Bodin, Jean (1529/30–1596)

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BODIN, JEAN (1529/301596)

BODIN, JEAN (1529/301596), French political philosopher. Jean Bodin came from a comfortable family in Angers and received an excellent humanist education. He studied law and taught briefly at the University of Toulouse but was unable to obtain a permanent academic position. He was employed mostly in the royal administration and for a time was secretary to the Duke d'Alençon. A royalist at heart, Bodin was reformist and liberal in fiscal and social policy. He favored religious toleration as the most politique solution to the religious warfare that ravaged France in his time. In 1576, as a deputy of the third at the Estates-General of Blois, he staunchly opposed the grant of new taxation that the crown would have used to prosecute religious war.

Despite his occasional involvement in high politics, Bodin was an indefatigable humanist scholar who sought to encompass and synthesize all the learning of his time. He produced a corpus of extensive treatises on all the main subjects of his day, including the methodology of history, economic theory, comparative public law and politics, witchcraft, comparative religion, natural philosophy, and ethics.

Bodin's Methodus ad Facilem Historiarum Cognitionem (1566; Method for the easy comprehension of history) is a guide to the reading of historians that outlined much of his later writing. But his best-known work and the most influential is his Six livres de la république (1576; Six books of a commonwealth), which is a massive treatise on comparative public law and policy. The first half of the book is the earliest modern treatise on public law. Its organizing principle is Bodin's pioneering analysis and construction of the concept of sovereignty as the juridical condition for the existence of a state. Bodin also argued, mistakenly, that sovereignty was indivisible, as well as absolute and juridically perpetual. He rejected the possibility of a mixed constitution in which supreme authority was divided between two or more agents, and thus he broke with the received opinion that the constitutions of Rome and other classical republics were mixed. On Bodin's reinterpretation they were either pure democracies or pure aristocracies with respect to the juridical locus of supreme authority, although not necessarily in the day-to-day conduct of affairs.

Most politically significant of all Bodin's revisions of received traditions, however, was his interpretation of the French constitution as a strictly absolute monarchy. He had once admitted and even approved at least some juridical limits on the king. But he was finally driven to absolutism not only by the logic of his position but by his deep-seated fears of anarchy. Bodin had never admitted the right of a people to resist a tyrant and thought, mistakenly, that he could exclude that right juridically by denying the people any authoritative role in government.

Appearances notwithstanding, his reformist views on taxation were technically consistent with his stand on nonresistance. Although he held that all kings, including the French, ordinarily required the consent of the Estates-General for levying new taxation, this was not a limitation that the people had imposed or could legally enforce. It followed directly from the law of nature by which the ruler was responsible to God alone. The need for consent, moreover, did not apply in emergencies, and with Bodin's followers it was reduced to a mere counsel of wise governance.

Perhaps the most interesting of Bodin's works today is his Colloquium Heptaplomeres de Rerum Sublimium Arcanis Abditis (Colloquium of the seven about secrets of the sublime), which was written around 1588. Seven interlocutors, meeting in Venice, debated their competing claims as to the true religion and finally agreed to disagree in friendship. So heretical did this seem to Bodin himself and to succeeding generations who knew of it that it was not published until the middle of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the Colloquium is remarkable even now. In an arresting anticipation of modern religious pluralism, Bodin argued in effect that worship in any of the major religions was pleasing to God. Underlying all of them was a Neoplatonic natural religion of which all were variations that arose from adaptations to different climates and political circumstances. Each of Bodin's seven interlocutors represented a different religious viewpoint, and the inconclusive debate among them served to show that no positive system could sustain its claims to exclusive truth against the others. At times, however, Bodin seemed to be suggesting that Judaism is the oldest and the best. And it may well be that some form of philosophic Judaism was the ultimate outcome of Bodin's lifelong search for the true religion. The Paradoxon (1596), a treatise on ethics that was among Bodin's last endeavors, clearly indicates that Bodin, greatly influenced by the thought of Philo of Alexandria, had turned to a kind of Judaism. Bodin was buried as a Catholic, in accordance with his wishes. But many of his books were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books in a series of steps beginning in 1596.

