The state theory of Grotius

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This article argues that Grotius has a modern theory of the state that can take its place alongside Bodin and Hobbes as one of the ways in which early modern civil philosophy sought to solve the problem of the authority and validity of political order. This is interesting because Grotius’s account of the state draws a picture of the relationship between political and legal ordering, and history, in which the interrelationship of the political and the legal allows a range of adaptive and adaptable state-forms. State authority is made possible and accountable under a system of natural legal right, even as its constitution is a historical achievement that should not readily be disturbed and in which a large range of freedom and unfreedom is lawful and should be accepted. I argue that, understood in this way, the State Theory of Grotius is not only modern, but provides in its methods and insights, a potential answer to one of the key conceptual dead ends of modern theories of sovereignty: the idea that sovereign power must be perpetually concentrated in one organ or entity if it is to retain what makes it sovereign. Along the way, I highlight the significance of state theory for contemporary discussions of international, transnational and global law.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbercuaa005
Number of pages50
JournalCurrent Legal Problems
Early online date9 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Jan 2021


  • state
  • state theory
  • Hugo Grotius
  • sovereignty

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