BODIN, Jean

(1529/30-1596)
Jean Bodin was the first political theorist of the early modern period to em­phasize the concept of sovereignty. In his Six Books of the Republic (1576), Bodin examined difficult conditions in his native France and called for the es­tablishment of one center of unimpeachable political authority.
Jean Bodin was born and received his initial education in Angers, France. He subsequently studied law, history, languages, mathematics, and astronomy at Toulouse, later securing a teaching post in law. Throughout Bodin's adult life France was racked by civil and religious strife and was led by weak and inef­fectual monarchs. At the core of his most influential work, the Six Books of the Republic, is a search for a lasting solution to this endemic instability. At the time of its publication in 1576, Bodin was serving as a deputy to the Third Estate of the French Estates General, the chief legislative forum under the mon­arch. Only four years earlier, the Catholic majority in Paris had set upon the minority Protestant population of the city and had massacred upwards of 10,000 men, women, and children. In the aftermath of such a disaster, it is no surprise that Bodin's Six Books was a popular and influential work, being published in ten French editions, together with three Latin ones, before the author's death in 1596. It was first translated into English in 1606.
Bodin was a Roman Catholic, but he argued that continued persecution of the Protestant minority was not only divisive but also counterproductive. In his mind, religion was a personal matter, and so long as the sovereignty of the state was not threatened on the basis of religious principles, forms of worship were best left to the discretion of the individual believer. Despite this exceptional expression of tolerance in an age of persecution, a view shared by a small group of thinkers known as Politiques, Bodin never acknowledged any right to resis­tance on the part of aggrieved religious minorities. To permit such a right im­plied that there was a power in society higher than that of the sovereign.
Six Books of the Republic defines sovereignty as the unabridged and undivided power to make law for the entire nation. This sovereign law always supersedes local tradition and customary law. According to Bodin, in the absence of this untrammeled power, no state can long survive as an integral unit, and he was doubtless thinking here of the situation in his own country. Bodin was not concerned with the precise location of this sovereign power. For example, it might be exercised under a monarchy, an aristocracy, or a democracy. But he did reject the idea that sovereignty can in any respect be divided or shared. In a monarchy like France, Bodin's sovereign king does not simply follow the medieval model of the ruler as the dispenser of justice; instead, a proactive king makes law for the well-being of the community, appoints all inferior magistrates, decides issues of war and peace, and serves as a court of final appeal in all religious, civil, and criminal cases. All power exercised on behalf of the ruler was in the end merely a delegation of sovereign authority, not an authority distinct from the sovereign.
It is important to acknowledge that Bodin was not in favor of unrestricted and absolute monarchy. He firmly believed that the legitimate ruler must always rule in conformity with natural and divine law. Like the divine King of Kings, the legitimate sovereign monarchy must temper power with justice. The ruler must also respect deeply held custom and, above all, property rights. The ruler will also seek the advice and consent of the representative estates of the realm, especially when the issue of taxation is to be addressed.
For Bodin, the purpose of civil society was not merely the advancement of material or utilitarian good. Rather, the sovereign power must be exercised on behalf of Christians who seek to live in harmony and pursue their goal of salvation without hindrance. In this key respect Bodin's theories were informed by theological considerations, and it would be left to subsequent thinkers to shift his dynamic idea of sovereignty into the secular realm of politics.
Bibliography
J. H. Franklin, Jean Bodin and the Rise of Absolutist Theory, 1973.
William Spellman

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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