Dedicated to a most distinguished and learned man
Martin Neurath, J.U.D.
Siegensian advocate and trial lawyer, my honourable relative and likewise to an excellent and learned man
Jacob Tieffenbach Cambergian advocate, my honourable relative

I have attempted, most distinguished and learned men, honourable relatives and friends, to restate in an appropriate order the many political precepts that have been handed down in various writings, and to find out whether a methodical plan of instruction according to the precepts of logicians can be followed in these matters. This plan and goal was conceived and attempted by me that I might possibly offer a torch of intelligence, judgment, and memory to beginning students of political doctrine. And in order to perform this labour with greater effect and success, I have consulted those authors of this science who seem to me to excel others in political experience and practical understanding.

In addition to these writers I have also added some others, even though they do not handle the subject professionally. I have discovered that as each of these other teachers of politics was devoted to this or that discipline and profession, so he also brought from his own profession many elements that are improper and alien to political doctrine. Indeed, now philosophers, then jurists, and still again theologians handle political questions and axioms. I have observed that philosophers have proposed from ethics many moral virtues by which they would like the statesman and prince to be equipped and informed. Jurists have introduced from jurisprudence — a cognate area closely related to politics — many juridical questions about which they have spoken with eminence in legal science and by which they would instruct the statesman. Theologians who have been of this sort have sprinkled teachings on Christian piety and charity throughout; indeed, I should even have said that they have prescribed a certain use of the Decalogue for the instruction of the statesman. I have considered that elements of this sort that are alien and useless in this art ought to be rejected and, by the dictate of justice, returned to the positions they properly hold in other sciences.

I have also noted some things that are missing in the political scientists. For they have omitted certain necessary matters that I think were carelessly overlooked by them; or else they considered these matters to belong to another science. I miss in these writers an appropriate method and order. This is what I especially seek to provide, and for the sake of which I have undertaken this entire labour. For I cannot describe how very beneficial this plan for clear teaching is to students, and even to teachers. Those who are acquainted with these matters, and have learned from experience about them, testify that this method is the fountain and nursery of memory and intelligence, and the moulder of accurate judgment.

The political precepts and examples that I set forth have been selected, for the most part, from these same political authors, and so acknowledged in proper places. And thus you have a summary of the things I reprove in a freely Socratic fashion in so many political thinkers, the things I reject, those I find inadequate, and those I approve. Whether I have done so rightly or not, you and other candid men may judge. Certainly I have attempted to flee from and avoid those things I reprove in others, and to add what I have found missing in them. If I have not completely attained this goal, nevertheless I have tried. And this I consider not reprehensible. Whatever was praiseworthy in any other place or time has been incorporated here. For each contributes in this matter, as in others, what he can. In the construction of the tabernacle in the ancient Jewish church everyone did not contribute the same or equal things. Some brought stones, some wood, some iron, some silver, some gold, some copper, some precious jewels, some cotton cloth, some purple garments, some hides, and some goats' hair. This collection of gifts was dissimilar and very unequal. Yet even the least of these gifts should be praised. For which of them was not needed in the construction of the temple? If in political science something perchance new has been able to come forth by my efforts, however difficult this may be to accomplish in my opinion, this too I consider pleasing and welcome.

Here is the place to say something concerning two difficulties encountered in this enterprise. The first is that I have experienced difficulty in separating juridical matters from this science. For as close as the relationship is of ethics with theology, and of physics with medicine, so close — indeed I should say even closer — is the relationship of politics with jurisprudence. Where the moralist leaves off, there the theologian begins; where the physicist ends, the physician begins; and where the political scientist ceases, the jurist begins. For reasons of homogeneity, we must not leap readily across boundaries and limits, carrying from cognate arts what is only peripheral to our own. Prudence and an acute and penetrating judgment are indeed required to distinguish among similar things in these arts. It is necessary to keep constantly in view the natural and true goal and form of each art, and to attend most carefully to them, that we not exceed the limits justice lays down for each art and thereby reap another's harvest. We should make sure that we render to each science its due (suum cuique) and not claim for our own what is alien to it. How many juridical questions taken from the midst of jurisprudence do you find in the political writings of Bodin and Gregory? What can the beginning student of politics, who is not trained in the science of politics, make of these questions, and how can he pass judgment upon them? I say the same about the theological and philosophical questions that others have added to politics.

How far one may proceed in political science is sufficiently indicated by its purpose. This is, in truth, that association, human society, and social life may be established and conserved for our good by useful, appropriate, and necessary means. Therefore, if there is some precept that does not contribute to this purpose, it should be rejected as heteronomous.

