Johannes Althusius (1557 - August 12, 1638)  was a Calvinist philosopher and theologian. He is most famous for his 1603 work, "Politica Methodicae Digesta, Atque Exemplis Sacris et Profanis Illustrata" (Latin for "Politics Methodically Digested, Illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples"); revised editions were published in 1610 and 1614. The ideas expressed therein have led many to consider him the first true federalist, as the intellectual father of modern federalism and also an advocate of popular sovereignty.
Althusius was born in 1557, to a family of modest means in Diedenshausen, Wittgenstein-Berleberg (now Thionville, France), a Calvinist town in Westphalia. Under the patronage of a local count, he began his studies in 1581, concentrating in law, theology, philosophy, and logic, first in Cologne, then in Paris and Basel, and eventually in Geneva. The breadth of this education introduced Althusius to a myriad of thinkers in various fields, including Aristotle, Calvin, Grotius, Bodin, Machiavelli, and Peter Ramus; he also became familiar with many lesser known scholars and theorists, and Politica is heavily indebted to them, citing close to 200 books in all, and doubtlessly influenced by many more.
In 1594, after completing his studies, Althusius joined the law faculty at the Protestant Academy of Herborn, and was appointed president of the College of Herborn three years later, also beginning his political career by serving as a member of the Nassau (Germany) county council. For the next several years, he became involved in various colleges throughout the area, variously serving as their president and lecturing on law, theology, and philosophy, and in 1603, he was elected to be a municipal trustee of the city of Emden, in Eastern Frisia, where he ultimately made his fame.
By the time Althusius began his formal studies in 1581, the Dutch Revolt against Spain had already come to a head, and it was not to be settled until Dutch independence was recognized in 1609. Because the nature of the conflict was largely religious – Calvinist states rebelling against their Catholic overlords – it was of especial interest to Calvinist political thinkers such as Althusius, and it was perhaps this that initially prompted him to write Politica, the first edition of which he completed in 1603. It is not only considered to this day the most fully developed scheme of Calvinist political theory, but also the only ever systematic theoretical justification of the Dutch Revolt.
The first edition of Politica was received with wide acclaim in Emden and in the Netherlands beyond; it presented an attractive political theory for the city, and was no doubt instrumental in Althusius’s securing the position of city Syndic in 1604, which placed him at the helm of Emden’s governance until his death.
Johannes Althusius died on August 12, 1638, in Emden, East Friesland (Germany).
In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Emden in East Friesland (now Germany) was at the crossroads of political and religious activity in the region. A prosperous seaport situated between the Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire, with convenient maritime access to England, Emden was a prominent city in the politics and policy of all three nations, and was thus able to retain a significant amount of political freedom. It was located within the overlapping territories of the Catholic Hapsburg emperor and a Lutheran provincial lord, but its population was mainly Calvinist, and the city had a strong Calvinist spirit. Emden also played host to two Protestant synods, first in 1571 and again in 1610, and was widely regarded as the ‘Geneva of the North’ or the ‘alma mater’ of the Dutch Reformed Church. These attributes made the city the ideal place for Althusius to propose his particular brand of political philosophy; Emden’s theological and political prominence coupled with its yen for religious and civic independence made the Althusian political theory both topical and popular.
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New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1939.
Categories: German writers | Political theorists | German writer stubs
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