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Popular Sovereignty in Early Modern Constitutional Thought$
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Daniel Lee

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198745167

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198745167.001.0001

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Jean Bodin, Popular Sovereignty, and Constitutional Government

Jean Bodin, Popular Sovereignty, and Constitutional Government

(p.187) 6 Jean Bodin, Popular Sovereignty, and Constitutional Government
Popular Sovereignty in Early Modern Constitutional Thought

Daniel Lee

Oxford University Press

Bodin’s Six Livres de la République is conventionally seen as a defense of political absolutism and an unrelenting criticism of popular sovereignty. I challenge this view. I show how Bodin’s treatment of sovereignty as an extralegal power of states followed the traditional civilian analysis which required sovereigns, whether princes or peoples, to govern just as if they were subject to law. Bodin’s strict adherence to this principle reveals a deep-seated anxiety concerning the dangers associated with the direct, legally unfettered exercise of sovereignty. This anxiety prompted Bodin to investigate the constitutional possibility of delegating the legal exercise of sovereignty to government agents, without simultaneously compromising the right of sovereignty. The chapter traces Bodin’s strategic use of the Roman law of obligations in framing this argument for magisterial government, and his application of this analysis to the government of the Roman Republic, what Bodin regarded as the archetypal ‘popular state.’

Keywords:   Jean Bodin, Six livres de la République, De Repubica, popular sovereignty, government, magistrate, commission, office, Roman Republic, agency

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