Jean Bodin’s Political PhilosophyJune 27, 2021
French jurist and political philosopher Jean Bodin (1530-1597) is a representative of the strong state ideal. He was born in Angers, France. He became a member of the Paris Parliament and taught at the University of Toulousse. He lived during the Religious Reformation and wrote in France criticizing the conflicts between the Calvinists and the state-sponsored Catholic Church. Although he remained a Catholic throughout his life, he did not refrain from criticizing the papal authority. This is why he was sometimes accused of being a secret Calvinist. In a work he wrote later in his life, he expressed the ideal of a world where all belief systems live together in harmony.
He died in Laon during a plague epidemic. In his main work, Six Books on the State, he defended the absolute monarchy regime and based his theory on the concept of sovereignty, starting from a secular, legal basis. According to him, sovereignty is the most absolute and continuing power of the State over the inhabitants of a country. Sovereignty on behalf of the state is exercised by the monarch-king. The sovereignty exercised by the king is indivisible, indivisible, and inalienable. The king is bound by natural and moral laws and considers himself responsible only to God. Judging from this last sentence, it should not be assumed that Bodin was in favor of the theory of the ‘divine rights of kings’. On the contrary, Bodin created a secular (secular) theory of absolute monarchy based on historical, philosophical and legal foundations. In this context, the source of the state is not God, but the family. “The state is the lawful administration of many families and the things they own with them by the sovereign power in accordance with the law” (cited in fienel, 1998: 313). According to Bodin, who adheres to the patriarchal family understanding, just as the head of the family is the father, the head of the state, which is a collection of families, is also the king. The head of the family tries to ensure the happiness of the family members by meeting their needs. The king also works for the security and well-being of the groups that make up the state. This is its condition of existence. The sovereignty of the king also gives him the right to make laws. Transferring the right to legislate to other social powers means limiting the sovereignty of the king. The regimes in which the right to legislate is in the hands of an aristocratic assembly are called aristocracy, the governments in the hands of the popular assemblies are called democracy, and the regimes in the hands of a single king are called absolute monarchy. There cannot be a mixed form of government in which sovereignty is distributed among these three power centers because sovereignty cannot be divided. If it is divided, anarchy ensues among the parties, the state order disappears over time, or the sovereignty falls into the hands of one of these power centers. The best regime in this case is absolute monarchy. Because other forms of government tend to degenerate into anarchy. While the sovereign is not responsible to the citizens, he is not entirely irresponsible either. The king is above all responsible to natural law; It is his conscience that compels the king to obey the law of nature. If he violates the law of nature by not following his conscience, he becomes responsible to God. At this point, Bodin had to support his secular political theory with a religious thought. At this point, he is in favor of natural religion, though not Christianity.
Bodin based his absolute monarchy regime, which he advocated, on the concept of sovereignty, which he created from a secular and legal basis.
The source of the state is the family, not God. Whatever the father is in the family, so is the king in the state.
According to Bodin, the regime in which the right to legislate is in the hands of an aristocratic assembly is called aristocracy, the regime in which an assembly representing the people is in the hands of democracy, and the regime in the hands of a single king is called absolute monarchy. There cannot be mixed regimes because sovereignty cannot be divided.
The king is responsible to natural law, and it is his conscience that compels him to do so. If he does not listen to the voice of his conscience and obey the law of nature, he becomes responsible to God. With these views, Bodin supported the natural religion against Christianity.
Some commentators have interpreted this last stance of his as his reckoning with the Papal institution. Because Bodin was emphasizing the belief that despite the absolute sovereignty demand and insistence of the Papal administration, the ruler at the head of the national state was both absolute in authority and his responsibility was only against God, not the pope. Indeed, the social forces in Bodin’s hometown, France, were the first to oppose Papal rule, and Bodin was one of the leading thinkers who advocated the idea of the nation-state against the papacy. Bodin, who is in favor of absolute monarchy in the use of sovereignty, believes that the right to property is also absolute. The concept of private property falls outside the domain of the king. The king does not own the property of the families. He cannot transfer them to anyone else, cannot touch them without the consent of the owner. For this reason, it has to apply for universal suffrage when collecting taxes from citizens. In all these views, Bodin was mainly influenced by Aristotle. Again, with the influence of Aristotle, he also touched on the subject of revolution in his work. According to him, the main cause of the revolutions was the gap between the rich and the poor. In order to prevent revolutions, this economic structure had to be changed.