JEAN BODIN, like Machiavelli, was one of those writers whose political thinking developed under pressure of personal experience. The Six books of the Commonwealth was published early in 1576, and more than any of his other works, reflects all the facets of his very varied experience. It is the work of a humanist who had had a conservative education; of a jurist who was as familiar with the work of Du Moulins on the customary law as of the medieval civilians; and of a patriot who had turned his attention to politics in the conditions produced by the Wars of Religion. The circumstances under which the first years of his life were passed explain how he came to be all these things.

He was born in Angers in 1529 or 1530 of a prosperous bourgeois family. His first patron was its bishop, Gabriel Bouvery, a man of influential connections — he was a nephew of Francis I's Chancellor Poyet — and a scholar versed in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Under his influence, at the early age of 15 or 16 years, Bodin was professed in the Carmelite house of Nôtre-Dame at Angers, and then sent with three other young monks to be educated at the house of their Order in Paris.

In Paris he came in contact with both the old and the new learning. His style of exposition makes it clear that he was trained in the old methods of formal argument. It is also clear that he was grounded in the traditional aristotelianism of the schools, without however succumbing entirely to its influence. He was familiar with Aristotle, but nearly always treats him as the antagonist to be refuted rather than the master to be followed. What, understandably enough, he seems to have found more attractive was the new learning centred in the Collège des Quatre Langues, later to become the Collège de France, where linguistic studies replaced theological, and Plato superseded Aristotle as the master philosopher. Its courses were open to all who cared to attend, and there Bodin probably acquired his extensive knowledge of Greek and Hebrew literature, and his platonism. As a legacy of his Paris education his style was permanently modelled on the disputation, but he was a man of the renaissance in preferring Plato to Aristotle, and in being at any rate as much interested in the humane studies of languages and history as in philosophy and theology.

His first sojourn in Paris ended when he was 18 or 19 years old with his leaving the convent, after being dispensed from his vows, and abandoning the study of philosophy and the humanities for that of law. The circumstances leading up to this great change of direction are obscure. But in 1547 the prior of the Carmelites of Tours and two brothers, one of whom was named Jean Bodin, were cited before the Parlement of Paris for having too freely debated matters of faith. In the event the prior and one of the brothers, but not Jean Bodin, were burned. It is not certain whether this was the author of the Six books of the Commonwealth, for the name Jean Bodin was fairly common in the sixteenth century, nor why he escaped, whoever he was. Did he recant? Or was influence used to save him, perhaps that of Gabriel Bouvery? Our Jean Bodin's written works are evidence that he was the sort of man who might easily have got into such dangers in his youth. His last book, the Heptaplomeres, a dialogue between people of different religious faiths, shows him to have been deeply interested in religion, to have been profoundly curious about all the various systems of belief professed in his day, and to have reached so detached a judgement of them that what his own convictions were is a matter of some controversy. He always expressed great repugnance for any policy of forcing men's consciences, and declared in the Heptaplomeres that under such a threat a man was justified in concealing his convictions. He never risked publishing this work. If the Carmelite of 1547 was our Jean Bodin, the reason for his leaving the dangerous environment of the convent becomes clear; and his attitude to religious persecution, and his tendency to conform his own religious profession to time and place, is explained.

The same sort of ambiguity hangs over what may have been another incident in his religious experience. In 1552 a Jean Bodin was in Geneva and left about a year later. If this man also was our Jean Bodin it is evidence of his desire to acquaint himself thoroughly with what Calvinism stood for, but one cannot be certain of anything else than that he must have conformed openly to Calvinist practises. The treatment of Calvinism in the Heptaplomeres does not suggest that he became, much less remained, a convinced Calvinist. The burning of Servetus for heresy in 1553 might well have determined his leaving the city.

Before this happened, about 1550, he had embarked on the study of the civil law, and but for the possible break in 1552, was for ten years in Toulouse, both as student and teacher. That is to say his life in Toulouse was the counterpart of his life in Paris. His environment was academic, and his activities those of a scholar, though Roman law had replaced the classics as the subject of his studies.

His entry into the world of affairs came in 1561 when he abandoned the teaching of the law for its practice, and went to Paris to be called to the bar. He had, of course, to take the oath declaring his catholic orthodoxy required of every avocat du roi on entering into his office. The removal involved more than a change of occupation, important as that was to his development as a writer. The climate of legal opinion was very different in Paris from what it had been in Toulouse. In south France the new learning had invaded the law schools. A new jurisprudence, especially associated with Bourges, and the name of Jacques Cujas, developed out of the humanist passion for recovering and reconstituting the classical past. The great medieval civilians, a Bartolus or a Baldus, consciously adapted Roman law to the legal requirements of their own age, just as the medieval grammarian consciously developed Latin to be a vehicle for expressing his own processes of thought. To Cujas this was a work of barbarization, and he aimed at restoring the original text of the corpus iuris civilis. The results of his endeavours was one of the monuments of renaissance scholarship, and put him in the front rank of sixteenth-century jurists.

Paris lawyers were at once more conservative and more practical, perhaps because the customary law of the north, though deeply penetrated by the principles of Roman law, was not a derivation from it, as was the case in the south, but fundamentally an indigenous growth. The Paris lawyer, concerned with the problems of actual legal practice, necessarily therefore perpetuated the Bartolist tradition in his treatment of Roman law. What interested him more, because of its practical import, were projects for the codification and unification of the still very localized law of north France. Such a project, first mooted under Charles VII, was taken very seriously by Louis XII who ordered an extensive survey of the kingdom to collect the necessary material, and while Bodin was in Paris was being actively prosecuted by the Chancellor, Michel de L'Hôpital, despite the distraction of the political situation. This comprehensive attitude to law Bodin found far more sympathetic than the purism and exclusiveness of the law universities. In the Six books of the Commonwealth Bartolus and Baldus are the authorities on the civil law that he constantly appeals to. Along with them he cites Charles Du Moulins on the customary law with equal respect. Cujas is only quoted in order to be refuted.

Projects of codification were inspired in the first instance by considerations of administrative convenience. But they appealed also to scholars, among them Bodin, who represented another aspect of the French renaissance than the classicism of Cujas and his school, and that was its universalism. This was quite different from the universalism of the schoolmen, which was a matter of abstractions, and centred on the problem of form. What French humanists of the first half of the sixteenth century were interested in was the integration of concrete facts into comprehensive and comprehensible systems. Religion being the urgent topic of the day, it was the search for the universal and comprehensive religion which most engaged their attention, and encouraged the hope that some sort of agreed formula could be reached which would unite Catholic and Huguenot.

Bodin, the humanist and the civilian turned lawyer, embarked on an enquiry into universal law. But he did not approach it through the study of texts and judgements, despite his experience both as teacher and practitioner, for universal law, he thought, was best ascertained through a study of history. He was not original in this respect, such ideas were in the air. François Hotman made the same association in his Antitribonien published in 1567. But the previous year Bodin had already produced his far more thorough and systematic study, The Method for the Easy Comprehension of History.[1] He announced his plan in the Dedication ' [The civilians] have described the laws of no people except the Romans. They should have read Plato, who thought that one way to establish law and government in a state was for wise men to collect and compare all laws of all states, and from them extract and combine the best models.' The Method therefore — though Bodin reviewed all the available material in the form of histories and travel-books, ancient and modem — was not just a scholarly examination of sources. His emphasis was on the comprehension of history. What he wanted to establish was what experience had shown to be the best and most enduring forms of law. 'In history the best part of universal law lies hidden; and what is of great importance for the appraisal of laws — the customs of peoples, and the beginnings, growth, conditions, changes and decline of all states — are obtained from it. The chief subject-matter of this Method consists of these facts, since nothing is more rewarding in the study of history than what is learnt about the government of states.'

Bodin in fact, by the time he came to write the Method was already more interested in forms of government than forms of law. In Paris apparently he found himself too near to the centre of things to escape being drawn into the overmastering preoccupations of the times, religion on his first visit, and politics on his second. The development of his career emphasized this bias by bringing him new contacts. In 1571 he entered the household of the King's brother, François duc d'Alençon, as master of requests and councillor. This brought him into the world of high politics just at a time when politics were already engaging his attention. The Six books of the Commonwealth is evidence of the extent to which he made use of the opportunities of his position. He inspected diplomatic correspondence, and conversed with foreign ambassadors or Frenchmen returned from abroad. He also came with Alençon to England, and saw something of the court of Elizabeth and the University of Cambridge. In 1583 he accompanied him on his journey to the Netherlands.

