Vitoria and the Universalist Conception of International Relations

  • Martin C. Ortega
Part of the St Antony’s Series book series


Who was the first ‘modern’ thinker of international relations? The answer, obviously, turns on what is meant by ‘modern’ but, in principle, two plausible candidates present themselves. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries ushered in a new epoch in international relations, marked by the appearance of sovereign states in Europe and by the phenomenon of their colonial expansion. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) and Francisco de Vitoria (1483–1546) were the contemporary philosophers who reflected most profoundly on these two issues. Both wrote in the first half of the sixteenth century, but for very different motives. Vitoria was a theologian faced with a new reality: his country had to govern extensive territories inhabited by different peoples hitherto unknown. Inspired by a compassion originating in his Christian beliefs, Vitoria defended the American Indians against the atrocities being committed by his fellow Spaniards. To this end, he affirmed that the Indians were rational beings equal in essence to the Europeans, which made the king of Spain duty-bound to treat them as subjects. Therefore, they could neither be treated as slaves nor deprived of their property. Machiavelli was a diplomat and a soldier who lived in a society in turmoil. According to him, the best ruler was the shrewdest one, he who obtained the greatest profit for his state against other states of equal status. For this reason, it was imperative to strengthen the armed forces, inspire fear in other states and, if necessary, renege on promises.


Classical Theory International Relation Sixteenth Century Statist Conception Christian Faith 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

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  • Martin C. Ortega

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