Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXXIX: Types of Supreme Magistrate - Politica
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XXXIX: Types of Supreme Magistrate - 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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Types of Supreme Magistrate
§ 1We have completed our discussion of the constituting of the supreme magistrate, and of his administration and office. We turn now to the types of supreme magistrate. One is monarchic, and the other is polyarchic. … § 6The nature of monarchy is that the command and power of one person administers the commonwealth. This power, which does not depend upon the will of another, is the supreme power in the strict sense. By it one person has the right of ruling the rest both corporately and individually. Other rulers, who under him guide the particular parts of the commonwealth assigned to them, depend upon him and are, as it were, his officials through whom he as the monarch carries out his mandates.
§ 7There are some who maintain that the monarch can decide about weightier matters, such as war, peace, and other arduous business, without consulting the counselors, ephors, and optimates of the realm.1 Others deny this, and are of the opinion that the optimates are to be consulted in such matters, without whose consent nothing pertaining to these activities is to be decided, established, and promulgated.2 I prefer this latter opinion, as is evident from the things I have said above. … 3
§ 8But, you may ask, how can a government be called a monarchy when the power of the monarch is not absolute and free, when it is understood to be confined within certain prescribed limits and to be able to do nothing against the laws and the will of ephors and universal councils of the realm? Obviously liberty, as the jurists say, is to be defined as the natural faculty by which each person is permitted to do what he wishes unless something is prohibited by force or law. Even the emperor acknowledges himself to be bound by laws.4 For this reason our authority depends upon the authority of law. And indeed it is better for imperium to submit its dominion to laws. Thus, for an emperor to be unable and forbidden to do wicked and prohibited things does not take away from his power or his liberty, but defines the ends and deeds in which his true power and liberty consist. For it is not the property of imperium that it is able to rule in any manner whatever, nor is it the property of power that it can do anything whatever, but only what agrees with nature and right reason. So God is not able to lie, as the Apostle Paul said,5 nor can he make two different things, such as light and darkness, exist at the same time in the same place. He is not for this reason less omnipotent. Nor is the king said to be impotent because he cannot ascend into the heavens, touch the skies with his hand, move mountains, or empty the ocean. Therefore, the supreme power of the monarch will consist in what is circumscribed by justice, laws, and right reason (jus, leges, et recta ratio), not in unrestrained and unbridled action against nature and reason.6 It is therefore appropriate to reason and nature that the covenants and laws of the realm to which the king has sworn be upheld, and that the consent of counselors and optimates be obtained in ardous matters. …
§ 9The types of commonwealth are to be determined by the more pre-eminent, prevalent, and predominate part, just as in the constitutions and temperaments of man. For although those who are either sanguine or phlegmatic or choleric or melancholy can be lacking in none of the four temperaments (humores) without risk of life, it nevertheless happens that each man is characterized by one of these temperaments more than by the others. Whence from the predominating and more powerful temperament a man is called sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, or melancholy.7 In a similar way the commonwealth can also be compared to the human body so far as the types of its administration are concerned. § 10For what administration of a commonwealth can exist or endure that lacks either intermediate magistrates or estates or counselors or a definite head? Moreover, the estates, as I have said, represent the aristocratic element, the councils the democratic, and the head—whether it be one person or many in the place of one—the monarchic. This is similar to the human body in which the head has the likeness of the ruling king, the heart with its five external senses has the likeness of the estates, and the remaining members of the body together have the likeness of the entire people or populace. These intermediate magistrates frequently depend immediately upon the people when it predominates, in which case the people prescribes the principles of their administration, and constitutes and dismisses them. In this event the government is called a democracy. § 11Sometimes they are dependent immediately upon one person who predominates. Whence it is called a monarchy. At other times they are dependent upon one, two, three, or four who predominate, and for this reason the government is called an aristocracy. …