In the household of Alençon he was in a world intellectually congenial to him. The Duke was the official leader of the party of the politiques, whose distinction it was, in an age of rising fanaticism, to hold that the state is primarily concerned with the maintenance of order and not with the establishment of true religion. The party therefore stood for the absolute authority of the monarchy to determine the measures necessary to that end, and its unqualified right to demand obedience, as against the doctrine of the right of resistance in the name of religion. A public and official statement of these principles had been made by the Chancellor, Michel de l'Hôpital, in his speech to the Estates of Orleans in 1560, just about the time Bodin came to Paris. It fell on ears mostly deaf. In 1562 the long series of the Wars of Religion started, and for the space of thirty years France enjoyed neither settled peace nor order. At this stage of his career, in these circumstances, and in this environment, Bodin composed the Six books of the Commonwealth, published in 1576.

Civil war inspired him with a horror of rebellion and the anarchy that comes in its train, and convinced him that the politiques were right, and that the only remedy was the recognition of the absolute authority of the state 'to which, after immortal God, we owe all things'. Roman law suggested to him the essential concept of such a power. But the comparative historical studies already undertaken in the Method enabled him to free the concept of sovereignty from its particular Roman associations, and to consider it in general as the mark of all types of states at all times. His conviction that it is the condition of human well-being that this power must in all circumstances be preserved led him into the attempt to construct a universal science of politics.

Almost immediately after the publication of the book his career took a downward turn. This had nothing to do with the work itself, but was a consequence of his disinterested conduct as deputy for Vermandois in the Estates of Blois. The occasion proved to be one of the first importance. Since the Estates of Tours in 1484, assembled by the Regency on the death of Louis XI, there had been none in France till Francis I summoned them to meet at Orleans in December 1560. His death a few days before they assembled robbed the meeting of any direction, and they were dissolved in January. The Estates-General met again that year at Pontoise, but was again overshadowed, this time by the Colloquy of Passy, which was looked to more hopefully for a solution of the growing religious troubles of the kingdom. It failed however and civil war started. Therefore the expedient of a meeting of the Estates was again tried. This time they were summoned to meet at Blois in December 1576.

The opportunity was the Paix de Monsieur which had brought a lull in hostilities. The politiques hoped to convert it into a lasting peace by negotiating a settlement. But the Catholic League had just been founded by the intransigent conservatives, and it dominated the two privileged orders of the nobles and the clergy. In these circumstances religious peace was unattainable. Much important business was nevertheless transacted. The Estates discussed a considerable programme of administrative reform, and financial expedients to relieve the chronic inadequacy of the revenues. The results of these deliberations were embodied in the bills of recommendation presented by the three estates, and on these the great Ordinance of Blois of 1579 was based, for the Estates could only petition for legislation. The framing and publication of edicts belonged to the Crown.

Judging by what he says in the Six books of the Commonwealth these Estates, the most important of any that met in the sixteenth century, were a model of what Estates should be to Bodin's mind. Yet his personal share in them was disastrous to himself. It was his first and only appearance in public life, and also the only occasion on which he made an open stand for principles in circumstances damaging to himself. He perhaps found the courage, or the conviction, necessary to do this because it was the future of France, and not simply his own safety, which was at stake. His sense of the importance of the occasion led him to publish an account of what had happened in a pamphlet entitled Recueil de tout ce qu'il s'est négocié en la compagnie du Tiers Etat de France ... en la VIIIe de Blois. In an assembly dominated by the Catholic League, of which the King himself, Henry III, was aspiring to become head, he opposed the reopening of the war against the Huguenots, and urged that a solution of the religious problem could only be achieved by negotiation. He upheld the right of the third estate to dissent from the recommendations of the two privileged orders, despite their opposition. He opposed as damaging to the monarchy the alienation of royal domain as a means of raising money for the prosecution of the war.

His success in the last two instances cost him the favour of the King. When therefore the Duc d'Alençon died in 1583, he retired from Paris and took up the office of procurateur au présidial de Lâon which he inherited from his brother-in-law in 1578. Provincial seclusion did not, however, mean peace and security. In 1588, on the assassination of its leader, the Duc de Guise, the League started a reign of terror in Lâon as in so many other places in France, and Bodin thought it prudent to join an association which stood for everything in both politics and religion which he utterly condemned. The advent of Henry IV in 1594, and the long-deferred triumph of the policy of the politiques, could not have been anything but profoundly welcome to him. But if he had entertained any hopes of restored favour, his joining the League cost him any advancement. He was still in Lâon when he died towards the end of 1596.

Judging by his writings at this time, however, his withdrawal from politics went deeper than a mere change of scene and occupation. There was also an intellectual withdrawal. He abandoned his preoccupation with men and affairs in favour of the contemplation of the order of nature, and an enquiry into the truths of religion. He was still the same Bodin however in search of a universal system. In the Novum Theatrum Naturae of 1594 he set out to describe the universal system of nature, and the unpublished Heptaplomeres[2] was a search for the principles of universal religion. It is also significant of this shift of interest that of his minor works, the essay on currency belongs to the second Paris period, while in Lâon he composed the Demonomania, a study of the influence of good and evil spirits in the world. It could hardly have been the result of any deliberate plan, but in fact the order of Bodin's intellectual development, as reflected in his writings, follows the order of man's ascent from the contemplation of his fellows to the contemplation of nature and of God, described in the Six books of the Commonwealth as the fulfilment of the end and purpose of life.

Despite this withdrawal he was already a famous man at the time of his death. Ten editions of the Six books of the Commonwealth appeared in the French version during his lifetime. In 1586 he published a slightly expanded Latin version, and two more editions of this appeared before he died. Other translators rendered the book into Italian, Spanish, German and English. But his fame, though great, was comparatively short-lived. New editions of his book continued to appear at intervals till the middle of the seventeenth century after which the stream dried up. This was because, though the book did much to bring about a revolution in political thinking, once that was accomplished it had not the literary qualities to recommend it to the general reader. It remains all the same an important book, both in its own right, and as a landmark in the history of political thought.


THE true turning points in the history of political thinking are marked not so much by new things that are said, as by new questions that are asked. With the possible exception of the authors of the Defensor Pacis, no one in the middle ages asked 'What is a state and how is it constructed?', but only 'Who are the rulers and what are their powers?' Even Machiavelli, individual as he was in treating the state as existing in its own right without reference to any higher purpose or order, never asked this question. But Bodin did, and so got away from the endless debate on the relations of temporal and spiritual powers, and found the new approach required of the new situation which had arisen in the sixteenth century.

The break-up of the medieval Church destroyed the framework of the older forms of political thinking. So long as there was a universally recognized Church, having authority, it was possible to conceive of a realizable order in Christendom in terms of obligation to the Church. To require princes to act as the sword of the Church, or subjects to renounce their allegiance to an excommunicate ruler, might be unpalatable, but were not impracticable commands. But when princes and subjects alike had first to make a decision as to what was the Church they recognized, such commandments could only, and did, lead to confusion. Some other focus of political obligation had to be found before order could ensue.

His French environment, and his sympathy with the party of the politiques probably helped Bodin to recognize where the new centre of gravity lay. He no longer talks about the temporal and spiritual powers, the Church and the secular ruler, but about the commonwealth, la république. Moreover he described it with what was recognized to be such insight into its essential character, that all but the simplest political thinkers that came after him, whether they agreed with him or not, thought and wrote not about the powers that be, but the political community as such, and in terms used by him.

For a modem reader the newness of his outlook is somewhat disguised by its formal academic presentation. By comparison with Machiavelli, for instance, he seems to belong to an earlier tradition of political writing. It is true that he did so. His university education along traditional lines turned him out a formal and systematic thinker not only by habit but also by training. Without always keeping to the strict form of the disputation, he nevertheless followed the method in principle in establishing his conclusions. Whether he was discussing slavery [I, v], the exercise of the royal prerogative of justice [IV, vi], or the best form of the commonwealth [VI, iv], he first put the subject to be debated in the form of a question, then assembled all the arguments that could be urged on one side and the other, proceeded point by point to rebut the view which he rejected, and so established a reasoned conclusion. The Six books of the Commonwealth has in consequence about as much pretension to literary grace and charm as a scholastic treatise, and the full text makes very laborious reading. But it also has the merits of its defects. The exposition is complete and coherent. The other, and even more important lesson that Bodin learned in the schools was to achieve clarity and unambiguity by careful definition of all the important terms used. It was these definitions that on occasions he quite rightly claimed were new, and that a generation that was fast casting behind it the rigid formalism of the schools found most arresting and most illuminating.

