Biography[ edit ] Althusius was born in , to a family of modest means in Diedenshausen , County Sayn-Wittgenstein Siegen-Wittgenstein , [1] a Calvinist County in what is now the state of North Rhine Westphalia but was then the seat of an independent Grafschaft or County. Under the patronage of a local count, he attended the Gymnasium Philippinum in Marburg from and began his studies in , concentrating in law and philosophy. While studying at Basel, Althusius lived with Johannes Grynaeus for a period of time, with whom he studied theology. For the next several years, he became involved in various colleges throughout the area, variously serving as their president and lecturing on law and philosophy, and in , he was elected to be a municipal trustee of the city of Emden , in East Frisia , where he ultimately made his fame.

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This has been true ever since Otto Gierke in the latter part of the nineteenth century recovered Althusius from two centuries of relative obscurity, and attributed to his Politica Politica methodice digesta the distinction of making one of the pivotal contributions to Western political thought.

He saw in Althusius a seminal thinker who was enabled by an exceptional learning in law, theology, politics, and history to formulate a political theory that served as something of a culmination of medieval social thought and a watershed of modern political ideas.

The chief features of this theory, Gierke felt, were to be found in its contractual and natural law principles. Friedrich focused attention on the concept of the symbiotic association as the foundation of Althusian theory, and on the Calvinist religion as interpretive of this concept. The names of John Neville Figgis, R. These men have addressed themselves to a range of topics in Althusian scholarship that reflects the wide scope of his thought.

It is a striking feature of Althusian studies, however, that until this translation was made there had not been a published translation of a substantial part of the Politica in any vernacular language.

Wolf translated a few pages into German from the edition, and included them in a collection of juridical writings by various authors that he published in Friedrich circulated in mimeographed form ten pages of selections he put into English from the edition.

And Father Stanley Parry translated, and at times paraphrased, major portions of the edition for a privately used English typescript in connection with his doctoral studies on Althusius at Yale University.

The reason why such a translation has not been attempted before may well be because of some unusual problems it presents to the translator. I shall discuss these problems, as well as the justification for abridging the original work, in the final section of this introduction. It may be helpful in concluding this section to note briefly some of the most important facts of the life of this man whose thought is now acquiring new attention among scholars in a number of disciplines. He appeared in at Cologne, where he apparently studied the writings of Aristotle.

It was at Basle, however, that he received his doctorate in both civil and ecclesiastical law in , with a thesis on the subject of intestate inheritance. Surprisingly, he published Jurisprudentia Romana, his first book, during the same year. While at Basle he lived for a time in the home of Johann Grynaeus, with whom he studied theology and thereafter maintained a life-long correspondence.

Sometime prior to obtaining his doctorate, Althusius also studied at Geneva with Denis Godefroy, the renowned textual scholar of Roman law. Upon receiving his doctorate, he was called to the Reformed Academy at Herborn as a member of the faculty of law. Herborn Academy, which had been founded only two years earlier by Count John of Nassau, had become immediately successful and had attracted an international student body.

Althusius, in addition to his professorship in law, became councillor to the count in and, after some months of theological study at Heidelberg, was made rector of the Academy in His volume on ethics—entitled Civilis Conversationis Libri Duo —was published in But the greatest achievement of his Herborn years was the publication in of the Politica, a work that received immediate and wide attention.

The Politica seems to have been instrumental in securing for Althusius a most attractive offer to become Syndic of Emden in East Friesland. This city had been one of the first in Germany to embrace the Reformed faith. At the same time, its strong Calvinist spirit enabled it to exercise an exceptional influence in key areas of the Netherlands and Germany. Moreover, at the Synod of Emden Edition: current; Page: [xii] in the Reformed churches of East Friesland and the Lower Rhine joined with the Dutch churches to form a union of the largest part of Northern Calvinism.

Furthermore, Emden was a leading seaport, in close communication with England, and it served as a haven for a number of English divines during the Catholic reaction under Mary Tudor. Recently however, Emden had encountered increasingly serious conflicts with its provincial lord, as well as with various larger and more powerful units of the German Empire and Spanish Kingdom. The City Council was consequently seeking an exceptionally able leader to guide its negotiations and destiny.

He accepted the offer in , and guided the political destinies of this city without interruption until his death in During the years of his service in Emden, he published two new and enlarged editions of the Politica and , and also wrote the Dicaeologica , an immense work that seeks to construct a single comprehensive juridical system out of Biblical law, Roman law, and various customary laws.

