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Translator’s Introduction - Johannes Althusius, Politica 
Politica. An Abridged Translation of Politics Methodically Set Forth and Illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples, ed. and Trans. Frederick S. Carney. Foreword by Daniel J. Elazar (Indianapolis: 1995 Liberty Fund).
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The New Interest in the Political Theory of Althusius
Johannes Althusius has enjoyed the good fortune in recent times of frequent notice in political, theological, sociological, and historical writings. This has been true ever since Otto Gierke in the latter part of the nineteenth century recovered Althusius from two centuries of relative obscurity, and attributed to his Politica (Politica methodice digesta) the distinction of making one of the pivotal contributions to Western political thought. He saw in Althusius a seminal thinker who was enabled by an exceptional learning in law, theology, politics, and history to formulate a political theory that served as something of a culmination of medieval social thought and a watershed of modern political ideas. The chief features of this theory, Gierke felt, were to be found in its contractual and natural law principles.
The renewal of interest in Althusius was given further impetus by the labors of Carl Joachim Friedrich, who in 1932 not only republished the largest part of the 1614 edition of the Politica in its original language, but also provided for it an introduction that considerably advanced our knowledge of Althusius’ life as well as his thought. Friedrich focused attention on the concept of the symbiotic association as the foundation of Althusian theory, and on the Calvinist religion as interpretive of this concept. In so doing, he differed quite noticeably from Gierke in his understanding of Althusius’ political theory. Nevertheless, he shared with Gierke a very high estimate of Althusius’ importance, even to the extent of considering him to be “the most profound political thinker between Bodin and Hobbes.”
In addition to Gierke and Friedrich, the two persons who have done most to establish Althusius’ reputation in the contemporary world, there is also a small but growing and impressive group of scholars from various political and religious traditions who have devoted considerable attention to his thought. The names of John Neville Figgis, R. W. and A. J. Carlyle, Pierre Mesnard, Erik Wolf, Ernst Reibstein, Peter Jochen Winters, Heinz Werner Antholz, and others whose works are listed in the Select Bibliography of this translation testify to this. These men have addressed themselves to a range of topics in Althusian scholarship that reflects the wide scope of his thought. Included among such topics have been the constitutionalism of Althusius, the relation in his thought of philosophical norms to political processes, the contributions of Althusius to jurisprudence, his theory of associations, the Calvinist religious elements in his political theory, the role of the Spanish school of social philosophy at Salamanca in the development of his thought, and Althusius’ employment of his own political teachings while serving as Syndic of the city of Emden for thirty-four years.
It is a striking feature of Althusian studies, however, that until this translation was made there had not been a published translation of a substantial part of the Politica in any vernacular language. Wolf translated a few pages into German from the 1603 edition, and included them in a collection of juridical writings by various authors that he published in 1943. Friedrich circulated in mimeographed form ten pages of selections he put into English from the 1614 edition. And Father Stanley Parry translated, and at times paraphrased, major portions of the 1614 edition for a privately used English typescript in connection with his doctoral studies on Althusius at Yale University. But so far as I am aware, this abridged translation represents the first published attempt in a modern language to present in Althusius’ own words the entire basic structure of his political thought, as well as the chief arguments by which he compared and contrasted his own position with that of his contemporaries. The reason why such a translation has not been attempted before may well be because of some unusual problems it presents to the translator. I shall discuss these problems, as well as the justification for abridging the original work, in the final section of this introduction.
It may be helpful in concluding this section to note briefly some of the most important facts of the life of this man whose thought is now acquiring new attention among scholars in a number of disciplines. Little is known of the early years of Althusius’ life, except that he was born in Diedenshausen in Westphalia about 1557. He appeared in 1581 at Cologne, where he apparently studied the writings of Aristotle. It was at Basle, however, that he received his doctorate in both civil and ecclesiastical law in 1586, with a thesis on the subject of intestate inheritance. Surprisingly, he published Jurisprudentia Romana, his first book, during the same year. While at Basle he lived for a time in the home of Johann Grynaeus, with whom he studied theology and thereafter maintained a life-long correspondence. Sometime prior to obtaining his doctorate, Althusius also studied at Geneva with Denis Godefroy, the renowned textual scholar of Roman law.
Upon receiving his doctorate, he was called to the Reformed Academy at Herborn as a member of the faculty of law. Herborn Academy, which had been founded only two years earlier (1584) by Count John of Nassau, had become immediately successful and had attracted an international student body. Its first rector was Kasper Olevianus, the co-author with Zachary Ursinus of the Heidelberg Catechism. Althusius, in addition to his professorship in law, became councillor to the count in 1595 and, after some months of theological study at Heidelberg, was made rector of the Academy in 1597. His volume on ethics—entitled Civilis Conversationis Libri Duo —was published in 1601. But the greatest achievement of his Herborn years was the publication in 1603 of the Politica, a work that received immediate and wide attention.
The Politica seems to have been instrumental in securing for Althusius a most attractive offer to become Syndic of Emden in East Friesland. This city had been one of the first in Germany (1526) to embrace the Reformed faith. Ever since John Laski had been invited to Emden in 1542 by Countess Anna to reorganize its religious life, it had become a veritable “Geneva of the North.” Its strategic location on the frontiers of both the German Empire and the Netherlands gave it freedom of movement vis-à-vis its Lutheran provincial lord and its Catholic emperor. At the same time, its strong Calvinist spirit enabled it to exercise an exceptional influence in key areas of the Netherlands and Germany. Indeed, Emden was often called the “alma mater” of the Dutch Reformed Church, for it was from Emden that some of the early Dutch ministers came, and at Emden that many exiles from the Duke of Alva’s persecution later found refuge. Moreover, at the Synod of Emden in 1571 the Reformed churches of East Friesland and the Lower Rhine joined with the Dutch churches to form a union of the largest part of Northern Calvinism. Furthermore, Emden was a leading seaport, in close communication with England, and it served as a haven for a number of English divines during the Catholic reaction under Mary Tudor.
Recently however, Emden had encountered increasingly serious conflicts with its provincial lord, as well as with various larger and more powerful units of the German Empire and Spanish Kingdom. The City Council was consequently seeking an exceptionally able leader to guide its negotiations and destiny. Johann Alting, a son of Emden’s distinguished clergyman Menso Alting and one of a number of students from Emden studying law under Althusius at Herborn, apparently sent copies of the Politica home as soon as it was published. The favorable reception by Emdeners of the ideas on government expressed in this volume, coupled with Althusius’ growing juristic reputation, led the City Council to invite him to become the Syndic of Emden.
He accepted the offer in 1604, and guided the political destinies of this city without interruption until his death in 1638. During the years of his service in Emden, he published two new and enlarged editions of the Politica (1610 and 1614), and also wrote the Dicaeologica (1617), an immense work that seeks to construct a single comprehensive juridical system out of Biblical law, Roman law, and various customary laws. In 1617 Althusius was elected elder of the church of Emden, a position he continued to hold until his death twenty-one years later. There is a sense in which his two functions of syndic and elder, coupled with capacities for leadership and hard work, enabled him to coordinate the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the city, and thus to exercise somewhat the same kind of influence in Emden as Calvin did in Geneva. His correspondence contains frequent condemnations of Arminian theological opinions, and in one letter he especially criticized the Pietas of Hugo Grotius on the basis that it would undermine the independent right and liberty of the church by transferring ecclesiastical functions to civil government.
The Basic Structure of His Thought
Althusius consciously organized his Politica according to Ramist logic. This is the explanation for the words “methodically set forth” in the title, and for the references occasionally found throughout the text to “the law of method” and “the precepts of logicians.” Peter Ramus, a celebrated and highly controversial French logician of the sixteenth century, made use of the two traditional topics of logic: invention and disposition (or judgment). What was largely new with Ramus, however, was the manner in which he employed these two topics. Where invention had previously been understood as the processes for combining predicates with subjects in debatable propositions, under the influence of Ramism it also came to denote the processes for determining what material belongs to subjects as scholarly disciplines. And where disposition had previously referred to methods of arranging propositions into syllogisms or inductions, and these into discourses, with Ramism it also came to refer to the methods of organizing material appropriate to any given discipline. The change that has occurred is one in which logic is used to clarify not only what may be said for or against propositions and combinations or propositions, but also how a field of study may be “logically” organized. An assumption inherent in Ramism is that proper organization of materials is valuable not only for teaching and learning purposes, but also for the discovery and clarification of knowledge.