The opening sentences of the Six books of the Commonwealth betray the original plan of the whole work. Bodin starts by defining the commonwealth as 'the rightly ordered government of a number of families and of those things which are their common concern, by a sovereign power'. He then goes on 'we start in this way with a definition because the final end of any subject must be understood before the means of attaining it can profitably be considered, and the definition indicates what that end is'. In other words he is concerned to establish first what a state is and the ends for which it exists, and then to discuss the practical policies necessary for their accomplishment. His book is therefore a work of the same mixed character as Aristotle's Politics. That is to say it is concerned at once with a philosophy of the state, and with the science of politics. In fact, although he seldom mentions Aristotle except to disagree with him, the Politics obviously provided the general model for the Six books of the Commonwealth. The structure is the same. The first two books of the latter work reproduce the order of the argument in books I and III of the former, being concerned with establishing the nature of the state as such, its end, its foundation in the family, citizenship, and the possible forms the state can assume, and in the same order. Again, Bodin shared Aristotle's lively interest in the causes of the preservation and destruction of states, and therefore the theme of books IV and V in the Six books of the Commonwealth bear a general resemblance to the central books of the Politics. But in this part of the work, where he is concerned with the practice, and not with the theory of politics, Bodin moves away from Aristotle. For one thing the great difference in political conditions in ancient Greece and in his own times meant that there could be little correspondence in the particulars of this discussion. The problems were not the same. Moreover there is an urgency in Bodin's writing that one does not sense in the Politics. He wanted to remedy, not just to analyse, the evils of the times. As he says in the Dedication, when the ship of state is in danger of foundering, it behoves the very passengers to give what assistance they can, and it is in the hope of restoring the ancient splendour of the French monarchy that he has undertaken to write on the commonwealth. The theme of what is to be done and what avoided becomes more and more insistent as the argument proceeds, and altogether dominates the later books.

But as has been said, though France might be his immediate concern, he wanted to enlarge his enquiry so as to arrive at a universal science of politics. His procedure was the same as that already used in the Method, induction from the known relevant facts. He surveyed all the evidence about the way the state works, much as Aristotle conducted a preliminary enquiry into the constitutions of Greek city states, only he did what Aristotle did not do, included all this material in the main work. For Bodin the relevant facts were in the first instance all the information he could collect about the contemporary world from the dominions of the Grand Turk to the New World, and from Sweden to Ethiopia. His sources were those already used for the enquiry into universal law, the accounts of travellers and contemporary historians such as Leo the African and Francesco Alvarez, Paolo Giovio and Las Casas, Machiavelli, Guicciardini and the Venetian constitutional historians, Sleidan, Sigismond d'Herberstein and many others. As has been shown, this information he checked, supplemented and brought up to date by inspecting diplomatic correspondence, and talking with diplomats whenever he could.

In the second place the relevant evidence included, he considered, the facts of past history. This meant for him, as for all men of the renaissance, primarily the ancient world as portrayed by the Greek and Roman historians, and he shared the characteristic humanist admiration for its achievements. But he also had a good deal to say about medieval France, and had troubled to consult the archives at Rheims, Beauvais and elsewhere. He knew something about England, and how the Empire and the Papacy had developed during the middle ages. As he had already explained in the Method, the study of history is not only the means of discovering the principles of universal law, but also of political wisdom. 'For acquiring prudence nothing is more important or more essential than history, because episodes in human life recur as in a circle, repeating themselves.' It is clear that he regarded history as the record of a series of recurrences rather than of a process of change. As will appear later, his cosmological system implied that the order of events is cyclic and not evolutionary. History therefore is a storehouse of immediately relevant examples, mostly of the character of cautionary tales. He could in consequence assume that the proper collection and collation of these examples would enable one not only to interpret contemporary politics, but also to formulate rules for the guidance of statesmen which should have a timeless validity, 'reliable maxims for what we should seek and what avoid'.

Such use of such material for the building up of the science of politics was not original. The resemblance to Machiavelli is too close to be fortuitous. Machiavelli's collected works were published in 1550, and Bodin refers to the Prince, the Discourses on Livy, and the History of Florence, besides basing a chapter [V, v] on the Art of War. In the introduction to the Discourses he could find the statement that history is the proper study of the statesman because, human nature being constant, men always behave in the same way, and therefore the same sequence of cause and effect is always repeating itself. One learns by the experience of others. In the Prince and the Discourses he could see Machiavelli applying this principle by regularly juxtaposing examples of what he was discussing taken first from ancient and then from contemporary history, deducing general conclusions, and so proceeding to frame general maxims. Bodin took over the method but vastly extended the scope. He thought Machiavelli's survey too restricted to allow of conclusions universally valid, and complained that he was very ignorant of many things because he had not read a sufficiency of good books, nor acquainted himself with any peoples but the Italians. Hence what appears to be Bodin's prolixity. It was a consequence of the extent of the field he surveyed, and, it must be admitted, his inability to condense or select.

The science of politics, like any other science, is shaped by the questions asked, and for which an answer is sought. Here again Machiavelli suggested some, though not always all the most important, questions asked. Ought princes to keep the terms of the treaties they made? Should they aim at being rather loved or feared by their subjects' Is it expedient to arm one's subjects and train them for war? But here the resemblance ends. It is an indication of the fundamental difference in values between the two men that the answers are always different where morals are concerned. If Machiavelli holds that a prince is only bound to keep a treaty when it furthers his interests, Bodin says he must do so if the interests of the other party to the treaty are at stake [I, viii]. If Machiavelli argues that a prince should rely on fear to keep his subjects obedient and in awe, Bodin thinks that he should win their affection because friendship and not interest is the bond of society [IV, vi].

It is clear from these instances that for Bodin the science of politics was not just a study of the technique of successful government as it was for Machiavelli. He borrowed the method of investigation, but he strongly reprehended the lack of regard for moral principles, and in the Dedication classed Machiavelli with the apologists of the right of rebellion, as the writers whose doctrines had caused the ruin of commonwealths in his own day. He had as clear a vision as the Italian of what states are like, and of how men conduct themselves politically. But unlike the Italian he always measured them by an absolute standard of right to which they ought to conform. Therefore for him the examination of things as they are did not cover the whole enquiry necessary. An historical survey can be made to yield conclusions about what are politically expedient ways and means, but he did not think it was capable of determining the ends to which those ways and means should be directed. He rejected the notion that one can arrive at a true conception of the proper order in human affairs by considering things merely as they are. This comes out in his discussion of slavery [I, v]. He will not allow that it can be defended as a natural institution simply because it has always existed among men. It is the work of sin, not of nature, and condemned as such by Jew, Christian, and Mohammedan alike.

This is indicative of his whole approach to politics. His values are as traditional as was his cosmology. He thought of the natural order as contained within an eternal order comprehending the universe and all particulars within it, in a single system of relationships. To that order all actions and all institutions must be referred as their end. It is spontaneously realized in all created things save man. The proper motions of the heavenly bodies can be determined by observation because in them there is no imperfection. But when one comes to consider men, the divine and natural intention has been disturbed by the Fall. The proper order of human society cannot therefore be determined by observation simply, because men are imperfect. To know that order we must consult natural reason, and with even more certainty, the law of God revealed in the scriptures. For Bodin therefore, as he himself observed at the beginning, the science of politics must be founded in a philosophy of the state indicating ends.

Moreover a moral imperative is implied since men, knowing by revelation and the light of natural reason what the divine intention is, are bound in conscience to endeavour to realize it.

In fact Bodin's political thought was rooted in a body of dogma, the law of God. It should perhaps be observed in passing that he appears to mean the Old Testament Scriptures alone. There is no single citation from the New Testament throughout the work, and a reference to the trial of Christ is only there to illustrate the powers of Roman provincial governors. Bodin had read Calvin, and forcibly approved his condemnation of rebellion, yet he never mentions Romans xiii on which it was based [II, v].

From these premises it is not surprising to find that Bodin was at one with Calvin and the earlier reformers in seeing the state as originating in the Fall. The disorder and violence of the times he lived in converted what had been a traditional doctrine into a living belief. The state is necessary because men are wicked. But whereas Calvin adhered to the old view that the sin was the sin of rebellion against "the commands of God, for Bodin it was the sin of injustice against one's fellow men. He reverts several times to the theme that the state originated in violence [I, vi and IV, i]. Sometimes he represents it as the consequence of a passion for dominion, of which Nimrod was the first exemplar. At others he ascribes it to an instinct of mutual association as a means of protection against such acts of violence [III, vii]. But in either case, it is the same evils which threaten men, the destruction of their liberty and the seizure of their possessions.