In Althusius was elected elder of the church of Emden, a position he continued to hold until his death twenty-one years later. There is a sense in which his two functions of syndic and elder, coupled with capacities for leadership and hard work, enabled him to coordinate the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the city, and thus to exercise somewhat the same kind of influence in Emden as Calvin did in Geneva.

His correspondence contains frequent condemnations of Arminian theological opinions, and in one letter he especially criticized the Pietas of Hugo Grotius on the basis that it would undermine the independent right and liberty of the church by transferring ecclesiastical functions to civil government. What was largely new with Ramus, however, was the manner in which he employed these two topics.

Where invention had previously been understood as the processes for combining predicates with subjects in debatable propositions, under the influence of Ramism it also came to denote the processes for determining what material belongs to subjects as scholarly disciplines. And where disposition had previously referred to methods of arranging propositions into syllogisms or inductions, and these into discourses, with Ramism it also came to refer to the methods of organizing material appropriate to any given discipline.

An assumption inherent in Ramism is that proper organization of materials is valuable not only for teaching and learning purposes, but also for the discovery and clarification of knowledge. He therefore proposes to remove certain legal, theological, and ethical material from it by which others in his judgment had confused and compromised its proper operation. He acknowledges, however, that two disciplines may have partly overlapping subject matter, as theology and political science share the Decalogue, and law and political science jointly embrace the doctrine of sovereignty.

But he insists that each discipline must limit itself to that aspect of the common material that is essential to its own purpose, and reject what is not. For Althusius the problem was what to do with such politically relevant, but nevertheless contingent, matters as the varying character and customs of rulers and peoples. The statesman, however, should be well acquainted with these matters. Although Althusius nowhere explicitly discusses this law, it is evident that he consistently employs it.

For example, there are no propositions referring chiefly and generically to the city to be found in his opening discussion of politics in general. They are too restrictive for this level because politics also includes other associations in addition to the city. Nor are they to be located in his discussion of the rural village. They are too extensive for this level because other kinds of local community also qualify as cities. Rather all such propositions will be found in his discussion of the nonuniversal public association that is composed of families and collegia.

They belong precisely to this level, as they do to no other. The most distinctive feature of the Ramist interpretation of disposition is its emphasis upon method. And this Althusius clearly appropriates. Althusius opens the Politica with a general proposition that indicates the fundamental insight regarding the nature of political science that will be pursued throughout this inquiry, and suggests by implication the limits that will be observed. He then proceeds by dividing and repeatedly subdividing the subject matter, Edition: current; Page: [xv] each subdivision in turn opening with a sub-proposition relating to the general proposition and defining the appropriate material therein.

He pursues this method with a tiresome regularity throughout the entire volume until the full implications of the opening proposition have been diligently sought out in their application to all forms and activities of political association. It stands at the beginning of Chapter I, and guides and controls everything that follows. By referring to politics as symbiotics or the art of living together , and to social life as symbiosis or living together , Althusius means to include all human associations in his study.

These he divides into simple and private associations family and collegium , and mixed and public associations city, province, and commonwealth. The latter are discussed in both civil and ecclesiastical aspects because provision for both body and soul is deemed essential to public social life. Although the concentration of this volume is upon the commonwealth, Althusius clearly believes that these other associations are the parts out of which, indirectly and directly, the commonwealth is composed, and that they furthermore share common problems of political organization with the commonwealth.

Indeed, by first setting forth the principles by which these problems are to be met in the smaller associations, Althusius anticipates the major features of his discussion of the commonwealth except for the addition of the attribute of sovereignty, which is proper to the commonwealth alone. Symbiotic association involves something more than mere existence together.

It indicates a quality of group life characterized by piety and justice without which, Althusius believes, neither individual persons nor society can endure. He repeatedly asserts that piety is required by the first table of the Decalogue and justice by the second, and that the two together are furthermore validated in human experience everywhere.

Thus both divine revelation and natural reason are called upon in political science to clarify the true nature of symbiotic association. Wherever there is symbiosis there is also communication, or the sharing of things, services, and right. The Latin word jus employed in this connection means both right and law.

Although politics is properly involved in each of these three forms of communication, it has Edition: current; Page: [xvi] one basic concern with them, namely, the effective ordering of all communication. Therefore, politics is not interested in the goods of the tradesman or the skills of the craftsman, except inasmuch as these goods and skills must be socially regulated for the benefit both of the individual and of the association. Thus politics may be distinguished from economics.