Ramus’ interpretation of invention made use of three laws he adapted from Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics. (1) The law of justice (lex justitiae) indicates that each art or science has its own purpose, that this purpose serves as a principle for determining what is proper to a given art (suum cuique), and that everything not proper to it is to be rigorously excluded. Althusius’ employment of the Ramist law of justice is introduced initially in the Preface to the first edition, where he says that “it is necessary to keep constantly in view the natural and true goal and form of each art, and to attend most carefully to them, that we not exceed the limits justice lays down for each art and thereby reap another’s harvest.” The purpose of political science, according to Althusius, is the maintenance of social life among human beings. He therefore proposes to remove certain legal, theological, and ethical material from it by which others in his judgment had confused and compromised its proper operation. He acknowledges, however, that two disciplines may have partly overlapping subject matter, as theology and political science share the Decalogue, and law and political science jointly embrace the doctrine of sovereignty. But he insists that each discipline must limit itself to that aspect of the common material that is essential to its own purpose, and reject what is not. (2) The Ramist law of truth (lex veritatis) indicates that an art or science consists of universal and necessary propositions or precepts, and that those that are true only in certain places and times should be sifted out. For Althusius the problem was what to do with such politically relevant, but nevertheless contingent, matters as the varying character and customs of rulers and peoples. “Who can propose general precepts,” he asks, “that are necessarily and mutually true about matters so various and unequivalent? The statesman, however, should be well acquainted with these matters.” His solution is to retain some of these matters in his Politica for expedient reasons, but with advance warning to his readers concerning their quasi-scientific nature. They are especially to be found in the chapters on “Political Prudence in the Administration of the Commonwealth.” (3) Ramus’ law of wisdom (lex sapientiae) indicates that a proposition should be placed with the nearest class of things to which it belongs rather than with matters on a higher or lower level of generality. Although Althusius nowhere explicitly discusses this law, it is evident that he consistently employs it. For example, there are no propositions referring chiefly and generically to the city to be found in his opening discussion of politics in general. They are too restrictive for this level because politics also includes other associations in addition to the city. Nor are they to be located in his discussion of the rural village. They are too extensive for this level because other kinds of local community also qualify as cities. Rather all such propositions will be found in his discussion of the nonuniversal public association that is composed of families and collegia. They belong precisely to this level, as they do to no other. Althusius’ use of the Ramist law of wisdom gives to the Politica a highly architectonic quality, even though the effect sometimes impresses the reader as somewhat superficial.
The most distinctive feature of the Ramist interpretation of disposition is its emphasis upon method. And this Althusius clearly appropriates. Ramus had written that those who think wisely and methodically “descend from the most general idea to the various divisions thereof, and thence to the particular cases it comprehends” (Dialectique, Paris, 1555, p. 4). Althusius opens the Politica with a general proposition that indicates the fundamental insight regarding the nature of political science that will be pursued throughout this inquiry, and suggests by implication the limits that will be observed. He then proceeds by dividing and repeatedly subdividing the subject matter, each subdivision in turn opening with a sub-proposition relating to the general proposition and defining the appropriate material therein. He pursues this method with a tiresome regularity throughout the entire volume until the full implications of the opening proposition have been diligently sought out in their application to all forms and activities of political association.
“Politics is the art of associating men for the purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them. Whence it is called ‘symbiotics.’ ” This is the general proposition for the entire volume. It stands at the beginning of Chapter I, and guides and controls everything that follows. By referring to politics as symbiotics (or the art of living together), and to social life as symbiosis (or living together), Althusius means to include all human associations in his study. These he divides into simple and private associations (family and collegium), and mixed and public associations (city, province, and commonwealth). The latter are discussed in both civil and ecclesiastical aspects because provision for both body and soul is deemed essential to public social life. Although the concentration of this volume is upon the commonwealth, Althusius clearly believes that these other associations are the parts out of which, indirectly and directly, the commonwealth is composed, and that they furthermore share common problems of political organization with the commonwealth. Indeed, by first setting forth the principles by which these problems are to be met in the smaller associations, Althusius anticipates the major features of his discussion of the commonwealth except for the addition of the attribute of sovereignty, which is proper to the commonwealth alone.
Symbiotic association involves something more than mere existence together. It indicates a quality of group life characterized by piety and justice without which, Althusius believes, neither individual persons nor society can endure. He repeatedly asserts that piety is required by the first table of the Decalogue and justice by the second, and that the two together are furthermore validated in human experience everywhere. Thus both divine revelation and natural reason are called upon in political science to clarify the true nature of symbiotic association.
Wherever there is symbiosis there is also communication, or the sharing of things, services, and right. (The Latin word jus employed in this connection means both right and law.) Although politics is properly involved in each of these three forms of communication, it has one basic concern with them, namely, the effective ordering of all communication. Therefore, politics is not interested in the goods of the tradesman or the skills of the craftsman, except inasmuch as these goods and skills must be socially regulated for the benefit both of the individual and of the association. Thus politics may be distinguished from economics. The communication of right (jus), however, is proper to politics in an even more basic manner. For by this kind of communication each association is given its political structure, and achieves that form of self-sufficiency appropriate to it. The right that is communicated is in part common to all associations, in part special to each type of association, and in part particular to each individual association.
Communication requires imperium, or strong rule, to be effective. Althusius has no interest at all in theories about human rights. What does interest him is the extent to which any association fulfills the purposes for which it exists. In this sense, an association has a holy vocation even as a person does. Consequently, Althusius is opposed to tyrannical rule not because it is undemocratic, but because it becomes ineffective in supporting the ends for which persons enter and remain in association with each other. He is opposed, for the same reason, to weak and vacillating rule. His interest in constitutional limitations upon the abuse of power arises from his concern that power be truly and lawfully strong. It is therefore characteristic of his thought that he advocates institutionalized restraints upon rulers in order to maintain effective symbiosis. Such restraints are intended to conserve lawful rule in an association and to correct or remove an erring ruler when necessary, but not to weaken the exercise of rule itself.
Persons enter and remain in association with each other because outside of the mutual communication of things, services, and right they cannot live comfortably and well; indeed, they cannot live at all. Necessity therefore induces association. But the existence of each individual association, as well as the special form it takes, also depends upon the continuing consent of the symbiotes, or members. Althusius is thus led to say that an association is initiated and maintained by a covenant among the symbiotes setting forth their common agreement about the necessary and useful purposes to be served by the association, and the means appropriate to fulfill these purposes. If there is no explicit covenant, then an implicit one is assumed in the continuing consent of those who live together. Symbiotic association thus requires a balance between social necessity and social volition.
When Althusius distinguishes the two types of private association as the natural and the civil, he is setting forth the two poles in this balance. The family, as the natural private association, is considered to be a permanent union of the members “with the same boundaries as life itself.” The collegium, as the civil private association, is a more voluntary society “that need not last as long as the lifetime of man,” even though “a certain necessity can be said to have brought it into existence.” Even within each of these two associations there is some balance between necessity and volition. For the family, however natural, is based upon a tacit or expressed agreement among its members as to the manner of its communication of things, services, and right. The continued existence of the family tends to confirm this agreement. On the other hand the collegium is not completely voluntary. It arises from a natural need, and presumably is not to be disbanded unless alternative means are available to meet this need. This integral relationship between necessity and volition that first finds expression in private associations carries over into public associations, and becomes one of the distinctive characteristics of the entire associational theory of Althusius.
Althusius divides the family into two kinds—conjugal and kinship—and discusses the nature of communication and imperium in each. Although the husband is clearly the ruler of the conjugal family, and the paterfamilias the ruler of the kinship family, Althusius is careful to set forth the conjugal obligations that the husband owes his wife, as well as those the wife owes her husband, and the kinship obligations that both husband and wife as paterfamilias and materfamilias owe their children and domestics.
The collegium (guild or corporation) is an association in which “three or more men of the same trade, training, or profession are united for the purpose of holding in common such things as they jointly profess as duty, way of life, or craft.” It is most often an association organized around occupational interests. If it is composed of magistrates and judges, or of persons engaged in agricultural, industrial, or commercial pursuits, it is called a secular collegium. If it is composed of clergymen, philosophers, or teachers, it is called an ecclesiastical collegium. These two kinds of collegium are parallel to the two forms of administration—secular and ecclesiastical—that are to be found in the province and commonwealth. The manner of rule in the collegium follows the general principles that Althusius has set forth for all social authority, except that in the collegium participation by individual colleagues, or members, can be direct rather than, as in public associations, indirect. There is a leader elected by the colleagues to administer the affairs of the collegium. “He exercises coercive power over the colleagues individually, but not over the group itself.” For he is bound by the purposes for which the collegium exists, and by the laws defined through its corporate processes.
