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Jean Bodin

Jean BodinBorn: 1530
Birthplace: Angers, France
Died: 1596
Location of death: Laon, France
Cause of death: Bubonic Plague

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Economist, Philosopher

Nationality: France
Executive summary: Six livres de la République

French political philosopher, born at Angers in 1530. Having studied law at Toulouse and lectured there on jurisprudence, he settled in Paris as an advocate, but soon applied himself to literature. In 1555 he published his first work, a translation of Oppian's Cynegeticon into Latin verse, with a commentary. The celebrated scholar, Turnebus, complained that some of his emendations had been appropriated without acknowledgment. In 1588, in refutation of the views of the seigneur de Malestroit, comptroller of the mint, who maintained that there had been no rise of prices in France during the three preceding centuries, he published his Responsio ad Paradoxa Malestretti (Reponse aux paradoxes de M. Malestroit), which the first time explained in a nearly satisfactory manner the revolution of prices which took place in the 16th century. Bodin showed a more rational appreciation than many of his contemporaries of the causes of this revolution, and the relation of the variations in money to the market values of wares in general as well as to the wages of labor. He saw that the amount of money in circulation did not constitute the wealth of the community, and that the prohibition of the export of the precious metals was rendered inoperative by the necessities of trade. This tract, the Discours sur les causes de l'extrème cherté qui est aujourdhuy en France (1574), and the disquisition on public revenues in the sixth book of the République, entitle Bodin to a distinguished position among the earlier economists.

His learning, genial disposition, and conversational powers won him the favor of Henri III and of his brother, the duc d'Alençon; and he was appointed king's attorney at Laon in 1576. In this year he married, performed his most brilliant service to his country, and completed his greatest literary work. Elected by the tiers état of Vermandois to represent it in the states-general of Blois, he contended with skill and boldness in extremely difficult circumstances for freedom of conscience, justice and peace. The nobility and clergy favored the League, and urged the king to force his subjects to profess the Catholic religion. When Bodin found he could not prevent this resolution being carried, he contrived to get inserted in the petition drawn up by the states the clause "without war", which practically rendered nugatory all its other clauses. While he thus resisted the clergy and nobility he successfully opposed the demand of the king to be allowed to alienate the public lands and royal demesnes, although the chief deputies had been won over to assent. This lost him the favor of the king, who wanted money on any terms. In 1581 he acted as secretary to the duc d'Alençon when that prince came over to England to seek the hand of Queen Elizabeth I. Here he had the pleasure of finding that the République was studied at London and Cambridge, although in a barbarous Latin translation. This determined him to translate his work into Latin himself (1586). The latter part of Bodin's life was spent at Laon, which he is said to have persuaded to declare for the League in 1589, and for Henri IV five years afterwards. He died of the plague in 1596, and was buried in the church of the Carmelites.

With all his breadth and liberality of mind Bodin was a credulous believer in witchcraft, the virtues of numbers and the power of the stars, and in 1580 he published the Démonomanie des sorciers, a work which shows that he was not exempt from the prejudices of the age. Himself regarded by most of his contemporaries as a skeptic, and by some as an atheist, he denounced all who dared to disbelieve in sorcery, and urged the burning of witches and wizards. It might, perhaps, have gone hard with him if his counsel had been strictly followed, as he confessed to have had from his thirty-seventh year a friendly demon, who, if properly invoked, touched his right ear when he purposed doing what was wrong, and his left when he meditated doing good.

His chief work, the Six livres de la République (Paris, 1576), which passed through several editions in his lifetime, that of 1583 having as an appendix L'Apologie de René Herpin (Bodin himself), was the first modern attempt to construct an elaborate system of political science. It is perhaps the most important work of its kind between Aristotle and modern writers. Though he was much indebted to Aristotle he used the material to advantage, adding much from his own experience and historical knowledge. In harmony with the conditions of his age, he approved of absolute governments, though at the same time they must, he thought, be controlled by constitutional laws. He entered into an elaborate defense of individual property against Plato and Sir Thomas More, rather perhaps because the scheme of his work required the treatment of that theme than because it was practically urgent in his day, when the excesses of the Anabaptists had produced a strong feeling against communistic doctrines. He was under the general influence of the mercantilist views, and approved of energetic governmental interference in industrial matters, of high taxes on foreign manufactures and low duties on raw materials and articles of food, and attached great importance to a dense population. But he was not a blind follower of the system; he wished for unlimited freedom of trade in many cases; and he was in advance of his more eminent contemporary Michel de Montaigne in perceiving that the gain of one nation is not necessarily the loss of another. To the public finances, which he called "the sinews of the state", he devoted much attention, and insisted on the duties of the government in respect to the right adjustment of taxation. In general he deserves the praise of steadily keeping in view the higher aims and interests of society in connection with the regulation and development of its material life.

Among his other works are Oratio de instituenda in republica juventate (1559); Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (1566); Universale Naturae Theatrum (1596, French translation by Fougerolles, 1597), and the Colloquium Heptaplomeres de abditis rerum sublimium arcanis, written in 1588, published first by Guhrauer (1841), and in a complete form by L. Noack (1857). The last is a philosophy of naturalism in the form of a conversation between seven learned men -- a Jew, a Muslim, a Lutheran, a Zwinglian, a Roman Catholic, an Epicurean and a Theist. The conclusion to which they are represented as coming is that they will live together in charity and toleration, and cease from further disputation as to religion. It is curious that Leibniz, who originally regarded the Colloquium as the work of a professed enemy of Christianity, subsequently described it as a most valuable production.

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