Philosophy of International Law (Oxford University Press 2010)

State of Nature versus Commercial Sociability as the Basis of International Law

Reflections on the Roman Foundations and Current Interpretations of the International Political and Legal Thought of Grotius, Hobbes, and Pufendorf

Benedict Kingsbury and Benjamin Straumann

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Three foundational approaches to international order and law beyond the state were framed in early- to mid-seventeenth century Europe, by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1694), at the same time as the recognizable modern idea of the state was itself being framed. Grotius, Hobbes and Pufendorf each took distinctive approaches to the problems of whether and how there could be any legal or moral norms between these states in their emerging forms. They differed in their views of obligation in the state of nature (where ex hypothesi there was no state), in the extent to which they regarded these sovereign states as analogous to individuals in the state of nature, and in the effects they attributed to commerce as a driver of sociability and of norm-structured interactions not dependent on an overarching state. The core argument of this chapter, presented in section II, is that the differences between them on these issues are of enduring importance. To situate them in what we regard as a key element of their intellectual context, that is the Greco-Roman lineage of ideas on law and on order and justice beyond the state, we outline in section I the Carneadean debate and argue for the importance of Roman law and of Greco-Roman political ideas in 16th century writings of Vitoria, Vasquez, Soto, Gentili, and others whose works influenced the 17th century writers. Section II builds on this view of the importance of Roman influences, in engaging with several current historiographical debates about interpretations of Grotius, Hobbes, and Pufendorf. Section III comments on the adaptation of, or responses to, some of these 17th century ideas in certain strands of 18th and early 19th century thought, concerning what by the end of that period had become a recognizably modern idea of international law; the particular focus is on lines of development from David Hume and Adam Smith to Jeremy Bentham and Georg Friedrich von Martens.