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International Order

The New World In The European International Order

The initial attempt to create a stable international order after Columbus's first voyage came in the form of three papal bulls that Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503) issued in 1493. These bulls, known by the opening words of the first of them, Inter caetera, divided the world along a line from the North Pole to the South Pole one hundred leagues west of the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands. To the east of that line, the pope granted the Portuguese complete jurisdiction, authorizing them to occupy lands held by the Muslim enemies of the Christian world and to support missionary efforts among the newly encountered peoples. In order to support these efforts, the Portuguese were granted a monopoly of trade with the peoples of these lands and of the route to Asia by way of circumnavigating Africa. The Spanish were granted the same privileges west of the line, guaranteeing them a monopoly of what was then believed to be the westward route to Asia. No other Christian could enter these regions without the express permission of the ruler to whom the region was assigned.

Inter caetera was only the latest in a series of bulls going back to 1420 that had sought to regulate relations between the Portuguese and the Spanish as they expanded out into the Atlantic, seeking a route to Asia. During the fifteenth century, these two kingdoms had fought a series of wars that spilled over into the Atlantic, where both kingdoms laid claim to various island chains. In the course of settling these disputes, a series of popes had issued bulls regulating relations between these kingdoms in the Atlantic, assigning responsibility for specific islands to each kingdom and making each ruler responsible for Christianizing the peoples encountered there. Inter caetera did the same thing on a larger scale. Alexander VI's bulls also provided a justification for the European conquest of the New World. If the inhabitants interfered with Europeans who came peacefully to trade or to preach the Christian faith or if they engaged in practices that violated the natural law, European rulers had the right to send in troops to protect the merchants and missionaries and to punish violations of the natural law.

The Catholic position on world order received its fullest exposition in the works of a number of Spanish theologians, philosophers, and lawyers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The most famous of these authors were Francisco Vitoria O. P. (1486–1546) and Francisco Suarez S. J. (1548–1617). Vitoria approached the problem of international order from a position that we would now associate with human rights. That is, did the Europeans have the legal right to conquer and occupy the Americas, or did the inhabitants of the New World have legal right to their lands and did they have the right to govern themselves free of outside intervention? Finally, even if the inhabitants of the New World did have rights, were they subject to the natural law and could their violations of that law justify their conquest?

By challenging the papacy's conception of a hierarchically constructed Christendom, Protestant Reformers provided a basis for reconsidering the nature of international order. In the first place, the religious wars of the Reformation spelled the end of both papal and imperial claims to some form of leadership of European and even world society. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) ending 150 years of German wars of religion had no role for the pope and reduced the imperial office to a ghost of its former self. The notion of a unified Christendom ended, replaced by a group of what came to be identified as sovereign nation-states. These states rejected any notion of overlordship, papal or imperial, in their own internal affairs. Peace among the states of Europe would be achieved by political arrangements that the participating governments made among themselves. The key to such arrangements was the balance of power, that is, alliance networks designed to prevent any one country from dominating Europe.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Incomplete dominance to IntuitionismInternational Order - The Greek And Roman World, The Medieval Christian Conception Of International Order, The New World In The European International Order