Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXXIII - Politica
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XXXIII - 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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§ 1A universal council is a meeting of each and all members and estates of the realm called for the purpose of deliberating and making decisions about the condition and welfare of the common universal association, of averting troubles to it, and of attending to and improving its advantages. This council is called a universal meeting, a senate of the imperium or realm, an assembly of the realm, an epitome of the realm, ein Reichstag, ein gemeine Reichsversamlung.
§ 2The requisites of a legitimate council are (1) a purpose or matter to be acted upon in the council, (2) personnel, (3) a time and place, and (4) an order and form for holding the council. § 3The purposes for which an assembly is held are those that concern the entire realm or associated body, one or more estates, or the subjects of the realm. Some of these purposes are grave and difficult. They relate to religion and divine worship, war, establishing peace and public tranquillity, taxes and collections, money, the ordering of political and ecclesiastical affairs, commerce, safe conduct and transit privileges, the supreme court of the realm, tyranny, public goods, and other rights of the realm. Some purposes are principally private in nature, such as the right of discussion, the possession of a castle, public violence, disagreements between estates, privileges, and the like.
§ 4The persons who hold an assembly and come together in council are twofold, namely, the supreme administrator or magistrate of the realm, and all the representatives of the realm. § 5The supreme magistrate presides over universal councils. Whence he has the right of directing and governing the whole proceeding: the right of calling a universal and ecumenical assembly, the right of proposing the things that are to be transacted, the right of gathering the members’ opinions, the right of promulgating those things that have been decided by the assembly, and the right of adjourning it. The supreme magistrate, either in his own person or through others, carries out all those things in which the direction of the council consists.
§The right of calling an assembly and convoking the estates and orders is carried out by letters of announcement and summons sent to the individual estates of the realm. § 7In these letters are contained the purpose of the assembly and the time and place of it. Thereby those who are called can study the purpose and come instructed and informed, as well as know when and where they are to come.
§ 8The proposition is the public declaration delivered vocally in the presence of all the orders that defines the purpose for which the assembly has been called together. § 9The rogation is the collecting of the judgments of the deliberating and consulting estates. § 10The promulgation of the things decided in the assembly is the reading aloud in the presence of all the orders of decisions confirmed by signed and sealed documents, and then their publication throughout the entire realm.
§ 11The representatives of the realm called to the assembly are partly consultants, deliberants, and judges, partly petitioners, complainers, and defenders of their own interests in the matter at hand. The persons who consult and render opinions are all the members of the realm, or the estates and orders organized in their various collegia, or legates who have a mandate from these estates to perform this function. § 12It is best that the collegia of the orders be of an uneven number in order that disagreement can be resolved between differing opinions of the orders by a majority vote, and that something definite can thereby be established. Or if the number is even, it is necessary that the supreme magistrate be granted a vote. By this means controversy is overcome and a definite decision is made. § 13It is advisable that there be both ecclesiastical and secular persons in each collegium of the orders or estates, that each collegium have its own chamber, and that all the collegia combined have one common chamber. § 14Those persons who have been called to the council and do not come lose their vote for this occasion. Those who are present reach their conclusions in their individual collegia either by unanimous consensus or by a majority of those voting.
§ 15All the members of the realm are also expected to be petitioners and to make complaints. For it is permitted to all to complain freely in that estate in which they abide. And anyone who wishes to denounce things that need correction in the commonwealth is to be patiently heard. Thus the superior is informed about the state of the commonwealth and realm by such denunciations, and can discuss with the assembled orders the means by which the wants of the commonwealth can be relieved, its perils and disadvantages averted and removed, its advantages increased, and common support and aid made available. § 16Those who defend their own interests are to be heard so that an injustice may not be committed against innocent persons.
§ 17The place of the assembly is determined at the discretion of the person who calls it. Those who are called should be able to come to it conveniently and safely, and to find adequate lodging there. Or else it should be held where a remedy can best be found for some troubled part or estate of the commonwealth. Whence the place is to be decided according to discretion and the usual practice. The time of holding the assembly is also discretionary and according to custom.
§ 18The general order and form of holding this assembly is that, after prayers have been said, an address is made concerning the matter to be decided, or else both sides of the issue are set forth, argued, and considered. The voting is first within the orders meeting separately in their collegia, and then in a combined public session of the collegia. Opinions are asked for, listened to, compared, pondered, and examined. When all or a majority agree, a common judgment is established by which even a minority with another opinion is bound. … § 20The opinion of the combined orders and estates prevails over the opinion of the presiding officer or the supreme magistrate. For greater is the authority and power in the many than in the one who has been constituted by the many and is less than they are. Many are also better able than one to see, understand, and judge. One is more likely than many to err and to be deceived, or to be carried away by feeling to make decisions that are not suitable. What is sought by many is more easily achieved, and what is decided by the authority of many is carried out and defended with greater concord, respect, and fidelity. Then too, if the opinion of the supreme magistrate, when contrary to the opinion of the orders and estates individually and collectively, were alone to be promulgated as the opinion of the universal council, then this council would be made useless. …
§ 29From all these things it is apparent that the use of assemblies was introduced because of the most just and necessary reasons. For the welfare of the people and the excellence of counsel depend upon a large number of prudent men, as Solomon says.§ 30 Then it is an aspect of liberty that an enterprise should be administered with the counsel and authority of those who bear the danger of it, and supply the capabilities, support, goods, and spirit for it. Furthermore, the voices of individuals are less heeded than those of an entire province. Indeed, the voice of the realm is heeded most clearly, and its request is sufficiently powerful that the prince, even if he wishes, cannot fail to listen to it. Also, there are some public matters that cannot reasonably be handled by individuals. Rather they can best be investigated, deliberated, and settled by the whole to whom the matters at hand are better known than they would be to one or certain few. Moreover, the prince or the supreme magistrate retains the favor of his subjects by the use of assemblies because the subjects thereby see themselves as not excluded from the care and administration of the commonwealth, and they do not suspect evil counsel to be the cause when an activity perchance does not go well. But if none of the subjects is admitted to the counsels of the prince in difficult matters, the subjects would consider themselves to be despised, and would develop a hatred against the prince. Finally, those who have great influence with the king and hold major positions in the realm are held to their responsibilities by the fear of a council in which the demands of cities and others are heard. Whence the spirit of liberty is retained through this right of holding assemblies, and a remedy is thereby found for the machinations of the mighty, the flatterers, the unjust, and the greedy. Francis Hotman presents many examples of this. … 19
[19 ]De antiquo jure regni Gallici, I, 14. [The remainder of Chapter XXXIII is devoted to long discussions of universal councils in ancient Israel, Greece, and Rome, and in contemporary Germany, France, England, Belgium and the Netherlands, Poland, and the free city of Venice.]