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Bodin Defeats Althusius in America?

Posted by Orrin Woodward on March 27, 2012

Althusius versus Bodin

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely – Lord Acton

Power reveals; absolute power reveals absolutely – Orrin Woodward

Government and People

James Madison once wrote, “If men were angels there would be no need for government.” Since men aren’t angels, however, governments are formed to protect mankind’s life, liberty, and property. There are two overriding question are: Who is the ultimate sovereign? And how do the people protect themselves against the government’s “monopoly of force” if the sovereign disregards its intended function and begins to abuse the very people it should be protecting? These questions date back to the fall of Adam and Eve.

Absolute and Divided Sovereignty

There are two radically conflicting views pertaining to government and sovereignty. The first philosophy is portrayed in the writings of the 16th century writer, Jean Bodin. In his Six Books of the Commonweale, he wrote: “For as the great sovraigne God, cannot make another God equall unto himselfe, considering that he is of infinit power and greatness, and that there cannot bee two infinit things, as is by naturall demonstrations manifest: so also may wee say, that the prince whom we have set down as the image of God, cannot make a subject equall unto himselfe.” Charles Loyseau summarized Bodin’s political thoughts when he wrote, “Sovereignty is inseparable from the state, because sovereignty is what brings the state into being; in concreto, state and sovereignty are synonymous.” The second philosophy is best exemplified in the 16th century writings of Johannes Althusius.  His political thoughts combined the medieval and modern, birthing the main ideas of the later federalism of America’s founding fathers. Althusius perceived the State as a “coalescence” of provinces and regions confederated together. He rejected absolute sovereignty; instead, he advocated selected sovereignty over individual provinces and regions that freely combine for the benefit of all.

Althusius divided sovereignty to protect the people’s freedoms. Alain de Benoist, an Althusian scholar, writes:

By posing the question of shared jurisdictions, and by arguing that on all levels of public life the state should take care only of tasks that lower levels cannot accomplish, Althusius established himself as the first post-medieval defender of the principle of subsidiary authority. The word “subsidiarity,” which Althusius used often, is derived from the Latin subsidium, which was used to refer to troops or reserves called up to reinforce regular armies when needed. Politically, the principle of subsidiarity signifies that higher levels must always be limited in the sense that they do not intervene unless and until a lower level is unable to carry out a required task. This is a principle of equilibrium and regulation that aims to keep initiatives at the lower level, and to protect them from being subsumed by those above.

The Abysmal Twentieth Century

The question of sovereignty hinges upon man’s ability to check himself if given absolute power. Historically, the answer to this question is abysmally clear. Man, unlike God, cannot handle absolute sovereignty due to his inherently sinful nature. As Martin Luther said, “Let God be God and ruined sinner be ruined sinner.” Absolute sovereignty has always eventually fell into tyranny against the people allegedly being served. In fact, in many ways, the history of the twentieth century is simply an extended case study on the inability of absolute sovereigns to check their urge to plunder the people. From Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, etc, the historical evidence points overwhelmingly to the need for divided sovereignty. Regretfully, however, one of the few lessons learned from history is that no one learns lessons from history. :)  If anyone needs further evidence on how ideas have consequences, think upon Bodin’s 16th century writing. Ponder how many lives have been lost because of the adoption of Bodin’s teachings.  Quoting Alain de Benoist again:

This absolute concept of sovereignty is what triumphed in Jean Bodin’s Six Books of the Commonweale, first published in 1576, when Europe’s stability was upset by religious wars. Bodin writes: “If there be two princes equall in power, one of them hath not the power to command the other. . . . The laws of the prince are not dependant because they are pure and frankly voluntary.” The Latin word Bodin uses to define sovereignty is majestas, and his book opens with the following words: “Commonweale is a lawfull government of many families, and of that which unto them in common belongeth, with a puissant soveraigntie.” Extending the thought of French legists, Jean Bodin’s political doctrine is founded on the concept of indivisible sovereignty and on legislative power as a dominant principle. Given the state’s centrality, it is the source of all other authority. Yet, Bodin recognizes the importance of intermediary bodies, of families and “partial” societies. But he claims that they should not infringe on the powers of the prince, who is sovereign by divine law and is the pinnacle of a society conceived as a pyramid. Thus, sovereignty is defined as the “absolute and perpetual power of a republic,” i.e., as unlimited power: having no rival in the political and social order; in reality, power is exercised by the prince, who is the sole interpreter of divine right and natural law. Of course, he must respect jus gentium and the constitutional laws of the monarchy, but he is not subject to any human law, since he is accountable only to God, whose political “image” he represents on earth.

