Jean Bodin’s Conception of Natural JusticeJune 28, 2021
Jean Bodin (1529-1596) is a French political philosopher and is seen as a thinker who laid the philosophical foundations of the modern state. He wrote Six Books on the State in 1576.
Jean Bodin asks what is right management. According to him, the Republic is the correct administration of the state by a sovereign power. Proper management is what separates the Republic from gangs of thieves and pirates. Bodin has different views from Machiavelli on sovereignty and the right to sovereignty.
For Bodin, sovereignty is the absolute and indefinite enduring power of a republic. Therefore, no person is the sovereign power, he has held this power for a while at most. This shows that he is a sovereign high official, not the sovereign power itself. Even if the people have given a person their power as long as that person lives, that person is not the sovereign, but merely an official or substitute for the sovereign power.
According to Jean Bodin, the authority and rights of the ruler depend on the laws of God and nature. Therefore, there can be no absolute sovereign, independent of these laws. All rulers of the world are subject to God and the laws of nature.
According to Bodin, absolute power is sovereign by itself, therefore it is not dependent on any other power except God and natural law. Bodin puts only the laws of God and nature above absolute power. In other words, laws are above absolute power. So much so that if we say that a person who is not bound by the law in the world has absolute power, we cannot find a sovereign in the world. The ruler’s reign is due to natural and divine laws.
However, the monarch has the right to change the laws made by himself or his predecessors. That is why the law says that the ruler is immune to the force of the law. The law is the command of the sovereign. But as for divine and natural laws, all the rulers of the world are subject to them and cannot be disobeyed. The ruler is not bound by his own laws, nor by the laws of his predecessors, but by the just and reasonable rules and procedures he has set. According to Bodin, if the ruler is to obey the laws of nature, if the laws of the state are honest and reasonable, then the ruler must also obey the laws of the state. Because the sovereign ruler does not have the power to exceed the limits of the laws of nature. Absolute power cannot go against the laws of God, even if it does not enumerate the laws of society. What Bodin calls the laws of God are laws that express the natural will to justice. The ruler, whose power is unlimited, is solely responsible for the laws of nature and morality. “The feature that makes the state a state is sovereignty” (Gökberk 2008, p. 186). Sovereignty is indivisible and limited by nothing but divine and natural laws.
Bodin also distinguishes between law and law. Law includes right and justice, whereas law is only a command. The law is an order of the ruler who exercises his power.
According to Bodin, as long as the laws of the state are aimed at realizing natural justice, that is, as long as they comply with natural laws, they also bind the ruler.
Bodin speaks of three types of government: democracy, aristocracy and monarchy. Monarchy is the rule of one, aristocracy is the rule of a few, democracy is the rule of all. The best form of government is monarchy. This is because of the notion that sovereignty is indivisible, and the only appropriate government is monarchy. Monarchy is the government that is most compatible with the laws of God and the laws of nature. Bodin distinguishes between types of government as forms of government and types of domination. For instance, he treats the monarchy in three forms as “royal monarchy”, “despotic monarchy” and “tyrannical monarchy”. According to Bodin, despotism and tyranny are often confused. However, there is a difference between them. If the ruler enslaves his enemies by defeating them in a fair and good war, it is despotism. Whereas, if the ruler enslaves free people by defeating them in an unjust war or by other means, it is tyranny. Despotism is legal and legal whereas tyranny is illegal and always against natural and divine laws.
According to Bodin, the people cannot disobey the sovereign power, they have no right to rebel, but if the sovereign power gives orders that are against divine and natural laws, the people have the right to disobey. Therefore, the criterion that Bodin brings to the concept of sovereignty, which is his main interest in politics, is that there will be no unlimited sovereign power and its borders are drawn by divine and natural laws. So sovereignty is not completely unlimited, there are some moral rules that no sovereign power can force us to obey. The state is also a rule of law by the sovereign power. In Bodin’s understanding of absolute sovereignty, morality and natural law determine the limits of the sovereignty of the state. Like Machiavelli, Bodin also wanted to concentrate all power in the hands of the state by eliminating the Church.
According to Bodin, the sovereign power at the head of the state is not dependent on social and established laws, but depends on morality and natural law. This divine and natural law lays the foundation for the existence of sovereignty.