Susan Karr, Mellon/LAPA Fellow in Law and the Humanities

Jus gentium, Natural Rights, and Civil Liberties: Ulrich Zasius' Critique of Arbitrary Power

Mon, 11/22/2010
4:30 PM, Library Lounge, Bendheim Center for Finance
Event Category: 

Please join us for a LAPA Seminar with Susan Karr,  for a discussion of ""Jus gentium, Natural Rights, and Civil Liberties: Ulrich Zasius' Critique of Arbitrary Power."  The commentator will be Paul Sigmund, Professor of Politics, Emeritus.

As always, the LAPA format asks that seminar participants familiarize themselves with the paper in advance. The commentator will open the session by summarizing the main themes in the paper and presenting some topics for discussion. The author then has the right of first response before we open to the floor for questions. The seminar will end with a brief reception in the Library Lounge at the Bendheim Center
for Finance
, giving everyone a chance to mingle and meet. 

For those planning to attend the seminar, hard copies are available during regular business hours in 416A Robertson Hall, or you may write to Judi Rivkin at

Susan Karr writes: "Why did humanist jurists concern themselves with natural law and rights (ius)? In their discussions, did humanist jurists alter traditional Roman and/or scholastic understandings of the relation between natural law, ius, and ius gentium? And if so, can their interpretations of these categories, as well as their explanations regarding the source, authority, and extent of each, enable us to think more broadly about key categories of early modern political and legal thought? These are the questions that this essay attempts to address through the lens of select works by one of the most famous legal humanists of the early sixteenth century, Ulrich Zasius (1461-1536)." 

Susan Karr is an associate member of the University of Chicago Human Rights Program and an Affiliate of the European University Institute, where she served as a postdoctoral fellow in the Max Weber Program and the Department of History and Civilization in 2008-2009. She received her Ph.D. in Early Modern European History from the University of Chicago (2008). Broadly trained as an Early Modernist, her research focuses on the intersection of humanism and political thought in sixteenth-century Italy, Germany, France, and England. Integrating social, political, legal, and intellectual history, Karr’s research explores how the introduction of philological, comparative, and historical methods to the teaching and interpretation of Roman law informed the centrality of ius gentium (universal customary law or the laws of peoples) within natural law and natural rights theories from the sixteenth century onwards. By focusing on lectures, treatises, orations and emblems, her research demonstrates how humanist jurists used the category of ius gentium—which they held was the source of the rights of individuals—to hold civil laws, and those who administered them, accountable to a higher criterion of justice. While at Princeton, she will continue to work on her manuscript, entitled, "On Justice and Right: The Moral Authority of Jus Gentium," which will explore the influence the sixteenth-century legal humanism on the so-called fathers of international law: Alberico Gentili (1552-1608) and Hugo Grotius (1583-1645).

Paul Sigmund specializes in political theory and Latin American politics. He is the author of Nicholas of Cusa and Medieval Political Thought; Natural Law in Political Thought; The Overthrow of Allende and the Politics of Chile 1964-76; Multinationals in Latin America: The Politics of Nationalization; Liberation Theology at the Crossroads: Democracy or Revolution; and The United States and Democracy in Chile; co-author of The Democratic Experience; and The Military Institution in Latin America; editor of The Ideologies of the Developing Nations; Models of Political Change in Latin America; Chile 1973-1998: The Coup and its Consequences; Religious Freedom and Evangelization in Latin America and John Locke, Selected Political Writings; co-editor of Views of America; Poder, Sociedad, y Estado; and The Political Economy of Income Distribution in Mexico; and translator of Alain Rouquie, The Military and the State in Latin America; St. Thomas Aquinas on Ethics and Politics; and The Catholic Concordance by Nicholas of Cusa. He has been a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, and the Institute for Advanced Study, and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation.