Rights, Resistance, and Revolution in the Western Tradition: Early Protestant Foundations

“Rights, Resistance, and Revolution in the Western Tradition: Early Protestant Foundations,” Law and History Review 26 (2008): 545-570

Emory Legal Studies Research Paper

25 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2007 Last revised: 2 Sep 2019

See all articles by John Witte

John Witte

Emory University School of Law

Abstract

This article discusses the development of rights talk in the pre-Enlightenment Protestant tradition, especially as formulated by the sixteenth-century Calvinist theologian and jurist, Theodore Beza. Responding to the horrific persecution born of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572, Beza mobilized classical, Catholic, and Protestant sources alike to develop a coherent Calvinist theory of rights, resistance, and revolution against tyrants. This article details Beza's arguments, places his work in its historical and intellectual context, and highlights the innovations Beza contributed to the intersection of legal, political, and theological teachings. It concludes by showing how Beza's theory of subjective rights and resistance to tyranny helped to plot the course of modern democratic and constitutional theory.

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, Rights, Resistance, and Revolution in the Western Tradition: Early Protestant Foundations. “Rights, Resistance, and Revolution in the Western Tradition: Early Protestant Foundations,” Law and History Review 26 (2008): 545-570 , Emory Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1014726

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