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Rights and Wrongs PtII: Vitoria and Molina Problematise and Justify

26 May 2014

Cross-posted from The Molinist.
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This is part two of a three-part series.

Neither of the traditional intellectual frameworks for slavery allow for modern concepts of rights. Indeed, both predate the notion of ‘rights’ by some centuries and, I would propose, obviated the need for theories of rights as we understand them. But both were about to receive a crippling blow, the elite intellectual response to which would fundamentally tie slavery and rights together. This wound to the older foundations of the American slave system, called the encomienda system, for the plantation-style operations which typified it, was the Valladolid Controversy, a debate between Dominican friar Bartolomé de las Casas and Castilian humanist Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda. Taking place in the Castilian city of Valladolid from 1550-51, the controversy brough an end to the official and learned acceptability of the aforementioned intellectual frameworks for colonial slavery. Sepúlveda argued from a fusion of Roman war slavery and Aristotelian natural slavery that the Americans were irrational barbarians, possibly less then human, justly conquered by the Castilians in a just war and justly enslaved by rational men for their own good: the salvation of their souls and the tutelage of their minds. Cases, whose victory in the Controversy has earned the sobriquet ‘Defender of the Indians,’ argued that the treatment of the Americans, which was famously heinous, though this heinousness has been exaggerated by the so-called ‘Black Legend,’ anti-Castilian propaganda spread by the English to justify their own colonial enterprises in the Americas, was so extreme that nothing could justify it and the Americans should be freed from slavery. De las Casas also employed the arguments of fellow Dominican Francisco de Vitoria more directly against Sepúlvedas claims…

Continued at The Molinist.

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