Political Thoughts of Johannes Althusius

Political Thoughts of Johannes Althusius

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Johannes Althusius (1563-1638), a jurist and Calvinist political philosopher, made a great contribution to the development of the concept of federalism in his famous work, Politica Methodice Digesta, Atque Exemplis Sacrir et Profanis Illustrata, published in 1603, and was characterized as one of the first federalists. The German city of Emden, where Althusius spent the most productive periods of his intellectual life, was at the intersection of political and religious activity in the region.

It was a wealthy port city connecting the Netherlands and France to England and was one of the powerful centers of political freedom at the time. Although he had a strong Calvinist spirit, he also kept Catholic and Lutheran elements peacefully together. Althusius was influenced by this libertarian environment of the city he lived in and put forward views that serve the idea of ​​a democratic state against absolute monarchy. Althusius was of the opinion that the independence of the people could not be delegated to the rulers. Because, according to him, the head of the state was not the master of the people, but only an official chosen by the people. The only sovereign power was the people themselves. With these views, Althusius was the first thinker to give the idea of ​​”popular sovereignty” its definitive form. In this respect, it is thought that Rousseau owes a lot to himself. Since the sovereignty belongs to the people, the leading ruler can act on behalf of the people and for the people, “he is a person appointed by the people to rule the state with certain borders and ties; What this duty is and its limits are determined by the law born from the will of the people. The head of state is not above but below the law, the law sets a limit to his will; If he tries to cross this limit, the people may rise up against him.” (Gökberk, 1998: 188) As can be seen, Althusius’ views are completely descriptive of the democratic government, and the concept of “people’s sovereignty” has been the most basic principle of democratic governments.

According to Althusius, the only sovereign power is the people and the ruler is an official chosen by the people. Thus, Althusius was the first thinker to give the idea of ​​popular sovereignty its definitive form.

Althusius, like Bodin, thought that sovereignty was an indivisible, indivisible, and inalienable holistic concept. He found it especially wrong to transfer sovereignty to a single person. According to him, the transfer of sovereignty meant that people transfer their freedom to the ruler, which was contrary to natural rights. Freedom is the foremost natural right of people. While Bodin spoke of the transfer of sovereignty to a king, Althusius was always adamantly opposed to the idea of ​​absolute monarchy. According to him, monarchy was a form of government contrary to the rational essence of man, that is, to natural law. According to Althusius, since sovereignty derives directly from the people, it can only be found in the hands of the people. Because the intelligent essence of man is also the source of sovereignty. Sovereignty represents reason, and reason represents all humanity – the people. The state was established by the people on the basis of a contract. Therefore, sovereignty is the right of the people who founded the state. The people have themselves represented by a Parliament. Parliament’s powers cannot be removed in any way. Those who carry out the state power depend on the people at every stage. It is the most natural right of the people to claim their sovereignty; in other words, the right of the people to be sovereign comes first among the natural rights. Thus, Althusius tried to complete the theory of natural rights in terms of popular sovereignty. On the other hand, in the face of the difficulties of managing large lands from a center, he proposed the federal state model consisting of federative states and became one of the leading thinkers on this subject.

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