1902 Encyclopedia > Jean Bodin

Jean Bodin
French political thinker
(1530–1596)




JEAN BODIN, one of the ablest political thinkers in France during the 16th century, was born at Angers in 1530. He studied law at Toulouse, and, after taking his degree, lectured there for some time on jurisprudence. Thence he proceeded to Paris, and began to practise at the bar. His want of success is said to have been the reason of his applying himself to Literature ; but this we may reasonably doubt, as he was only twenty-five years of age when he published his first work, a translation of Oppian's Cynegeticon into Latin verse, with a commentary. Almost immediately on its publication the celebrated scholar, Turnebus, complained that some of his emendations had been appropriated without acknowledgment. A discourse on public instruction, Oratio de Instituenda in Republica Juventute, which Bodin had delivered at Toulouse, was printed in 1559, and his Methodus ad Facilem Historiarum Cognitionen appeared in 1566. The latter is a work of considerable interest and value. It has, indeed, no title to the high honour which M. Baudrillart assigns to it of having laid the foundation of the philosophy of history ; but it contains several thoughts of essential importance to that philosophy, as, for example, those relative to the nature of history, to progress and law in history, and to historical causation. Two years later Bodin published a work in refutation of the views of M. de Malestroict, who maintained that there had been no rise of prices in France during the three preceding centuries. The Responsio ad Paradoxa Malestretti not only completely established the contrary, but for the first time explained in a nearly satis-factory manner the revolution of prices which took place in the 16th century, pointing out not only its primary but most of its secondary causes with remarkable perspicacity. This tract, the Discours sur les causes de l'extrême cherté qui est aujourdhuy en France (1574), and the disquisition on public revenues in the sixth book of the Republic, undoubtedly entitle Bodin to a distinguished position among the earlier cultivators of political economy. His learning, genial disposition, and conversational powers recommended him to the favour of Henry III. and of his brother, the duke of Alençon. The former appointed him to the office of king's attorney at Laon in 1576. This was the most eventful year of his life, being that in which he married, performed his most brilliant service to his country, and completed his greatest literary work Elected by the Tiers État of Vermandois to represent it in the states-general of Blois, he contended with great skill and boldnes* in extremely difficult circumstances for freedom of con-science, justice, and peace. The nobility and clergy favoured the League, and urged the king to force his subjects to abjure Protestantism and profess the Catholio religion. When Bodin found he could not prevent this resolution being carried, he contrived to get inserted in the petition drawn up by the states the clause " without war," which practically rendered all its other clauses nugatory. While he thus resisted the clergy and nobility and their dependents, he opposed the demand of the king to be allowed to alienate the public lands and royal demesnes, and had influence sufficient to get it refused, although the chief deputies had been won over to assent to it This lost him the favour of the king, who wanted money on any terms. His magnum opus—Les six livres de la République (Paris, 1576)—passed through various editions in its author's lifetime, that of 1583 having as an appendix L'apologie de René Herpin (Bodin himself). In 1586 he issued a Latin version, for the use chiefly of English, students of law and politics. It is the first elaborate attempt in modern times to construct a system of political science. " From the time," says Sir William Hamilton, " when Aristotle wrote his eight books of Politics, until the time when Montesquieu wrote his thirty-one books on The Spirit of Laws, the six books of the Republic of Bodinus is the ablest and most remarkable treatise extant on the philosophy of government and legislation ; and even until the present day these three authors stand out as the great political triumvirate." Bodin was, of course, greatly indebted to Aristotle for his knowledge of the working of political causes, but he made use of what his illustrious predecessor taught him in no servile way, and added much from his own reflections, his large acquaintance with history, and his vivid personal experience. The Republic is a work of which it is quite impossible to give a brief account, and as there have been many lengthened sum-maries of it, it may suffice to say that those to be found in Hallam's Lit. of Europe (vol. ii. 1st ed), Heron's History of Jurisprudence, Lerminier's Introduction à l'Histoire du Droit, and Bluntschli's Geschichte des Staatsrechts, give a good general view of its character, while that in Professor Baudrillart's J. Bodin et son Temps is so exceedingly care-ful and excellent that scarcely a thought of any value in the original has escaped being indicated. With all his breadth and liberality of mind Bodin was an exceedingly credulous believer in witchcraft, the virtues of numbers, and the power of the stars, and in 1580 he published the Demonomanie des Sorciers, a work which is a most humbling evidence that even the greatest men may not be exempt from the most irrational prejudices of their age. Although he was himself regarded by most of his contemporaries as a sceptic, and by some as an atheist, he denounced all who dared to doubt of sorcery, and zealously urged the burning of witches and wizards. It might, perhaps, have gone hard with himself if his counsel had been strictly followed, as he confessed to have had from his thirty-seventh year a friendly demon who, if properly invoked, touched his right ear when he purposed doing what was wrong, and his left when he meditated doing good. To the duke of Alencon Bodin owed several important preferments. In 1581 he accompanied his patron as secretary when that prince came over to England to seek the hand of Queen Elizabeth. Here he had the pleasure of finding that the Republic was studied at London and Cambridge, although in a barbarous Latin translation. This was what determined him to translate his work into Latin himself. The latter part of Bodin's life was spent at Laon, the inhabitants of which he is said to have persuaded to declare for the League in 1589, and for Henry IV. five years afterwards. He died of the plague in that city in 1596, and was buried in the church of the Carmelites. In the year during which he died there appeared his Universale Naturae Theatrum, which was translated into French by Fongerolles in the following year. He left behind him a very famous MS., the Colloquium Heptaplomeres de abditis rerum sublimium arcanis, which was published for the first time in a complete form by Noack in 1857, although it had been previously studied by others, e.g., Grotius, Huet, Ménage, Diecmann, &c. It is composed in the form of a conversation between seven learned men—a Jew, a Mahometan, a Lutheran, a Zwinglian, a Boman Catholic, an Epicurean, and a Theist. The con-clusion to which they are represented as coming is that they will live together in charity and toleration, and cease from further disputation as to religion.





Authorities.—The works of Bodin above mentioned ; H. Baud- rillart, /. Bodin et son Temps (Paris, 1853) ; N. Planchenanrt, Études sur Jean Bodin (Angers, 1858) ; and Thierry, History of the Tiers État (Engl. Transi.) As to the political philosophy of Bodin, see the works of Hallam, Heron, Lerminier, and Brtmtschli, already indicated ; as to his political economy, Kautz, Geschichte der National-Oekonomik, ii. 269-271; as to his ethical teaching, A. Desjardins, Les Moralistes Français du Seizième Siècle, ch. v. ; and ai to his historical views, Flint's Philosophy of History in Europe, i. 69-76. (K. F.)







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