§ 13If you further ask what is the democratic element in monarchy and aristocracy, I respond that in both it is the assemblies of the realm in which the people has reserved to itself the right to vote (jus sufragii). § 14On the other hand, if you ask what is the aristocratic element in democracy and monarchy, I respond that it is the estates of the realm and the intermediate magistrates. Monarchy is represented in aristocracy and democracy by the concord and consensus of those who rule in which many voices are accounted as one voice and will. Without this common will aristocracy and democracy cannot endure; they immediately disappear and are transformed into other types of administration. § 15Since these things are so, as we affirm, every type of commonwealth is mixed, just as the constitution of man, as we have said, is combined from four temperaments. For what is monarchic in a commonwealth conserves and restrains in office what is aristocratic and democratic; and what is aristocratic and democratic checks and restrains in office what is monarchic. This arrangement is best, and is more likely to endure. § 16Remedies are thus brought forth for various faults and vices to which single types of commonwealths in themselves are subject. This happens no less than in the human body where a choleric disposition is mitigated by a phlegmatic one, and a sanguine disposition is restrained by a melancholy one. Thus one bodily disposition may be the preservation of another, and vices arising from excess and from deficiency may correct each other. It is evident that a polity is to be judged best that combines the qualities of kingship, aristocracy, and democracy.
Vincent Cabot, however, asserts that a state is called mixed when the king has one kind of supreme power, the senate another, and the people still another.8 Indeed, he calls it mixed when they have the same power, but not over the same things, as when the people has responsibility over the citizens and the senate over aliens. It will also be a mixed state, he says, if the king, senate, and people have the same power over the same things. Likewise it is mixed when the laws are made by the decision of the king, senate, and people; when the king, senate, and people rule at the same time; or when the senate or people alone can do nothing without the king. But I do not approve of these mixtures. Nor does use and practice admit them, except so far as the people in electing a king or supreme magistrate have reserved certain power to themselves. … 9§ 18 For it is the nature of the rights of sovereignty that whoever has one of them is considered to have the others necessarily, for he cannot have the use of one of them unless the others are also granted to him. For they are connected and unitary. It is therefore necessary that their exercise belong to one and not to many at the same time, except that the many by mutual consent and concord can act as if they were one in the administration of these rights. For one realm cannot have two kings, as one earth cannot have two suns. And two supreme powers or imperia cannot exist at the same time. …
§ 23Bartholomaeus Keckermann has a somewhat different view from mine on the mixed constitution and order of the commonwealth.10 He does not rightly understand what he calls my opinion of the mixed state. For it is evident from the preceding things and from my entire political teaching that there is no type of magistrate that is immune from mixture. I do not recognize in this political association any pure and simple state. Because of the weakness of human nature such a state could not endure for long or be well suited for social life. Therefore, as water without some mixture of earth would be tasteless and devoid of nourishment, so such simple and imaginary states as the Platonic and Utopian polities would be useless for social life. Nor has my opinion ever been different: what is the optimum, and what is the measure of everything else, ought to be the beginning of the discussion. I have attempted to advance from the things that are more general and better known, by which everything that follows receives illumination, to less well known particulars, and finally to the most special matters of all, which so depend upon the things that have gone before that without them they cannot be understood. For the law of method requires this procedure. …
§ 30Monarchy is thought by many persons to be better and more useful than the other kinds of magistrate.11 The reasons they give are principally the following: (1) Authority in one man is more conspicuous, and at the same time engenders more respect and love, than in a multitude. (2) Monarchy is more agreeable to nature in that one creature always dominates and rules the others of its kind, just as one soul rules the body, and one God the world. (3) This government is more readily adapted both for acquiring advice and for carrying it out without divulging secrets. (4) This state is not as readily subject by its nature to change and confusion. Whence history indicates that republics have not endured as long as monarchies. (5) Monarchy is older, for it dates from the beginning of the human race.12 (6) God used this form in the government of his people.13 (7) One man can better and more easily turn the rudder on a boat than can many. (8) Monarchy follows the example of wise peoples. (9) There are many disadvantages of other forms of commonwealth, and to the extent that they possess real advantages they have the likeness of a monarchy, or else approach closely to it. For no one, as Christ testifies, can serve two masters, much less many masters. § 31Nor can anyone easily satisfy the judgment and will of many. Nevertheless, this monarchical form of the commonwealth is greatly infested by plots and snares that are very often planned and carried out by subjects against their monarch.14