The purpose of jurisprudence is skillfully to derive and infer right (jus)[1] from fact (factuni), and so to judge about the right and merit of fact in human life. Precepts that go astray from this goal, and indicate nothing about the right that arises from fact, are alien and irrelevant in this discipline. However, the facts about which right is affirmed can vary, and are selected from those that are proper to several other arts. For this reason, the jurist obtains information, instruction, and knowledge about these facts not from jurisprudence, but from those who are skilled in these other arts. From this information he is then able to judge more correctly about the right and merit of a fact. So it is that many jurists write and teach about rights of sovereignty (jura majestatis),[2] even though these rights are so proper to politics that if they were taken away there would be almost nothing left to politics, or too little for it to exist. Now the political scientist properly teaches what are the sources of sovereignty (capita majestatis), and inquires and determines what may be essential for the constituting of a commonwealth. The jurist, on the other hand, properly treats of the right (jus)[3] that arises at certain times from these sources of sovereignty and the contract entered into between the people and the prince. Both, therefore, discuss rights of sovereignty: the political scientist concerning the fact of them, and the jurist concerning the right of them. If the political scientist were to discourse on the right and merit of these facts that are judged necessary, essential, and homogeneous to social life, he would have overstepped the clear boundaries of his art. If the jurist were to propound political precepts, namely, how an association is to be constituted, and once constituted then conserved, what kind of commonwealth is happier, what form of it is more lasting and subject to fewer perils and changes, and other such things, he would have taught what is professionally alien to him. Nevertheless, all arts in their use and practice are often united, indeed, I should have said always united.

I have assigned the rights of sovereignty and their sources, as I have said, to politics. But I have therein attributed them to the realm, or to the commonwealth and people. I know that in the common opinion of teachers they are to be described as belonging to the prince and supreme magistrate. Bodin clamours that these rights of sovereignty cannot be attributed to the realm or the people because they come to an end and pass away when they are communicated among subjects or the people. He says that these rights are proper and essential to the person of the supreme magistrate or prince to such a degree — and are connected so inseparably with him — that outside of his person they cease to exist, nor can they reside in any other person. I am not troubled by the clamours of Bodin, nor the voices of others who disagree with me, so long as there are reasons that agree with my judgment. Therefore, I maintain the exact opposite, namely, that these rights of sovereignty, as they are called, are proper to the realm to such a degree that they belong to it alone, and that they are the vital spirit, soul, heart, and life by which, when they are sound, the commonwealth lives, and without which the commonwealth crumbles and dies, and is to be considered unworthy of the name.

I concede that the prince or supreme magistrate is the steward, administrator, and overseer of these rights. But I maintain that their ownership and usufruct properly belong to the total realm or people. This is so to the extent that, even if the people should wish to renounce them, it could no more transfer or alienate them to another than could a man who has life give it to another. These rights have been established by the people, or the members of the realm and commonwealth. They have originated through the members, and they cannot exist except in them, nor be conserved except by them. Furthermore, their administration, which has been granted to a prince by a precarium or covenant, is returned on his death to the people, which because of its perpetual succession is called immortal. This administration is then entrusted by the people to another, who can aptly be one or more persons. But the ownership and usufruct of these rights have no other place to reside if they do not remain with the total people. For this reason, they do not by their nature become articles of commerce for one person. And neither the prince nor anyone else can possess them, so much so that if a prince should wish to exercise ownership of them acquired by some title or other, he would thereby cease to be a prince and would become a private citizen and tyrant This is evident from those matters that I have stated in Chapters VI and following, especially in Chapters XIV, XV, and XIX.[4] The celebrated Covarruvias agrees with me, as do certain others whom I have acknowledged in Chapters XIV and XV.

These problems have been the reasons for my first difficulty. The other difficulty is no less severe, namely, that I have been forced at times to set forth theorems about contingent circumstances that are nevertheless alien to this art. For I have described the character, attitude, customs, and natural disposition of the people, prince, courtiers, and other subjects as they exist in various forms in political life. All these theorems are of this sort. And I realize that they occur in great numbers (epi to pleiron ), and are developed in relation to contingencies (kata sumbebhkoV ). For there are peoples, and one often encounters them, who change their character and customs. There are princes who, because of education, training, the goodness of nature, and the grace of God, do not copy the temper and usage that might and rule customarily bring forth in some persons. There are well-constituted princely courts. There are good and pious courtiers, and there are bad ones. But there are more of the latter than the former, as even David in his time complained in Psalms 52, 53, and 59. The same can be said about the political remedies, advice, and precepts adapted to place, time, and person that I discuss in various places. But who can propose general precepts that are necessarily and mutually true about matters so various and unequivalent? The statesman, however, should be well acquainted with these matters. And political science should not omit matters that the governor of a commonwealth should know, and by which he is shaped and rendered fit for governing.

