The Spanish Scholastics of the sixteenth century are generally known as the precursors of Hugo Grotius in the application of natural law and the law of nations (ius gentium) to the political relations of early modern states. Their writings on the American Indians have been read as especially significant for the formation of the humanist–colonialist legacy of (European) international law. I have no quarrel with these views. This essay will, however, claim that the principal legacy of the Salamanca scholars lay in their development of a vocabulary of private rights (of dominium) that enabled the universal ordering of international relations by recourse to private property, contract, and exchange. This vocabulary provided an efficient articulation for Europe’s ‘informal empire’ over the rest of the world and is still operative as the legal foundation of global relations of power.


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