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The law of war: Grotius, Sidney, Locke and the political theory of rebellion

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This paper studies both Locke's Two Treatises of Government and Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government. It suggests that there is a much closer relationship between them than has usually been assumed. In particular, there is a community of language, and of argumentation, underlying their justifications of resistance. This hinges upon the rights, and the law, of war. This language was a Dutch inheritance: it derived specifically from Hugo Grotius' classic The Law of War and Peace (1625). But its development here also drew upon two English contexts: both the political crisis of 1678-83 and the earlier experience of the English civil wars. I have argued elsewhere that the crisis of 1678-83, usually called the exclusion crisis, was at one level a reliving of the experience of the civil wars. It was the Restoration crisis, and it was triggered by a collapse of confidence in the Restoration settlement. Indeed beneath the constitutional veneer of the Restoration period as a whole -- a restoration of constitutional normality as superficial as it was brief -- lay the proximity, and eventually the fact, of political (and judicial) violence. It was within this context that there emerged, in the work of Locke and Sidney, an ideology of political and judicial violence that drew upon the experience of half a century of England's troubles. In so tracing their use of Grotius we will be considering the reflections of some of Early Modern Europe's most influential writers upon what was the primary political problem of their age.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Downing College, Cambridge.

Publication date: April 1, 1992


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