This shift of emphasis to be observed when one passes from Calvin to Bodin is significant of a newly developing doctrine of rights inherent in the individual, and prior to the state. In the second half of the sixteenth century the old conception of the primitive state of innocence was undergoing important modification. The liberty that men enjoyed in that primitive natural society was assumed not to have been lost — as Calvin thought it had been lost — but to be inalienable, and its preservation the foundation of all legitimate political authority. Such views were being expressed by François Hotman in his Franco-Gallia of 1573, and a short while after the publication of the Six books of the Commonwealth in the Vindiciae contra tyrannos of 1579. Bodin never used such phrases as 'natural rights', or 'inherent rights'. But he assumed all through two rights in the individual sanctioned by divine and natural law, liberty and property.

For once his treatment of the subject of liberty was fragmentary, perhaps because his preoccupation with order led him to approach the state throughout from the point of view of the authority of the ruler, rather than that of the rights of the subject. But his main conception is clear. He defined natural liberty as perfect freedom to live as one pleases, subject only to the rule of reason [I, iii]. This is qualified when a man becomes a citizen by the obligation to obey the ruler. But he did not, as did Hotman and the author of the Vindiciae contra tyrannos, hold that such an obligation is compatible with freedom only when the citizen consents to law and government. He would not allow that consent plays any part whatsoever in the obligation to obey. Since, as will appear later, the prince and the law through which he speaks are subject to divine and natural law, for Bodin the ultimate sanction of the individual's liberty, and the guarantee that the necessary restrictions on it in a political society shall be reasonable, is not consent, but the imprescriptibility of divine and natural law.

His treatment of the subject of property is incidental to his defence of the family, and his desire to preserve its integrity. This he saw could only be done by preserving the integrity of its property, threatened by rights of alienation and the depredations of the tax-collector. He therefore, long before either Grotius or Locke, defended private property as sanctioned by divine and natural law, and deduced that the ruler has no right to tax at will [I, viii]. He never asked however, as Grotius and Locke asked, how these rights were distinguished and delimited in the first instance. He simply assumed that the existing state of affairs was sanctioned by the tenth commandment. As a civilian, writing of a society in which property usually meant inherited real estate, he may have assumed as obvious that the rights of individual families went back to an original occupation of res nullius. But however they arose, these rights he regarded as so sacred that the property of the subject cannot be taken from him without his consent, save by legal escheat or confiscation. Presumably he meant that the consent of the Estates was necessary to the imposition of any new tax.

The establishment of the principle that there are certain imprescriptible rights in the individual provided him with the means of distinguishing the rightly ordered state from that which is not so. Tyrannical government is one under which the liberty and property of the subject are arbitrarily invaded, a legitimate government one where the ruler or rulers respect and guarantee them [II, ii]. If then he agreed with Calvin that the state originated in sin, he did not agree with him that in consequence it is merely a machinery for the punishment of sin. He followed up his account of the wickedness of the first rulers by observing that in the face of the threat of enslavement, men were drawn together to form a society whose purpose was the preservation of rights [III, vii]. A true state is therefore a droit gouvernement.

It is clear from his discussion of the term droit that he meant nothing less by it than the whole good of man. He repeats the accepted formula that the body should be disciplined to virtuous activity, and virtuous activity directed to the apprehension of eternal truth. Aquinas would have agreed. But Bodin added that contemplation, or the development of those qualities of mind whereby men distinguish good and evil, true and false, pious and impious, is not only the sovereign good of the individual, but also the true end of the state, for he explicitly identified the two. The importance of this modification can hardly be exaggerated, for it brings not only natural virtue, but religion within the sphere of politics [I, i]. He does not however enlarge upon the implications, nor ever discuss the Church as such. But it is clear that he did not mean that the state has an obligation to establish 'true religion', or that it is for the prince to set up an organized Church and compel conformity to it. This is clear from his treatment of the subject of heresy [IV, vii]. He objected to persecution as only too likely to produce a general scepticism about religion. This he thought a disaster of the first importance, for in his opinion any system of beliefs is to be preferred to none. Religion, because it induces reverence and obedience, is the foundation of the commonwealth, and it largely rests with the prince whether it flourishes or not. What the prince must do is to establish conditions under which religion in the general sense is encouraged. Only by toleration of all forms can genuine piety be promoted, and only the prince can implement a policy of toleration. When therefore Bodin makes droit the end of the state, he does not mean, as Aristotle did, that the state is the means to the good life because political activity is the highest exercise of virtue. He meant that the state alone can maintain those conditions under which subjects can individually live virtuous, thoughtful, and pious lives. The best state, he says, is the one in which the greatest number of citizens live such lives.

Bodin was at the same time fully aware of the fact that in this imperfect world all states fall short of this ideal in varying degrees, and pursue not the highest good, but some particular good only, Sparta courage and devotion, Rome justice. As he says, the state must first secure the lives of its citizens before it can consider how they should live virtuously, and the energies of most states are absorbed in the initial effort of survival. In fact, in the ensuing books of the Six books of the Commonwealth the discussion is largely confined to this immediate problem of self-preservation. But as he said in his opening chapter, he did not intend to take Plato as his model and describe an ideal impossible of realization. Like Aristotle, he was looking for the best in the possible, and he was fully aware that as things were, states fell far below the level of what in favourable circumstances they might become. Having defined the ideal, or ultimate goal, his practical intention involved concentrating on what can in fact be achieved.

When he comes to consider the essential structure of the state, he follows Aristotle in holding that the family group, and not the individual, is the unit out of which the commonwealth is made up [I, ii]. He agreed that the family is a natural society held together by the authority of the husband over the wife, the father over his children and the master over his servants, all sharing a common means of subsistence. But what he emphasized was its moral and political rather than its economic significance, complaining that Aristotle neglected this aspect of it. He discussed it from the point of view of the father, and the father in his role of ruler rather than in his role of organizer of the common life. This was because, as is clear from all that he has to say about both the origin of the state, and the causes of its destruction, he was convinced that what men chiefly need is discipline to correct their factious and rebellious spirits. Therefore, he wanted to see the authority of the father not only preserved, but strengthened even to the extent of the power of life and death over his dependants, for he saw in that power the only means of training the young in the habit of obedience necessary to be acquired if they were later to exhibit that submission to the ruler proper in a subject [I, iv]. Good citizens are made in the nursery. It is thus its political importance that impels him to defend the authority of parents.

Starting from these ideas of sin and its correction, it is not surprising that he should have seen the state in terms of power [I, viii]. Its distinguishing mark is puissance souveraine, a sovereign power. It is necessarily perpetual and absolute, for any person or persons, within the community or outside it, who can impose any time limits, or restrictions on its competence, must be the true sovereign, and the apparent sovereign only an agent. His admission of lois royales, or fundamental laws of the French monarchy, does not really compromise these statements. The salic law is a rule restricting, not the exercise of sovereignty, but the choice of the person who may exercise it. The denial of the right to alienate royal domain was an application of the principle of Roman law that the one thing a sovereign cannot do is to destroy his own sovereignty, and this, Bodin thought, the impoverishment of the Crown would bring about.

On the other hand the use of the term 'absolute' did not necessarily imply that sovereign power was underived, since jurists were familiar with the Roman theory that the imperium is inherent in the community, and conferred by it on the ruler. But Bodin, though trained in the civil law, rejected this part of it. He did so almost certainly because the doctrine of the popular origin of political authority was already being associated by Huguenot writers such as Hotman, with doctrines of the right of resistance. It was very likely this association which led Bodin to deny that consent to government was any part of natural liberty, or that the obligation to obey depended on such consent being given. Bodin's ideas on the origin of political authority derive not from the civil law but from the Hebrew Scriptures. All power is of God [I, viii]. All right to command is therefore essentially independent of the consent of the commanded. The artificial society of the commonwealth should be modelled on the natural society of the family, and no father is appointed by his children to rule over them.

