Steven Newcomb: Superiority and federal-Indian relations

"In his groundbreaking work Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law (Cambridge, 2004), law professor Antony Anghie provides a detailed analysis of the ideas of theologian Francisco de Vitoria, who lectured at Salamanca University in the mid-1500’s, and whom some scholars have called “the father” of modern international law.

In the chapter “Francisco de Vitoria and International Law” Anghie points out that Vitoria dealt with such topics as divine and natural law, sovereignty and culture, particularism and universalism. With these elements Vitoria conceptualized an international jurisprudence, and in the context of that thinking Vitoria treated idealized Spanish practices as “universally binding,” and hence binding on the Indians.

Anghie says that “Indians are excluded [by Vitoria] from the realm of sovereignty, and Indian resistance to Spanish incursions becomes aggression which justifies the waging of a limitless war by a sovereign Spain against non-sovereign Indians.“ The “crucial issue,” according to Anghie, is the basis of the decision that the Indians were not sovereign: “Vitoria bases his conclusions that the Indians are not sovereign on the simple assertion that they are pagans.” In other words, Vitoria’s judgment was that the Indians were not sovereign because they were not Christians."

Get the Story:
Steven Newcomb: Theologian Francisco de Vitoria and International Law (Indian Country Today 12/19)

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