The public association is derivative from the private association in that families and collegia, not individual persons, are directly constitutive of the city, and indirectly or directly of the province and commonwealth. For without the private association “others would be able neither to arise nor to endure.” Furthermore, the public association has jurisdiction over a prescribed territory, which the private association does not. The same general principles of communication and rule, however, apply equally to both private and public associations. Thus Althusius departs from a distinction common in medieval Roman law between public and private. According to this distinction, “private” pertains largely to contractual relations among individuals, or to the internal procedures of groups—whether collegia or cities— that operate by concession but not direct domination of public authority. “Public,” on the other hand, refers to administrative agencies and divisions of the empire or, more realistically, of the commonwealth. Althusius affirms, to the contrary, that the foundation of all associations, whether private or public, is symbiotic life. By appealing to symbiosis in this manner, he denies that private and public associations should have essentially different sources of legitimacy and modes of operation from each other. He also seeks by the same stroke to release politics from the hegemony of juridical conceptions of association. Nevertheless, the derivative and territorial characteristics of the public association still remain to distinguish it from the private.
Continuing the Ramist method of dichotomizing, Althusius divides the public association into particular and universal. The particular, in turn, is divided into the city and the province, and the universal is identified as the commonwealth (respublica), or realm (regnum). The particular association does not possess sovereignty, while the universal does. It should be noted, however, that the city of Venice, because it possesses sovereignty, has the status of a commonwealth. Furthermore, while a city is composed of families and collegia, the province is formed of various kinds of local community ranging from the rural hamlet to the metropolis, and the commonwealth is constituted of provinces and such cities as have the rights and responsibilities of provinces in the assemblies of the realm.
The city, unlike the private association, does not provide the opportunity for direct participation of individuals as such in the process of rule. Here an organized community arises out of smaller associations and finds expression in a senate. At the same time, there is a ruler who exercises authority over individuals and particular associations, but not over the organized community itself. Althusius carefully spells out the relations that ought to prevail between ruler and senate in order that symbiotic needs on the municipal level can be provided for effectively. In brief, the ruler is the chief executive, and presides over the communication of things, services, and right. The senate, on the other hand, determines and defends the fundamental laws of the city, even to the extent if necessary of correcting or removing a ruler who misuses entrusted authority to the detriment of this symbiotic association.
Althusius’ discussion of the province contains one of the few basic inconsistencies in the elaboration of his political system. For the ruler of the province is responsible not to the organized community over which this person presides, as is the case in all other associations, but to the supreme magistrate of the commonwealth. The ruler is a prince, duke, count, or other noble who receives this office, whether through heredity or appointment, as a function of the commonwealth, and cannot be removed from this office except in rare instances, and then only by the commonwealth. Thus the symbiotic foundations of rule generally characteristic of Althusius’ thought are partly compromised on the provincial level, possibly as a concession by him to the actual practices that prevailed in his time in his native Germany and in most neighboring nations. But, if so, he did not concede very much. For it will be remembered that Althusius is not as interested in the precise arrangements for designating a ruler as he is in the effectiveness of the ruler’s administration in conserving and enhancing the communication of things, services, and right. Althusius could accommodate himself without undue difficulty to the notion that a ruler might be designated and maintained in office from outside the provincial community, provided the ruler governs the province well. This is to say that if a province actually meets the purposes for which it exists— if it fulfills its high calling—-Althusius can wink at procedural irregularities, even though he may prefer that they do not prevail.
Furthermore, the provincial orders, which collectively compose the organized community of the province, constitute a restraining influence on the misuse of executive power. These orders are both ecclesiastical and secular, and provide for the observance of both tables of the Decalogue in political life. The reason for this is that both revelation and practical experience demonstrate that symbiotic association cannot long endure without public provision for the souls as well as the bodies of men. The ecclesiastical order, which is especially concerned with the cultivation of piety, is conceived by Althusius essentially according to contemporary Calvinist practice. The secular order, which addresses itself primarily to the maintenance of justice, is preferably composed of three estates, namely, the nobility, the burghers, and the agrarians. Sometimes, however, the last two are combined in one estate known as the commons. It is to be noted that these orders and estates are essentially the occupational collegia organized on a provincial level. Representatives of these estates, and in some realms of the ecclesiastical order as well, will meet in convocation where they perform much the same function in the province that the senate does in the city. Their consent is required by the ruler in all major matters confronting the province, such as decisions on war, peace, taxes, and new law.
The commonwealth, as previously noted, differs from the city and province in that it alone possesses sovereignty. This is to say, only the commonwealth recognizes no human person or association as superior to itself. But where in the commonwealth does this sovereignty reside? Jean Bodin, to whom Althusius was highly indebted for so many of the characteristics of his political system, attributed it to the ruler. Althusius disagrees. His position, which follows consistently upon the principles he has already elaborated in smaller associations, is that sovereignty is the symbiotic life of the commonwealth taking form in the jus regni, or in the fundamental right or law of the realm. Since the commonwealth is composed not of individual persons but of cities and provinces, it is to them when joined together in communicating things, services, and right that sovereignty belongs. Therefore, it resides in the organized body of the commonwealth, which is to say in the symbiotic processes thereof. This organized body is also known to Althusius as the people (populus).
The communication, or communion, that occurs in the commonwealth is, of course, both ecclesiastical and secular. Ecclesiastical communication has to do with the public expression of true religion, with the provision for public schools in which both religion and the liberal arts are taught and handed down to posterity, and with the defense of church and state from religious corruption. In this last matter, however, Althusius pleads for moderation, provided that the essential articles of faith are preserved. He observes that Christ suffered disciples who erred and were weak, and that “no mode of thought has ever come forth as so perfect that the judgment of all learned men would subscribe to it.” Secular communication aims at rendering to each his due, which requires public provision for commerce, a monetary system, a common language, the performance of duties on behalf of the realm, the granting of special privileges and titles, the defense of the realm and its goods, and the holding of general councils to make decisions on major matters confronting the commonwealth.
The administrators of the commonwealth, who are the overseers of this communication, are of two kinds: the ephors and the supreme magistrate. The ephors do not ordinarily rule over the commonwealth itself, as does the supreme magistrate, but are held in reserve for emergency situations. They bear the fundamental right and power of the people in these situations. There are five duties expected of them, which they perform as a group rather than as individuals. They constitute, or establish, a supreme magistrate when a vacancy arises in the highest office of the realm. They restrain the supreme magistrate within the limits of the entrusted office. They remove the supreme magistrate who becomes tyrannical. They defend the supreme magistrate from detractors when he is performing this entrusted office properly. And they serve as a trustee for the realm in time of interregnum. Fundamental to this doctrine of the ephors is Althusius’ judgment that “great power cannot contain itself within boundaries without some coercion and constraint entrusted to others.”
The model that Althusius employs most frequently in his advocacy of ephors is the seven electors of Germany. He also manages to find somewhat comparable officials in other nations. They are usually distinguished rulers of provinces who possess at the same time this general function in the commonwealth. What happens when there are no properly designated ephors to act in the name of the people? Althusius would respond that symbiotic association so greatly requires persons to perform these duties when the need arises in the realm that each body politic should provide them by some process appropriate to its own traditions. We may assume that such persons will be leading citizens of the commonwealth, each with roots deep in some corporate part thereof.
The constituting of the supreme magistrate involves first the election and then, if the electee agrees to the provisions of the election, the inauguration. The election occurs according to the established practice of the land, and may in some instances be little more than the confirmation of an heir determined by customary arrangement. At the inauguration there is a double oath in which the ruler-designate first promises to uphold the fundamental laws of the realm, as well as any special conditions established at the time of the election, and the people through its ephors then promises obedience to the magistrate when he is ruling according to the prescribed laws and conditions.
The actual administration of the commonwealth by the supreme magistrate should be guided, according to Althusius, by political prudence. This part of Althusian political doctrine involves knowledge both of law and of the changing and contingent circumstances to which law is to be applied. The discussion of law at this point is an extended treatment of the relation of the Decalogue to natural law, and of the role of these two together as common law in the formulation of proper law for particular societies. It is important to note that Althusius, a man who was much travelled and well received in orthodox Calvinist circles, maintained a rather warm appreciation for a human’s natural knowledge of one’s duty to both God and neighbor. The discussion that follows of such contingent factors in political life as the character and customs of rulers and peoples gives Althusius considerable methodological diffculty, largely because he is of the opinion, as I mentioned earlier, that this material does not lend itself to general precepts that can properly claim the name of science. Perhaps this is the reason why this discussion impresses the reader as the weakest and least convincing in the entire volume.