Yet another contribution to modern thought was Bodin's brilliant 1568 essay, titled Résponses au paradoxes du sieur de Malestroict, on the great European price inflation of the time. It was caused, he argued, not by debasement of the coinage, as was widely thought, but by the importation of bullion from America that lowered the value of gold and silver. This was the first application of the quantity theory of money. Another contribution was less enduring. Anticipating Montesquieu, Bodin tried to correlate climate and national character to illumine not only political attitudes but religious tendencies as well.

Perhaps the least known of Bodin's works is his Theatrum Naturae (1596; The theater of nature), which is an encyclopedic collection of facts, observations, and principles of nature in the style of late Renaissance science. Its premodern view of nature supports a natural theology purporting to show God's concern for humanity in the natural order.

There are dark spots in Bodin's writing, of which his book on the detection and punishment of witches and warlocks (La démonomanie des sorciers), published in 1580, is a notorious example. But such superstitions of the time apart, his universal synthesis of knowledge, although in large part outdated, was a huge intellectual accomplishment.

See also Absolutism ; Authority, Concept of ; Constitutionalism ; Natural Law ; Neoplatonism ; Political Philosophy ; Resistance, Theory of.


Primary Sources

Bodin, Jean. Colloquium of the Seven about Secrets of the Sublime. Translated with an introduction and notes by Marion Leathers Daniels Kuntz. Princeton, 1975. Translation of Colloquium Heptaplomeres de Rerum Sublimium Arcanis Abditis (1593).

. Method for the Easy Comprehension of History. Translated by Beatrice Reynolds. New York, 1945. Translation of Methodus ad Facilem Historiarum Cognitionem (1566).

. On Sovereignty: Four Chapters from the Six Books of the Commonwealth. Translated and edited by Julian H. Franklin. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1992.

. The Six Books of a Commonweale. Edited and translated with an introduction and notes by Kenneth Douglas McRae. Cambridge, Mass., 1962. Translation of Les six livres de la république (1576) together with variations from De Republica Libri Sex (1586). This is the only complete translation of Bodin's chief work on politics. It is a reproduction of the Richard Knolles translation, which is archaic and difficult to read at times. But McRae's variations and excellent annotations are invaluable.

Secondary Sources

Blair, Ann. The Theater of Nature: Jean Bodin and Renaissance Science. Princeton, 1997. An outstanding study of a pre-Baconian and pre-Cartesian philosopher of nature.

Denzer, Horst, ed. Verhandlungen der internationalen Bodin Tagung in München. Munich, 1973. Contains eight articles in English on various aspects of Bodin's thought.

Franklin, Julian H. Jean Bodin and the Rise of Absolutist Theory. Cambridge, U.K., 1973.

Rose, Paul Lawrence. Bodin and the Great God of Nature: The Moral and Religious Universe of a Judaiser. Geneva, 1980.

Julian H. Franklin

Bodin, Jean

views updated Jun 27 2018

Bodin, Jean



Jean Bodin (1529 or 1530–1596), French jurist and polyhistor, was born into a substantial and well-connected middle-class family of Angers. He managed to acquire an excellent humanist education at Paris in the course of preparing for the priesthood—a career that ended in his teens, for reasons still obscure, when the Carmelite order released him from his vows. In the 1550s he studied civil law at the University of Toulouse and apparently hoped for a professorship. Ultimately despairing of this goal and unsuccessful also in his effort to promote a humanist college in the city of Toulouse, he returned as an advocate to Paris, where he had a moderately successful career in politics. In the late 1560s he was entrusted by the crown with several special missions of an administrative nature. In 1576 he appeared in the Estates-General at Blois as a deputy of the Third Estate from Vermandois and became, at some cost to his ambitions, a highly influential critic of royal fiscal policies. And from 1571 until the death of his patron in 1584 he served in the household staff of the duke of Alençon, an ambitious member of the royal family, in which post he was privy to much of the high intrigue and diplomacy of the time. Bodin was not, however, a very skillful politician and failed to achieve what at one time he most coveted, a high position in the royal household. He ended his career as procurer du roi for Laon.

