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.