskerk captured a loaded Portuguese carrack merchant ship, Santa Catarina, off present-day Singapore in 1603. Heemskerk was employed with the United Amsterdam Company (part of the Dutch East India Company), and though he did not have authorization from the company or the government to initiate the use of force, many shareholders were eager to accept the riches that he brought back to them.

Not only was the legality of keeping the prize questionable under Dutch statute, but a faction of shareholders (mostly Mennonite) in the Company also objected to the forceful seizure on moral grounds, and of course, the Portuguese demanded the return of their cargo. The scandal led to a public judicial hearing and a wider campaign to sway public (and international) opinion. It was in this wider context that representatives of the Company called upon Grotius to draft a polemical defence of the seizure.

Mierevelt grotius 1608
Portrait of Grotius at age 25 (Michiel Jansz. van Mierevelt, 1608)

The result of Grotius' efforts in 1604/05 was a long, theory-laden treatise that he provisionally entitled De Indis (On the Indies). Grotius sought to ground his defense of the seizure in terms of the natural principles of justice. In this, he had cast a net much wider than the case at hand; his interest was in the source and ground of war's lawfulness in general. The treatise was never published in full during Grotius' lifetime, perhaps because the court ruling in favor of the Company preempted the need to garner public support.

In The Free Sea (Mare Liberum, published 1609) Grotius formulated the new principle that the sea was international territory and all nations were free to use it for seafaring trade. Grotius, by claiming 'free seas' (Freedom of the seas), provided suitable ideological justification for the Dutch breaking up of various trade monopolies through its formidable naval power. England, competing fiercely with the Dutch for domination of world trade, opposed this idea and claimed in John Selden's Mare clausum (The Closed Sea), "That the Dominion of the British Sea, or That Which Incompasseth the Isle of Great Britain, is, and Ever Hath Been, a Part or Appendant of the Empire of that Island."

It is generally assumed that Grotius first propounded the principle of freedom of the seas, although all countries in the Indian Ocean and other Asian seas accepted the right of unobstructed navigation long before Grotius wrote his De Jure Praedae (On the Law of Spoils) in the year of 1604. Additionally, 16th century Spanish theologian Francisco de Vitoria had postulated the idea of freedom of the seas in a more rudimentary fashion under the principles of jus gentium. Grotius's notion of the freedom of the seas would persist until the mid-20th century, and it continues to be applied even to this day for much of the high seas, though the application of the concept and the scope of its reach is changing.

Life in Paris

Grotius then fled to Paris, where the authorities granted him an annual royal pension. Grotius lived in France almost continuously from 1621 to 1644. His stay coincides with the period (1624-1642) during which the Cardinal Richelieu led France under the authority of Louis XIII. In France in 1625 Grotius published his most famous book, De jure belli ac pacis [On the Law of War and Peace] dedicated to Louis XIII of France.

While in Paris, Grotius set about rendering into Latin prose a work which he had originally written as Dutch verse in prison, providing rudimentary yet systematic arguments for the truth of Christianity. The Dutch poem, Bewijs van den waren Godsdienst, was published in 1622, the Latin treatise in 1627, under the title De veritate religionis Christianae.

In 1631 he tried to return to Holland, but the authorities remained hostile to him. He moved to Hamburg in 1632. But as early as 1634, the Swedes - a European superpower - sent him to Paris as ambassador. He remained ten years in this position where he had the mission to negotiate for Sweden the end of the Thirty Years War. During this period, he had been interested in the unity of Christians and published many texts that will be grouped under the title of Opera Omnia Theologica.

Governmental theory of atonement

Grotius also developed a particular view of the atonement of Christ known as the "Governmental theory of atonement". He theorized that Jesus' sacrificial death occurred in order for the Father to forgive while still maintaining his just rule over the universe. This idea, further developed by theologians such as John Miley, became one of the prominent views of the atonement in Methodist Arminianism.

De Jure Belli ac Pacis

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Title page from the second edition (Amsterdam 1631) of De jure belli ac pacis

Living in the times of the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Netherlands and the Thirty Years' War between Catholic and Protestant European nations (Catholic France being in the otherwise Protestant camp), it is not surprising that Grotius was deeply concerned with matters of conflicts between nations and religions. His most lasting work, begun in prison and published during his exile in Paris, was a monumental effort to restrain such conflicts on the basis of a broad moral consensus.

