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The Americas in the Spanish World Order: The Justification for Conquest in the Seventeenth Century.

James Muldoon. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994. xii + 239 pp. $32.95.

During the sixteenth century, Spanish lawyers and theologians hotly debated the complex moral and legal issues that arose as the result of Iberian contact with the peoples of the Americas. What were the rights of the natives? How should the conquest be conducted? By the seventeenth century, as other European powers challenged Spanish supremacy in the Indies, Spanish intellectuals focused their arguments on the legitimization of Spanish claims to the Americas. In the context of these debates, both secular and ecclesiastical writers like Juan de Solorzano Pereira (1575-1654), a lawyer and bureaucrat with extensive experience in Peru, presented scores of proposals for the reform and reinvigoration of Spanish institutions and morality in order to strengthen Spanish claims to the territory. Although neglected by many modern scholars as unoriginal, Solorzano was a critical participant in the debate on Spanish authority in the New World. James Muldoon in The Americas in the Spanish World Order reconceptualizes the intellectual debates of the seventeenth century by painstakingly guiding the reader through Solorzano's work on the legitimization of Spanish authority in the Indies, De Indiarum Jure (1629). Unlike most intellectual historians who begin their studies of international law with seventeenth-century thinkers like Hugo Grotius and work forward into the modern notions of international law, Muldoon takes the opposite approach. He sees Solorzano as the "fullest expression of a conception of world order that first emerged in the early thirteenth century" (169).

Solorzano, in De Indiarum Jure, attempted to legitimate Spain's domination of the New World based on Christian notions of civilization and political hierarchy. His ideas, although based on classical and medieval texts, were not the conservative notions espoused by scholars like Sepulveda. Solorzano argued that the more civilized had the responsibility to bring civilization to the less civilized. Using the ideas of Augustine and scholastic thinkers, Solorzano argued that this responsibility, however, did not necessarily justify the violation of the rights of the natives or the use of force to achieve that end. He further asserted that the barbarous behavior of the natives was not sufficient cause for depriving them of their liberty and dominium. Countering Aristotle, he believed that Indians were not condemned to permanent inferiority, but that with proper guidance all people could evolve to a higher level of civilization. Just as the Romans had civilized the Spaniard's barbarian ancestors, through evangelization the Spaniards could raise the natives of the New World to European standards of civilization.

Much of Solorzano's political theory is based on the supremacy of Papal power over Christians and non-Christians. When natives were found to have violated natural law through cannibalism or sodomy, the Spanish monarchs had the right to conduct just war against them, but not on their own initiative. As the spread of Christianity was the primary goal of interactions between Christians and non-Christians, only the Pope, as the head of Christendom, had the authority to approve territorial, legal, and moral claims to the newly discovered lands.

Muldoon does an excellent job of placing Solorzano's ideas into the context of medieval and early modern political theory and philosophy. He makes careful speculations about the intellectual process behind the composition of the De Indiarum Jure and therefore reconstructs an intellectual debate that will be useful for many scholars. The Americas in the Spanish World Order will be particularly valuable for intellectual historians and those interested in issues of cross-cultural contact.
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Author:Poska, Allyson M.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1996
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