Hugo Grotius’s Understanding of Political PhilosophyJune 27, 2021
Hugo Grotius, a Dutch lawyer and philosopher, received a humanist and Aristotelian education at an early age, worked as the official historiographer of the Dutch State, and his first task was to specialize in international law. He is one of the pioneer thinkers who founded international law on the basis of the concept of natural law. The impact it has created in this area is still valid today.
His most important work in this field is On the Law of War and Peace: Three Books (De jure belli ac Pacis: Libri Tres). In the same field, his work named Free Sea (Mare Liberum) is also famous. In the modern era, the concept of natural law emerged in the 17th century and has had a lasting impact on ethical, political and legal thought. The leading role of Grotius in the defense of this theory is undeniable. His theory of natural law has been one of the building blocks of international law. The natural law theory, which is seen as the main carrier of political rights and order, led to the emergence of rational management forms derived from these rights in the following periods. In fact, Grotius was not the inventor of the concept. BC yet. In the 5th century, the Sophists made a distinction between the natural (physei) and the man-made (thesei). This distinction was especially effective in the field of law, and a distinction was made between laws that are natural and find their source in nature (natural law) and laws created by humans (positive law). Man-made laws are based on conjecture (doxa) and are therefore powerless and their validity is questionable.
Natural laws, on the other hand, derive their existence from nature, but unfortunately they are suppressed by later laws. But viewed from the point of view of natural laws, all men will be equal. After the Sophists, the Stoic School expressed this thought more consciously. According to the Stoics, all people share the same common element; this common element is reason, and God is seen as a kind of Reason. Thus, the common essence of humans and God are essentially the same thing. Since reason or nature is the common essence of human beings, reason is the universal and true Law. Therefore, all people have in common this universal natural law, and this law is in its essence justice or equality of all people. Since people share the same law, that is, justice, they must be members of the same state, that is, a world state. The idea of justice being a universal natural law also brings up the idea of universal brotherhood of all people. Christianity interpreted and applied this law according to its own views. The fact that natural law is God or has its roots in God is mediated by ideas such as divine justice and the brotherhood of the Christian community.
The Stoics argued that humans share a common element called reason, and that God is Reason, so that the common essence of humans is God. Thus, reason became the universal and correct law, and the Stoics tended towards the ideal of a world state where all people obeyed the same universal law.
The concept of natural law was carried to the place it deserves in its original meaning in the modern age, by Grotius. The disintegration of the Christian faith and the emergence of sovereign nation states in the New Age made Grotius’ views important. Both the relations between these nation-states and their ambitions to establish overseas sovereignty required a close examination of Grotius’ views. The innovation Grotius brought to this field is that he interpreted the theory of natural law in a secular way. Thus, the breaking process of the Thomist or Aristotelian tradition had begun.
According to Grotius, natural laws (ius naturale) find their source in the rational nature of man, just as Stoic states. No one, not even God, can change this nature. Natural laws are natural rights that come from man’s rational nature. On the other hand, the laws of law (ius civile) are the legal system that human societies have created voluntarily and depending on some needs in the historical process. These laws can be amended in accordance with new conditions. However, natural law laws based on natural rights are laws that have not changed in the historical process and come before all kinds of laws. The state is not an artificial creation, but a natural institution. It is also based on the human mind and human nature. For this reason, the state is obliged to guarantee the natural rights of individuals. The people also have the right to dominate, but can delegate it to a ruler or ruling class. Wars taking place internationally are actually nothing more than attacks on natural rights. Although Grotius paved the way to the concept of democracy with his views on natural rights and natural law, he was trying to provide validity to the theory of constitutionalism. He was also investigating the foundations of the development of international relations on the basis of natural rights.
According to Grotius, the state is a natural institution founded on human reason and nature and is responsible for securing the natural rights of individuals. The people have the right to sovereignty, but do not give it to the ruler.