Absolute power has brought nothing but absolute horror to mankind. It is time to push sovereignty back to the people and localize its use. The federal government was intended to protect life, liberty, and property – nothing more. The founding fathers separated sovereignty between the local, state, and federal governments; however, since 1913, the federal government has usurped the sovereignty and rules absolutely over the people. Bodin, in other words, has conquered Althusius in the battle of ideas. Unless the people awaken themselves, America’s freedoms will fall as predictably as the Greek, Roman, and English freedoms fell before ours.

Sincerely,
Orrin Woodward

6 Responses to “Bodin Defeats Althusius in America?”

  1. Joshua Harris said

    Very Insightful Orrin. Thanks for intertwining the history with the contemporary to grasp the concept of what government should be to the people. Obviously on the Team we do learn from history because of leaders like you and the other PC who keep us versed in history through your teachings. Thanks Orrin
    -Josh H.-
    Team Liberty Quest

  2. I love this article!

    I’m in the process of writing an article based on Bastiat’s ‘The Law’ and I think I will definitely have to reference a few of your articles in it; this one among them!

    Lee

  3. Orrin, thanks for the history lesson. Admittedly, I find it difficult to understand and follow the words that describe the philosophies – I am a classic example of a highly educated, but ignorant citizen. I am thankful for the LIFE business as a channel for an Awakening in my life.

    Residing in the State of Wisconsin, I am feeling the effects of a statist controlled philosophy through the manipulation, coercion and confusion from the massive union influence in our government. At the same time I see our Federal government attempting to gain more control through popular government programs like more police officers and teachers (sounds good, but at what long term price).

    We hear and read about the extreme examples of Statist controlled governments and I believe no one really wants that, or believes that is what is happening in our country. I would venture to say most people wonder what’s the big deal? So what if we lose the “top-dog” status of the world and settle in for a middle-of-the road government and lifestyle.
    What current examples of government and lifestyle are we headed toward? Would it be so bad to become the modern-day European equivalent by government design and lifestyle?

    How can we get the word out with real-time examples of how small losses of freedom, inch by inch, comes greater hardship in the future? I believe most people don’t equate the changes we are experiencing today, with the historical Fascist Germany from World War II, or Communist era Stalin/Lenin of our past. That seems too extreme.

    It seems many people look to Europe as a bench mark of culture, fashion, art, philosophy and history which was never really established here in the United States. If Europe still provides that influence today with a predominately Statist controlled system, then maybe that system is ok.

    How do we show it can, and should be different?

    Just some thoughts that scampered across my brain this morning as we strive toward excellence in LIFE.

    Matt

    • Matt, Great thoughts. The problem with Europe is that they are still on the slide and few realize how far they will slide down from where they are currently. Debt ridden and bankrupt societies will continue to sell more of their freedoms for a false sense of security. Instead, I prefer, to say like General Douglas, “Your only security is in your ability to perform.” thanks, Orrin

  4. Kevin Hamm said

    Absent a perfect king, divided sovereignty is the only alternative and we simply must strive to get it back. I was recently completing continuing education credits for my professional certification in my S business profession and came across this question, “Who is responsible for ensuring the employee gets trained?” Of course, the “correct” answer was “the employer”. Any employee willing to accept that as a correct answer can get used to someone else telling them when to get up, when to eat lunch, how much they are worth, when they can go home, etc., etc., etc…. To the one who accepts the most responsibility flows most of the most money and freedom, I am not willing to pass my responsibilities to the Government in exchange for my freedom. I will get free, get education and then dedicate myself to training others so that one by one we can make a difference and bring in the freedom shift. I’m excited for more Orrin. You sure have a way of keeping me up late:)

  5. Bill Newton said

    Orrin,
    I love the way you establish and build a case for a concept that would appear at a glance to be so logical. Have you been dealing with blinded people, that are unwilling to question their own thoughts?
    Great thinking!
    Bill

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