I have already considerably digressed from my purpose of providing reasons for the labour I have undertaken. It is a pleasure to dedicate to you, most distinguished and learned relatives in the Lord, these political meditations of mine. By this means a testimony may stand forth of our friendship and affinity. If my desire is for very penetrating and fair judges of the things I discuss in this book, I rightly choose the two of you for this responsibility. You excel in erudition, excellent doctrine and precise judgment, not to mention other eminent talents with which God has equipped you. You are involved with the affairs of a commonwealth, and every day handle most of the matters I discuss. You are therefore best able to pass judgment on these matters. You can also influence me more freely and effectively than can others, and are able to recall me to the true way if I have departed from right reason in political precepts and their applications, or in the manner of arranging and ordering them.

May the supremely good and great God grant that while we dwell in this social life by his kindness, we may show ourselves pleasing to him and beneficial to our neighbour. Farewell to you, and to my relatives and friends.

Most devotedly yours,
Johannes Althusius


Dedicated to the illustrious leaders of the estates of Frisia
between the Zuider Zee and the North Sea
most worthy lords

Since I understand, illustrious leaders, that my former political treatise has been read by many persons, and all copies sold out, I have brought forth another edition.[5] By re-examining the earlier work, and recalling it to the forge, I have intended to perform a worthwhile service. This has been done during the odd hours permitted me between responsibilities to the Commonwealth.[6]

I call to your attention that these second meditations have developed into a new political work that differs from the earlier treatise in form, method, and many other respects. In this work I have returned all merely theological, juridical, and philosophical elements to their proper places, and have retained only those that seemed to me to be essential and homogeneous to this science and discipline. And I have included among other things herein, all in their proper places, the precepts of the Decalogue and the rights of sovereignty, about which there is a deep silence among some other political scientists. The precepts of the Decalogue are included to the extent that they infuse a vital spirit into the association and symbiotic life that we teach, that they carry a torch before the social life that we seek, and that they prescribe and constitute a way, rule, guiding star, and boundary for human society. If anyone would take them out of politics, he would destroy it; indeed, he would destroy all symbiosis and social life among men. For what would human life be without the piety of the first table of the Decalogue, and without the justice of the second? What would a commonwealth be without communion and communication of things useful and necessary to human life? By means of these precepts, charity becomes effective in various good works.

He who takes the rights of sovereignty away from politics destroys the universal association.[7] For what other bond does it have than these alone? They constitute it, and they conserve it. If they are taken away, this body, which is composed of various symbiotic associations, is dissolved and ceases to be what it was. For what would the rector, prince, administrator, and governor of a commonwealth be without the necessary power, without the practice and exercise of sovereignty?

By no means, however, do I appropriate those matters that are proper to theology or jurisprudence. The political scientist is concerned with the fact and sources of sovereignty. The jurist discusses the right that arises from them. The former interprets the fact, and the latter the right and merit of it. Since the jurist receives information, instruction, and knowledge about matters from those arts to which such matters belong, and about the right and merit of fact from his own science, it is not surprising that he receives knowledge of some matters from political science. Therefore insofar as the substance of sovereignty or of the Decalogue is theological, ethical or juridical, and accords with the purpose and form of those arts, so far do those arts claim as proper to themselves what they take for their use from the Decalogue and the rights of sovereignty. And so far also I do not touch the subject matter of the Decalogue or of sovereignty, but rather consider it to be alien and heterogeneous to political science. I claim the Decalogue as proper to political science insofar as it breathes a vital spirit into symbiotic life, and gives form to it and conserves it, in which sense it is essential and homogeneous to political science and heterogeneous to other arts. So I have concluded that where the political scientist ceases, there the jurist begins, just as where the moralist stops the theologian begins, and where the physicist ends the physician begins. No one denies, however, that all arts are united in practice.

I have rightly selected examples for political science from excellent and praiseworthy polities, from the histories of human life, and from past events, and have employed them in that art that ought to be the guide of an upright political life, the moulder of all symbiosis, and the image of good social life. I more frequently use examples from sacred scripture because it has God or pious men as its author, and because I consider that no polity from the beginning of the world has been more wisely and perfectly constructed than the polity of the Jews. We err, I believe, whenever in similar circumstances we depart from it.