§ 32A polyarchic supreme magistrate is one in which those who are furnished by the subjects with equal or the same supreme imperium rule and administer the rights of sovereignty. That is to say, the succession of administration is communicated among a number of persons. … § 45This polyarchic magistracy can be either aristocratic or democratic. § 46It is aristocratic when to a few noble or wealthy optimates, or to certain others, are given jointly and indivisibly the supreme imperium over the remaining subjects both individually and corporately, as well as the use of the rights of sovereignty. § 47The nature of aristocracy requires that the power and right of ruling belong jointly, indivisibly, and continuously to a number of partners equally, and that this form of government be protected by special laws against monarchy and democracy. …
§ 57The state or magistrate is democratic when certain persons selected alternately and successively from the people for definite periods of time rule all the others both individually and corporately in the name of the associated body of the realm, or of all the inhabitants thereof. Thus they exercise the rights of sovereignty and supreme power according to the votes of the entire people gathered by centurial divisions, by tribes, or by curia. … § 61The nature of democracy requires that there be liberty and equality of honors, which consist in these things: that the citizens alternately rule and obey, that there be equal rights for all, and that there be an alternation of private and public life so that all rule in particular matters and individuals obey in all matters. … § 62It is also necessary that democracy by its nature enjoy special and pre-eminent arrangements by which it is protected against monarchy and aristocracy. …
§ 83And these are the things about political art (ars)15 that I have thought ought to be discussed. I cannot be persuaded to treat separately, as other political scientists do, the causes that lead to the destruction of the association or the overthrow of the commonwealth. For as a straight line shows up a crooked one, and virtue casts light on vice, so also an association rightly and legitimately constituted is an indicator of vice, corruption, and evil. Nevertheless, I do not judge it to be alien to political art that vices contrary to each type of association be explained and subjoined as inferences thereto, and that precepts are illustrated by them, as I have done in appropriate places. But to propose precepts about the vices, defects, and faults of association, or about symbiotic evil, is altogether alien to that political art we profess. Were this not so, political art would be twofold, one part pertaining to symbiotic good and the other to symbiotic evil. And these two parts would have two ends each contrary to each other. The logicians and methodists discuss this matter more fully.
§ 84Nor can I here approve the opinion of Bartholomaeus Keckermann16 and Philip Hoenonius,17 who think that in politics the types of supreme magistrate are first to be taught, then the mixed state constituted from the three types that we have discussed, and only then the provinces and cities. This conflicts with the law of method. For it cannot be denied that provinces are constituted from villages and cities, and commonwealths and realms from provinces. Therefore, just as the cause by its nature precedes the effect and is more perceptible, and just as the simple or primary precedes in order what has been composed or derived from it, so also villages, cities, and provinces precede realms and are prior to them. For this is the order and progression of nature, that the conjugal relationship, or the domestic association of man and wife, is called the beginning and foundation of human society. From it are then produced the associations of various blood relations and in-laws. From them in turn come the sodalities and collegia, out of the union of which arises the composite body that we call a village, town, or city. And these symbiotic associations as the first to develop can subsist by themselves even without a province or realm. However, as long as they are not united in the associated and symbiotic universal body of a province, commonwealth, or realm, they are deprived of many of the advantages and necessary supports of life. It is necessary, therefore, that the doctrine of the symbiotic life of families, kinship associations, collegia, cities, and provinces precede the doctrine of the realm or universal symbiotic association that arises from the former associations and is composed of them. In practice, however, all these associations are to be joined together for the common welfare of the symbiotes both individually and corporately. For the public association cannot exist without the private and domestic association. Both are necessary and useful in order that we may live advantageously. …
§ 85I do not think that special doctrine is necessary for the particular political state, although other modern writers disagree. For although political art is general, it always and everywhere agrees with and can be accommodated to every particular and special place, time, and people. This is so even though various and separate realms often use laws of their own differing from those of others in some matters. What else are the dukedom, principate, lordship, dynasty, county, landgraviate, mark, and the like, or what else can they be, except provinces, members, orders, and estates of the realm to which they belong? Even if they sometimes use laws that are peculiar to them and differ legitimately from those of the rest of the realm, they are still provinces of the realm. 18
§ 86Nor have I wanted to define the political types so far as their establishment, increase, extension, and conservation are concerned. The same principles apply to the establishment, increase, extension, and conservation of polities. For the commonwealth is conserved and extended by the same arts by which it is constituted, as our definition of politcs sufficiently explains.19
[1 ] William Barclay, The Kingdom and the Regal Power, III, 4.