On the main political issue of his time, the demand for religious toleration by a large and powerful Protestant minority, Bodin stood with the party of the Politiques, who sought to compromise the issue of religious uniformity in the interest of political unity, and were therefore bitterly resented by the party of militant Catholics united in the Catholic League. In the recurring civil warfare, which entered its final phase in 1588, it was often extremely dangerous to hold such views as Bodin’s in public and, under heavy pressure at Laon, he temporarily collaborated with the League. There was, however, a considerable element of boldness in Bodin’s character that comes out most strongly in his intellectual endeavors. After a series of spiritual crises, and amid recurrent charges of heresy, he gradually worked out a highly unorthodox religious syncretism of his own, although he outwardly remained a Catholic. This religicus syncretism, furthermore, was but one aspect of an encyclopedic synthesis of all existing knowledge, which Bodin pursued with unflagging scholarly devotion.

Jurisprudence and public law. Bodin’s main contributions to the development of social science were in jurisprudence and public law. During the sixteenth century the intellectual authority of Roman law, more or less unchallenged in the Middle Ages, had been increasingly undermined by humanist criticisms of its relevance and logical arrangement. Among sixteenth-century jurists committed to the unification of French law there was an influential party, which preferred an independently created code to direct reception of the Roman law. Bodin was a member of this group, and at one point in his career his highest ambition was to construct a universal jurisprudence through a comparison and synthesis of “the laws of all of the most famous commonwealths” in order “to derive the best variety.” In his Six livres de la république (Six Bookes of a Commonweale, 1576), this program is actually carried out for what is roughly the domain of public law. Bodin first attempted to find the universal and “necessary” principles of public order in those legal elements that “all or the better part” of peoples have in common. He then went on to classify and illustrate the different types of commonwealths and states encountered in history, producing what amounts to a comprehensive system of comparative public law. His final objective was to show which particular legislative and governmental policies are best adapted to the peculiar problems of each type of state and how all of these policies together should be adapted to a people’s “natural temperament,” which he attributed to the strong, but not determining, influence of climate and other geographic factors. This entire work is carried out with encyclopedic erudition and a profound, if not always fully realized, desire for system. It represents, therefore, a definite break with the exegetic jurisprudence of the Middle Ages and the adoption of a critical method. Bodin’s historical universalism points toward the rationalist universalism of seventeenth-century natural law; and his comparative and sociological approach clearly, and often strikingly, anticipates various eighteenth-century developments.

The central theme in Bodin’s doctrine of the state is the need, suggested by the disorders of his time, for complete concentration and centralization of political authority. Through a great number of historical examples he attempted to show that in every important and enduring commonwealth all legislative and executive functions are subordinate to some single center. This doctrine of the state questions the classical wisdom of the mixed constitution, at that time one of the most influential notions in political science. In order to demonstrate that famous “mixed” constitutions, such as those of ancient Rome and modern Venice, were in fact instances of concentration, Bodin introduced an ingenious and influential distinction between the form of state and the form of government, corresponding to a distinction between the ownership and the exercise of power. On this basis he was able to argue, with some degree of plausibility, that the Roman Empire was really a democracy governed aristocratically and that Venice was really an aristocracy with certain democratic features in its government.

Bodin did not deny that the old idea of “mixture” contained an important principle of policy when properly interpreted and instituted, not as a division in the ownership of power but as a balancing of aristocratic and popular interests in the arrangement of government and the distribution of rewards and punishments. And he argued that this balance in the exercise of power is most readily achieved in monarchies, where the ultimate owner of power can stand apart from the social interests to be harmonized. Bodin’s critique and reinterpretation of the mixed state turns out, then, to be a highly sophisticated defense of absolute yet moderate monarchy, and it was to play an important role in the ideological conflicts of the old regime.

