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Jean Bodin, scepticism and absolute sovereignty

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While by no means intending to discount the importance of historical circumstances in motivating Bodin to change his definition of sovereignty, I suggest an alternative way for understanding this change. I study Bodin's writings in the intellectual context of his times, and argue that he proposed his absolutist theory of sovereignty as a way to preserve a minimal point of universal and immutable order for politics in a social world that he perceived as highly disorderly, corrupt and changing.

I begin by locating Bodin's thinking within the intellectual context of his times. Like many other sceptics of his generation, including Montaigne, Pasquier and Le Roy, Bodin no longer believed that human laws and society very closely reflected the immutable principles of the divine and natural orders, but instead argued that human affairs were generally detached from these orders and were characterized by a high degree of particularity, variability and mutability. However, in contrast to these more sceptical writers, he was unwilling to accept the possibility that human political order could subsist without some divine and natural foundation. In both the Methodus and Republique he therefore set out to identify a new universal foundation for human laws and society anchored in the divine and natural orders.

Keywords: Jean Bodin; Le Roy; Methodus; Montaigne; Pasquier; Republique; absolutist theory of sovereignty; sovereignty

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Chicago.

Publication date: April 1, 1996


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