[Marxism] Re: Civilization, civilisation

Suresh borhyaenid at yahoo.com
Thu Jun 3 10:58:14 MDT 2004

It was already mentioned how the term "civilization"
was invented in the context of the Enlightenment, by a
French physiocrat, in order to justify the wave of
trans-Atlantic empire building in the mercantile era.

Similarly, international law, was a phrase apparently
coined by Jeremy Bentham, the English jurist and
spokesman for utilitarian philosophy (of which Marx
wrote, "The economic content gradually turned the
utility theory into a mere apologia for the existing
state of affairs...") But the system of a law of
nations, which at first, taking up after the Romans
was termed the jus gentium, was originally developed
in Spain, by individuals who can only be called
propagandists on behalf of the conquest of the

One of the earliest writers to develop the theory was
Francisco de Vitoria. In the 1530's he wrote two major
works that helped lay the foundation for what would
become international law, "Des Indis" and "The Law of
War Made by the Spaniards on the Barbarians". What
Vitoria did was to codify the legal principles upon
which such actions as the subjugation of the Arawak or
the Guarani could be legitimized. Referring both to
biblical and secular authorities, he proceeds at first
to refute certain rationalizations for conquest; it is
not to be based upon the pagan religion or the
purported lack of reason of the indigenous peoples.
Instead, he develops a notion which is surprisingly
modern. It is justifiable to colonize and annex the
territories of the New World, when the people living
there choose not to allow free movement and free trade
through those regions to the Europeans. He takes it as
a given that no ruler, Christian or heathen, has the
right to nullify those basic rights.

This is oddly similar to the free trade dogmas of the
British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria or
of American policy going back to Commodore Perry's
storming of Japan and of Sec. of State Hay's Open Door
to China. 

It was Spanish legal thinkers like Vitoria and
Francisco Suarez in their attempts to justify brutal 
primitive accumulation in the Americas that laid the
groundwork for the generally recognized father of
international law, Hugo Grotius. Just as Peruvian gold
and silver plundered by Spain funded everything from
the war against the Turks to the rise of the Dutch
United Provinces as part of "rosy dawn" of capitalism,
the law developed to accord with Spanish depredations
abroad marked the beginning of a legal order within a
modern Europe comprised of nation-states.

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