University of Cambridge > > Legal Histories beyond the State > Civitas and Regnum: Grotius’ account of the sovereign entity in the De Iure Belli ac Pacis

Civitas and Regnum: Grotius’ account of the sovereign entity in the De Iure Belli ac Pacis

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This paper sets out a key distinction in Grotius’ De Iure Belli ac Pacis (The Rights of War and Peace, 1625) that is often overlooked in the mainstream historiography. This is between two forms of sovereign entity: the civitas (state) and regnum (patrimonial kingdom). The paper argues that these two forms of sovereign entity should not be understood as binary alternatives, but constitutional building blocks that could combine to describe a wide range of constitutional configurations in Grotius’ scheme of global legal order. For example, the regnum provided Grotius with a model to account for the way in which civitates could hold imperial possessions. To present this distinction, the paper also delves into Grotius’ account of the state of nature – or virtual lack thereof – to make the case that Grotius does not present a strong boundary between the pre-civic and civic condition. In this way, Grotius could account for diversity in the particular historical experience of each people, rather than shoehorn the constitutional identity of all sovereign entities into restrictive theoretical models. This in turn gave his account of the sovereign entity real-world purchase.

ABOUT THE SPEAKER : Dr Simpson is a Junior Fellow, Harvard University Society of Fellows.

ABOUT THE SEMINAR : The seminar will proceed on the basis that participants have read the paper in advance.

The Legal Histories beyond the State series is an initiative of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law, the Centre for History and Economics, and the Cambridge Centre for Political Thought. It brings together historians, political theorists and lawyers who are interested in the social, economic and political dimensions of law in the early modern and modern periods. We focus on the ways in which law and legal institutions order and organize space and people. This encompasses both imperial and international law, and domestic public and private law in its manifold influences on the nature and form of relations across borders. We are interested in legal actors and institutions, both national and supranational; doctrines and concepts, like jurisdiction; and also diverse forms of legal border-crossing, including the migration of people, ideas and objects across time and place. Embracing new trends in legal and historical research, we pursue the exchange of legal ideas in formal and informal contexts, and the creation, appropriation and interpretation of law by non-traditional actors, and in unexpected places.

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This talk is part of the Legal Histories beyond the State series.

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