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1st Gerald Stourzh Lecture on the History of Human Rights and Democracy

Martin van Gelderen
Menschenrechte und Demokratie:
James Madison, Hugo Grotius und die Probleme des neuen Europa

27 May 2009

Martin van Gelderen is Professor of European History at the European University Institute in Florence where he teaches the history of ideas and political thought, particularly theories of natural law and the republican tradition in Europe. Together with Quentin Skinner, he is co-director of the project "Freedom and the Construction of Europe: New Perspectives on Philosophical and Religious Controversies".

Selected publications: The Political Thought of The Dutch Revolt, 1555-1590 (Cambridge University Press 1992); Ed. with Quentin Skinner: Republicanism. A Shared European Heritage, 2 Bde. (Cambridge University Press 2002); Ed. with Georg Schmidt and Christopher Snigula: Kollektive Freiheitsvorstellungen im frühneuzeitlichen Europa (1400-1800) (Peter Lang Verlag 2006).

Homepage Martin van Gelderen
(since 2012 University of Göttingen)


This lecture addresses the debates on the future of citizenship, democracy and human rights in the European Union, standing in the mirror of past civil philosophy in general and of the writings of Hugo Grotius and James Madison in particular. First, the lecture underscores that from a republican perspective the European Union in its current constitutional make-up fails to live up to the ideals of democratic government. Taking up Grotius's argument that civil society is the outcome of civic creation by free, self-governing individuals, the lecture argues that a future 'closer union' should be constituted by Europe's citizens. Moreover, in order to sustain and flourish, the European Union must find ways for popular sovereignty to express itself; here much can be learnt from James Madison's plea for the political supremacy of public opinion. Finally, acknowledging that the emphasis on European citizenship raises the spectre of Europe as a civil fortress, the lecture seeks to connect Europe's problematic encounter with the 'rights of others' with early modern reflections on the rights of immigration for beggars and vagabonds.

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