The unqualified right to command is therefore the distinguishing mark of the ruler. This characterization of the sovereign in terms of power is one of Bodin's most original conceptions, and marks the break with the traditional view of the king, enshrined in coronation oaths in use everywhere, that he was in virtue of his office essentially the embodiment of justice, and his primary function was to judge his subjects. Such a conception of monarchy was still that commonly held. Louis XII, busy with projects for the codification of law, spoke of himself as 'débiteur de justice à nos sujets'. The same view was taken by so eminent a contemporary of Bodin's as the Chancellor, Michel de L'Hôpital, whose politique views on the French monarchy, expounded in his great speech to the Estates in 1560, were in other ways very much the same as Bodin's. Kings were first instituted, he told them, for the sake of justice, and this remains the essential attribute of the kingly office, as is shown by the representation of the king on the great seal, seated on his throne in the act of judgement.[3] Bodin, while agreeing that all jurisdiction derived from the king, did not even include the exercise of jurisdiction among the attributes of sovereignty, much less make it the distinctive mark, since the king exercises this right indirectly, by delegation [IV, vi]. For him the peculiar and essential mark of sovereignty is the right to make law; it is its unique attribute, for it is the normal means by which the sovereign indicates his commands. Law then is simply the command of the sovereign. This voluntarist conception is underlined by the distinction he makes between law — that which is commanded — and right — that which is equitable. Only the first proceeds from the sovereign.

If law is command simply it includes, as Bodin saw, all activities of the sovereign. There are however certain matters which the sovereign must attend to himself in virtue of his office and not delegate to the subject, as he delegates rights of jurisdiction, and these powers Bodin calls the attributes of sovereignty. First there is included what Locke called the federative power, or sole right of making war and peace, and concluding alliances. Second there is the right to authorize all appointments to public office, whatever the actual procedure in use. Again, as the source of all rights of jurisdiction, the sovereign is the final resort of appeal for all his subjects and in all causes. Finally he has the exclusive right to demand unqualified oaths of submission, for the relations of the subject to his sovereign are unique in that all his other obligations, as vassal of his lord, for instance, are subject to the prior obligation to his sovereign. These rights are inseparable from sovereignty, for the alienation or delegation of any one of them destroys the sovereign.

From these premises Bodin was able to reach that conclusion that he was convinced must be established if any order was to be maintained anywhere. There is no right whatsoever in the subject of rebellion against the sovereign he had no part in instituting or of disobedience to the law he had no part in making [II, v]. So long as the king had been regarded as the embodiment of justice, the obligation to obey was conditional on the justice of the command. But once the king was conceived of as an absolute and independent power, the usual grounds of resistance were denied. At the same time Bodin wanted to establish a positive obligation to unconditional obedience. He did so by postulating that political authority was of divine institution. Natural and divine law oblige a man to obey the ruler set over him by God. Much as he might condemn tyranny, he would not allow that the cruellest of tyrants and the most unjust of laws may be resisted. The virtue of the citizen is the virtue of obedience.

So much does Bodin insist on power as the distinguishing mark of the state that he comes very near to saying that it is the existence of a sovereign that constitutes a state. He defines the state in terms of its government, 'a rightly ordered government', and citizenship in terms of subjection, for it is not any rights which he may enjoy that make a man a citizen, but his subjection to a sovereign power [I, vi]. The identity of a state therefore depends on the identity of its sovereign [IV, i]. Every revolution, whether sudden or gradual, which results in the seat of sovereignty being changed involves the foundation of a new state, though laws and institutions remain without alteration. This happened when the slow growth of the power of the Princes converted Germany from a monarchy to an aristocracy. But no revolution in laws and institutions, such as the setting up of Lutheran churches in the Scandinavian states, creates a new commonwealth, if sovereignty remains in the same place. Bodin could not go quite so far as Hobbes and define the commonwealth as a number of individuals united solely by their individual subjection to a common power, for he thought of men as naturally sociable, and any association of men as based on mutual amity even more than on justice [III, vii]. But sharing Hobbes's acute fear of anarchy, he was possessed by the same conviction that the recognition of an absolute sovereign power was the only bulwark against it. Where there is no such power, there can be no political society.

This insistence that effective power was the mark of the state does not mean however that Bodin was the exponent of power politics in the same sense that Machiavelli was. Nor could he have said with Hobbes that there is no distinction of right and wrong, just and unjust, until a sovereign makes laws creating such distinctions. As has already been shown, he included the idea of right, as well as of power, in his definition of the state. Though he distinguished law and equity, it was because of the difference in provenance. The one proceeds from the sovereign and the other from God. But in a rightly ordered society there should be no opposition between them; law should conform to equity. Starting as he did from the conception of an absolute moral order, he was necessarily emphatic that if the sovereign is absolute in relation to the subject, he is not so in relation to God. To God, as the author of his authority, he is in all things answerable. The sovereign is not therefore a law unto himself, but the instrument of divine law, bound to make his laws conform to its principles [I, viii]. From the point of view of the oppressed subject, this qualification of the absolute authority of the ruler would seem to be of no practical importance, since no human agent might appoint himself the executor of divine justice. But it was a qualification very generally accepted as of the first importance in the sixteenth century. In the next century it was writers such as Bossuet, or James I and Filmer, rather than Hobbes, who were Bodin's spiritual heirs in this respect.

Bodin however did not intend that the moral sanctions governing the exercise of sovereign power should be unreal. His insistence that the prince must act as the instrument of divine and natural law led him to make considerable qualifications of practical import in the absolutism of a monarch who governs as he should. It is sometimes said that Bodin's ideal was constitutional monarchy, because he advocated the summoning of Estates. It is not so much Estates however which he thought of as tempering the improper exercise of absolute power, for he thought their function purely consultative, but rather the unvarying rule of law based on equity.

This comes out very clearly when in book III he proceeds to analyse the essential structure of government, as a counterpart to his analysis of the essential structure of the state. The inclusion of the term 'rightly ordered government' in his definition of the commonwealth required such an investigation. For government to be efficiently, still more for it to be justly, conducted, three things are necessary, counsel, execution, and assent. The commonwealth should therefore be provided with a 'senate' or council with a constitutional right to advise the sovereign, a magistracy with legal rights of jurisdiction, and Estates which provide a means of communication between subjects and sovereign. A council and Estates are not however a necessary part of the government of the commonwealth. It is highly expedient, but not necessary, for the sovereign to act upon advice. He can act on his own unassisted judgement, and may choose to do so [III, i]. Again, the sovereign need not invite representations from his subjects, nor consult with them in matters of public interest. But again, it is highly expedient for him to do so. Emphatically as he rejected the doctrine that law and government derives from the community, he was fully aware of the practical value of consent in securing obedience. Estates provide the sovereign with the opportunity both of informing himself of grievances, and securing approval for proposed remedies. Such consultation is, however, a matter of policy and not obligation [I, viii and III, vii].

But the case of the magistrates is different. They are indispensable to the government of the commonwealth, for though the sovereign is the fountain of justice, he necessarily delegates the exercise of powers of jurisdiction. The law is his command, but it is not physically possible for him to enforce it personally throughout his dominions, or hear all the suits of all his subjects, without the magistrate as intermediary. It is on the magistrate rather than on the sovereign that the regular functioning of the commonwealth depends. Neither the will of the sovereign, nor the law, can come into operation until the magistrate gives it effect, or as Bodin says, brings it to life [III, v]. He implies that the magistrate has therefore a share in sovereign power, though a strictly subordinate one, for he is bound in obedience to his sovereign, and holds office during pleasure. But because of its indispensability to the functioning of a state, the office pertains to the commonwealth and not to the sovereign, who only has the right of the provision of persons; and when the magistrate is given discretionary powers, and is not bound to apply the letter of the law automatically, he does so in right of his office, and not simply as the agent of the sovereign. He therefore shares the sovereign's responsibility to divine and natural law, and is bound by the principles of equity in all his independent actions.

So Bodin sums up his account of the government of the commonwealth, 'a state cannot fail to prosper where the sovereign retains those rights proper to his majesty, the senate preserves its authority, the magistrates exercise their legitimate powers, and justice runs its ordinary course'. For a prince to govern in any other manner is for him to risk becoming a tyrant.

Perhaps an even more serious check on the arbitrary exercise of absolute power was the obligation of the sovereign to keep his 'covenants' with his subjects. Bodin deduces this obligation from the subjection of the prince to divine and natural law. By a 'covenant' he means any law which is the outcome of an agreement between the sovereign and his subjects. He gives as illustration the promises of redress of grievances, given to the Cortes by the Spanish kings on various occasions, in return for a grant of taxation. All such agreements he thought binding, and he distinguished them from the laws which proceed from the sole will of the prince and so can be abrogated by him at pleasure [I, viii]. Moreover his insistence that the prince may not tax without consent provides occasions tor the making of such covenants, as his example of the Spanish kings shows.

