Political Philosophy of Johannes AlthusiusJune 27, 2021
Althusius’s masterpiece, Politica Methodica Digesta et Exemplis Sacris et Profanis Illustrata (“Methods of Governmental Policy”), published in 1603, is a treatise on all forms of human societies. The political theory put forward here is based on the idea of social contract. Althusius’ political theory does not derive from religious authority. In this context, it is a naturalist theory and approaches Aristotle’s understanding of politics.
According to Althusius, it is a natural phenomenon for people to unite in groups. Society is not an “artificial object” to be explained by external causes, as Hobbes argues. Althusius’ theory of contract includes both the social contract and the power contract between the ruler and the people. The social contract is the foundation of a society. The people in the society have made a tacit agreement among themselves, agreeing to live together and abide by the laws created by it. A dual law prevails in society. On the one hand, this law defines the type of community; on the other hand, it creates and limits an authority to run the common affairs of the community.
Althusius divided the units of society into five main types: family, corporation, local community, province, and state. The distinctive feature of the state, which is made up of a union of provincial or local communities, is the exercise of sovereignty. But sovereignty belongs to the people; it can never be owned by a class of rulers or a family, power is vested in the rulers of the state by state law; This law forms the basis of the power contract between the ruler and the people. Sovereignty given to the rulers to achieve the goals of the community goes back to the people when the ruler loses it for any reason.
The basis of Althusius’s political philosophy is based on the principle of indivisibility of sovereignty, as in Bodin. Seeing sovereignty as a prerequisite for the existence of political communities, Althusius greatly influenced Rousseau with this view.
Althusius also defended the right to resist tyranny. But this right should not be exercised by individuals, but through a ruling class tasked with protecting the rights of the community. In fact, Althusius’ contract of power is not between individuals and the state, but between corporations and the state.
Althusius’ thought reflects the conditions of 16th century Germany and includes a search for a solution to the problems arising from these conditions. In a historical period determined by local and regional features and city-states ruled by German princes, which prevented the establishment of the national state, Althusius advocated a limited monarchy on the basis of a kind of federalism consisting of corporations. He argued that national unity could only be achieved by the integration of small community units within a hierarchy of authority. Althusius’ theory of the state was ignored by those who defended the unlimited powers of the German princes in the 17th century, and significantly influenced the development of liberal views in the Netherlands and England.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook