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Source: Introduction to Pufendorf, The Present State of Germany, trans. Edmund Bohun, edited and with an Introduction by Michael J. Seidler (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2007).
INTRODUCTION BY MICHAEL J. SEIDLER
Samuel Pufendorf (1632–94) began his academic career at the University of Heidelberg in 1661 in the arts (i.e., philosophy) faculty as a professor of international law (ius gentium) and philology. He received this appointment on the basis of his first jurisprudential work, the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence (1660), which he had dedicated to the Palatine elector, Karl Ludwig. At Heidelberg, Pufendorf set about the revision of his immature effort, as he later called it, through a series of academic dissertations that culminated in his massive On the Law of Nature and of Nations (1672) and its pedagogical distillation The Whole Duty of Man (1673), both of which soon made him famous throughout Europe. In 1667, a year before assuming a professorship at the newly created University of Lund, in Sweden, he published the infamous On the State of the German Empire under the pseudonym Severinus de Monzambano, a fictive Italian writing to his brother, Laelius, about his travels through Germany. This comparatively slight volume on German constitutional law generated intense interest, and the academic controversy it ignited easily equalled the famous “Scandinavian quarrel” that arose later over Pufendorf’s main natural law writings.
Much less known today than these works, the Monzambano, as it was soon called, seems like an occasional tract relevant only to the circumstances of its origin. Even so, its influence lasted for more than half a century, and it became part of the historiography that was integral to natural law as a genre. More significantly, though, the piece has a strong philosophical subtext and shares basic features with many of Pufendorf’s other writings: the mutuality of theory and practice, a strong empiricism or realism, and opposition to scholastic categorization and argument—all characteristic of his “modern” natural law. Moreover, its historical sweep and detail match Pufendorf’s national histories of Sweden and Brandenburg and the broader An Introduction to the History of the Principal Kingdoms and States of Europe (1682), which he wrote after 1677 upon leaving academia to become Swedish state historian and, in 1688, official historiographer of Brandenburg. Finally, its controversial remarks on religion and politics point ahead to Pufendorf’s Of the Nature and Qualification of Religion in Reference to Civil Society (1687) and The Divine Feudal Law (1695). It seems appropriate, therefore, that Monzambano was both an early and a late work of Pufendorf, the latter in the form of a second edition carefully prepared by him shortly before his death and published posthumously in 1706. It is perhaps the most representative item in his entire corpus.
Background, Political Setting, and Publication Details
Pufendorf’s reasons for this description of the empire’s history and constitution remain unclear. One explanation found in some early biographies and, through Heinrich von Treitschke, used as the basis of many later accounts must be ruled out: that he wrote the work after being passed over for a position in the more prestigious law faculty at Heidelberg, attempting to prove that he was in fact the more deserving candidate. There was no such vacancy at the time, and Pufendorf would have been unqualified for and uninterested in it had there been one. Still, this false account of his intentions may have skewed the reception of the work in later periods.
Internal evidence such as the Imperial Diet of 1663 and the dismissal in 1664 of Baron von Boineburg (chief minister in Mainz and an early supporter of Pufendorf’s) places the supposed journey of the work’s fictive Italian narrator in the period 1663–64. These years also saw a renewed Turkish threat against the empire and a heightening (in 1665) of the so-called Wildfangstreit (alluded to several times in the work). This was a bitter, sometimes violent, dispute between the Palatinate and several of its neighbors over the former’s vigorous exercise of a historical claim to limited jurisdiction over illegitimate and stateless persons, not only in its own but also in surrounding territories. Given the demographic and financial stakes involved for Karl Ludwig, whose territories had been devastated and depopulated by the Thirty Years’ War, Pufendorf and other Heidelberg professors were enlisted in the heated pamphlet war that accompanied the actual hostilities. For his part, Pufendorf issued a short response to a tract by the famous polyhistor Johann Heinrich Bökler, who was in the service of Mainz; and around the same time, he composed the Monzambano, which Karl Ludwig was variously said to have encouraged, assisted, or even coauthored. Though mainly a regional dispute, the conflict had broader import because it involved legal claims based on historical precedent, the relations of territorial sovereigns to one another and to the emperor, and appeals to external powers. (The emperor supported Mainz, while Karl Ludwig sought the support of France and Sweden, the formal guarantors of the Peace of Westphalia.) All the while, the empire as a whole confronted a serious, external danger from the Ottoman forces. Although the Monzambano did not address the specific conflict directly, it dealt with the underlying structural issues that created it, not just in historical and constitutional terms but also according to the natural law theory developed in Pufendorf’s dissertations before and after this period.
Unlike Pufendorf’s shorter polemic, the Monzambano was controversial because it challenged long-established views that undergirded complex and hard-won arrangements within the empire. Indeed, it can be read as a brusque complaint about the pointlessness or practical uselessness of those views. This perspective, as well as the work’s independent, aggressive, and disrespectful demeanor (which many readers enjoyed), meant that it could not be published in Germany and that it was safer to issue it under a pseudonym. So the manuscript went to Paris (in late 1666), where Samuel’s brother Esaias, then acting as the Swedish liaison, arranged for a printer. The latter in turn consulted the French historian Mézeray, whose brief response was reprinted by Gundling in the 1706 edition (see below). Mézeray praised the piece, which he called a work of politics, not history, but thought it too dangerous to approve because of passages potentially offensive to the French and certainly to the clergy. Therefore, like other refugees of the age, the book migrated to the Netherlands and was published at The Hague in early 1667 by Adrian Vlacq, who had previously issued Pufendorf’s Elements (1660). Even then it seemed prudent to purport Geneva as the place of publication to mislead anticipated critics.
Despite its irreverent, populist tone, Monzambano was immediately recognized as a substantial critique of the empire and its theorists or publicists, as they were called. Since the printer could not meet demand, especially in Germany, the book was frequently pirated. An imperial prohibition and confiscation order, on account of the work’s treatment of Austria and Catholicism, merely whetted appetites and increased the circulation. Few works had seen so many editions, according to a 1710 editor, who estimated a total distribution of over three hundred thousand copies. Even if the figure is exaggerated, the book was clearly a seventeenth-century best-seller, achieving a notoriety that lasted for decades. Indeed, even its critics contributed to the book’s success by sometimes republishing it with their own commentaries and refutations.
In the broadest terms, the pseudonymous author—whose detailed knowledge of German affairs belied his purported Italian persona—was accused of undermining the empire by attacking its unifying self-conception: that is, critics charged, he lacked patriotism (Reichspatriotismus). This was not an anti-intellectual, timid, or merely dogmatic response but a reaction to the boldness of Pufendorf’s critique and its concrete implications. Indeed, the outcry against the work was so widespread and intense precisely because Monzambano took on everyone who had written on the empire; it did not ally itself with any particular interpretation or school but mockingly dismissed them all. This “purely negative criticism” left the work without any established allies and made it seem wholly destructive.
The hunt for the brazen author began almost immediately, with Samuel himself and his brother Esaias, along with Hermann Conring, Karl Ludwig, and von Boineburg on the short list of suspects—the last three because they were favorably mentioned in the book. Boineburg was particularly embarrassed by the suggestion because he seemed to have a motive (dismissal from Mainz, in 1664) and happened, inconveniently, to be in Vienna, the imperial center, after the book appeared. However, more observant minds soon focused on Samuel, not only because of private reports from Heidelberg but also because of similar content in several of his earlier dissertations. Indeed, he confirmed these suspicions by a detailed defense in the following year (1668). On Irregular States (De republica irregulari) was Pufendorf’s first publication at Lund: it provided a systematic analysis of this key notion in Monzambano and specific refutations of the book’s early critics. From then on his authorship was essentially an open secret, though he denied it until the end of his life.
Critiques of Monzambano began appearing almost immediately and kept coming for decades. Of varying length and competence, they typically expressed outrage and insult as well as scholarly disagreement. Some addressed specific elements of the work (including factual claims), others attempted broader defenses of positions Pufendorf had panned, and still others offered extensive commentaries on the whole. Most were in the scholastic mode that Pufendorf so despised: merely reiterating traditional categories to schematize the empirical realities of the empire. Their authors ranged from young doctoral candidates still cutting their teeth to accomplished scholars and diplomats. Pufendorf himself continued to engage his critics indirectly until about 1675, when he inserted into the collective edition of his dissertations two lengthy supplements—Additions —to On Irregular States; and he continued to enjoy the reactions that the work provoked, even as he prepared the second edition.
Accused by his enemies in Sweden of defending Monzambano and seeking to destroy the German political order, Pufendorf replied that he (i.e., Monzambano) actually sought to preserve the Westphalian settlement and to protect the liberty of the German estates and the security of the Protestant religion. That is, as the additions to the second edition (especially in chapter VIII) make even more apparent, the work was motivated by the very patriotism that its critics found wanting. The empire could not serve its purpose if it misconceived itself and failed to recognize the concrete obstacles to its proper functioning. The title of the book, “On the State [status ] of the German Empire,” is suggestively ambiguous in this respect, by both announcing a description of actual political conditions in Germany and suggesting an assessment of the empire in terms of the general criteria for statehood. The failure of the descriptive and normative aspects to coincide implied not condemnation but the need for meliorative adaptation. That is, any destructiveness at work was thoroughly Cartesian.
The great amount of previous theorizing about the empire that Severinus de Monzambano mentions dismissively in the preface had generally taken place within an Aristotelian framework according to which there are three correct forms of state (kingship/monarchy, aristocracy, polity/republic) and three deviant or degenerate ones (tyranny, oligarchy, democracy). Most attempts to characterize and diagnose the empire had used these categories. For example, Jean Bodin (Six livres de la republique, 1576) had declared the empire an aristocracy on account of the power of the territorial estates, particularly the electors; so did Hippolithus a Lapide (i.e., Bogislaw Philipp Chemnitz, in Dissertatio de ratione status in imperio nostro Romano-Germanico, 1640), whose position is extensively criticized by Pufendorf (VIII.1–3). Others, such as Dietrich Reinkingk (Tractatus de regimine seculari et ecclesiastico, 1619), had emphasized the position of the emperor and presented the empire as a monarchy. Although it was clearly not a polity or republic (see VI.3), there were those, such as Johannes Althusius (Politica methodice digesta, 1603), who emphasized the popular origins of political power, even in the empire as a whole. However, Althusius himself saw the best state as a combination of all three forms and thus belongs rather to the so-called mixture theorists, who combined different forms in order to explain the phenomena. Simple or mixed, Pufendorf thought all such explanations—including the distinctions invented to make them plausible, such as real versus personal sovereignty or majesty—inadequate to the actual complexities of the empire.
Following Bodin and Hobbes, Pufendorf emphasized sovereignty (summum imperium) as the defining characteristic of a state, and he distinguished regular from irregular states in terms of whether sovereignty was unified and effective or not. Whatever particular form a state might have was irrelevant so long as king, council, or people had sole and sufficient power to direct the state as a single entity, governed “by one Soul” (VI.8; VII.7). When regular, states could realize their goals: protection of individuals from one another, both singly and in groups, and relief of the general insecurity of human affairs; when irregular, they could not. According to these criteria, which were carefully elaborated in On Irregular States and On the Law of Nature and of Nations, the empire was an irregular, dysfunctional state. In fact, it did not seem like a state at all, but more like a hybrid or chimera, produced by a gradual, unplanned, and unsystematic devolution from an originally regular state/status.
One of Monzambano’s most notorious passages occurs in chapter VI, which was widely considered the most important in the work and prompted the most criticism. Appealing to his basic notions of moral entities and collective personae, Pufendorf said there that “Germany is an Irregular Body, and like some mis-shapen Monster, if . . . it be measured by the common Rules of Politicks and Civil Prudence” (VI.9, first edition). The term monstrum was perceived as deeply offensive by many of the empire’s apologists, even though it also had a rather ordinary, descriptive sense. In fact, Pufendorf clarified the term as simply equivalent to “irregular.” Because of the carelessness of the emperors and the ambition of princes and clerics, the empire had degenerated over many centuries from a regular kingdom to the point where it was no longer even a limited kingdom (i.e., a state with limited sovereignty). Nor was it, exactly speaking, a system of independent states united in a league or confederacy. Instead, he claimed, it was “something . . . that fluctuates between these two” and whose irregularity subjects it to “inextricable and incurable Disease, and many internal Convulsions” (VI.9). The original provocation of the term was probably intentional; however, to avoid further misunderstanding or offense, Pufendorf silently omitted it from the second edition, which he tamed in other ways as well.
After criticizing Hippolithus a Lapide’s radical cures, Pufendorf tentatively offered some remedies of his own (VIII.4). These are surprisingly modest in view of his dire diagnosis, and they barely go beyond a reaffirmation of the post-Westphalian status quo. Perhaps this is because the empire seemed to him like a harp, as he later observed: even after much tuning, any harmony inevitably devolves into discord again. Nonetheless, Pufendorf acknowledged, the empire contained a balance that needed to be preserved, or reestablished if lost, not least because there was no obvious alternative. Thus, despite the idea’s abstract attractiveness, it would be unrealistic and lead “to the utter ruin of the nation” (VIII.4) to attempt a reduction of the empire to a regular monarchy again. Instead, since it already approximated a system or confederation of unequals (VI.9; VIII.4), it was best to accept the fact and, by reference to historical precedents and current instances, explore how it might be effectively maintained.
This was both an outward- and an inward-looking strategy, for a functional system protects its members from external threats but also demands from them a strict adherence to cooperative agreements. The weakness in the scheme, as Pufendorf realized, was that it lacked a locus of supreme sovereignty and a reliable source of compulsion to induce the members to compromise and cooperate. This was, of course, the basic problem of the state of nature and how to exit from it—only now on the collective, interstate level that may have been paradigmatic for the notion in the first place. After his early work on systems of states, which preceded Monzambano, Pufendorf turned more closely to the internal mechanism of the state, particularly the role of sovereignty. However, if sovereignty within states were to become less feasible or attractive, as it might be already on the international level, the problem of systemic unity would arise again and a return to Monzambano might be indicated.
Despite the controversy over Monzambano as a philosophical and political work, there was general acclaim for its mastery of German history and its economical portrayal of the complex institutions of the empire. This alone ensured its success, since many, such as the English translator Edmund Bohun, were looking for a clear and comprehensive account. The work consists of eight chapters varying in length. The first five describe the historical origins and concrete workings of the empire and thus constitute a unit. The last three focus on more distinctive intellectual questions, albeit not without practical import.
Chapter I traces German origins back to the Franks, and the beginnings of the empire to Charlemagne and his heirs. It also raises the important question of the empire’s claimed continuity with ancient Rome. Here, as well as later in the work, Pufendorf rejects the translatio imperii (transmission of empire) thesis so dear to monarchists, and according to which Germany—as Rome’s inheritor—was the fourth great empire prophesied in the book of Daniel. Pufendorf’s dismissal of this idea—consistent with his “secular” approach to history and natural law—deprived the empire of a genetic, historical self-justification, one with religious or apocalyptic warrant. Chapter II reviews the so-called members of the empire, including particular noble families and houses as well as the different ranks of nobility in general, both secular and sacred. Chapter III details the powers and privileges of these so-called estates and how they were acquired over time. This leads to the critical question of the emperor’s status and authority vis-à-vis the other estates, as well as the controversial role of the papacy in the appointment or confirmation of emperors (i.e., the “holy” in Holy Roman Empire). These topics are treated in chapter IV, which also describes the transition from a hereditary to an elective imperiate, and the role and privileges of the electors in selecting, deposing, and representing an emperor (during an interregnum). Chapter V (the longest in the work) develops these topics and discusses specific limitations on the emperor’s powers, including the so-called capitulars imposed at his election. It also examines the Imperial Diet, the emperor’s authority over religious affairs and clergy, and the legal structure and judicial machinery brought into play by disputes at or between various levels of this complex whole.
Chapter VI contains Pufendorf’s discussion of the constitutional form of the empire, in which he argues that it is not a democracy, aristocracy, monarchy (even limited), or some mixed form, but rather an irregular system of sovereign states. This irregular structure entails various specific weaknesses or diseases (in line with the corporative imagery), which are the subject of chapter VII. There Pufendorf describes the geographical, physical, economic, and human resources of Germany in comparison with other European countries (and the Ottoman Empire) and determines that Germany is by no means inferior. Its weakness is due rather to its constitutional structure, which prevents it from using its natural advantages successfully. This chapter served as the foundation of Pufendorf’s later work An Introduction to the History of the Principal Kingdoms and States of Europe (1682), which greatly expanded these interstate comparisons and their relevance to determining the true “interests” (ratio, reason) of particular states. Chapter VIII turns explicitly to the notion of “state interest” or “reason of state” and uses it to explore possible remedies for the empire’s maladies. After a detailed critique of the recommendations of Lapide (see above), Pufendorf offers (in VIII.4) his own modest suggestions for reform. The latter, and greater, portion of the chapter (VIII.5–10) addresses the problem of religious diversity and its impact on politics. It compares the political interests and impacts of Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Catholicism, the last of which comes in for special criticism. These controversial comments—ironically placed in the mouths of Catholic clerics and allowed expression by a papal nuncio—were entirely omitted from the second edition of Monzambano, partly because of changes in the political landscape of Europe and partly because they had already been treated more extensively by Pufendorf in several intervening works, which also took their origin from Monzambano.
The second edition of Monzambano, which Pufendorf prepared between 1688 and 1692, constituted a substantial revision of the first. Some passages were excised, others inserted, and many others altered. Besides correcting factual errors and reflecting internal developments in the empire since 1666, Pufendorf sought also to address the intervening criticisms launched against the work. Moreover, the international situation had changed significantly, affecting the empire’s interests. The Turks were in retreat since 1683, Brandenburg had grown more powerful and Sweden less so, and an overweening France pursued an aggressive annexation policy along the Rhine and seemed, indeed, to aspire to the “universal monarchy” threatened by Austria decades earlier. Strange new alliances took shape, as Brandenburg, Austria, and even the papacy either supported or tolerated the Calvinist William III’s invasion of England and the overthrow of its Catholic monarch. Pufendorf revised Monzambano to reflect these emergent realities by softening its criticism of Austria and Catholicism and inserting new and harsher language toward France, especially in chapter VIII. Also, the initial preface defining the fictional author’s critical and even disrespectful stance toward previous writers was omitted. On the whole, the work’s attitude and expression were more temperate, less willing to offend—a change that also made it, at least to some, less able to excite.
Edmund Bohun and His Translation
The publication of Edmund Bohun’s (1645–99) On the State of the German Empire in 1690 (and 1696) is an indication of the growing familiarity with Pufendorf’s work in England from the 1680s onward. Unlike Tyrrell and Locke, however, who were interested in Pufendorf’s natural law philosophy, Bohun’s attention was drawn to the anonymous author’s detailed account of the German empire. (Since the posthumous edition had not yet appeared and Bohun was probably unaware of the Monzambano controversy in Germany, he could not know that the work was by Pufendorf.) As he explains in his preface, England’s participation in Germany’s ongoing wars against France and the Turks made it useful to publish an account that would better acquaint his countrymen with their continental ally. Indeed, one might conclude from his remarks that if England had been allied with China he would have sought an account of Chinese institutions to translate. As in the case of some of his other occasional publications, Bohun had no obvious stake in Monzambano other than impact on the domestic scene and revenue. The work is not mentioned in his autobiography, whose nineteenth-century editor lists only the anonymous 1690 edition and not the acknowledged 1696 publication.
This incidental relationship between translator and author does make for some ironies, and it certainly affected the translation itself (see below). For though he came into the world a Dissenter (through his father), Bohun became a determined Anglican and a Tory propagandist. He was close to Archbishop Sheldon, William Sancroft, and Samuel Parker, and he participated actively in the Filmer renaissance they engineered in the late 1670s and early 1680s. Thus his first published work, Address to the Freemen and Freeholders of the Nation (1682–83), advocated a hereditary monarchy and opposed active resistance. His second, A Defence of Sir Robert Filmer (1684), was directed against Algernon Sidney, whose contractualist resistance theory, along with the attempt to implement it in the Rye House Plot, led to his execution for treason in 1683. Bohun crowned his contribution to the Tory cause in 1685 with an edition of Filmer’s Patriarcha, whose preface attacked Tyrrell’s critique of Filmer.
Like other Anglicans and Tories, Bohun disliked James II’s avid Catholicism as much as Dissent or Whiggery. Therefore, in 1689, after the invasion, he chose the lesser evil and acknowledged William’s legitimacy as monarch, thereby turning potential disaster into opportunity. In 1692 he was appointed licenser of the press within the new government. It was an inconvenient post in view of his past publications, and after only five months he was dismissed and briefly imprisoned, the inconsistency between his situation and his views catching up with him. He had rationalized his new allegiance to William not in de-factoist terms but by appeal to the theory of conquest developed by Grotius. This allowed him to maintain his support of divine right, hereditary monarchy, and nonresistance and to reject any kind of contractualism or popular sovereignty. While conquest theory was not unusual at the time and Bohun hardly its only proponent, it was deemed unflattering to the king and dangerous because of the associated baggage that often came with it, as in Bohun’s case. So when he unwittingly approved a tract by Charles Blount espousing that interpretation, Whigs accused him of Jacobitism and engineered his dismissal (in 1693), probably using him as the sacrificial lamb for this kind of argument. Still, after retreating to the country for a while, Bohun managed to obtain (in 1698) the post of chief justice of South Carolina, where his son was engaged in business. Since the colony’s constitution had been written by Locke and Shaftesbury in 1669, this final post neatly compounded the ironies of his life.
Bohun probably did not know enough about Pufendorf’s views to be guided by them in his translation of Monzambano. Therefore, he followed his own royalist leanings instead, particularly when not adhering literally to the Latin text. However, even direct renditions were affected. For instance, though Bohun sometimes translates “citizen” appropriately, often he resorts to “member” or “subject” instead. Likewise, “emperor” sometimes becomes “king”; “empire,” “kingdom”; and there are “princes” everywhere, even when the text refers more generally to “estates” (which included the free cities of the empire). As single instances, such substitutions may seem innocuous and unimportant, but repetitively and collectively they can flavor a text and distort its meaning. Pufendorf thought a regular monarchy the best form of government, but he was not an exclusive or absolute royalist; rather, he advocated limited sovereignty, whatever form it took. Moreover, he vigorously rejected divine right justifications, based the origin and legitimacy of political power on contract (two contracts, in fact: association and subjection, and an intervening decree), and allowed that there might be justified resistance in extremis; even conquest theory did not legitimize without the eventual implied consent of the conquered. In sum, Pufendorf was far less conservative than Bohun, and it is important to keep this in mind. For while the translator did not consciously distort his author, he was so avidly committed to his own views that, in all likelihood, he did not worry greatly about the risk of doing so.
Significance of the Work
There has been much discussion about the so-called post-Westphalian order of sovereign states and its continued viability in today’s shrinking world. Indeed, the notion of sovereignty as such, as both an internal and external characteristic of states, is being reexamined in view of increasingly complex human dependencies and vulnerabilities. As Pufendorf continues to be historically rehabilitated, he is also gradually being reintroduced into these discussions. A better understanding of the Monzambano in the context of Pufendorf’s other works can only contribute to this perceived relevance. Indeed, the complexities of the empire, which it theorized, may appear to equal or surpass those of the contemporary world. Thus, our debates about the role of the United Nations, the European Union, and other hemispheric or regional associations, as well as the importance of state systems or alliances—for defense or other purposes—may all benefit from what seems at first an antiquated discussion about an impossible reality. Voltaire is reported to have quipped that the German Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire. Pufendorf himself said as much, but he nonetheless thought it important to examine why others would adopt such a self-interpretation and how it might or might not be conducive to their interests. His recommendations for the problems he diagnosed in the empire were decidedly modest, but in both his world and ours, which confront so many extremes, that very fact may be their most exemplary virtue.
Michael J. Seidler