Jean Bodin: biography of this French philosopher and politician

Sixteenth-century France was a rather turbulent place. It was an era marked by the war of religion in which lifelong Catholics and Calvinist reformers clashed in a war that even shook the French monarchy.

Jean Bodin was born just this century and witnessed the turbulent political situation in his country. This man, who cultivated various knowledge in life, was a lawyer and also a clergyman, so he did not refrain from writing at length about how to change the situation.

Known for his mercantilist theses, being in favor of religious tolerance and defending the power of an absolute monarchy, Bodin’s thought greatly influenced Renaissance Europe. We discover his history, his works and his thought, through a biography of Jean Bodin.

    Brief biography of Jean Bodin

    Jean Bodin, also known in Spanish as Juan Bodino, was a French lawyer, philosopher, politician, historian, economist and pastor. His life was spent in 16th century France, a country that was bleeding and weakening economically and politically due to the wars of religion between Calvinists and Catholics. The social situation of his country prompted him to write about sovereignty, economy and, of course, religion, because he was ordained a Carmelite brother.

    His childhood

    The day of his birth is not known for sure, but several sources indicate that was born in July between the years 1529 and 1533 in the city of Angers, In the West of France. His father was Guillaume Bodin, a wealthy merchant and member of the local bourgeoisie, while his mother was Catherine Dutertre, who is known to have died before 1561.

    Young John was the youngest of the seven children of Bodin and received training in the cloisters of the Carmelites of AngersJoining the brotherhood and eventually becoming a monk, but would end up giving up the vows a few years later.

    University education

    Bodin studied at the University of Paris and the College de France, two institutions located in the French capital. In Paris he was imbued with medieval scholasticism and Renaissance humanism, coinciding with the release of his monastic vows as a Carmelite brother (1549).

    In 1551 he went to the University of Toulouse to study civil law, an institution where he would graduate and also remain a professor until 1561. After a decade as a teacher in Toulouse, Bodin decided it was time to give up teaching and returned to Paris. In this city, he would practice as a lawyer at the High Court of Justice and as a deputy in Paris.

    His return to the capital of France coincides with the start of a turbulent period in the country and throughout Europe, beginning the Wars of Religion (1562-1598). Bodin could not ignore this historic event, especially since he had been a Carmelite Brother. We were attracted by the rabbinical lessons from elsewhere by the reformed current of Joan Calví and took a partisan stance of religious tolerance.

    Years of prolific writer and final days

    In addition to working as a lawyer, Bodin published in 1566 his first important work: “Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem” (Method for the easy understanding of history), A pleasant achievement that was accompanied by a sad event, which was the death of his father.

    After the publication of this first book of great resonance, Jean Bodin will begin an intense literary and professional activity by publishing a decade later a set of very important works to understand his economic and political point of view: “The six books of the Republic “(The six books of the Republic, 1576)

    Already having major social and philosophical repercussions, Jean Bodin was able to produce works of real relevance for his time. He was appointed commissioner for forest tenure reform in Normandy in 1570 and, in 1587 he would begin to work as general prosecutor of the city of Laón. A little later, in 1596, he published “Universae naturae theatrum” (The theater of nature).

    His last years were spent in Laon as soon as he was appointed city attorney general. He remained in this city, located in northern France, until his death in 1596, the exact date of which is not known. What we know is that he died of a plague epidemic while still practicing as a lawyer. He was buried with a Catholic burial in the Franciscan church of Laon.

    Reflection and theoretical contributions of this thinker

    The thought of Jean Bodin is, in some respects, surprisingly advanced while in other respects he fails to be what he was, a man of the sixteenth century. His conception of economics was quite advanced in his day, as was his apparently religious tolerance, although he could not be considered a person of progressive character as he was a staunch supporter of absolutist monarchy and his opinion on atheism and witchcraft was by no means tolerant.

    Political thought: concept of sovereignty and absolutism

    Jean Bodin talks about the existence of different possible forms of government, Considering in whom or in which institution sovereignty is concentrated:

    • Democracy: the people have sovereign power.
    • Aristocracy: Sovereignty is held by a small group within the people.
    • Monarchy: Sovereignty is concentrated in one person.

    Bodin’s idea of ​​sovereignty is that of an obligation that goes beyond human rights and that he was subject to divine or natural law. Sovereignty, according to this French philosopher, is defined in terms of absolute, perpetual, indivisible and inalienable power. This sovereignty gives legitimacy to the State over other powers, such as those of the papacy and the Holy Roman Empire, then the two antagonistic forces of the European international political dynamic.

    Bodin said the origin of authority lies in the pact made by several families that make up the elite of a society or country. These families have a lot of power to agree on the person or the institution that should exercise their authority and therefore govern. He who governs must have all the power and everyone must obey him. That is to say, he exhibited a classic interpretation of absolute power, a power that was to be exercised by a monarch without subjects being able to put limits on him.

    Bodin united the figure of the king to that of a supreme judge and a legislator, a figure above any internal state institution. The king personified sovereignty by divine right and this doctrine of thought came to be known as monarchical absolutism, well represented in later reigns like that of Louis XIV, the Sun King.

      Economic Thinking: Mercantilism and International Trade

      “The Six Books of the Republic” is Jean Bodin’s most notable contribution to the field of political philosophy, being published in 1576 and the repercussions were such that they were translated into several languages ​​while the author was still desire. In this work he talks about different themes, being particularly important his response to the political crisis caused by the wars of religion in France between 1562 and 1598.

      The sixth book in the collection is remarkable because Bodin exposes many of his mercantilist economic principles. advocating the establishment of restrictions on the exit of raw materials and the importation of non-essential manufactured goodsIn other words, the state had to protect the national economy. However, he also underlines his advocacy for international trade, saying that the benefit of one country is not the same as the disadvantage for the other.

      One cannot speak of the economic thought of Jean Bodin without evoking his “Paradoxes of M. de Malestroit the touching fact of the Currencies and the enrichment of all things” (Response to the paradoxes of Malestroit, 1568). It is a text in which he responds to Mr. de Malestroit who had sought to deny the rise in prices in the long term. At instead, Bodin argues that prices can rise for a variety of reasons, including increasing amounts of gold and silver, as well as the influence of monopolies.

      His response to Malestroit had a lot of repercussions in 16th century Europe and few consider this text to be the first exposition of a quantitative theory of money. However, it seems that this may not be the case, as texts written by thinkers of the Salamanca school have been found, in particular Martín de Azpilcueta, who previously described the inflationary effects of the massive importation. of metals and materials. It is very likely that Bodin knew the economic theses of these thinkers and formed his own interpretation.

      Religious thought: religious tolerance, witchcraft and atheism

      In the field of religious thought, his main contributions are his works “Démonomanie”, “colloque heptaplomeres” and “Universae naturae theatrum”, all written in response to the conflictual climate of France in which he touches living. He broached the question of what true religion was (vera religio) and ended up defending religious tolerance, as long as he believed in Christianity.

      The war between Huguenots and Catholics led to the embrace of a third party, the “politicians”, who proposed religious tolerance and the strengthening of the authority of the state as arbiter to ensure peace among believers. of different faiths. Although at first he supported the Catholic League, he eventually recognized as King of France the Huguenot Navarrese Henri VI, Who would convert to Catholicism and end the war in 1593.

      However, his tolerance for those who were labeled wizards and wizards, as well as atheists, shone through in his absence. In his work “De la Démonomanie des sorciers” (De la manie demoniaque des sorcières, 1580), Jean Bodin declares that “demonism” and atheism are a betrayal of God and must be penalized by all possible means. This work was very popular at the time, and also had several translations, which is why several historians believe that the figure of Bodin contributed to the prosecution of “witches” in the years following its publication.

      Bodin was not only a prolific writer, but also a sadistic creator. He offered countless ideas on how to torture would-be wizards and witchesSome so extremely gory and inhuman that even his own comrades in the Parliament of Paris gave him a touch of moderation. He firmly believed that if the Holy Inquisition applied these methods, it would unfairly judge no one, even the truly innocent.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Blair, A. (1997). The theater of nature: Jean Bodin and the science of the Renaissance. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
      • Franklin, JH (1963). Jean Bodin and the Sixteenth Century Revolution in the Methodology of Law and History, New York: Columbia University Press.
      • Franklin, JH (1973). Jean Bodin and the Rise of Absolutist Theory, Cambridge: University Press.
      • Saillot, J (1985). “Jean Bodin, his family, his origins”, in Jean Bodin. Proceedings of the Angers Interdisciplinary Colloquium, Angers, Presses de l’Université d’Angers, p. 111-118.

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