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The legacy of Jean Bodin: absolutism, populism or constitutionalism?

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It is given to few political thinkers to be at once as innovative and as self- contradictory as Jean Bodin. This paper examines the way in which a number of his ideas were developed in the seventeenth century, and attempts made, principally in Germany, the Netherlands and England, either to reconcile apparent contradictions within his thought or to exploit their ambiguity for political advantage. Elsewhere in Western Europe there was a more hostile response. In Counter-Reformation Spain Bodin was almost universally disparaged as a politico, second only to Machiavelli in his alleged advocacy of the subordination of religion to political ends. His constructive ideas were taken rather more seriously in Counter-Reformation Italy, but there too there were attacks upon his secularism and negative criticism of his theory of sovereignty. In France itself Bodin was absorbed into the absolutist current, and since his reservations were weakened by the prevailing doctrine of divine right kingship, and his deviations generally forgotten, the problem of his legacy there is much less complex.
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Keywords: Absolutism; Althusius; Arnisaeus; Barclay; Baxter; Bodin; Brsold; Constitutionalism; Filmer; Grotius; Hunton; Keckermann; Lawson; Limnaeus; Parker; Prynne; Pufendorf; Sovereignty

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Bryn Mawr College.

Publication date: 1996-04-01

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