It is clear then that in a rightly ordered commonwealth, governed according to the principles of divine and natural law, there is necessarily an absolute power, but it should not function as an arbitrary one. Much as he learned from Machiavelli, he did not share his faith in the unfettered rule of men of ability. His ideal was a state in which, as Harrington would have said, there is the regiment of laws and not the regiment of men.

At the same time, though in the rightly ordered commonwealth there is the rule of law, divine, natural, and positive, a political society does not cease to be a true commonwealth if these conditions are violated. It is still a true commonwealth if it is characterized by a sovereign power. This becomes clear when Bodin turns from the consideration of the state to states, or the various forms in which the state can be embodied. Until the Italians started comparing the workings of despotisms and popular governments as they knew them in Italy, no one since ancient times had thought of analysing the forms that the state can take. It is true that in the later middle ages knowledge of the Politics familiarized scholars with Aristotle's six pure types. But since the speculations thus provoked had no roots in the practical politics of those times, nothing of importance was added to what Aristotle had to say. The Italians on the other hand confined themselves to the two types they knew, and did not attempt an exhaustive analysis of all possible forms. What is remarkable about Bodin's handling of the theme is that it is both exhaustive and freshly observed. He took the greatest care to find as exact a description as possible of the actual situation and therefore, based as it was on individual observation, there was nothing merely derivative in his account.

He started by reducing Aristotle's six types to three, monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. because, as he saw, if the existence of a sovereign power is the mark of a state, this is a matter of fact, and provides no criterion for distinguishing good and bad states. All that can be distinguished in fact is the location of sovereign power. With his eye on the actualities of the situation, he defined aristocracy not as the rule of the few, but the rule of a minority group, and democracy not as the rule of the many, but the rule of a majority of the whole body. The mixed constitution, so much admired by most of Aristotle's readers, especially in the sixteenth century, he rejected as impossible of existence. That which is absolute cannot be divided. An absolute power must be unique or it is no power at all [II, i].

Right as he might be in this respect, he would seem to have been sacrificing one great advantage. Constitutions, especially European constitutions, were very various. The supposition of mixed constitutions provided a formula for differentiating a great number of permutations and combinations. Bodin however solved the problem in another way. In the first place he made a distinction in the way sovereign power is exercised. Each type can operate tyrannically as a mere exercise of arbitrary power, regardless of the claims of justice or the rights of the subject. Or it can operate despotically as the rightful exercise of an arbitrary power over subjects conquered in a just war. Or it can operate legitimately in accordance with the principles of divine and natural law, safeguarding the inherent rights of subjects.

Bodin appears here to be doing what he had just said could not be done, distinguishing states by a standard of value and not simply by a matter of fact. It is not only that the terms 'tyrannical' and 'legitimate' imply condemnation in the one case and approval in the other. In the one the principles of divine and natural law, which are the mark of the rightly ordered government, are observed, and in the other they are not. Bodin would probably have answered that he is not here classing states according to the particular ends they pursue, but only according to the mode of their operation. Nevertheless one cannot get over the fact that another element than purely constitutional factors is brought in. It is a particular example of his tendency to mingle judgements of fact with judgements of value without distinguishing them.

Much more original was the distinction he made in the second place between the sovereign and the government, or machine through which the sovereign operates. Each of the three fundamental types of commonwealth can be provided with a form of government normally characteristic of one of the other two [II, ii]. By this test ancient Rome was a democracy governed aristocratically, and contemporary France, England, and Spain monarchies governed democratically. This analysis was, he claimed with justice, new. Moreover it was surely much more true to the facts than the old doctrine of mixed constitutions.

Bodin gave so much time and space to the meticulous examination of the structure of actual states because the ultimate purpose of his analysis was a practical one. He wanted to find out the secret of stability in a politically unstable world. Being a sixteenth-century Frenchman, and a patriot, his decision was inevitably in favour of monarchy [VI, iv]. The essential mark of sovereignty is the power to command, and commands, as he says, must proceed from a single will. Collective sovereignty belongs to the realm of ideas rather than of actualities, so that in times of crisis, when immediate and decisive action is necessary, all types of commonwealth tend to revert temporarily to monarchy by the institution of a dictatorship, or some such expedient. Moreover, since he rejected the necessity of consent to government, the important thing about government in his view is not that it should be approved, but that it should be well-advised. A king alone can consult whom he wills, and be governed by the advice of the wiser, and not just the more numerous part. Democracies where the opposite is true, and it is the opinion of the majority that prevails, he thought the least stable form of commonwealth because the majority of men include the ignorant, passionate, and gullible. Aristocracies he also thought insecure because perpetually threatened by dissensions, dissension between the governed and the governing class, and struggles for power within the governing class itself. Only in a monarchy are conditions to be found favourable to that alliance of unity with wisdom which makes the proper exercise of power possible.

Defects however can be mitigated, if not eliminated, if the form of the government is different from that of the commonwealth. The democratic Roman Republic lasted so long because governed aristocratically, in that office was largely confined to the patrician class. It was much vexed by civil strife, but it exhibited a measure of wisdom and discipline in the conduct of affairs which could not have been expected from the plebs, and which secured its long survival. But with the example of the three great western monarchies before his eyes, he was convinced that the most stable form is a monarchy governed democratically, that is to say where the king consults the estates, and all subjects are eligible to office, and it is not exclusive to any one class. Such a state has both the strength that comes from unity, and the strength that comes from common consent.

Not that Bodin thought that it was possible to establish at will those forms perceived to be the most stable. On the contrary he did not consider that the particular forms of states are a matter of human choice and contrivance at all, but rather the inevitable product of environment, or 'climate' as he calls it [V, i]. His doctrines were a deduction from still current medieval physiological theories about the close inter-relation of mind and body. Temperature and humidity determine physique, and physique determines mental and moral aptitudes. This being so it is obvious that the forms of law and government must also be shaped by these unalterable conditions. Rather surprisingly for so systematic a thinker he makes no attempt to bring his argument full circle, and work out a connection between the three climates he distinguished, frigid, temperate, and torrid, and the three fundamental types of commonwealth. It would have meant much forcing of the facts about the distribution of political forms in Europe to make them fit into a neat pattern of this sort. He preferred to leave these ends loose, and confined himself to such scattered observations as that the vigour and independence of mountain peoples, which comes from the severity of the climatic conditions, explain why the Swiss and the Florentines have developed democratic forms of government, whereas the more relaxing effect of damp and marshy country predispose Venetians to submit to the rule of an aristocracy.

Forms of government and of law must be judged therefore by relative and not by absolute standards. The savage penal code, and warlike policies appropriate to the physically vigorous, brave but stupid northern races are altogether unsuited to the delicate, timid, imaginative, and subtle southerner. Diplomacy is the effective weapon of their advancement. Bodin had said at the beginning of the Six books of the Commonwealth that no state pursues the good life absolutely, but always some particular and partial good. His doctrine of the influence of environment meant that it is in the nature of things that this should be so.

Here a modem reader would be satisfied that Bodin had made his point and need carry the argument no further. But Bodin meant by 'climate' something much more all-pervasive than temperature, humidity, and the he of the land, though he included all these things. When he subordinated the commonwealth to divine and natural law he did not only mean that its laws and its government ought to conform to a moral order. He also meant that it had its necessary place in a physical universe subject to invariable natural laws proceeding from God as first cause. It is only when his cosmological ideas are taken into consideration that the full significance of his relativist views on politics is to be appreciated.[4] His system was medieval, for he deliberately rejected Copernicus in the Novum Theatrum Naturae, and adhered to the traditional view based on Aristotle's physics. That system was necessarily astrological. If Aristotle's premises were accepted, first that the universe consists of a material core, the earth and its atmosphere, enclosed within an immaterial envelope, the heavens; and second, that matter is in itself inert and formless; it followed that its myriad forms, and the unceasing transmutation to which it is subject, must proceed from immaterial agents external to it. These agents can only be the stars. Their perpetual and complex revolutions in their circular orbits round the earth are the cause of all phenomena and all change of any kind. All things, from a grain of corn to a commonwealth, are moulded by the place and time of their occurrence, and their life-histories governed by the movement of the heavens. Hence his view of history as the record of recurrences. The historical process must be cyclic rather than evolutionary since it proceeds from the circular motion of the heavens.