On the other hand some of the most striking features in the volume are found in the chapters on ecclesiastical and secular administration. Here Althusius amplifies the basic structure of his thought that has already taken shape. The analysis of ecclesiastical administration contains the arguments for a religious covenant between the commonwealth and God that Althusius adapts from Junius Brutus. It discusses the respective roles of the supreme magistrate and the clergy in the conduct of the church. And it suggests limits arising both from the nature of faith and from the requirements of symbiosis beyond which the effort to compel observance even of the true religion ought not to go. Of especial interest in the chapters on secular administration is Althusius’ discussion of the importance of general councils, or parliaments, to the welfare of the realm, and of the procedures appropriate for calling the orders and estates into council and for conducting the business of the realm therein. The difference in function should be noted between these councils and the body of ephors, even though some overlapping of personnel could ordinarily be expected.
Tyranny, which is the opposite of just and upright administration, must be realistically assessed and its remedies identified if the systematic character of Althusius’ political doctrine is to be maintained to the end. He proceeds to this task by acknowledging the distinction, widely employed since Bartolus, between a tyrant by practice (tyrannus exercitio) and a tyrant without title (tyrannus absque titulo). But he claims that only the former is a true tyrant because the latter, who never rightfully received the office of the supreme magistrate, is only a usurper. The tyrant without title, therefore, deserves none of the respect usually attributed to political superiors, and as a private person who is an enemy of the people may be resisted and even killed by private citizens. But a tyrant who becomes such after having gained legitimate title to the supreme office can be resisted only by public authorities to whom this responsibility has been entrusted, namely, by the ephors. The means, timing, and other relevant matters for effecting a remedy for such tyranny are thereupon discussed by Althusius. It is altogether characteristic of his basically conservative thought that he recommends caution against coming too quickly to the conclusion that a supreme magistrate who fails or errs in some part of his office is necessarily a tyrant, and insists that a public acknowledgment should be made by a properly constituted body before anyone takes action, except in self-defense, against such a ruler.
The final chapter presents the thesis that the best polity is one “that combines qualities of kingship, aristocracy, and democracy.” Although the customary distinction between these three types of polity has some validity in that it identifies the most characteristic element in any given case, it is more important, he believes, to focus attention on the processes most likely to achieve both effective rule in the commonwealth and restraint upon the misuse of rule. Thus the controlling principle of these processes remains in the final chapter, as it was in the first, the enhancement of symbiotic association, without which humans cannot live comfortably and well.
His Major Literary Sources
Mention has already been made of the very wide scope of Althusius’ erudition. He drew upon an extraordinary number of books from many fields in the composition of his Politica, over 150 of which are referred to in this abridged translation. (See Althusius’ Literary Sources Referred to in This Translation.) It may be helpful at this point to identify briefly the major categories of writers the reader will encounter in making his way through the Politica, as well as to suggest the manner in which Althusius employs some of the writers most important to him.
The first category pertains to those writers who devote considerable attention to the observation of political processes and possibilities in the light of a few general considerations. Aristotle, of course, comes immediately to mind in this regard. Althusius adopts Aristotle’s understanding of politics as a practical art or science that is addressed to the problem of ascertaining how human good can be achieved in community. The empirically oriented approach Althusius follows in the Politica makes this indebtedness clear, and it is also to be noted that he, like Aristotle, begins with an analysis of the family and moves onward to the commonwealth. The Calvinism of Althusius, however, causes him to differ somewhat from Aristotle on the nature of human good, as well as on the degree of human corruption and the extent to which political institutions may consequently have to make provision for this factor. Another writer in this category is Jean Bodin, the sixteenth-century political, legal, and historical theorist. Of interest to Althusius was Bodin’s procedure of surveying history, as well as contemporary experience, for insight into the nature and processes of political community. Even more important, however, was Bodin’s doctrine of sovereignty that Althusius took over and systematically developed in the Politica, but with the difference already noted concerning the place where it properly resides in the commonwealth. The most frequently cited writer in the Politica is Petrus Gregorius, a professor of law at the Jesuit school at Pont-à-Mousson. Althusius was indebted to Gregorius for a myriad of observations about the nature of social organization in just about every area except the ecclesiastical.
The second category includes those writers both Catholic and Calvinist who had an interest in constitutional government, and in the ideological and institutional foundations capable of supporting it. The three main Catholic authors in this group were all Spanish, namely, Fernando Vásquez (an ecclesiastical writer on natural law), Diego Covarruvias (a canonist and bishop whose style of legal writings caused him to be sometimes known as “the Spanish Bartolus”), and Juan de Mariana (a theologian and accomplished humanist who unintentionally got his Jesuit order into serious trouble by the inclusion of a chapter on tyrannicide in his major political text). Equally important to Althusius’ constitutionalism were certain Calvinists. The chief ones were the pseudonymous author (Junius Brutus) of the Defence of Liberty Against Tyrants (which was perhaps the best written and most widely read of the political tracts that came out of the French Wars of Religion), George Buchanan (a Scot and one of the great humanists of the sixteenth century), and Lambert Daneau (a French Calvinist pastor, theological professor, and political writer). Althusius may be considered the culminating theorist of this group, for he provided their ideas on limiting the power of a ruler with a politically systematic basis they had previously lacked. He did this, of course, by making symbiotic association and its needs the foundation of political doctrine, and by showing what kind of constitutional considerations can be understood to arise therefrom.
A third group upon whom Althusius draws is characterized by a common interest in political prudence, or in what at times finds expression under the topic of practical politics. I have reference here principally to Giovanni Botero (the Italian publicist who made famous the concept “reason of state”), Justus Lipsius (a philologist and professor of history at Leyden and Louvain), Innocent Gentillet (whose Against Nicholas Machiavell was written to combat the Medici, or Italian, influence in the French royal court), and Scipio Ammirato (an Italian courtier). The teachings of these authors are frequently reproduced in the section on political prudence, which is not a very satisfactory treatment by Althusius of contingent factors in politics. Botero and Lipsius, however, are also employed by Althusius in other chapters of the volume in keeping with the approach of the first category of writers mentioned above. It is interesting to note that Althusius’ occasional references to Niccolò Machiavelli are not to be found in the section on political prudence, as we might expect, but in discussions of the general principles of administration and of the defense of the commonwealth against tyrants. Furthermore, the work of Machiavelli most frequently mentioned by Althusius is not The Prince, but the Discourses.
The fourth category is that of legal writers. Among the civilians most in evidence are Bartolus (fourteenth century), Paul Castro (fifteenth century), and Andreas Gail (sixteenth century). The Corpus juris civilis plays a major role in the Politica, not so much as a book of law from which one might deduce political arguments but, together with its better known commentaries, as a seedbed of ideas and concepts that can be built integrally into a political system or used analogically to indicate and illustrate essentially political principles. The Digest and the commentators thereupon are most frequently called forth by Althusius for these purposes, but numerous references may also be found to the Code, Institutes, and Novels. On the other hand, the Corpus juris canonici is not directly cited in the Politica, although there are important references to a number of canonists, especially to Nicholaus Tudeschi (fifteenth century) and Diego Covarruvias (sixteenth century). In addition, various customary systems of law are mentioned from time to time, often to provide illustrations for Althusius’ teaching on the fundamental laws of the realm. In this connection Henry Rosenthal and Peter Heige of contemporary Germany, and Francis Hotman and Charles Dumoulin of contemporary France, are perhaps the most important. Finally, there is the Italian Nicolaus Losaeus, upon whose De jure universitatum Althusius draws heavily in the third edition of the Politica to describe the internal processes of government appropriate to both collegium and city.
The Calvinist theological writers constitute a fifth category. They serve a number of functions. The Biblical commentaries of Peter Martyr (Vermigli), Francis Junius, and John Piscator are called upon to give meaning to the concepts of piety and justice as interpretive of true symbiosis, and to describe the ancient Jewish polity that Althusius considers to have been the most wisely and perfectly constructed one since the beginning of time. The churchly writings of John Calvin, Jerome Zanchius, Benedict Aretius, and Zachary Ursinus are the major sources for Althusius’ exposition of the ecclesiastical order in both the province and the commonwealth. Zanchius’ extensive discussion of law in his De redemptione contributes more than anything else to Althusius’ understanding of the relation of the Decalogue to natural law, and of both to the proper laws of various nations. Then there are special topics on which Althusius finds his theological colleagues to be helpful, such as Peter Martyr’s discussion of war.
The sixth category is composed of historians and their writings, especially Carlo Sigonio on ancient Israel and Rome, Emmanuel Meteren on the Netherlands, Jean Sleidan on Germany, Francis Hotman (who was also a legal historian) on France, and Theodore Zwinger on universal history. Their significance to the Politica arises especially from the materials they provided for one of the most debatable aspects of Althusius’ doctrine, namely, whenever and wherever societies live well they do so by essentially the same political principles, even though identification of these principles may vary and local adaptations of them may occur in practice.