Moreover, I have attributed the rights of sovereignty, as they are called, not to the supreme magistrate, but to the commonwealth or universal association. Many jurists and political scientists assign them as proper only to the prince and supreme magistrate to the extent that if these rights are granted and communicated to the people or commonwealth, they thereby perish and are no more. A few others and I hold to the contrary, namely, that they are proper to the symbiotic body of the universal association to such an extent that they give it spirit, soul, and heart. And this body, as I have said, perishes if they are taken away from it. I recognize the prince as the administrator, overseer, and governor of these rights of sovereignty. But the owner and usufructuary of sovereignty is none other than the total people associated in one symbiotic body from many smaller associations. These rights of sovereignty are so proper to this association, in my judgment, that even if it wishes to renounce them, to transfer them to another, and to alienate them, it would by no means be able to do so, any more than a man is able to give the life he enjoys to another. For these rights of sovereignty constitute and conserve the universal association. And as they arise from the people, or the members of the commonwealth or realm, so they are not able to exist except in them, nor to be conserved except by them. Furthermore, their administration, which is granted by the people to a single mortal man — namely, to a prince or supreme magistrate — reverts when he dies or is discharged to the people, which is said to be immortal because its generations perpetually succeed one after the other. This administration of the rights of sovereignty is then entrusted by the people to another. And so it remains with the people through a thousand years, or as many years as the commonwealth endures. I discuss this point extensively in Chapters IX, XVIII, XIX, XXIV, and XXXVIII.

To demonstrate this point I am able to produce the excellent example of your own and the other provinces confederated with you. For in the war you undertook against the very powerful king of Spain you did not consider that the rights of sovereignty adhered so inseparably to him that they did not exist apart from him. Rather, when you took away the use and exercise of them from those who abused them, and recovered what was your own, you declared that these rights belong to the associated multitude and to the people of the individual provinces. You did this with such a courageous spirit, with such wisdom, fidelity, and constancy, that I cannot find other peoples to compare with your example.

And this among other reasons leads me to dedicate these political meditations to you. It even leads me to refer very often in them, when illustrations of political precepts are used, to examples chosen from your cities, constitutions, customs, and deeds, and from other confederated Belgic provinces, I am also moved to do this by the favour, warmth, and disposition that you, together with your confederates, have expressed often towards this Commonwealth that I have served for a number of years, and indeed, even toward me when not many years ago you saw fit to call me — with very fair provisions — to profess the juristic science at your illustrious and much celebrated academy at Franeker. Wherefore I think it only just that I acknowledge and openly proclaim your kindnesses in this preface and dedication, and publicly commend for the imitation of others those virtues through which, by the grace of God, you not only defended and conserved your commonwealth from tyranny and disaster, but also made it even more illustrious. For the success of your admirable deeds, and those of your allies, is so abundant that it overflows into neighbouring countries, indeed, into all of Germany and into France. It is even experienced by the nations of the Indies and many other realms plagued by Spanish arms that have been sustained and defended by you and the other provinces united with you. Since the published annals and histories speak of these things to the eternal glory of your name, I choose to pass over them in silence rather than to mention only a small part of them.

May the supremely good and great God grant that while we live in this political life and this symbiosis by his grace, we may make ourselves useful and beneficial to men, and so attain the purpose that has been the concern of this discipline. With this prayer I close this preface. With reverent and humble respect and honour for your illustrious splendour.

Johannes Althusius

[The author's footnote material is unbracketed; the translator's is bracketed.]
1. [The Latin word jus (pl. jura) as here employed by Althusius means both 'right' and 'law'. For further information on this word, see page 13, footnote 2.]

2. [Although this phrase is consistently translated hereafter as 'rights of sovereignty,' attention is called to the point that it often conveys the additional meaning of 'laws of sovereignty' or sometimes of 'powers of sovereignty.']

3. [law.]

4. [In the 1614 edition, which has been used in this translation, Chapter VI becomes IX, XIV and XV become XVIII and XIX respectively, and XIX becomes XXIV.]

5. [This preface was prepared originally for the second edition (1610) and retained in the third and later editions.]

6. [City of Emden.]

7. [consociatio universalis: the commonwealth; an association inclusive of all other associations (families, collegia, cities, and provinces) within a determinate large area, and recognizing no superior to itself.]