The History of Fair Trade: Hugo Grotius, Corporations, and the Spanish Enlightenment

In: Grotiana
Edward Jones CorrederaMax Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg, Germany,

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The early Spanish Enlightenment was shaped by debates over corporations, sovereignty, and the balance of power in Europe. Spanish officials, in this context, turned to the ideas of Hugo Grotius to establish joint-stock companies that could allow the Crown to regain control over its imperial domains and establish perpetual peace in Europe. This article recovers the writings of Félix Fernando de Sotomayor, Duke of Sotomayor (1684–1767), who drew on the works of Grotius, Samuel Pufendorf, and Charles Dutot in order to show that the history of these corporations chronicled the contestation and erosion of Spanish power and the diversion of European states from their true interests. Sovereigns, not merchants, argued Sotomayor, could guarantee fair trade and the equitable distribution of wealth. The study of Sotomayor’s views on trade, natural law, and alienation challenges traditional interpretations about the Iberian engagement with Grotius, the rise of capitalist hopes in Southern and Northern Europe, and Spain’s investment in the Enlightenment.

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