For Bodin, however, the fundamental condition of stability is that expressed in his celebrated principle of sovereignty, which holds that in every stable commonwealth there must exist a supreme or sovereign authority vested in some single individual or group. A sovereign authority is one whose power is “absolute and perpetual.” And since power is, in Bodin’s usage, absolute when it is unlimited in jurisdiction and perpetual when it is not held in trust for someone else, a sovereign authority is a group or person endowed with an intrinsic and inalienable right to exercise, or supervise the exercise of, all the powers that a government may legitimately claim. The absolutism of the sovereign, therefore, is but a guarantee of the concentration and unity of government and does not necessarily imply unlimited power over the person or property of subjects. Indeed, Bodin, in accord with medieval precedent, very strenuously insisted that the rights of sovereignty are restricted by natural law as well as other claims of the community. And he admitted that a subject may legitimately refuse to obey an unjust order of the sovereign, although he rejected any general right of active revolution. If Bodin’s position on these issues is not always lucidly worked out, it is at least in part because he was less concerned with the moral grounds of obligation than with the legal conditions of effective governance.

Economic policy. On specific points of public policy most of Bodin’s recommendations are mere bits of tactical wisdom in the style of Machiavelli, but there are many that have more far-reaching theoretical implications. In economic policy Bodin was an enlightened mercantilist who located the real wealth of a country not in bullion but in industry and natural resources. This distinction between real and money values is theoretically grounded in the quantity theory of money, which, despite anticipations by Copernicus, is fully developed only with Bodin. In his Réponse aux paradoxes de M. de Malestroit (1568), Bodin elaborately argued that the price inflation of his age was caused not by debasement of the coinage, a hypothesis advanced by Malestroit, but by the sudden increase in the supply of precious metals. This essay may also be regarded as a pioneering monograph in scientific social history, for Bodin, with great ingenuity, used economic records to reconstruct the movement of prices.

Religious policy. In religious policy Bodin recommended a strictly political approach to the religious conflicts of the time. Outward uniformity of worship should be enforced wherever possible, but toleration should be granted wherever a religious minority is too strong to be repressed conveniently. More interesting than these recommendations is Bodin’s attempt to supply a theological foundation for this “politique” solution. In his Colloquium heptaplomeres (1588a), a series of conversations on the nature of the true religion between a proponent of natural religion, an apologist for paganism, a Jew, a Turk, a Catholic, a Lutheran, and a Zwinglian—the following conclusions, among others, are either stated or implied: that the various positive religions are degenerations of an original natural religion still known to speculative reason; that the positive religions were designed to counteract the ignorance and irrationality of the masses by supplying rituals and dogma adapted to circumstances and temperaments of different peoples; and that any one of the positive forms of worship is sufficient for salvation, because all that God demands is the attitude of piety as such. Theological truth and political expediency can therefore never be in conflict, since a double standard in religion is decreed by providence itself. It may also be noted that Bodin’s position, although not unique, was especially radical for its time in that it contained an elaborate refutation of Christianity by the spokesman for Judaism, which, Bodin implies, is the purest of the positive religions. The Colloquium heptaplomeres may also be regarded as one of the earliest comparative treatments of religion. For obvious reasons the work was never published by Bodin, but it was known to scholars of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in manuscript copies. The first complete published version did not appear until 1857, and a truly definitive edition is wanting even now.

Universal history. Dedicated as he was to a comparative understanding of social institutions, Bodin was convinced that the study of universal history was a prime requirement of education and his Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (Method for the Easy Comprehension of History) was a sort of guidebook for prospective students. Among other things there is a chapter on evaluating historians that makes an important contribution to the emergence in this period of a methodology of historical criticism. In the seventh chapter there are two influential polemical essays defending what might be called a naturalistic view of historical change: one is a devastating refutation of a medieval periodization of history, based on a biblical prophecy, into four world empires, of which the Germano–Roman was supposed to be the last; and the other is a critique of the idea of a golden age and of the superiority of the ancients to the moderns, in which Bodin begins to enunciate a theory of cumulative progress in the arts and sciences.

Bodin’s ultimate objective was a synthesis, broadly Neoplatonic in tone, of the entire realm of human knowledge; and the corpus of his writings covers not only what would now be called the social science disciplines, but natural philosophy, demonology, astrology, and numerology as well. The works on these latter topics are among his least enduring, and it may be said in general that Bodin, like the other encyclopedists of the period, was frequently loose and hasty in his “syntheses” and often lacked the critical resources to avoid superstition and credulity. But with all this, his social thought is so creative that he must be regarded as a central figure in the development of modern social science.

Julian H. Franklin

[For the historical context of Bodin’s work, seeConstitutions and constitutionalism; Sovereignty; State; and the biographies ofMachiavelli; Marsilius. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, see the biography ofMontesquieu.]


(1559–1566) 1951 Oeuvres philosophiques. Edited and translated by Pierre Mesnard. Corpus général des philosophes français, auteurs modernes, Vol. 3. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. → Text is in both Latin and French. This is the first volume—containing works up through 1566—of a projected series that may eventually include critical editions of the Six livres de la république and the Colloquium heptaplomeres, both of which are badly needed.

(1566) 1945 Method for the Easy Comprehension of History. Records of Civilization, Sources and Studies, No. 37. New York: Columbia Univ. Press. → First published in Latin as Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem.

(1568) 1932 La vie chère au XVIe siècle: La response de Jean Bodin à M. de Malestroit. Edited by Henri Hauser. Paris: Colin. → A new edition of Réponse aux paradoxes de M. de Malestroit.

(1568) 1946 The Response of Jean Bodin to the Paradoxes of Malestroit, and the Paradoxes. Chevy Chase, Md.: Century Dollar Press. → A limited edition, translated from the second French edition.

(1576) 1962 The Six Bookes of a Commonweale. Edited by Kenneth D. McRae. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A facsimile reprint of the English translation of 1606, corrected and supplemented in the light of a new comparison with the French and Latin texts.

(1588a) 1857 Colloquium heptaplomeres de rerum sublimium arcanis abditis. Edited by Ludov Noack. Schwerin (Germany).

(1588b) 1914 Colloque de Jean Bodin: Des secrets cachez des choses sublimes entre sept sçauans qui sont de differens sentimens (traduction français du “Colloquium heptaplomeres”). Selected and edited by Roger Chauviré. Paris: Sirey. → Contains selections from a French translation of the Colloquium heptaplomeres made shortly after Bodin’s death. It is probably a more accurate version of the lost original than the Latin text edited by Noack. However, Noack’s is the only complete version.


Full-length works that attempt to give a reasonably comprehensive account of Bodin’s political and social thought are Baudrillart 1853; Chauviré 1914; and Garosci 1934. For an excellent account of his political doctrine, see Mesnard 1951a; and for a brief survey, see Allen 1928. Two biographical sketches that take full account of recent findings can be found in McRae 1962 and Mesnard 1951b.

Allen, John W. (1928) 1957 A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century. London: Methuen.

Baudrillart, Henri J. L. 1853 J. Bodin et son temps: Tableau des théories politiques et des idées économiques au seizième siècle. Paris: Guillaumin.

Brown, John L. 1939 The Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem of Jean Bodin: A Critical Study. Washington: Catholic Univ. of America Press.

ChauvirÉ, Roger 1914 Jean Bodin: Auteur de La république. La Flèche (France): Besnier.

Dilthey, Wilhelm (1914) 1957 Der religiös–universale Theismus: Bodins Vergleichung der Religionen. Pages 145–153 in Wilhelm Dilthey, Gesammelte Schriften. Volume 2: Weltanschauung und Analyse des Menschen seit Renaissance und Reformation; Abhandlungen zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Religion. Stuttgart and Göttingen (Germany): Teubner.

Franklin, Julian H. 1963 Jean Bodin and the Sixteenth Century Revolution in the Methodology of Law and History. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Garosci, Aldo 1934 Jean Bodin: Politica e diritto nel rinascimento francese. Milan: Corticelli.

