Monday, March 11, 2019

Details, Details

This treatise has been praised and attacked at different times in different places contrary to my thoughts and anticipations.

On Law and Power, Johannes Althusius

In this extract from Althusius’ work, the editors of this book have captured the detailed definitions of Althusius’ construct – helping to clarify his meaning in his writing.  On the one hand, I feel as if I should have read these definitions before I started exploring Althusius; on the other, I think it has been helpful that I have read of Althusius through the eyes of people who have already done this heavy lifting as at times his writing is confusing to me.

With that said, I think a handful of these definitions are worth understanding both in the context of his work and perhaps for the continuing purposes at this blog.

What Law Is – in my opinion, law is this: something that is established after coming into being because of an action in a human affair, or because of some individual, for the necessity, benefit, and direction of this life.

The Structure of Law – The structure of law is twofold – natural or common law and civil or individual law…

This statement from Althusius offers an example of why he is somewhat confusing to read directly – he uses as interchangeable natural and common, civil and individual.  For example, later in this listing he will offer seven different terms for natural law…and common law is not one of these in this subsequent list!

The Nature of Natural Law – A law is natural and common if common right reason produces it for common necessity and welfare of human social life in general.  Therefore, it is called natural law.

Common Law – Therefore, common law is that which has been inscribed on human hearts by nature or by God from birth…

The civil or individual law must be deduced from Natural Law, yet it must be unique to the issues of the situation and location.  For this reason, it is changeable.  Althusius offers two examples of this individual law, presumably from his own experience: the prohibition of gifts between spouses, and the prohibition of granting a loan to a son when the son is still under parental authority.  Neither violates the Natural Law, yet apparently there was some cause to enact these as civil / individual laws. 

Althusius then offers duties arising from Natural Law; these duties are twofold: first to ourselves, and second to others (including God).  With respect to ourselves, the duties are self-defense, self-preservation (to include property), and self-propagation (including the proper rearing of children).  Regarding our duties to others, these are three-fold: for our duties to God, look to the first table of the Decalogue; for our duties to others, look to the second; live the Golden Rule.

What Public Power Is – Public power is what has been granted to someone from the body of an association, with a territory, for the purpose of caring for and administering the business, affairs, and individuals of the associated body.

Keeping in mind the nature of the political relationships as we have examined previously – both subsidiarity and the ability to secede – this is a reasonable definition. This Civil Administration is responsible for administering the second table of the Decalogue; the Ecclesiastic Administration is responsible for administering the first.


I continue to find that Althusius did the best he could with the material available after the Reformation.  In many ways he has tried to capture the decentralization and subsidiarity of medieval Europe without the benefit of an independent Church, and without the authority such an independent Church held.

No comments:

Post a Comment