It was therefore natural and inevitable that his treatment of history should seem from our point of view to lack perspective. He agreed with Machiavelli that history repeats itself: democracy in ancient Rome, or in the Forest Cantons of contemporary Switzerland was a manifestation of a fixed and constant type. But whereas Machiavelli derived his cyclic view of the historical process from his doctrine of the constancy of human nature, Bodin derived it from the recurrent pattern of events inherent in the cosmic process. It will be observed that Bodin's ideas about the relativity of laws and institutions have a spatial rather than a temporal reference. As one moves through space they differ, according to the different figure of the heavens enclosed within their horizon. But as one moves through time one keeps on coming upon the same phenomena, according as the stars repeat their revolutions.

This is not to say that he believed in an order of necessity in human affairs. The search for the principles of practical wisdom in politics which dominates so much of the Six books of the Commonwealth presupposes the opposite. Bodin held the orthodox view that the will, being immaterial, is free of those celestial forces that mould matter. If a man cannot change his environment and the influences to which he is subject, he can make the best or the worst of his situation. The increasing disorder of the world in which he lived convinced Bodin that statesmen were making the worst of it, largely through ignorance, and states, as do natural bodies, were perishing untimely from violent disorders.

Books IV and V therefore are devoted to the problem of the preservation of the commonwealth, or rather, of the sovereign power which is its constitutive principle. It takes the form of a discussion of revolutions, what induces them, and what precautions are necessary to avoid them, for it must be remembered that for Bodin a revolution which removes the seat of sovereignty involves the destruction of one state and the foundation of a new one. Bodin was always drawing conclusions about what ought to be done, but these two books are entirely devoted to the applied science of politics. He considers such questions as the laws governing the distribution of property [V, ii], the rules relating to eligibility for office and the terms of appointment [IV, iv], the attitude to be taken to political parties, or to professional and other associations of citizens [IV, vii and III, vii], or the best way of securing the state against attack [V, v]. He lays down a few rules of general application. Patrimonial estates should not be confiscated, whatever the needs of the exchequer [V, iii]. Divisions among citizens such as are embodied in political parties should never be encouraged, but peaceful associations such as trade-guilds should [III, vii]. Office should never be sold [V, iv].

But nearly all his conclusions are, as is to be expected, relative to the type of commonwealth to be preserved, for as he says, states of opposite tendencies require opposite policies. For instance, in a democracy office must be open to all and of short duration to preserve an even distribution of power by equal and rapid rotation. If this is not secured democracy perishes. By parity of argument in an aristocracy eligibility must be confined to the ruling class. In the case of monarchy, however, since it is not based on the rule of a class, the king can choose his officers where he will, and be guided solely by convenience in fixing the terms of appointment, long in subordinate positions where experience is useful, short in the high offices of state where long enjoyment of power makes a mere subject too mighty.

He owed much in these two books to a similar discussion in the Politics. But he was an independent observer of contemporary politics, and not only did he apply what Aristotle had to say to conditions in the sixteenth century, but recognized problems which did not exist for Aristotle. Aristotle suggested his treatment of the subject of tyranny. But such discussions as those on treatment of political factions, or the arming of the subject, derived from his own observation or reading. This preoccupation with contemporary problems is a result of his didactic intentions. As has been said already, he wished to remedy, not just analyse, the causes of disruption. He was addressing himself to statesmen, and there were two lessons he wished to impress on them. First, that just because a commonwealth is the outcome of circumstances, preconceived notions about how it should be governed are useless and even mischievous. The ruler must start with a thorough understanding of the particular situation with which he has to deal, since fundamentally he cannot change it. And second, having such knowledge of the situation, he must then know what experience has shown to be the appropriate way of dealing with it.

The discussion of the means of preservation of the different kinds of commonwealth, when taken in conjunction with the initial account of the commonwealth as such, raises considerable difficulties. What ends did Bodin really think the state served? In book I it is said that it exists to promote the good and virtuous life for its citizens. A commonwealth is contrasted with a band of robbers, for one is based on justice and the other on violence. He also said that having determined the end, the means to its realization would then be considered. But the argument does not develop in this way. It is not means to the end of virtue in the citizen which are subsequently discussed, but means to the end of the preservation of the state, regardless of its character.

He had of course pointed out in book I that a state must live before it can live well, and this concentration on the immediate problem of survival rather than on the ultimate purpose of the good life does not in itself create any difficulty. But he not only includes tyranny among the true types of commonwealth, but considers how it may best be preserved. Since tyranny is by definition that form of the commonwealth in which divine and natural law is set at defiance, it is difficult to see why he should have recognized it as a commonwealth while rejecting a robber-band, or how it is to be reconciled with the definition of the state as a rightly ordered government.

His inconclusiveness on this crucial point was a consequence of what was characteristic of much of his argument, a tendency to pass from a discussion of what is right to a discussion of what is necessary or expedient, without apparently being aware of the shift of ground. An example has already been noticed in his analysis of the fundamental types of commonwealth. Another is the criteria appealed to in determining the best form of commonwealth [VI, iv]. Or again, it is never quite clear whether he insisted on discipline because it was conducive to virtue, or because it was a condition of political stability. His hesitation arose from the fact that he saw the state in the first place as the possible, and only possible, instrument of the good life on earth. He also saw that to be this it must be an effective power. Thinking of what the state might be he gave it by definition a moral purpose. Thinking of how necessary it is, he accepted any effective organized power as a true state. The contradiction was never resolved. In the last analysis he thought any form of polity, however tyrannical, better than anarchy, just as he thought any system of beliefs, however crude and cruel, better than atheism. Therefore the preservation of some sort of state must in all circumstances be secured.

The whole work concludes with a chapter on justice. This would seem at first glance to be a return at the last to the theme of the rightly ordered commonwealth described at the beginning, as distinct from the efficiently governed one, which subsequently occupied his attention. In book I, when illustrating the partial aims of all particular states, he put Rome highest because her achievement was justice. The whole book therefore closes on the suggestion that the best realizable right order which actual states can hope to achieve is not the whole good of man, but that modest degree of it which is called justice. What he meant by the term is therefore of some importance.

In the earlier part of the Six books of the Commonwealth when he is discussing the commonwealth as such, he not infrequently uses the term 'natural justice', without however explaining what he meant by it. The context generally suggests however that he meant respect for the rights of the subject to his liberty and property. In this last chapter on the other hand it is political justice and not natural that he is talking about. He had noticed the difference when he observed that Plato thought of justice as a philosopher and not as a jurist. In this last chapter Bodin is speaking as a jurist. He defines it in legal terms, as the principle upon which rewards and punishments are distributed in the commonwealth, that is to say the working of the criminal law, and the administration. But whereas natural justice is presumably in his view constant and universal, here the proper order of justice is relative to the type of commonwealth. Commutative justice, or the strictly equal distribution of honours and penalties preserves a democracy but would destroy an aristocracy. Conversely distributive justice, or award in accordance with the quality of persons, safeguards an aristocracy but would corrupt a democracy. In a monarchy where a more elastic social system is possible than in either of the other two types, since in it classes are at once distinguished and yet not mutually exclusive, harmonic justice is the appropriate form since by it honours are given not in accordance with the status of persons, but with their particular suitability [VI, vi].

This treatment of the theme of justice, therefore, does not really bring the argument back to the state considered as the instrument of the good life. It is true that justice here means right order in the commonwealth, but it is the right order that preserves it as a type, rather than any embodiment of universal moral principles. As he said, states must live before they can live well, and the discussion in book IV of the causes of revolution made it clear that they do not find it so easy to live. The whole work ends on this note, how may their survival be assured.

However, the theme of book I, that the state exists to promote virtue in its citizens, is not completely lost sight of, and at one point in the final book he returns to the problem of the pursuit of higher ends. Every state, he says, ought to undertake the moral discipline of its citizens, such as was exercised in pagan Rome by the censors. In the modem state he regarded it as the function of priests and ministers of religion, [VI, i]. The Church has a duty and a place within the state. It is clear that when he included true religion in that total good which it is the state's purpose to promote, he did not only mean that the prince should free the practice of one's beliefs from legal restrictions. He also meant that the clergy have a necessary function in the disciplining of the citizen. They are not however solely responsible for this discipline. It is a duty incumbent on the sovereign to use such opportunities as he has to the same end. Surprisingly enough he thought the proper management of taxation a suitable means. In spite of the chronic inadequacy of the revenues in France in his day, he clung to the conviction that the king ought to be able to 'live of his own', and that taxes were an extraordinary expedient which ought never to be allowed to establish themselves as an ordinary source of revenue. Nevertheless, he had to recognize that there are crises for which the ordinary revenues do not suffice. On such occasions, when taxes must be imposed, they should be on luxury articles, not because that involves taxing the rich and the rich should pay, or because it is economically sound, but because the most effective way of checking self-indulgence and vicious habits is to make them expensive [VI, ii].