De jure belli ac pacis libri tres (On the Law of War and Peace: Three books) was first published in 1625, dedicated to Grotius' current patron, Louis XIII. The treatise advances a system of principles of natural law, which are held to be binding on all people and nations regardless of local custom. The work is divided into three books:

  • Book I advances his conception of war and of natural justice, arguing that there are some circumstances in which war is justifiable.
  • Book II identifies three 'just causes' for war: self-defense, reparation of injury, and punishment; Grotius considers a wide variety of circumstances under which these rights of war attach and when they do not.
  • Book III takes up the question of what rules govern the conduct of war once it has begun; influentially, Grotius argued that all parties to war are bound by such rules, whether their cause is just or not.
  • Further information: Temperamenta belli

Natural law

Hugo-de-Groot-Johann-Niclas-Serlin-Drey-Bücher-von-Kriegs-und-Friedens-Rechten 0157
Engraved portrait of Grotius

Grotius' concept of natural law had a strong impact on the philosophical and theological debates and political developments of the 17th and 18th centuries. Among those he influenced were Samuel Pufendorf and John Locke, and by way of these philosophers his thinking became part of the cultural background of the Glorious Revolution in England and the American Revolution. In Grotius' understanding, nature was not an entity in itself, but God's creation. Therefore, his concept of natural law had a theological foundation. The Old Testament contained moral precepts (e.g. the Decalogue), which Christ confirmed and therefore were still valid. They were useful in interpreting the content of natural law. Both Biblical revelation and natural law originated in God and could therefore not contradict each other.

Later years

Many exiled Remonstrants began to return to the Netherlands after the death of Prince Maurice in 1625 when toleration was granted to them. In 1630 they were allowed complete freedom to build and run churches and schools and to live anywhere in Holland. The Remonstrants guided by Johannes Wtenbogaert set up a presbyterial organization. They established a theological seminary at Amsterdam where Grotius came to teach alongside Episcopius, van Limborch, de Courcelles, and Leclerc.

In 1634 Grotius was given the opportunity to serve as Sweden's ambassador to France. Axel Oxenstierna, regent of the successor of the recently deceased Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, was keen to have Grotius in his employ. Grotius accepted the offer and took up diplomatic residence in Paris, which remained his home until he was released from his post in 1645.

In 1644, the queen Christine of Sweden, who had become an adult, began to perform her duties and brought him back to Stockholm. During the winter of 1644–1645 he went to Sweden in difficult conditions, which he decided to leave in the summer of 1645.

While departing from his last visit to Sweden, Grotius was shipwrecked on the voyage. He washed up on the shore of Rostock, ill and weather-beaten, and on August 28, 1645, he died; his body at last returned to the country of his youth, being laid to rest in the Nieuwe Kerk in Delft.

Personal life

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Syntagma Arateorum

Grotius' personal motto was Ruit hora ("Time is running away"); his last words were purportedly, "By understanding many things, I have accomplished nothing" (Door veel te begrijpen, heb ik niets bereikt). Significant friends and acquaintances of his included the theologian Franciscus Junius, the poet Daniel Heinsius, the philologist Gerhard Johann Vossius, the historian Johannes Meursius, the engineer Simon Stevin, the historian Jacques Auguste de Thou, the Orientalist and Arabic scholar Erpinius, and the French ambassador in the Dutch Republic, Benjamin Aubery du Maurier, who allowed him to use the French diplomatic mail in the first years of his exile. He was also friends with the Brabantian Jesuit Andreas Schottus.

Grotius was the father of regent and diplomat Pieter de Groot.

Influence of Grotius

From his time to the end of the 17th century

The king of Sweden, Gustavus Adolphus, was said to have always carried a copy of De jure belli ac pacis in his saddle when leading his troops. In contrast, King James VI and I of Great Britain reacted very negatively to Grotius' presentation of the book during a diplomatic mission.

Some philosophers, notably Protestants such as Pierre Bayle, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and the main representatives of the Scottish Enlightenment Francis Hutcheson, Adam Smith, David Hume, Thomas Reid held him in high esteem. The French Enlightenment, on the other hand, was much more critical. Voltaire called it boring and Rousseau developed an alternative conception of human nature. Pufendorf, another theoretician of the natural law concept, was also skeptical.

Commentaries of the 18th century

In contrast, Robert A. Heinlein satirized the Grotian governmental approach to theology in Methuselah's Children: "There is an old, old story about a theologian who was asked to reconcile the doctrine of Divine Mercy with the doctrine of infant damnation. 'The Almighty,' he explained, 'finds it necessary to do things in His official and public capacity which in His private and personal capacity He deplores.'"

Regain of interest in the 20th century

The influence of Grotius declined following the rise of positivism in the field of international law and the decline of the natural law in philosophy. The Carnegie Foundation has nevertheless re-issued and re-translated On the Law of War and Peace after the World War I. At the end of the 20th century, his work aroused renewed interest as a controversy over the originality of his ethical work developed. For Irwing, Grotius would only repeat the contributions of Thomas Aquinas and Francisco Suárez. On the contrary, Schneewind argues that Grotius introduced the idea that "the conflict can not be eradicated and could not be dismissed, even in principle, by the most comprehensive metaphysical knowledge possible of how the world is made up".

As far as politics is concerned, Grotius is most often considered not so much as having brought new ideas, but rather as one who has introduced a new way of approaching political problems. For Kingsbury and Roberts, "the most important direct contribution of ["On the Law of War and Peace"] lies in the way it systematically brings together practices and authorities on the traditional but fundamental subject of jus belli, which he organizes for the first time from a body of principles rooted in the law of nature".

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Hugo Grocio para niños

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