Hauser, Henri (editor) 1932 Introduction. In Jean Bodin, La vie chère au XVIe siècle: La response de Jean Bodin à M. de Malestroit. Paris: Colin.

McRae, Kenneth D. (editor) 1962 Introduction. In Jean Bodin, The Six Bookes of a Commonweale. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Mesnard, Pierre 1929 La pensée religieuse de Bodin. Revue du seizième siècle 16:77–121.

Mesnard, Pierre (1951a) 1952 La république de Jean Bodin. Book 5, pages 473–546 in Pierre Mesnard, L’essor de la philosophic politique au XVIesiècle. 2d ed., rev. Paris: Vrin.

Mesnard, Pierre (editor) 1951b Vers un portrait de Jean Bodin. Introduction in Jean Bodin, Oeuvres philosophiques. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.

Moreau-Reibel, Jean 1933 Jean Bodin et le droit public comparé dans ses rapports avec la philosophie de l’histoire. Paris: Vrin.

Reynolds, Beatrice 1931 Proponents of Limited Monarchy in Sixteenth Century France: Francis Hotman and Jean Bodin. Columbia University Studies in History, Economics and Public Law, No. 334. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

Sabine, George H. 1931 The Colloquium heptaplomeres of Jean Bodin. Pages 271–309 in Persecution and Liberty: Essays in Honor of George Lincoln Burr. New York: Century.

Jean Bodin

views updated May 11 2018

Jean Bodin


Political philosopher


Humble Beginnings. The son of a tailor, Jean Bodin was born in the French city of Angers. It is possible that he had a Jewish mother from a family that had been expelled from Spain, which would explain his knowledge of Hebrew and deep interest in Judaism. He entered a monastery as a teenager, but left after five years and studied law at the University of Toulouse. He taught law there for a time after receiving his master’s degree. In 1561 he arrived in Paris, where he served in the royal court. His knowledge of law and humanist learning caught the attention of Henri III, who appointed him the royal attorney in the city of Laon in 1576. Bodin had just arrived there when he was selected as a deputy for the Third Estate at the 1576 meeting of the Estates General, which met at Blois. There he was elected speaker for the Third Estate, which gave him a platform for appealing for religious toleration for the French Protestants. This stance marked him as a politique, one of those Frenchmen who argued that religious toleration was necessary for the good of the kingdom. He successfully opposed the efforts of the Catholic League to require the king to use force against the Protestants. He also succeeded in opposing Henri III’s request to sell off royal lands to help pay the enormous royal debt. Bodin argued that it was a fundamental law of the realm that royal lands must remain in royal hands.

Advocate of Freedom. Bodin’s advocacy of religious toleration was greatly expanded in his Colloquium of the Seven about the Secrets of the Sublime, which he finished in 1588 but was not published until long after his death. Three of the seven speakers who participate in the dialogue on religion and morality are a Jew, a Muslim, and a follower of natural religion, who criticize both sides of the religious split in France. They suggested that religious truth might be found outside of Christianity and that there might exist a universal moral code on which all religions could agree. Bodin seemed to hint at the need to tolerate not only different Christian churches but also Judaism and Islam. Yet, Bodin joined the Catholic League about the same time as he finished the Colloquium. The League was determined to prevent the Protestant prince, Henri of Bourbon, from taking the throne after Henri III’s assassination in 1589. Bodin probably agreed with the League that French tradition required that the king be Catholic; he supported the claim to the throne of Henri of Bourbon’s uncle, a cardinal in the Catholic Church. Bodin was quick to recognize Henri as king after the monarch converted to Catholicism in 1593.

