Hugo Grotius

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Grotius, Hugo

(grō`shəs), 1583–1645, Dutch jurist and humanist, whose Dutch name appears as Huigh de Groot. He studied at the Univ. of Leiden and became a lawyer when 15 years old. In Dutch political affairs Grotius supported OldenbarneveldtOldenbarneveldt, Johan van
, 1547–1619, Dutch statesman. He aided William the Silent in the struggle for Dutch independence from Spain and opposed the dictatorial policy set by Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester, chosen by the States-General as governor-general in 1586.
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 against Maurice of NassauMaurice of Nassau
, 1567–1625, prince of Orange (1618–25); son of William the Silent by Anne of Saxony. He became stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland after the assassination (1584) of his father.
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. After Maurice gained power he had Grotius condemned (1619) to prison for life, but Grotius made a daring escape in 1621 and fled to Paris. There, expanding certain views he had earlier recorded but had never published, he wrote De jure belli ac pacis [concerning the law of war and peace] (1625, definitive ed. 1631), usually considered the first definitive text on international law. In it Grotius contended that natural law prescribes rules of conduct for nations as well as for private individuals. He derived much of the specific content of international law from the Bible and from classical history. Although he did not condemn war as an instrument of national policy, he maintained that it was criminal to wage war except for certain causes. Much of his book is an attempt to make the conditions of warfare more humane by inducing respect for private persons and their property. Grotius returned briefly to Holland in 1631, but was forced to flee in 1632. From 1635 to 1645 he represented Sweden at the French court. Although generally regarded as the founder of international law, Grotius was indebted for much of his work to earlier scholars, especially GentiliGentili, Alberico
, 1552–1608, Italian writer on international law. Forced to leave Italy because of his Protestantism, he went to England (1580), where he became regius professor of civil law, Oxford, and in 1605 became advocate for the king of Spain in the British
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. Grotius was also a leading student of theology and biblical criticism, and he wrote an authoritative account of contemporary Dutch political affairs.


See study by E. Durnbauld (1969).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Grotius, Hugo


(Huig de Groot). Born Apr. 10, 1583, in Delft; died Aug. 28, 1645, in Rostock. Dutch jurist, sociologist, and political figure. One of the founders of the theory of natural law and the subject of international law.

Grotius was condemned to life imprisonment in 1619 for participating in a political struggle. In 1621 he escaped to France; persecuted there by Richelieu, he settled in Sweden. His first important work, Freedom of the Seas (1609), defended the principle of freedom of the seas. This principle served the interests of Holland, which at that time was becoming a major sea power and was threatening the claims of England and Spain to domination of the seas. Grotius’ work On the Law of War and Peace (1625) is devoted to problems in international law, although general questions of state and law are also treated. Dividing law into natural law and the law of mankind, Grotius endowed these concepts with meanings different from those of classical and medieval thinkers. According to him, natural law is true in itself, and thus exists independently of divine will. The law of mankind is formed in the process of fulfilling the principles of natural law (avoiding encroachment on someone else’s property, observance of agreements, and punishment of crimes).

In Grotius’ opinion, the state comes into being as a result of the “societal nature of man,” and its emergence is preceded by the so-called social contract. Although he also wrote of god as the creator of all things, his theories were obviously anticlerical. His book was among those banned by the papal curia.

Grotius’ concept of international law is based on the general principles of his theory. Its basic propositions include replacing the pope’s authority with treaties between states, which would be observed by virtue of natural law, and the prohibition of unjust wars (that is, wars that violate certain rights). In addition, states at war would be obliged to refrain from destroying enemy property or committing unjust cruelties against the civilian population. Grotius also proposed the establishment of a permanent agency to settle disputes between states. The agency would have at its disposal means sufficiently effective to enforce its rulings.

Grotius’ theory created a basis for criticizing positive law from the standpoint of natural law, which ultimately contributed to the overthrow of feudalism. His doctrine was evidence of the emergence of the so-called juridical outlook, which, according to Engels, “was a theological outlook to which a secular character was imparted” (“Juridical Socialism,” K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 496).


O prave voiny i mira, books 1–3. Moscow, 1956. (Translated from Latin.)


Istoriia politicheskikh uchenii. Moscow, 1965. Pages 215–18.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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As against the view of Hobbesians, states in the Grotian view are bound not only by rules of prudence or expediency but also by imperatives of morality and law.
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The principles of all the founders were much more Lockean, or more broadly speaking, Grotian, than Harper lets on, with our natural state being peace--although, absent the correct institutions and policies, that natural state can quickly devolve into a state of war.
In the Grotian account, not everyone has equal rights.