Classical writers are a seventh category. Two of them he employed, I think, in a rather fundamental way in his system. I have already spoken of his use of Aristotle. The other is Cicero, from whom he learned much about the nature of social life and the vocabulary of politics. (Would that Althusius had also permitted his often dull and sometimes barbarous Latin style to be influenced by Cicero!) On the other hand he often uses classical writers, especially Augustine and Seneca, for quotations that may fit his own point but are taken out of context from the original work. And his frequent references to Augustine nowhere reveal that he actually had very little sympathy with Augustine’s conception of the state. It is also worth noting that while he occasionally calls upon Plato to support his thesis that harmony is an imperative in social life, he also compares him with Thomas More and criticizes both for the unrealism of their utopian views of society.
The eighth category of writers that plays a major role in the Politica is Althusius’ select list of opponents in political theory. Included therein is the Catholic layman William Barclay, whose defense of a high monarchical view got him into such trouble with Rome that none less than Bellarmine was required to respond in written disputation to him, and furthermore led him to coin the misleading word “monarchomach” to describe such persons as George Buchanan, Jean Boucher, and the pseudonymous Junius Brutus. In addition, there was Jean Bodin himself, and Henning Arnisaeus, the latter a physician who wrote in support of Bodin’s argument that sovereignty resides in the ruler. Both of these men were correctly seen by Althusius as setting forth positions that his own system would have to be able to answer. The same must also be said for one of the works of Alberico Gentili, the Italian Protestant professor of civil law at Oxford. Some of the most lively parts of the Politica occur when Althusius enters the lists against these writers.
It may be of some use to the reader to add another category of a different kind, namely, one composed of writers that Althusius for one reason or another tended to overlook. For example, medieval publicists, as distinguished from medieval legists both civil and canon, find little place in the expression of his political doctrine. There is an occasional mention of Thomas Aquinas’ On Princely Government and Marsilius of Padua’s Defender of the Peace, but none of John of Salisbury, Giles of Rome, John of Paris, Augustinus Triumphus, Dante Alighieri, or William of Occam. The one major exception is the German Lupold of Bebenberg, who recurs with some frequency throughout the volume. Another generally disregarded group is English writers, in this instance even extending to legal authors. It is true that Sir Thomas Smith’s study of English government is mentioned occasionally, that Sir Thomas More appears on the pages of the Politica a couple of times only to be rebuffed for his utopianism, and that the Puritan theologians William Perkins and William Whitaker are included (but not in this abridgment). This is not, however, an adequate sampling of English thought within Althusius’ range of interests. The lawyers Henry Bracton and Sir John Fortescue could have spoken quite relevantly and sympathetically to Althusius on a number of points. So could have the theologians John Wyclif and Richard Hooker, although the former for largely differing reasons from the latter. Finally, one must call attention to the fact that prominent Lutherans and Arminians are scarce in the Politica. Althusius’ opposition to their religious views may have been the reason. But, if so, how does one explain his extensive and generally appreciative use of a number of Catholic writers? Perhaps the answer is better to be attributed to the absence of much interest in systematic political theory in those religious circles prior to 1614. There is some evidence that during this period serious political writing among continental Protestants was largely the work of orthodox and near orthodox Calvinists.
I should observe in closing this section that further material on the relation of Althusius to some of these writers is to be found in the introduction that Friedrich provided his 1932 republication of the Politica in its original language.
Some Notes on This Translation
The original Latin text presents a number of problems to the translator. Perhaps the most imposing of them is that a large accumulation of references to other books, of identified and unidentified quotations from them, and even of lengthy condensations of borrowed material has been superimposed upon an otherwise well-ordered and clear general structure. This has been done by inserting everything into the text itself without the use of any footnotes and in a manner that gives the impression of great clutter. The result is a volume of a thousand octavo pages resembling nothing that the reader is likely to encounter in today’s literary world unless it be the revival of one of the thousands of legal, historical, or theological texts of the late medieval and early modern period that share this common barbarity. But Althusius’ volume, like some of these others, has some very important things to say and, unlike most of them, is essentially systematic in doing so. An abridgment is therefore appropriate. And it is fortunate that the Politica lends itself readily to this solution. (It may be helpful to some readers to learn that a German translation of the entire Latin text has been proceeding for several years under the sponsorship of the Johannes Althusius Gesellschaft at the University of Dresden.)
I have attempted in this translation to retain in Althusius’ own words the complete basic structure of his political thought as it finds expression in the Politica, and furthermore to include the chief arguments by which he clarified his position in relation to those of his contemporaries. The retained material is identified by Roman numerals for chapters and by Arabic numerals for the sections thereof that Althusius employs. The omitted material, except for mere references to other writers, is indicated by elision marks (bracketed elision marks indicate an unacknowledged omission by Althusius in a quotation from another author) and there is a complete collation of the translated material with the chapters and section numbers of the 1614 edition for those who may want to check certain points further.
The elimination of all reference material from this translation would have been very unwise because it contains sources that are important for understanding Althusius’ thought. Furthermore, he at times permitted his own arguments to be carried by means of it. Consequently, I have retained references when they either are important to the basic structure of his thought and to his chief arguments with contemporaries, or enable me to fulfill the duty of a responsible translator to present a reasonably accurate reflection of the general types of sources upon which an author draws. When references have been retained, however, they have been reduced as far as possible to footnotes. My footnote explanations are bracketed, to distinguish them from Althusius’, which appear without brackets. I have also brought paragraph divisions more into keeping with present usage, indicated major transitions in his thought by the device of leaving blank lines, and in several instances grouped chapters together under an appropriate title. These revisions have been made in the interest of readability. In all instances, however, Althusius’ precise order has been followed.
Another problem is that of style. Althusius wrote in a pedantic manner with little grace and much redundancy. Indeed, one of the ways of detecting unacknowledged quotations (still a common practice in his day) is to pay careful attention to occasional improvements in his style. Not all borrowings can be detected in this way, however, because some of his most frequently used sources, especially legal ones, were equally insensitive in such matters. One of Althusius’ difficulties is his tendency to employ far more nouns, adjectives, or verbs in sequence than most persons find necessary in similar circumstances to convey their thoughts. I have decided to retain these redundancies for several reasons, but chiefly because often each word in the sequence bears a slightly different meaning from the others, and a translator should avoid condensation, however tempting, as a means of achieving stylistic improvement. Again, Althusius frequently joins clauses that are not of parallel construction, and amalgamates a number of them into a confusing sentence that, if diagrammed, would look like a crab-apple tree. In these instances I have usually broken up the sentences, and changed infinitives to gerunds and gerunds to infinitives to achieve somewhat parallel construction. Still again, I must call attention to his transitions. Some are false and some are missing. But mostly they so abundantly flourish that they are often meaningless.
The next problem confronting the translator is that of rendering key words. In the Latin original of the Politica there are combinations of words whose relation to each other is implied in Althusius’ thought. I have decided in most instances to render them in such a manner as to retain for the English reader the opportunity of seeing these words in their relationships. For example, “communicatio” would ordinarily be translated as “sharing.” But if this were done in the Politica its relation with “ communio ” would not be evident. Likewise, if “ collega ” is rendered as “member” and “ collegium ” as “corporation,” would the reader be likely to see the inherent relation between them? Although the result of such a conservative approach to translation as I have employed may produce moments for the reader when, upon first turning to the Politica in English, he feels a slight discomfort with some words he encounters, it is nevertheless hoped that he finally will be aided in his capacity to understand some of the unexplained but fundamental connections in Althusius’ thought.
