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Roman law in the state of nature : the…

Roman law in the state of nature : the classical foundations of Hugo…

by Benjamin Straumann

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One of the pleasures of scholarship is to be criticised by a colleague who has simply done a particular job better than most others. By that token the book under review should be the cause of much joy among Grotius scholars. I have certainly enjoyed it. Nearly everyone who has written about Grotius—both recently and not so recently—stands corrected in some way in Benjamin Straumann’s excellent study, but it is telling that it is impossible to characterise his criticism in clear-cut oppositional terms. He has found ways of using elements from nearly all of the readings that he also criticises, so that the idea of constructive criticism assumes striking significance in his work.

The interpretation of Grotius has long been one of the most hotly contested topics in the intellectual history of early modern and modern Europe. He is most widely known as the ‘father’ (or ‘grandfather’) of modern international law, but both positivists and natural lawyers have claimed him, or some aspect of him. Historians of medieval thought have generally found him to be little more than a late, more or less opportunistic borrower of scholastic goods, while early-modernists have accepted him as an innovator while disagreeing widely over what his novelty consisted in. He has been seen quite differently in different disciplines; historians of political thought have read his natural law as a contribution to political theory in the line of Hobbes, Locke and their successors; legal historians, especially in Grotius’ homeland, have often seen him as primarily a civil lawyer; historians of early modern politics and religion have emphasised his natural law as a secularising influence and as the basis for ecumenical efforts.
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