Bodin, Jean 1529–1596 French Political Philosopher and Writer

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Bodin, Jean
1529–1596
French political philosopher and writer

Jean Bodin of Angers, France, was an important writer on the subjects of religion and politics in the late 1500s. His most famous work, Six Books of the Commonwealth (1576), discusses his belief in absolute monarchy and religious tolerance. He also published an original work on how to study history in 1566.

As a young, educated man trained in law, Bodin found a place at the court of Henry III in the 1570s. France at the time was torn by conflicts between Catholics and Protestants. Bodin argued in Six Books of the Commonwealth that the power of the monarch was absolute and that his subjects should never resist it, even if they considered his actions unfair. Bodin also claimed that one way to eliminate conflicts between the king and his subjects was to remove arguments about religion from the sphere of politics.

These very views caused Bodin to fall out of favor with the crown. The same year Bodin wrote his famous work, Henry III was attempting to raise funds for further religious wars. Bodin refused to support the king's plan. Instead, he turned his support to the king's brother, the Duke of Anjou, who wanted to end the wars through a policy of religious toleration. After the duke's death in 1584, Bodin became a lawyer representing the affairs of the French crown in Laon, in northern France. However, his belief in tolerance for Protestants left him under a cloud of suspicion for the rest of his life.

Bodin's support for religious tolerance did not extend to those who had no religion. In 1580 he published a manual for witch-hunting, urging legal authorities to deal more harshly with people he saw as worshipers of Satan. In his last work, Theater of All Nature (1596), Bodin criticized those thinkers who discussed the laws of nature without reference to God. Bodin hoped that promoting respect for God and tolerating different religions could bring an end to the nation's religious wars.

(See alsoConstitutionalism; Government, Forms of. )