The Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights
Faculty of Law
P.O. BOX 4 (visiting address: Yliopistonkatu 3)
Tel: +358 (0)29 4123140



rik Castrén Brown Bag lecture of Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher Lauri Tähtinen

"Handmaiden of Empire and Humanity’s Last Resort: The Right of Communication"

Time:  Friday 22 May at 14.15
Venue: P545 Faculty Meeting Room
Coffee will be served. No registration needed.


Francisco de Vitoria’s treatment of trade, empire, and hospitality has been the subject of much recent controversy. Vitoria has been seen either as an apologist for global conquest or as the vanguard of cosmopolitan humanitarianism. Such extreme binaries misrepresent not only his intentions, but occlude how such possible variability in interpretation was part and parcel of his outlook and method. Through a discussion of casuistry and permissive natural law, this paper shows how it is far from accidental that the ius communicandi – the right governing the interstitial ethical and legal space in a world of sovereign commonwealths – is both a handmaiden of empire and humanity’s last resort.

Whatever its repercussions, Vitoria’s was one of the most ambitious attempts at settling issues relating to empire, human freedom and a cosmopolitan thought within the framework of natural law and the law of nations. Embedded within the concept of the right of communication we find a marriage of human fellowship and private interest that is at the origins of early modern globalization, and as any conjugal matter, these prenuptials are also fundamentally a juridical transaction. In the following centuries, as this paper argues, the tension between the violent and redemptive elements of the right of communication became too much to overcome. The right of communication dissolved into communications and – ultimately – technologies thereof with the ethical challenges of globalization becoming a mere technical issue in search of a solution.