Economic and Social Philosopher. Bodin also made a mark with two other books. His Réponse aux paradoxes de M. de Malestroit (Response to the Paradox of Monsieur Malestroit, 1568) called for free trade and dealt the problem of inflation at a time when no one had any idea that there could be such a thing. Since the early sixteenth century the European economy had seen a steady increase in prices, which averaged 1 to 2 percent annually until about 1550, then increased to 2 to 3 percent. Jehan Cherruyt de Malestroit, an adviser to the king, had blamed it on the greed of merchants who were gouging their customers. Bodin found the cause to be largely the great increase in the amount of gold and silver coinage in circulation coming from the Americas through Spain. He also placed some blame on the royal practice of debasing coinage, that is, reducing the amount of precious metal in coins and replacing it with lead, making them worth less. Bodin’s book is generally regarded as the first work of economic theory. The other book was De la demonomanie des sorciers (On the Demonology of Sorcerers, 1580), which he wrote to oppose a handful of skeptics who were challenging the reality of witchcraft. In it he justified the use of judicial torture and execution for sorcery, on the grounds that it was real and evil. He had spent a great deal of time as a judge at witch trials and heard the confessions of the accused. The confessions were undoubtedly extracted by torture, but he and most contemporaries had no doubts about the value of torture to gain confessions. Anyone who had made a pact with a spirit to do evil was a traitor toward God and humanity. No toleration was to be permitted for such persons. Yet, the rationalism that shows itself in his other books comes through in this one as well, as he was eager to reform the legal procedures for witch trials, arguing that many judges were quick to convict on too little or questionable evidence.

An Ideal State. Bodin’s major work was Six livres de la Republique (The Six Books of the Republic), published in 1576. He did his own Latin translation ten years later. The purpose of the work was to answer the question of how the king should deal with the anarchy of the French religious wars, which had been dragging on since 1562. Bodin believed it necessary to find a natural basis for the source of royal authority in order to replace religion, which no longer was adequate. Religion was a cause of the civil war and therefore was creating anarchy, not preventing it. Many French political thinkers of the era were arguing for a mixed constitution in which power would be shared between the king and the Estates General. Bodin believed that such thinking was partly responsible for the anarchy. His solution was to place all political authority in the hands of the king; only a king who had absolute power could reestablish law and order. Bodin argued that the absolute king depends on no one for power, makes and enforces the law for everyone, and has the right to command his subjects and take a reasonable part of their property as taxes for the common good. Bodin’s discussion of the king as lawgiver was novel, since the medieval concept of law was that it had existed from time immemorial and the king “found it in his breast.” The king, however, was bound by natural, divine, and fundamental laws of the realm. Bodin carefully hedged the authority of the monarch, who was not to be a despot in the way that Europeans believed the Ottoman sultan was. Despite that caveat, The Republic provided theoretical underpinnings for the development of French royal absolutism in the seventeenth century.


Julian H. Franklin, Jean Bodin and the Rise of Absolutist Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973).

J. P. Mayer, ed., Fundamental Studies on Jean Bodin (New York: Arno, 1979).

Paul Lawrence Rose, Bodin and the Great God of Nature: The Moral and Religious Universe of a Judaiser (Geneva: Droz, 1980).

Bodin, Jean (1529-1596)

views updated May 11 2018

Bodin, Jean (1529-1596)

A jurist and student of demonology who died of the plague in 1596. An Angevin by birth, he studied law, classics, philosophies, and economics in his youth and became professor of Roman law at the University of Toulouse. In 1561 he went to Paris, where he served the king, but lost royal favor on publication of his book Republique, which contained concepts of monarchy that were ahead of his time. His most famous work was De la demonomanie des sorciers (Demonomania of witches ), which played a large part in the growth of witchcraft persecutions, because it defined witchcraft and laid down methods of interrogation, torture, and execution.

His Colloquium heptaplomeron de abdites rerum sublimium varcanus, aroused very unfavorable opinions regarding his religious views. In it Bodin discussed the theological opinions of Jews, Moslems, and deists to the disadvantage of the Christian faith, and although he died a Catholic, he professed in his time the tenets of Protestantism, Judaism, sorcery, atheism, and deism.

