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Political Thought in Sixteenth-century Spain. A study o f the political deas o f

Vitoria, Soto, Suarez and Molina. B y B e r n ic e H a m i l t o n . Pp. 201, Oxford,
Clarendon Press, 1963, 30s.
The Social and Political Theory o f Francisco Suarez. By R e ijo W il e n iu s . Pp. 129
(Acta Philosophica Fennica, Fase. 15), Helsinki, Societas Philosophica
Fennica, 1963, no price given.
To any one familiar with the ideas of the great scholastics, both these books
are going to prove unsatisfactory. The sixteenth-century Spaniards, and es-
pecially Suarez, have become important figures in the history of political theory.
They wrote against the background of the colonization of the new world and of
the moral problems to which it gave rise; they were clearly aware of the problems
raised in the sixteenth century by the conflict of temporal and spiritual juris-
dictions, and they were concemed to discuss the structure and activity of civilized
society as they knew it in terms of a philosophica! system of rights and obliga-
tions. While the modernity of their interests and of some of their ideas makes
them required reading for historians of political and social philosophy, they
remain, therefore, scholastics, expressing themselves in categories and forms of
argument which can baffle well-intentioned and assiduous investigators if,
having little previous experience of scholastic modes of thought, they start
simply from the texts.
The chief interest of Political Thought in Sixteenth-century Spain lies in the
anthology of texts (in English translation) which it presents, especially on the
ius gentium, on colonization and on war. The ethics of colonization and warfare,
in particular, were discussed by these authors with an earnestness and an
independence which the grave issues of conscience raised by later periods have
not always occasioned in subsequent generations o f moral theologians. But in
spite of the considerable interest of the texts, the book is an unreliable guide.
This is chiefly on account of the authors inadequate acquaintance with the
whole scholastic philosophy of law, and specifically with the Thomist definition,
1 The weakness in Calvins apparently orthodox Christology is revealed by Fr J. L.
Wittes careful analysis in Das Konzil von Chalkedon, Geschichte und Gegenwart, vol. 2
(Wrzburg, 1951), pp. 487-529.
elements of which dominated almost all subsequent discussion until as late as
Montesquieu. As a result there is a good deal of unnecessary eyebrow-raising and
a frequent failure to understand exactly what point is being made (and against
whom). Certain terms like nominalist are used idiosyncratically and the biblio-
graphy includes few even of the standard treatments of sixteenth-century political
It does not, in consequence, become clear to what extent the four chosen
authors were typical, original or derivative or, indeed, on what criterion they
were chosen. They give a reasonable spread of dates through the century, but
their individual claims to inclusin are not weighed against those of other
authors like Banez, Medina, Cano, Cajetan, Mariana, Vasquez and Gregory of
Valencia. It is true that the weakness of the book is concentrated largely in its
treatment of the more abstract and general philosophy of law, but it does not
inspire confidence to be told in the brief biographies appended on the four
authors that the argument of Molinas Concordantia (the correct title had been
given earlier) was that God gives man sufficient grace to act; if he does act the
grace will become effectiveand God knows, through his middle or medate
knowledge of the possibilities, which course man will take (pp. 182-3).
Political Thought in Sixteenth-century Spain, in spite of its deficiencies, is a
carefully written book. The Social and Political Theory o f Francisco Suarez is a
thesis, and neither its style or its layout makes any concessions. The basic
contention, that the political theory of Suarez depends on his social theory,
seems to imply little more than that Suarez derives his political theory from the
philosophy of civil rights and obligations depending on the general philosophy
of law. But this, surely, has never been in question. The author has clearly been
reading modern political theory, bits of which find their way irrelevantly from
the fichier into the notes. There are wrong dates and inaccurate facts and the
naive, if assured, judgements lean heavily, and vulnerably, towards a collectivist
interpretation of Suarez. Suarez did, after all, hold the usual doctrine that the
community could make war on its tyrannical ruler. Seen in the total context of
scholastic tradition, his views on prvate property are moderate. It is unhelpful
to cali sixteenth-century Jesuits (as distinct from seventeenth-century ones)
left-wing, or to compare Suarez at length with Marx and Engels. And it is not
true that Suarez modified the Aristotelian principie that a monarchy was the
best form of government, by limiting its application mainly to the ecclesiastical
community and leaving the secular society open to democratic ideas (p. 99).
A nthony L evi