The final problem is one of determining the best means for presenting in this translation the various references Althusius makes to other writings. After considerable thought and experimentation I have decided upon the following procedures. First, quotations from the Bible are translated anew from Althusius’ Latin text of the Politica, except in a very few instances when the Revised Standard Version is used (and so indicated by the letters R.S.V.). The purpose is to show as clearly as possible the connotations Althusius probably had in mind in using the quotations. For the most part Althusius read the Bible not only as a Calvinist but also as an Aristotelian, and the social connotations he finds in many passages are not often present in modern translations. It is to be noted that his biblical quotations are taken usually from the late sixteenth-century Latin translation by Emmanuel Tremellius and Francis Junius, but occasionally from the Vulgate. Second, quotations from the Corpus juris civilis are also newly translated. At the same time, I have changed the method of referring to material in the Corpus juris civilis from the old one employed by Althusius and all other scholars of his time to the one in general use today. Thus, for example, the citation 1. sicut. ;nssi quid. quod cujusque univers. nom. is rendered as Digest III, 4, 7, 1. And 1.2 ;nshoc etiam. C. de jurejur. propt. calum. is rendered as Code II, 58, 2, 5. Third, the Decretals of canon law, which are employed by Althusius only occasionally in citing passages from the canonists, are also referred to in this translation by the modern method of citation. Thus c. cum in cuntis. de his quae fiunt a maj. part. is listed simply as Decretals III, II, 1. Fourth, all other references are identified in the footnotes by author, short title, and location of material within the work (when information about the location is available), and in the list of Althusius’ literary sources by author, fuller title, and publishing data (except for classical works, which according to customary practice are listed merely by author and title). Fifth, whenever an English translation of a work cited by Althusius has been known to me, I have listed it rather than the Latin title. The reason is simply one of convenience for the English reader. In the list of literary sources, however, I have placed the Latin title and (except for classical works) publishing data in parentheses after the English listing. Sixth, authors’ names in most instances are changed from Latin into an appropriate vernacular. In making such changes, I have attempted to follow contemporary use in political, legal, and theological literature. Unfortunately, however, contemporary use is not always consistent. Nor does there seem to be any other unfailing guide. Therefore I must acknowledge a degree of arbitrariness in this endeavor. Seventh, the location of material within works by particular authors is abbreviated as follows. Aristotles’ works are cited according to the Bekker notation in order to avoid the confusion inherent in their varying book and chapter arrangement in different editions. A very large group of works is divided first into books (or volumes, tomes, or parts), and then into chapters. For these works a Roman numeral is used to indicate the former, and an Arabic numeral to indicate the latter. Whence II, 3. If there is a further division of the chapter, then another Arabic numeral is used. Whence II, 3, 4. If the work is divided only into chapters, or only into chapters and divisions thereof, then Arabic numerals alone are used. Whence 3, or 3, 4. But if the divisions of a work do not lend themselves to this system of citation, then the following abbreviations are used: ann. (year), apos. (apotelesma or response), art. (article), cent. (a hundredth division), chap. (chapter), cons. (consilium or counsel), dec. (decision), dial. (dialogue), disc. (discourse), disp. (disputation), exer. (exercise), glos. (gloss), lib. (book), loc. (locus or place), num. (number), obs. (observation), p. (page), par. (paragraph), pt. (part), pref. (preface), quest. (question), rub. (rubric), sec. (section), thes. (thesis), theor. (theorem), tit. (title), ult. (the final chapter or other division), vol. (volume).
During the course of my labors on Althusius, which produced first a dissertation and now this translation, the following libraries have been indeed generous in the books and services they have made available: the University of Chicago Library, Bridwell and Fondren Libraries of Southern Methodist University, the Newberry Library of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania Library, the Princeton University Library, and above all the Harvard Law Library (where George A. Strait has been exceptionally helpful). My study of Althusius has been encouraged by many persons, but I especially want to express appreciation to James Luther Adams of the Harvard Divinity School, who originally stimulated me to make this study; to Gerhardt E. O. Meyer of the University of Chicago, who critically assisted it along the way; to Father Stanley Parry of Notre Dame University, who, by making his unpublished translation of the Politica available to me at an earlier stage in my labors, kindly aided it; to Decherd H. Turner, Jr., of Southern Methodist University, who bibliographically nourished it; and to my wife Kim Carney of the University of Texas at Arlington, who rejoices in it.
Althusius’ Grand Design for a Federal Commonwealth
The road to modern democracy began with the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century, particularly among those exponents of Reformed Protestantism who developed a theology and politics that set the Western world back on the road to popular self-government, emphasizing liberty and equality.1 While the original founders and spokesmen for Reformed Protestantism did much political writing, their writing was often either theological or polemical in character. Only at the end of the first century of the Reformation did a political philosopher emerge out of the Reformed tradition to build a systematic political philosophy out of the Reformed experience by synthesizing the political experience of the Holy Roman Empire with the political ideas of the covenant theology of Reformed Protestantism. That man, Johannes Althusius, presented his political philosophy in a classic work, Politica Methodice Digesta, first published in 1603, expanded in 1610, and revised in final form in 1614.
Althusius’ Politica was the first book to present a comprehensive theory of federal republicanism rooted in a covenantal view of human society derived from, but not dependent on, a theological system. It presented a theory of polity-building based on the polity as a compound political association established by its citizens through their primary associations on the basis of consent rather than a reified state imposed by a ruler or an elite.
The first grand federalist design, as Althusius himself was careful to acknowledge, was that of the Bible, most particularly the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament.2 For him, it also was the best—the ideal polity based on right principles. Biblical thought is federal (from the Latin foedus, covenant) from first to last—from God’s covenant with Noah establishing the biblical equivalent of what philosophers were later to term natural law (Genesis, chapter 9) to the Jews’ reaffirmation of the Sinai covenant under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, thereby adopting the Torah as the constitution of their second commonwealth (Ezra, chapter 10; Nehemiah, chapter 8). The covenant motif is central to the biblical world view, the basis of all relationships, the mechanism for defining and allocating authority, and the foundation of the biblical political teaching.
The biblical grand design for humankind is federal in three ways. First, it is based upon a network of covenants beginning with those between God and human beings, which weave the web of human, especially political, relationships in a federal way—through pact, association, and consent. In the sixteenth century, this world view was recreated by the Reformed wing of Protestantism as the federal theology from which Althusius, the Huguenots, the Scottish covenanters, and the English and American Puritans developed political theories and principles of constitutional design.
Second, the classic biblical commonwealth was a fully articulated federation of tribes instituted and reaffirmed by covenant to function under a common constitution and laws. Any and all constitutional changes in the Israelite polity were introduced through covenanting. Even after the introduction of the monarchy, the federal element was maintained until most of the tribal structures were destroyed by external forces. The biblical vision of the restored commonwealth in the messianic era envisages the reconstitution of the tribal federation. Most of the American Puritans and many Americans of the Revolutionary era, among others, were inspired by the biblical polity to seek federal arrangements for their polities.
Third, the biblical vision for the “end of days’ ’ —the messianic era—sees not only a restoration of Israel’s tribal system but what is, for all intents and purposes, a world confederation or league of nations, each preserving its own integrity while accepting a common Divine covenant and constitutional order. This order will establish appropriate covenantal relationships for the entire world. The grand designs of Emanuel Kant3 and Martin Buber4 draw heavily on that vision.
In some respects, all subsequent federalist grand designs until Pierre-Joseph Proudhoun’s5 in the mid-nineteenth century are derived from or somehow related to that scriptural precedent. This is true even though there were distinctions between Jewish and Christian, Catholic and Protestant, and religious and secular grand designs within the biblical tradition. Althusius’ grand design is a comprehensive proposal for developing the ideal polity that will function in harmony with the principal forces in the universe. It is meant to provide a basis for organizing all aspects of the polity and its social order, based on Scriptural law and teachings. Moreover, it is comprehensively federal; that is to say, every aspect of the polity is to be informed by federal principles and arrangements in the manner of the network of biblical covenants. Also, it attempts to be realistic; it is grounded in a realistic understanding of human nature, its limits and possibilities in the manner of what was to become known in the seventeenth century as the “new science of politics.”6
Althusius’ grand design is developed out of a series of building blocks or self-governing cells from the smallest, most intimate connections to the universal commonwealth, each of which is internally organized and linked to the others by some form of consensual relationship. Each is oriented toward some higher degree of human harmony to be attained in the fullness of time. Each grand design in some way combines the political and the redemptive dimension as well in the quest for the good commonwealth, if not the holy one. A federalist grand design is one in which the universe is understood in federalistic terms and the comprehensive polity is constructed accordingly.
Althusius must be considered a figure located at the intersection of the major trends of Western culture in the transition from medieval to modern times. One of the Protestant Christian grand designers, he straddled the Reformation and the opening of the modern epoch. Accordingly, he made an effort to synthesize and somewhat secularize Reformed Protestant thought on the ideal polity and to push it in concrete, practical directions.
In the struggle over the direction of European state-building in the seventeenth century, the Althusian view, which called for the building of states on federal principles—as compound political associations—lost out to the view of Jean Bodin7 and the statists who called for the establishment of reified centralized states where all powers were lodged in a divinely ordained king at the top of the power pyramid or in a sovereign center. While Althusian thought had its exponents until the latter part of the century, after that it disappeared from the mainstream of political philosophy. It remained for the Americans to invent modern federalism on the basis of individualism and thus reintroduce the idea of the state as a political association rather than a reified entity, an artifact that is assumed to have an existence independent of the people who constitute it.