The Demonomanie was published in Paris in 1580 and again under the title Flèau des demons et des sorciers at Wiort in 1616. In its first and second books Bodin demonstrated that spirits have communication with mankind, and he traced the various characteristics and forms that distinguish good spirits from evil. His topics include the methods of diabolic prophecy and communication; evocation of evil existences; of pacts with the devil; of journeys through the air to the sorcerers' Sabbath; of infernal ecstasies; of spells by which one may change himself into a werewolf, and of carnal communion with an incubus or succubus. The third book explains how to prevent the work of sorcerers and obviate their charms and enchantments, and the fourth divulges the manner in which sorcerers may be known. He concluded his study by refuting the work of Johan Weyer, or Wierus, who, he asserted, was in error in believing that sorcerers were fools and people of unsound mind. Bodin recommended that Weyer's books should be burned "for the honour of God."

Bodin participated in many witchcraft trials as judge and was responsible for the torture of many suspected witches, including children and invalids. He advised using hot irons to cauterize the flesh so that putrefaction could be cut out. One of his precepts was that presumption and conjecture of witchcraft ranked as proof.


Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Crown Publishers, 1959.

Weyer, Johannes. Witches, Devils, and Doctors in the Renaissance: Johann Weyer, De Praestigiis. Edited by George Mora. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1991.

Jean Bodin

views updated May 21 2018

Jean Bodin

The French political philosopher Jean Bodin (1529/1530-1596) influenced European intellectual history through his formulation of economic theories and of principles of good government and through his advocacy of religious tolerance in an intolerant age.

Jean Bodin was born in Angers, the son of a tailor. He received his early education in Angers and Paris as a member of the religious order of Carmelites. After leaving the monastic life, he studied and later taught law at the University of Toulouse. In 1561 he began to practice law in Paris and at about the same time published two significant books. In Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (A Method for the Easy Learning of History), Bodin attempted to determine the principles of universal law through a study of history; in Response aux paradoxes de M. Malestroit (1568; Response to the Paradoxes of Monsieur Malestroit), he contended that the revolutionary rise in prices in the 16th century was caused by the great influx of gold and silver— an analysis which has earned him a distinguished position among early modern European economists.

Bodin won the favor of King Henry III of France and of his brother, the Duke of Alençon. In 1571 he became counselor to the duke and was appointed king's attorney at Laon in 1576. In the same year he served as a delegate of the Third Estate (commoners) at the Estates General of Blois. There Bodin antagonized the clergy and nobility by favoring negotiation instead of war with the French Protestants. He also opposed the King's demand to gain additional revenue by selling public lands and royal demesnes. Because of his stand, Bodin lost favor with the King, but he continued to serve the duke.

Bodin's most famous work, Six livres de la république (1576; Six Books of the Republic), reflects his distress over the chaos in France during the Wars of Religion. The principles Bodin proposes for a well-ordered state are based on the doctrine of sovereignty. He believed the state needed one supreme authority to make and enforce law, an authority whose power was limited only by natural and divine law and by the "fundamental laws" of the land. Although he conceded that there could be different types of government, he thought monarchy the most stable because its sovereignty was not divided.

In 1583 Bodin returned to Laon as procurator to the presidial court and spent the rest of his life there. Bodin's interest turned from politics to religion, and his writings reflect this change. In La Demonomanie des sorciers (1580; The Demonomania of Witches), he advocated the burning of witches. In the Heptaplomeres (1588)—a colloquy between a Jew, a Moslem, a Calvinist, a Lutheran, a Catholic, a theist, and an epicurean—his characters eventually decide that since one religion is as good as another, they should live together in charity. In 1596 Bodin died of plague in Laon.

Further Reading

For specialized works on Bodin in English see the still-worth-while chapter in J. W. Allen, A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century (1928; rev. ed. 1957); Beatrice Reynolds, Proponents of Limited Monarchy in Sixteenth Century France: Francis Hotman and Jean Bodin (1931); and Julian H. Franklin, Jean Bodin and the Sixteenth-Century Revolution in the Methodology of Law and History (1963). □

Bodin, Jean

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Bodin, Jean (1530–96) French lawyer and political philosopher. In Six Books of the Republic (1576), Bodin treated anarchy as the supreme political evil and order as the supreme human need. He supported absolute monarchy and an unrestricted secular sovereignty residing in the state.

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