Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda’s Democrates segundo, o de las justas causas de la guerra contra los Indios has been widely studied because of its central role in the controversy between Sepúlveda and Las Casas at the Conference of Valladolid in 1550. His earlier, more theoretical work, the Democrates primus, written in the early 1530s, is hardly known. Henri Mechoulan seeks to rectify this situation by delineating in his book the argument of Democrates primus and by making a critical assessment of its place in Spanish history and thought. He performs his task well. His exposition is clear, and his assessment is cogent.

Mechoulan states that Sepúlveda’s aim in Democrates primus is to counter the humanistic ideas of Erasmus and his followers on war and pacifism, the relationship of Christian and Aristotelian morality, and the proper understanding of such concepts as benevolence, wealth, and honor. He shows that Sepúlveda’s conclusions on all these issues serve to justify the traditional ideals of Spain and provide a philosophical-religious basis for her divine mission. Mechoulan says that the Democrates segundo against Las Casas is scarcely more than the concrete application of the ideas expressed earlier in the Democrates primus and that a direct line of thought unites them.