Amsterdam Research Institute for Legal Studies

Grotius on sovereignty

17Apr2018 12:00 - 13:00


Paul Scholten Centre Colloquium with Guus van Nifterik (PSC).

Venue: Roeterseiland Room A3.01

  • Roeterseilandcampus - building A

    Nieuwe Achtergracht 166 | 1018 WV Amsterdam
    +31 (0)20 525 5340

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Grotius’ ideas on sovereignty that can be found in his De jure belli ac pacis (DJBP) are often qualified as Janus-faced and contradictory, as his theory endorses both absolute monarchy and popular sovereignty, both unaccountability of the sovereign and the right to resist the sovereign in some extreme situations. The conclusion often drawn is that the ‘Grotian problem’, to admit rebellion while banning private warfare in society, is not solved satisfactory in his main work, a conclusion that is backed up by pointing out that monarchists and republicans and revolutionaries and others find useful arguments to support their position in Grotius’ theory.

In this contribution Grotius’ ideas on sovereignty are analysed from a legal point of view. It will be shown that from this stance there is no contradiction in the theory in DJBP, and that both absolute monarchy and popular sovereignty, both unaccountability of the monarch and the right of resistance, can be deduced from his legal assumptions; the situations in which resistance is allowed are not exceptions to the rule (i.e. ‘the law of non-resistance’), but outcomes based on the same principles as the rule itself. Of course one can question and criticize Grotius’ legal assumptions as such, or criticize the outcomes of Grotius’ legal reasoning and then point out that apparently his assumptions are wrong; we will do so in some concluding remarks in the last paragraph of this contribution. But inconsistency is a false accusation.

Research colloquium, organised by the Paul Scholten Centre. This colloquium is open to all, no registration required. A copy of the paper can be obtained via


Dr Guus van Nifterik is Assitant Professor of legal history at the Paul Scholten Centre for Jurisprudence of the Faculty of Law. 

Published by  Paul Scholten Centre