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Early Modern Concepts for a Late Modern World

Althusius on Community and Federalism

Thomas O. Hueglin

Publication Year: 1999

Who was Althusius, and why is the work of a seventeenth- century political theorist important in modern times?

Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) was a political theorist and a combative city politician who defended the rights of small communities against territorial absolutism. He designed a system of politics in which sovereignty would be shared and jointly exercised by a plurality of collectivities, spatial as well as social, on the basis of mutual consent and social solidarity.

Early Modern Concepts for a Late Modern World places Althusius in the context of his times and explains the main features of his political thought. It also suggests, perhaps most significantly, why his theories continue to resonate today. Hueglin’s use of sources is thorough and scrupulous. He has worked in depth in Germanic scholarship and this access to German-language sources, some of which are almost unknown to the English-speaking world, provides a new interpretation of Althusius’ theory.

With its emphasis on pluralized governance, negotiated compromise instead of majority rule, and the inclusion of the economic sphere into the political, Althusius’ theory belongs to a countertradition in Western political thought. Although it was written at the beginning of the modern age of sovereign politics, it applies to today’s search for a post-sovereign system of politics.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

IN RECENT YEARS, I HAVE WITNESSED a steadily growing and almost worldwide interest in Althusius, not only as the "real father of modern federalism" but also as a principal early modern theorist of such currently fashionable political concepts as "community" and "subsidiarity." In particular, the rediscovery, discussion, and entrenchment of federalism and...

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1. Introduction: Reconstruction, Relevance, and Context

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pp. 1-12

THIS BOOK HAS TWO MAIN objectives: a careful reconstruction of Althusius' political theory, and an argument about its relevance, both within the history of Western political thought and for political theory and practice today, at the end of the twentieth century. The reconstruction of Althusius' system of politics is meant to demonstrate its significance for three interrelated themes that have been central to Western political thought: federalism, social contract...

Part One: The Contextual World of Althusius' Thought

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2. Four Hundred Years of Althusius Controversy and the Need for a New Interpretation

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pp. 15-28

ON 7 DECEMBER 1618, THE CITY COUNCILLORS of the northern German seaport of Emden decided to put under arrest in his own residence the city's provincial lord, the count of Eastern Frisia. The count had come to Emden in order to negotiate a settlement in an ongoing dispute over taxation between city and province. He was released...

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3. The Historical Context: The St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, the Dutch Revolt against Spain, and the Rise of the Absolutist State

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pp. 29-41

THE LIFE OF JOHANNES ALTHUSIUS (1557-1638) fell into a period of tremendous transition: The epoch of medieval Christian universalism was ever more rapidly coming to an end, giving way, albeit not without considerable resistance, to the rise of the European territorial state system. Ten years before Althusius was born, the last emperor of that universal Christian world, Charles V, had fought his final military...

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4. Theoretical Consequences: Absolutism and Territorial Centralization

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pp. 42-55

RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION: THOSE WERE the epochal cues1 for a nearly encyclopedic review of knowledge that was well under way by the beginning of the seventeenth century. Like many others, Althusius was well acquainted with almost the entire literature on philosophy, politics, and related subjects, from its classical beginnings in ancient Greece...

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5. Recourse to Alternative Traditions: Political Calvinism, Aristotle, and Germanic Communitarianism

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pp. 56-70

ALTHUSIUS DERIVED HIS POLITICAL CONVICTIONS and theoretical strength from three mutually reinforcing strands in political theory and practice that all converged at the time: political Calvinism as a newly developed survival doctrine for religious minorities, the Politics of Aristotle as a rediscovered classical affirmation of the co-operative sociability embedded in human nature, and finally the living tradition...

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6. The Method: Politica Methodice Digesta Exemplis Sacris & Profanis lllustrata

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pp. 71-82

BEFORE ENTERING A MORE DETAILED DISCUSSION of the specific elements of Althusius' political theory, it seems necessary to outline the peculiar methodological approach he chose for the presentation of his argument. Only then can the logic be understood and appreciated in which Althusius constructed a political theory of federalism as an ascending...

Part Two: The Althusian System of Politics

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7. Consociation: The Principle of Political Community in a Civil Society

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pp. 85-108

Why did Althusius choose the term consociation? It was mentioned in the previous chapter that he probably took the expression---but not the meaning---from Cicero. For Cicero, consociatio had been a legal bond establishing the public sphere of a people, and therefore something far more specific than a most general common principle of politics. In true Aristotelian fashion, such a general principle...

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8. Societal Federalism: A Compound Polity of Particular and Universal Citizenship

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pp. 109-135

IN ORDER TO APPRECIATE ALTHUSIUS' CONTRIBUTION to a general theory of federalism, a distinction must be made between federalism as a general form of social organization and modern federalism---or federation--- as a specific type of government.1 Modern federalism is a type of political organization that in its simplest form includes two or more levels...

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9. Representation: Problems of Participation and Legitimacy in the Political Process

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pp. 135-151

IN ALL DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL SYSTEMS, some form of representation is needed because of the realization that the ideal of identity between rulers and ruled cannot normally be achieved. In a most general sense, representation means that someone---individual, group, or assembly---is exercising power on behalf of someone else, usually a larger...

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10. Subsidiarity and the Division of Powers: The Balance between Autonomy and Solidarity

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pp. 152-168

IN 1571, THE CHURCH SYNOD OF EMDEN passed a resolution declaring that "no parish should predominate over another," that provincial or general synods "must not deliberate on matters already decided" [at the local level] but should instead deal with those matters only upon which previous agreement "could not be reached," or "with matters pertaining...

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11. Sovereignty: Organized Unity of Action and a Right to Civil Disobedience

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pp. 169-194

FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE MODERN constitutional state, the development from the medieval "plurality of rule" to the early modern concentration of public power must appear as the logical progression from the "Dark Ages" to the "enlightened" world of modern statehood. But this linear interpretation of progress is as ahistorical as it is reductionist. Well into the early modern age...

Part Three: The Relevance of Althusius Today

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12 Conclusion: Lineage and Affinities

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pp. 197-232

EVEN THE INITIALLY UNCONVINCED READER should be able to concede by now that Althusius was an important political theorist in his time, and that his theory belongs to a countertradition within Western political thought, at least when it is held against the dominant models of state and society that have developed over the course of the past 350 years. Minimally, it can therefore be argued that studying Althusius...

Appendix A: Chronology

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pp. 233-235

Appendix B: Schema

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pp. 236-238


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pp. 239-252


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pp. 253-265

E-ISBN-13: 9780889207677
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889203228
Print-ISBN-10: 0889203229

Page Count: 275
Publication Year: 1999

OCLC Number: 45844416
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Early Modern Concepts for a Late Modern World

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Subject Headings

  • Federal government -- History -- 17th century.
  • Communitarianism -- History -- 17th century.
  • Althusius, Johannes, 1557-1638.
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