In his famous work, History of Economic Analysis, economist Joseph A. Schumpeter gives a favorable nod to the works of Leonardus Lessius (1554–1623), sparking a fair amount of interest in the 16th-century Jesuit moral theologian.
CLP Academic has now published On Sale, Securities, and Insurance, a selection from Lessius’ most influential contribution to early modern economics, ethics, and law. The book offers the first full English translation of key sections of the second book (On Justice) of Lessius’ treatise On Justice and Right (De iustitia et iure), specifically chapters 21 (On Sale-purchase) and 28 (On Suretyship, Insurance, Pledge, and Mortgage).
Based at the Jesuit College in Louvain, Lessius earned the reputation as “Oracle of the Netherlands” for the advice and analysis he offered to local merchants, jurists, and political rulers regarding matters of conscience, duty, and justice.
As translator Wim Decock writes in the introduction: “Though dwelling on the virtues of prudence, fortitude, and temperance too, the better part of the treatise includes a systematic treatment of the virtue of justice and, particularly, of property, torts, and contract law.”
As for how these particular subjects are relevant to broader discussions about economics, ethics, and law, Decock offers additional context:
There have been at least three reasons for integrating the more juridical-technical parts on sale and the discussion on securities and insurance into this translation. First, scholastic economic analysis and moral thought start from a legal framework. Hence, it is not possible to fully grasp their insights in business and morality without fully acknowledging the juridical-technical aspects of their work.
Second, the last decade has witnessed a boom in interest in early modern scholastic authors among legal historians and philosophers of law. Therefore, legal scholars will be happy to read Lessius in English translation not only to get an idea of how business ethics was practiced at the time of the rise of capitalism, but also to discover the seminal contribution of early modern theologians to the development of legal doctrine.
Third, there is a fundamental connection between principal contracts, such as the sale of real estate, and accessory contracts used to secure them, such as suretyships, insurance, and real securities including pawn and mortgage. Usually, businessmen and economists are not expected to care much about those contractual issues. However, the 2008 financial crisis has painfully reminded us of the paramount connection between principal contracts such as the sale of real estate and accessory agreements involving mortgages to secure those contracts. Legal securities, then, are essential in creating a stable economic environment.
For more on the background and broader implications of Lessius’ contribution, and for the work itself, purchase On Sale, Securities, and Insurance.
Check out other titles in the Sources in Early Modern Economics, Ethics, and Law series for more English translations and editions of formative but previously inaccessible texts in the realm of economics, ethics, and law. Subscribe to CLP’s mailing list or follow CLP on Facebook or Twitter for updates on forthcoming titles.