Jean Bodin

Jean Bodin (1529/1530–1596)was born in Angers, France, and became a French jurist and political philosopher, member of the Parlement (not to be confused with the English Parliament) of Paris and professor of Law in Toulouse. He is best known for his theory of sovereignty.

Bodin lived during the Reformation, writing against the background of religious and civil conflict—particularly that, in his native France, between the (Calvinist) Huguenots and the state-supported Catholic Church. He choose to convert to Judaism which was a very risky option at that time.

His books divided opinion: some French writers were full of praise, while the later Scottish philosopher, Francis Hutchinson was his detractor, criticising his methodology.

De la République

Jean Bodin's most famous work was written in 1576. The ideas in the Six Books on the State (or Les Six livres de la République) on the importance of climate in the shaping of a people's character was also quite influential, finding a prominent place in the work of contemporary Italian thinker Giovanni Botero (1544-1617) and later in French philosopher the Baron de Montesquieu's (1689-1755) climatic determinism. His Classical definition of sovereignty is: “la puissance absolue et perpetuelle d’une Republique” (Sovereignty is that absolute and perpetual power vested in a commonwealth). His main ideas about sovereignty are found in chapter VIII and X of Book I.


In France, Bodin was most noted as a historian in his Method for the Easy Understanding of History. He writes, "Of history, that is, the true narration of things, there are three kinds: human, natural and divine." As a historic politician, Bodin contributed to the restoration of France as a strong nation-state.

Finally, Bodin was among the first to recognize the interrelationship between the amount of goods and the amount of money in circulation. The boatloads of silver arriving in Spain from the Bolivian (then Peruvian) mine of Potosí were wreaking inflationary havoc at the time. Bodin laid the foundation for the "quantity theory of money."

On Witchcraft (La Démonomanie des Sorciers)

Bodin recommended torture, even in cases of the disabled and children, to try to confirm guilt of witchcraft. He asserted that not even one witch could be erroneously condemned if the correct procedures were followed, suspicion being enough to torment the accused because rumours concerning witches were almost always true. Some scholars have attributed Bodin's attitude towards so-called witches as part of a populationist strategy typical for mercantilism.


  • Julian H. Franklin (ed.), Jean Bodin. Aldershot, Ashgate, 2006 (International Library of Essays in the History of Social and Political Thought), 472 pp.

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