As has been shown, the Six books of the Commonwealth was an immediate success, and a much read book for about fifty years after its appearance. Nevertheless from Bodin's point of view it was perhaps only a partial success. Although his doctrine of the relativity of political institutions has attracted much attention in present times, Bodin wholly failed to impress his contemporaries as a student of politics. Rulers did not carry round a copy of his book as they were reported to do with the Prince. Apart from its immense length, it was not very digestible. The form is repellent to all except the determined reader. Bodin buried his conclusions under a mass of evidence and long scholarly discussions of its interpretation. The presentation was formal and elaborate in an old-fashioned way. The chapters were very long, unparagraphed, and with few marginal headings to indicate the succession of subjects of discussion. Emphatically, not the sort of reading that men of affairs take up. He was read by people whose interest in politics was speculative rather than practical. What attracted them was his doctrine of sovereignty, his analysis of forms, and his defence of monarchy. Everyone writing after Bodin, by direct or indirect influence, repeats what he has to say in whole or in part on these subjects. Hobbes, the royalist writers, and Locke all assume that the essence of sovereignty is the authority to make law, and attribute to the sovereign the powers which he does. Hobbes takes over his analysis of essential forms, the royalists his defence of monarchy on grounds of expediency, and Filmer repeats the whole comparative discussion of the characteristics of each form. Even Harrington, who belonged to the school of thought that Bodin rejected, and ascribed final authority to the people, analysed government into the senate proposing, the magistrate executing, and the people resolving. This part of his book was indeed almost too convincing. Once his doctrine of sovereignty was accepted as common form, his book was no longer kept alive by being a subject of controversy. On the other hand the later part suffered from the opposite disadvantage, neglect. His scholarly readers were not so interested in the discussion of means as of ends. Moreover the fact that he based his doctrine of environment on a cosmological system which was on the point of being abandoned at the very time he was writing probably contributed to the oblivion which was the fate of this part of his work. Montesquieu could claim that the Esprit des Lois was a work which had no parentage.

It was a long time before anyone else attempted to survey so immense a field of political experience, and to carry any further his enquiry into the meaning of the variety of political forms and institutions in all places and at all times. No one, not even Montesquieu, emulated the grandeur of his design. One had to be as near the middle ages in time, and in spirit, as Bodin was, to think and write of the state in relation to the cosmic process, at once rooted in it and reflecting it. He concluded his defence of monarchy with the same argument as Dante and his kind had used. The microcosm should reflect the macrocosm, and thus. since the universe is subject to the sole and sovereign majesty of God, so the commonwealth should be subject to the sole and sovereign majesty of the prince [VI, iv].

The Six books of the Commonwealth marks the transition from specifically medieval to specifically modem ways of political thinking. It at once recorded that process and assisted its accomplishment. His scholarship combined the methods of the old learning with the interests of the new. He asked new questions because he perceived new problems. He recognized the emergence of the state as the all-important and all-powerful instrument of men's fate. But he could not, as could Machiavelli, rid himself of the belief in a universal order of absolute values, in which the state still had a place. His book is all the more interesting because the transition is not perfectly accomplished. This comes out in his inability to make a clear separate of right and fact. He could neither say consistently with the schoolmen, let us consider things as they ought to be if the purposes of God are to be accomplished, or with Machiavelli, let us consider things as they must be if men are to have what they desire. Because he was an acute and original observer he was able to analyse the state, its marks, its types, its functions, with clarity. But it is not finally clear whether he still thought its purpose was to make men good by acting as the instrument of a higher law, or had begun to think it existed in its own right to afford them security.


AN abridgment of an important work, to be justified, must preserve not only the whole of the essential argument, but also its characteristic proportions. Closely argued and economically written books are therefore not susceptible of such treatment without suffering loss or distortion. The Six books of the Commonwealth, however, is marked by great elaboration because of the method of demonstration. Bodin's aim to construct a universal science of politics by surveying all the relevant facts and opinions required that this survey should be exhaustive. He tried to make it so. The definition of a citizen is only established after all the descriptions he knew have been discussed, and tested by reference to the facts. An observation on the instability of Florentine politics leads to a recital of the whole course of the city's history from the middle of the thirteenth century — and so on and so forth. If one is treating the Six books of the Commonwealth as a document of sixteenth-century scholarship, none of this material can be jettisoned. But if it is taken as a book on political science much of it can, for it is not all necessary to the development of the argument. On the contrary, the very wealth of this illustration gives an impression of confusion that Bodin does not deserve. His book is in fact carefully planned as a whole, and however long his parentheses, he always returns to the argument at the point where he broke off. If much of this illustrative material is discarded the main shape of the argument emerges clearly and coherently. This has been the principle of selection in this abridged version, though sufficient reference to past and present political actualities has been preserved to show how he established his conclusions.

Bodin's prose is not easy to translate. The problem is partly one of style and partly one of vocabulary. His sentences are long, elaborate, loosely constructed and elliptical. It would take a Sir Thomas Hoby to convey their quality. No attempt has been made to do this, but only to convey the sense. Though the result may make easier reading, much of the weightiness and force of the original is inevitably lost. But no translation, however inadequate, could fail to preserve one characteristic of the original, and that is the sound of a voice arguing, for this is not just a matter of style, of the way Bodin writes, but of the way he thinks. Difficulties over his vocabulary arise because it was designed to express the actualities of sixteenth-century politics, especially in France, and where there are no English counterparts, it is hard to find English equivalents. The distinction he makes between cité and république for instance describes the situation in France but bears no relation to conditions of English political organization. In case of such special difficulties a note has been added. République has been translated commonwealth to avoid the suggestion of a specific form of constitution that republic conveys in English.

Footnotes have been kept to a minimum. Bodin's method of demonstration involves constant reference to the literature of law, philosophy, and history. It has been assumed that his classical and biblical references need no elucidation. Only his references to the more obscure incidents of contemporary politics have been explained, for here his encyclopaedic reading had made him familiar with the bye-ways that are not common knowledge. Discussion of his accuracy in using his sources must however lie outside the scope of a book in which only fragments of them are incorporated.



A collected edition of Bodin's works is in preparation. Jean Bodin. OEuvres philosophiques, texte établi, traduit, et publié par P. Mesnard (Corpus général des philosophes français). Of this series the first volume has appeared, Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (Paris, 1951). (This is prefaced by the most recent biography.)

For the Six books of the Commonwealth only sixteenth- and seventeenth-century editions are at present available. An abridged version by J. C. de Laire was published in 1755. Authorities.

H. J. L. Baudrillart, Jean Bodin et son temps (Paris, 1853). R. Chauviré, Jean Bodin, auteur de la République (Paris, 1914). E. Hancke, Bodin. Studien über die Begrijf der Souveränitat (Breslau, 1894). A. Garosci, Jean Bodin, Politica e diritto nel rinascimento francese (Milano, 1934).

E. Fournol, Bodin, prédécesseur de Montesquieu (Paris, 1896). J. Moreau-Reibel, Jean Bodin et le droit public comparé dans ses rapports avec la philosophie d'histoire (Paris, 1933). B. Reynolds, Proponents of limited monarchy in sixteenth century France.

François Hotman and Jean Bodin (Columbia University Studies in History, No, 334). (New York, 1931). See also:

J. W. Allen, Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century (London, 1928). P. Mesnard, L'Essor de la philosophic politique au 16è siècle (Paris, 1936). G. H. Sabine, A History of Political Theory (London, 1937). G. Weill, Les théories sur le pouvoir royal en France pendant les guerres de religion (Paris, 1891).

1. This is most easily consulted in the translation by B. Reynolds (Columbia University Records of Civilization), New York, 1945.

2. This was first published, in an incomplete form, by Guhrauer in 1841. L. Noack published a complete version, Colloquium Heptaplomeres lie abditis rerum sublimium arcanis (Schwerin, 1857). An incomplete French version was published by R. Chauviré in 1914.

3. P. Duféy. Michel de L'Hôpital: OEuvres complètes (Paris, 1824-26), Vol. I, No. 4.

4. For a fuller account of this relationship, see my article, 'Jean Bodin and the medieval theory of climate', in Speculum, Vol. XXVIII, No 1, Jan. 1953.

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