The Universal Rule of Natural Law and Written Constitutions in the Thought of Johannes Althusius
“The Universal Rule of Natural and Written Constitutions in the Thought of Johannes Althusius,”
in Janne Nijman and Tony Carty, eds., Morality and Responsibility of Rulers: Chinese and European Early Modern Origins of a Rule of Law for World Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 167-186
30 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2017 Last revised: 17 Apr 2020
Date Written: December 22, 2017
Calvinist jurist Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) developed what he called a “universal theory” of law and politics for war-torn Europe. He called for written constitutions that separated the executive, legislative, and judicial powers of cities, provinces, nations, and empires alike and that guaranteed the natural rights and liberties of all subjects. To be valid, he argued, these constitutions had to respect the universal natural law set out in Christian and classical, biblical and rational teachings of law, authority, and rights. To be effective, these constitutions had to recognize the symbiotic nature of human beings who are born with a dependence on God and neighbor, family and community, and who are by nature inclined to form covenantal associations to maintain liberty and community. Althusius left comprehensive Christian theory of rule of law and political that anticipated many of the arguments of later Enlightenment theorists of social and government contracts.
Keywords: Johannes Althusius; written constitutions; symbiosis; natural law; natural rights; separation of powers; covenant; contract.
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