In the nineteenth century, one party of German thinkers seeking the unification of Germany on federal principles, epitomized by Otto von Gierke, rediscovered Althusius.8 There, too, however, Germany’s movement toward reified statehood and finally totalitarianism left Althusian ideas out in the cold. They remained peripheral even to students of modern federalism since modern federalism was so strongly connected with the principle of individualism that there was no interest in considering the Althusian effort to deal with the problems of family, occupation, and community along with individual rights in establishing political order. Only recently, as we have come to see the consequences of unrestrained individualism, both philosophically and practically, have political scientists begun to explore problems of liberty in relation to primordial groups—families, particularly, and ethnic communities. Here it was discovered that Althusius had much to offer contemporary society.
Martin Buber was perhaps the first to suggest how Althusian ideas could serve people in the twentieth century. In his Paths in Utopia, he based his political works in part on Althusius.9 Carl Friedrich, the great academic exponent of German liberalism, revived academic interest in Althusius with his publication of the Politica in its Latin version with an extensive introduction.10 More recently, various scholars such as Frederick S. Carney, Patrick Riley, and Thomas Hueglin have explored Althusius’ ideas.11 In his native Germany there has been a renewed interest in Althusian ideas as a foundation for German federal democracy.12 In what was once Yugoslavia, Althusian influence was a powerful counterweight to communism as the basis for introducing a measure of republican liberty.13
There is some dispute among scholars regarding the relationship between Althusius and federalism. Otto von Gierke, the first scholar to try to restore Althusius to his rightful place in the history of political thought, saw him as essentially a medievalist seeking to reconstruct medieval corporatism for a postmedieval and changing time. On the other hand, Carl Friedrich, the first important figure in the twentieth-century Althusian revival, viewed Althusius as being somewhere between medievalist and a precursor of modern federalism.
As a student of federalism in all its forms and a federalist, this writer would suggest that it is necessary to look to Althusius not only in historical perspective as a transitional figure from medieval corporatism to modern federalism, but as a source of ideas and models for a postmodern federalism. Premodern federalism, before the seventeenth century, had a strong tribal or corporatist foundation, one in which individuals were inevitably defined as members of permanent, multigenerational groups and whose rights and obligations derived entirely or principally from group membership. Modern federalism broke away from this model to emphasize polities built strictly or principally on the basis of individuals and their rights, allowing little or no space for recognition or legitimation of intergenerational groups.
A postmodern federalism must reckon with one of the basic principles of postmodern politics, namely that individuals are to be secured in their individual rights, yet groups are also to be recognized as real, legitimate, and requiring an appropriate status. Althusius is the first, and one of the few political philosophers who has attempted to provide for this synthesis. Needless to say, his late-medieval thought cannot be transposed whole into the postmodern epoch in the latter part of the twentieth century. However, in part because he wrote in a period of epochal transition from the late-medieval to the modern epoch, much of his system, its ideas, and even its terminology, may be adaptable to or at least form the basis for a postmodern federalism. This essay does not pretend to be able to make that adaption or synthesis. At most it will suggest some lines of thought and investigation that can lead us in that direction. They may be summarized as follows:
1) The foundations of Althusius’ political philosophy are covenantal through and through. Pactum (covenant) is the only basis for legitimate political organization. More than that, Althusius develops a covenantal-federal basis for his ideas that is comprehensive. Not only is the universal association constructed as a federation of communities, but politics as such is federal through and through, based as it is on union and communication (in the sense of sharing) as expressed in the idea that its members are symbiotes.
Althusius’ dual emphasis on federalism as a relationship and on sharing as the basis of federal relationships has turned out to be a basic axiom of federalism. While there can be different forms of a federal relationship and the ideal of sharing can be realized in different ways, federalism remains essentially a relationship and sharing its guiding principle. The polity, then, is a symbiotic association constituted by symbiotes through communication.
Althusius’ emphasis on the existence of both natural and civil associations in the private sphere reflects his emphasis on what we would call the natural right of association. The family is a natural association based on two relationships: conjugal and kinship. Since the nuclear family is a conjugal relationship, even it is covenantal. Naturally, the collegium or civil association in both its secular and ecclesiastical forms is covenantal.
Mixed and public associations are equally covenantal with the city as a covenantal republic formed of a union of collegia, the province a covenantal union of cities, and the commonwealth a covenantal union of provinces (this is so even though Althusius talks of the rights of the province as an arm of the commonwealth and not simply a union of cities). Covenants for Althusius are the ways in which symbiotes can initiate and maintain associations. They are products of both necessity and volition.
2) Althusius deals with the problem of sovereignty, then becoming the critical juridical problem for modern federalism, by vesting it in the people as a whole. On one hand this is what makes the good polity a respublica or commonwealth. On the other it also makes it possible to be a consociatio consociatiorum, a universitas composed of collegia, since the people can delegate the exercise of sovereign power to different bodies as they please (according to their sovereign will).
The problem of indivisible sovereignty raised by Jean Bodin became the rock upon which premodern confederation foundered.14 The modern state system was based on the principle of indivisible sovereignty that in an age of increasingly monolithic and energetic states became a sine qua non for political existence. Thus the medieval world of states based on shared sovereignty had to give way. It was not until the American founders invented modern federalism that a practical solution to this problem was found enabling the development of modern federation as a form of government. Althusius provided the theoretical basis for dealing with the sovereignty question over 175 years earlier (no doubt unbeknownst to them) and gave it the necessary philosophic grounding.15
The revival of interest in Althusius in our time has accompanied the revival of possibilities of confederation. The European Union is the leading example of postmodern confederation; there are now three or four others as well. Although Althusius himself does not develop a theory of confederation per se, his particular kind of federal thinking in which he sees his universal association as constituted by comprehensive organic communities has clearly had something to contribute to an emerging postmodern theory of confederation.16
Althusius further understands political sovereignty as the constituent power. This is at once a narrower and more republican definition of sovereignty the plenary character of which is harnessed as the power to constitute government—a power that is vested in the organic body of the commonwealth, i.e., the people. Moreover, once the people act, their sovereignty is located in the jus regni, the fundamental right/law of the realm, namely the constitution.
This Althusian concept has important implications for contemporary international law that is grappling with the problem of how to mitigate the effects of the principle of absolute and undivided sovereignty inherited from modern jurisprudence in an increasingly interdependent world. Even where the principle is not challenged, the practical exercise of absolute sovereignty is no longer possible. Moreover, there are an increasing number of situations in which even the principle cannot be applied as it once was. One way out in such cases has been to vest sovereignty in the constitutional document itself in what Althusius would refer to as the jus regni. Vesting sovereignty in a constitutional document is entirely consonant with a covenantal federalism.
3) Althusius serves as a bridge between the biblical foundations of Western civilization and modern political ideas and institutions. As such he translates the biblical political tradition into useful modern forms. In this he must be contrasted with Benedict Spinoza who a few years later in his Theological Political Tractate17 makes the case for a new modern political science by presumably demonstrating that the biblical political tradition applied only to ancient Israel and ceased to be relevant once the Jews lost their state (unless and until the Jewish state was restored). Althusius confronts the same problems of modern politics without jettisoning or denying the biblical foundations. In part this rendered him less useful during the modern epoch when his unbending Calvinist emphasis on the necessary links among religion, state, and society, ran counter to the development of the modern secular state.
The Althusian version of the Calvinist model of the religiously homogeneous polity is not likely to be revived in the postmodern epoch. On the other hand, we are beginning to revive an old understanding that no civil society can exist without some basis in transcendent norms that obligate and bind the citizens and establish the necessary basis for trust and communication. The connection between the Decalogue and jus as both law and right, while hardly original to Althusius, may offer possibilities for renewed development in our times. Althusius adopts a conventional understanding of the two tables of the Decalogue of his time, namely that the first table addresses itself to piety and the second to justice, both of which are necessary foundations for civil society.
4) Very important in this connection is Althusius’ development of the concept of jus regni, which he derives explicitly from the biblical mishpat hamelukhah (law of the kingdom), enunciated in I Samuel 10 and elsewhere, to serve as constitution of the universal association, at one and the same time establishing the constitution as a civil rather than a religious document, yet one which has its source in or at least is in harmony with divine and natural law. This is precisely the task of the mishpat hamelukhah that constitutes a civil law separate from the Torah but in harmony with it.18 While contemporary political scientists emphasize the secular character of modern constitutionalism, examination of most contemporary constitutions reveals that they reflect the same combination of claims, including especially linkage to transcendent law—law that is more often divine than natural, yet containing human artifacts that are civil in character.19 While in recent years we have made considerable advances in developing an understanding of constitutional design, in doing so we have neglected this linkage and its implications for right law that Althusius calls to our attention.20
5) While Althusius was clearly a product of his times and the ideal state of his design is one that reflects the class and reference group structure of seventeenth-century German society, it is significant that he leaves open the possibility for democracy as we know it, including female participation in public life and office holding, and a more classless and egalitarian basis for participation generally. Lacking a sufficient command of the Latin text to properly explore the issue, this writer cannot say whether Althusius has an esoteric as well as an exoteric teaching, but this suggests that there may be a hidden dimension to be explored in the Politica and Althusian thought generally. Nor is the federal aspect insignificant here. Althusius suggests different forms and extents of participation in the different arenas of government as one possible way to extend participation in public life to groups heretofore disenfranchised in the world that he knew.
