Hugo Grotius and the Modern Theology of Freedom: Transcending Natural Rights, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Hugo Grotius and the Modern Theology of Freedom

Transcending Natural Rights, 1st Edition

By Jeremy Seth Geddert


240 pages

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Human rights are thought to guarantee pluralism by protecting individual liberty from imposed religious conceptions of virtue. Yet critics often argue that this secular focus on merely avoiding violations can also enable unfettered individualism and undermine appeals to the common good.

This book uncovers in secular rights pioneer Hugo Grotius a rights theory that points toward the enlargement of individual responsibility. It grounds this connection in Grotius’ unexplored theological corpus, which reveals a dual metaethics and jurisprudence. Here a deontological natural law undergirds a secular theory of rights that is self-aware of its own limitations. A teleological practical reason then guides the exercise of these rights, so as not to compromise the political order that defends them. The book then illustrates this symbiosis of rights and responsibilities in five areas: consent theories of government, rights of rebellion, criminal punishment, war and international responsibility, and Atonement theology. This reassesses Grotius’ legacy as a secularist opponent of classical political thought, and suggests that modern liberalism and universal human rights are compatible with a world of resurgent religion.


'Jeremy Seth Geddert brings Grotius down from the shelf of dusty old international law books, and presents to us a thinker who is at once innovative and bold, and yet has deep roots in the venerable tradition of political thought. Geddert’s Grotius challenges many of the assumptions embedded in our political vernacular—the language of rights—and compels us to reconsider our fundamental ideas about matters of enduring moral concern involving war and peace, constitutionalism, and criminal law.' - Lee Ward, Alpha Sigma Nu Distinguished Associate Professor of Political Science, Campion College at the University of Regina

'Geddert has produced an analysis of the key notion of justice in the thought of Hugo Grotius that now constitutes a new benchmark within the relevant scholarship. It is notable for the way it challenges the prevailing orthodoxy that Grotius originates modern rights theory as mere subjective claims. In its place Geddert locates the development of rights within a far broader conception of justice. He mines a wide range of texts, political and theological, to show how Grotius addresses the priority of the common good as the framework for our most cherished convictions.' - David Walsh, Professor of Politics, The Catholic University of America

'Hugo Grotius and the Modern Theology of Freedom contains a detailed analysis of Grotius’s complex classification of justice and rights (chapters 2–3), followed by chapter-length discussions of five distinct political rights (chapters 4–8). These latter chapters aim to show that attributive justice indeed directs the exercise of individual rights safeguarded by expletive justice.' - Johan Olsthoorn, University of Amsterdam / FWO-Flanders

Table of Contents

1. Grotius and Modern Natural Rights: Beyond A Secular History

2. Natural Right and Natural Rights

3. Two Concepts of Justice

4. The Origins of the State: How and Why?

5. The Bounds of Coercive Authority: Sovereignty and Rebellion

6. Rights and the Responsibility (Not) to Punish

7. Punitive War and International Responsibility

8. Divine Government: Why You Can’t Ever Really Pay For Your Crimes

9. Transcending Natural Rights, or Rethinking the Foundations of Modern Political Secularism

About the Author

Jeremy Seth Geddert is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Assumption College. He has published on natural rights, early modern political thought, religion and politics, and the just war tradition.

About the Series

Routledge Innovations in Political Theory

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / History & Theory
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Political Freedom & Security / Human Rights