Sovereignty in Jean Bodin

Sovereignty in Jean Bodin

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Bodin’s understanding of sovereignty likens sovereignty in the state to the relations of sovereignty within the family. In essence, this is the state’s authority over its subjects as the father’s authority over his child or the husband’s over his wife. The king’s sovereignty and authority is similar to the father’s sovereignty from God.

There is a similarity between the two institutions in terms of submitting to sovereignty. The child who learns to obey in the family knows how to respect the laws of the state and the rights of others as a citizen in the future, and has no difficulty in fulfilling such duties.

Children who are accustomed to defying their fathers, on the other hand, may rebel against the king in the future and collapse the state. However, the well-being and happiness of the society and the individual require that the sovereignty of the state be inviolable. Therefore, the sovereignty of the state must be “absolute”, “indivisible” and “permanent”.

Sovereignty is an “absolute” authority; because no power has the right to interfere in this except the state and the king who symbolizes it. He makes the laws as he pleases. The sovereign ruler is not bound by the laws he made and by the actions of his predecessors. Even if he wanted to, he could not give up his absolute authority.

The sovereign power does not and should not feel the need to wait for the approval of others when making laws. For a king or prince who can make laws with the consent of others is not sovereign, but a subject at best. Therefore, it is unthinkable for the prince to share his sovereign power with boards and institutions such as a senate or a people’s assembly.

Sovereign power is not bound by customs or traditions. When necessary, he decides on war and peace, the judgment of conviction against individuals, the appointment of public officials, the printing of money and the imposition of taxes, etc., all on his own and alone.

Indivisibility of Sovereignty

Sovereignty is also an “indivisible” authority.

This power may be in a prince, in a minority, or in the whole society, provided that it is not fragmented and remains whole. However, this supreme and indivisible division of power between the king, the nobility and the people leads to confusion such as feudalism or a form of “mixed rule”.

The source of disorder and anarchy is the division of sovereignty. Although sovereignty may be vested in the king, the nobility, or the people themselves, the most plausible of all is that it should be in the hands of a single person. For the sovereignty of the king is the most appropriate to the natural order.

There is only one sun in the sky, one God in the universe, and one chief in the family. Ancient civilizations Assyria, Persia, Egypt, Macedonia etc. In state systems, too, there was a single person’s sovereignty. Moreover, the best way, if not the only way, to ensure in practice that sovereignty is an absolute and indivisible power is to see it as a single person’s power.

Continuity of Sovereignty

Another aspect of sovereignty is its continuity.

Temporary sovereign powers seen in some countries cannot be considered as real sovereignty. For example, Roman consuls, dictators, etc. They are not real sovereigns.

A power that is limited in time or that can be revoked at will is not sovereignty, but an authority at most. Sovereignty is permanent and tightly bound to the conscience of the ruler of the society. After the king uses this right throughout his life, he transfers it to his successor together with his crown.

King’s Sovereignty

According to Bodin, the absolute, indivisible and permanent sovereignty of the monarch does not require him to act tyrannically and arbitrarily. It wouldn’t be right to be like that.

For monarchy does not mean a rule of tyranny and arbitrariness, in which the ruler violates natural laws, treats free people as slaves, and uses subjects’ property as his own. The king also has natural laws above his will, which are in fact nothing but reflections of God’s command.

Natural laws are unwritten laws that are ingrained in people’s consciences, especially those that require the rights of property and freedom to be respected and protected. As long as the king’s actions and actions do not touch them, they gain legitimacy.

According to Bodin, these limits cannot be regarded as obstacles of a legal nature. These are records that remain mostly at the moral and spiritual level. The king’s responsibility is again only to God. Because the rules of law arise only from his orders.

Even if the king engages in some acts contrary to natural laws, there is no legal sanction (sanction) for this. The king cannot be held legally responsible, tried or punished for them. The people have no right to resist even against the king who has taken the path of tyranny.

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