A contemporary Althusian politics should address itself to the same possibilities: for example, direct democracy for the most local assemblies; somewhat indirect democracy for county institutions; and republican or representative government for what Althusius would have called provincial and we would call state land, or cantonal, institutions and for the universal association or general government.
6) Althusius recognizes the modern distinction between public and private realms, yet also preserves the connection between them. In this respect, he, like the moderns who were to follow him, breaks with classic notions of all-embracing polis to recognize the legitimacy of a sphere of private activity that is constitutional by right, thereby preventing totalitarianism. Yet he recognizes the connection between the simple and private associations of family and collegium and the mixed and public associations of city, province, and commonwealth. Indeed, the relationship between private and public spheres and associations is a major concern of his as it increasingly must be to those of us who seek to reckon with the realities of the postmodern epoch in which all of life is more closely interrelated than ever before and everything is tied into everything else in ways that make older forms of separation increasingly more difficult.
One of the advantages of the modern epoch was that it was possible to separate the public and private spheres more sharply because it was a period that fostered increased distance between them. This is no longer the case as the postmodern communications technology requires more Althusian communication; that is to say, as everything impinges upon everything else, more sharing is necessary.
7) Althusius’ definition of politics as the effective ordering of communication (of things, services, and rights) offers us a starting point for understanding political phenomena that speaks to contemporary political science. This leads us to the second half of Althusian thought: that dealing with statesmanship, prudence, and administration. It would be possible to say of the second half of Althusian teaching that it is general to all of politics and not specific to federalism, except that this would do violence to the first half of Althusian teaching that sees all politics as federal politics.
We owe Professor Carney a great debt for providing the English-reading public with the opportunity to read Althusius’ magnum opus in translation and not to have to rely upon assessments of the Latin text by others. When Althusius wrote the Politica in Latin, he undoubtedly did so to reach the widest possible educated audience, using the best tool of his times for doing so. Now Latin is no longer that tool—English is.
To read Althusius is to discover how important his ideas are for our times. Eclipsed for three centuries by the major thrust of the modern epoch toward the homogeneous nation-state built around the individual citizen, standing politically naked before the state machinery, Althusian ideas seem much more in place in the postmodern epoch, with its more modern political networks, its renewed recognition of primordial groups and political associations as part and parcel of contemporary political life, and its federalistic striving for both universalism and particularism, ecumene and community.
Althusius’ Literary Sources Referred to in This Translation
Although Althusius’ sources were entirely in Latin, this list whenever possible directs the reader not only to an English translation but also to editions in French and German. In addition, proper names for the most part have been supplied in an appropriate vernacular language.
Many of the items of this list have been personally examined through the graciousness of a number of American libraries; the standard bibliographic catalogues and reference works have been consulted for others; and great care has been taken to make this list as accurate as possible. Nevertheless, the bibliographic confusion and occasional obscurity that surround some of these books make it all too probable that errors will be found. Moreover, it is difficult in certain instances to determine which of several editions of a book should be listed since Althusius never identified which edition he was using. This difficulty burdens the conscience all the more when it is realized that later editions of the same book in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were often successively supplemented and even given different internal organization, and that therefore a particular edition, unless personally examined to ascertain whether it answers to Althusius’ citations of it, may not be the right one for this list. Presumably a translator of materials of this sort must learn to live with this burden of conscience if he is to avoid a lifetime of labor dedicated largely to minutiae.
This list contains all of Althusius’ literary sources referred to in this translation. For a listing of the sources contained in the entire Latin work, see the index in Latin that Carl J. Friedrich provided for his 1932 edition of the Politica methodice digesta, an index to which this list is also indebted.
[1 ] See, for example, Robert Henry Murray, The Political Consequences of the Reformation: Studies in Sixteenth-Century Political Thought (New York: Russell and Russell, 1960) and Michael Walzer, The Revolution of the Saints: A Study in the Origins of Radical Politics (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1982).
[2 ] Two of the best available treatments of the federal dimension of the biblical world view are to be found in the works of Althusius and Buber. See, for example, Professor Carney’s introduction and Martin Buber’s Kingship of God, translated by Richard Scheimann (Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1990). This writer has treated the subject in Covenant and Polity in Biblical Israel (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Press, 1994). See also “Government in Biblical Israel,” Tradition 13, No. 4–14, no. 1 (Spring–Summer, 1973) 105–24 and “Covenant as the Basis of the Jewish Political Tradition,” Jewish Journal of Sociology XX, no. 1 (June, 1978) 5–37. The Israel-based Workshop in the Covenant Idea and the Jewish Political Tradition sponsored by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Bar-Ilan University Department of Political Studies and its American-based counterpart, the Workshop on Covenant and Politics sponsored by the Center for the Study of Federalism, have been probing that issue among others. The principal work on the Israeli workshop is available in Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Kinship and Consent: The Jewish Political Tradition and Its Contemporary Uses (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America and Center for the Study of Federalism, 1983). The principal work on the American workshop is available in Daniel J. Elazar and John Kincaid, eds., Covenant, Polity and Constitutionalism (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America and Center for the Study of Federalism, 1983).
[3 ]The Metaphysical Elements of Justice, translated by John Ladd (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1965). See especially Part II on Public Law (75–141).
[4 ] Op cit., footnote 2.
[5 ]The General Idea of Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, translated by John Beverly Robinson (London: Freedom Press, 1923).
[6 ] See Daniel J. Elazar, ed., Federalism as Grand Design: Political Philosophers and the Federal Principle (Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America and Center for the Study of Federalism, 1987).
[7 ]The Six Bookes of a Commonweale, translated by Richard Knolles (London, 1606). Republished by Kenneth D. McRae (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1962).
[8 ] Otto von Gierke, Political Theories of the Middle Ages, translated with an Introduction by F. W. Maitland (Cambridge, England: The University Press, 1900); reprinted 1988.
[9 ] Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia, translated by R. F. C. Hull (New York: Collier Books, 1988). See also Buber’s Kingship of God (note 2 above).
[10 ] Carl J. Friedrich, ed., Politica Methodice Digests of Johannes Althusius (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1932). Friedrich’s introduction is a thorough expression of his understanding of Althusius’ thought.
[11 ] Frederick Carney’s translation and introduction and Thomas Hueglin, “Johannes Althusius: Medieval Constitutionalist or Modern Federalist?” Publius 9, No. 4 (1979): 9–41. For a different perspective on Althusius, see Patrick Riley, “Three Seventeenth-Century German Theorists of Federalism: Althusius, Hugo and Leibniz,” Publius 6, No. 3 (1976): 7–41.
[12 ] See, for example, the work of the Althusius Society (Dieter Wyduckel, President), Juristische Fakultät, Technische Universität Dresden, Mommsenstr. 13, 01062 Dresden, Germany.
[13 ] Interview with Professor Jovan Djorvec, March 1973.
[14 ] Op cit., footnote 7.
[15 ] See Daniel J. Elazar, The American Constitutional Tradition (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988).
[16 ] See Daniel J. Elazar, “Europe and the Federal Experience,” in Federalism and the Way to Peace (Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Institute of Intergovernmental Relations, Queens University, 1994), 53–71.
[17 ]Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 2nd ed., translated by Samuel Shirley (New York: E. J. Brill, 1991).
[18 ]On mishpat hamelukhah, see “King, Kingship: The Covenant of Monarchy,” in Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol. 10 (Jerusalem: Keter, 1972), 1019–20; also see Daniel J. Elazar and Stuart A. Cohen, The Jewish Polity: Jewish Political Organization from Biblical Times to the Present (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), Part I, Epoch IV.
[19 ] See Albert P. Blaustein and Gilbert H. Flanz, Constitutions of the Countries of the World (Dobbs Ferry, New York: Oceana Publications, 1971).
[20 ] See Vincent Ostrom, The Political Theory of a Compound Republic: Designing the American Experiment, 2nd ed., rev. and enl. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987); and Daniel J. Elazar and John Kincaid, Covenant, Polity and Constitutionalism (note 2 above).