The first half of the sixteenth century was a particularly fecund period in the development of Spanish political thought, due to Charles V’s dual rulership of Spain and the Holy Roman Empire and the beginnings of the Spanish empire in the New World. The principal strains in Spanish political theory are outlined in part one of this work, entitled “Medieval Constitutionalism, Christian Humanism and Scholasticism.” With regard to Charles V’s unique situation, Alonso de Castrillo rejected the whole imperial baggage, trying to reassert the traditional constitutional values of medieval Castile, as they were put forward by the comuneros. Alfonso de Valdés, on the contrary, argued in favor of this new universal monarchy, as did Juan Luis Vives, the humanist who spent so many years in the Netherlands and England.
The discovery of America also raised many new questions. For example, were the Indians, a pagan people, subject in any way to the universal jurisdiction of pope or emperor? Did their government exist legitimately in its own right? What rights did Spaniards have to reduce them to submission? Francisco de Vitoria, the principal representative of the school of Salamanca, gave particular attention to these problems. Furthermore, in all of the authors studied the concept of war looms so large that an entire chapter is devoted to it. Beginning with a review of Augustine’s theory of the just war, Fernández-Santamaria then turns to Erasmus’ near pacifism, but he points out that the Dutch humanist qualified his position in later years. Vives stands most clearly in the Erasmian tradition in his opposition to war, while Valdés and Vitoria argue that in certain circumstances warfare may be justified. What is striking here is the difficulty that each writer had in dealing with this issue. While wishing that war did not occur, they came to acknowledge it as a fact of life and indeed as something that might even be necessary.
The second part of the book, entitled “The Waning of Erasmianism,” focuses on Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, who through training and long residence in Italy brought the perspective of Italian humanism to many of the issues under debate. Particularly interesting are his theories concerning the Indian polity, the problems of slavery, and the just war. Attention is also given to lesser figures such as Antonio de Guevara, Charles of Hapsburg, and Fadrique Furió.
Fernández-Santamaria has written a stimulating book, clearly expounding the thought of each author, pointing up contrasting positions, and leading the reader to a deeper appreciation of them all. His work should stand for many years as a valuable contribution to our understanding of sixteenth-century Spain and should prompt further studies of these writers.