The communication of right jus , however, is proper to politics in an even more basic manner. For by this kind of communication each association is given its political structure, and achieves that form of self-sufficiency appropriate to it.

The right that is communicated is in part common to all associations, in part special to each type of association, and in part particular to each individual association.

Communication requires imperium, or strong rule, to be effective. Althusius has no interest at all in theories about human rights. What does interest him is the extent to which any association fulfills the purposes for which it exists.

In this sense, an association has a holy vocation even as a person does. Consequently, Althusius is opposed to tyrannical rule not because it is undemocratic, but because it becomes ineffective in supporting the ends for which persons enter and remain in association with each other.

He is opposed, for the same reason, to weak and vacillating rule. His interest in constitutional limitations upon the abuse of power arises from his concern that power be truly and lawfully strong. It is therefore characteristic of his thought that he advocates institutionalized restraints upon rulers in order to maintain effective symbiosis.

Such restraints are intended to conserve lawful rule in an association and to correct or remove an erring ruler when necessary, but not to weaken the exercise of rule itself.

Persons enter and remain in association with each other because outside of the mutual communication of things, services, and right they cannot live comfortably and well; indeed, they cannot live at all.

Necessity therefore induces association. But the existence of each individual association, as well as the special form it takes, also depends upon the continuing consent of the symbiotes, or members. Althusius is thus led to say that an association is initiated and maintained by a covenant among the symbiotes setting forth their common agreement about the necessary and useful purposes to be served by the association, and the means appropriate to fulfill these purposes.

If there is no explicit covenant, then an implicit one is assumed in the continuing consent of Edition: current; Page: [xvii] those who live together. Symbiotic association thus requires a balance between social necessity and social volition.

When Althusius distinguishes the two types of private association as the natural and the civil, he is setting forth the two poles in this balance. For the family, however natural, is based upon a tacit or expressed agreement among its members as to the manner of its communication of things, services, and right.

The continued existence of the family tends to confirm this agreement. On the other hand the collegium is not completely voluntary.

It arises from a natural need, and presumably is not to be disbanded unless alternative means are available to meet this need. This integral relationship between necessity and volition that first finds expression in private associations carries over into public associations, and becomes one of the distinctive characteristics of the entire associational theory of Althusius.

Althusius divides the family into two kinds—conjugal and kinship—and discusses the nature of communication and imperium in each. Although the husband is clearly the ruler of the conjugal family, and the paterfamilias the ruler of the kinship family, Althusius is careful to set forth the conjugal obligations that the husband owes his wife, as well as those the wife owes her husband, and the kinship obligations that both husband and wife as paterfamilias and materfamilias owe their children and domestics.

If it is composed of magistrates and judges, or of persons engaged in agricultural, industrial, or commercial pursuits, it is called a secular collegium. If it is composed of clergymen, philosophers, or teachers, it is called an ecclesiastical collegium.


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July 20, Share this article: Johannes Althusius was born in Diedenshausen in Westphalia in Beyond a record of his birth, little is known about his early life. Upon receiving his doctorate in both civil and ecclesiastical law at Basle in , he accepted a position on the faculty of law at the Reformed Academy at Herborn. The greatest achievement of his Herborn years was the publication of the Politica in Its success was instrumental in securing for Althusius an offer to become municipal magistrate of Emden in East Friesland, which was among the first cities in Germany to embrace the Reformed articles of faith. Althusius accepted the offer in and exercised an influence comparable to that of Calvin in Geneva; he guided the city without interruption until his death in


Johannes Althusius

After philosophic and legal studies in Switzerland, Althusius was a professor at the University of Herborn in Nassau until , when he became syndic of the town of Emden in the German province of East Friesland Ostfriesland. He wrote a noted general treatise on Roman law , as well as other legal essays, but his principal work was Politica methodice digesta atque exemplis sacris et profanis illustrata , enlarged and , a systematized tract on all forms of human association. Althusius elaborated five principal types of association, each a combination of the preceeding: the family, the voluntary corporation, the local community , the province, and lastly the state. A series of social contracts sustains the system as new groups are brought into existence. Each of his groups has an independent existence. Through his discussion of the complex relations between levels and the different types of associational arrangements, he developed a comprehensive theory of federalism as the means of achieving national unity, in which sovereignty , resting in the people through their groups, cannot be transferred because it is essential to the being of the political community. While reflecting Calvinist puritanism, Althusius stressed that each social group is to be justified by providing a full and happy life to its members.

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