[2 ] [Fernando Vásquez, Illustrium controversiarum, I, 23; Friedrich Pruckmann, De regalibus, 4, 7; 18, 64; 33, 20; Digest XXVIII, 4, 3; Code I, 2, 5; I, 14, 8; IV, 13, 5; VI, 37, 10.
[3 ] Chapters XVIII, XXVII, and XXXII.
[4 ] Code I, 14, 4.
[5 ] [Does Althusius have Hebrews 6:18, which is non-Pauline, in mind?]
[6 ]See Fernando Vásquez, Illustrium controversiarum, I, 15; I, 26, 22; I, 45; Diego Covarruvias, Variarum resolutionum, III, 6, 8; Arius Pinellus, De rescindenda venditione, 1, 2, 25 f.; Bartolus, Commentarii (Digest IV, 4, 38), where he says “Great is Caesar, but greater is reason and truth”; Friedrich Pruckmann, De regalibus, 3.
[7 ] [This is an allusion to an old physiology in which four fluids (humores)—blood, phlegm, choler (yellow bile), and melancholy (black bile)—were understood to enter the body and determine by their relative proportions therein the health and disposition (humor, pl. humores) of the person.]
[8 ]Variarum juris, II, 4.
[9 ]See Chapter XIX above for the mixture that I have considered to be the best. This kind is thought to have existed in the Spartan commonwealth. See Niels Krag, De republica Lacedaemoniorum, 4; Caspar Contarini, De republica Venetorum, I; Laelius Zecchus, De principe, I, 4; Hermann Kirchner, Respublica, disp. 3, 7.
[10 ]Systema disciplinae politicae, II, 4.
[11 ] Petrus Gregorius, De republica, V, 3 f.; Jean Bodin, The Commonweale, VI, 4; Melchior Junius, Politicarum quaestionum, I, quest. 4; Jacob Simanca, De republica, III, 2 f.; Sir Thomas More, Utopia, I, 2; Justus Lipsius, Politicorum sive civilis doctrinae, II, 2; Aristotle, Politics, 1310a 39–1313a 17.
[12 ] Genesis, 11 f.
[13 ] Numbers 11; 16; Exodus 18; 24; Joshua 1; Deuteronomy 17.
[14 ] Aristotle, Politica, 1310a 39–1313a 17; Melchior Junius, Politicarum quaestionum, I, quest. 4; Philip Beroald, De optimo statu; Francesco Patrizi, De regno, I, tit. 3; Jean Bodin, The Commonweale, II, 2; Vincent Castellani, De officio regis, I, 1; Matthew Scholasticus, De vero et christiano principe, I, 5.
[15 ] [science.]
[16 ] [ Systema disciplinae politicae. ]
[17 ] [ Disputationum politicarum. ]
[18 ] As we have said above in Chapter VIII.
[19 ] Chapter I.