Tuesday, June 28, 2011

An open letter to unemployed scholars who know French and Latin

Dear unemployed scholars,

Did you know that Jean Bodin's complete Six Books of the Republic has not been translated into English since 1606? That, as you may have noticed, was a long time ago. English has changed a lot since then. Plz get to work.

Miss Self-Important


css sux said...

you really don't have to read the whole thing.

Miss Self-Important said...

Yeah but I can't know that for sure unless the whole thing is searchable with standardized spelling.

Jacob T. Levy said...


(Was that correct usage?)

Miss Self-Important said...

Yes. And you CAN has sovereignty.

Withywindle said...

Just a small world comment: Russell Kirk did an edition of Justus Lipsius' Two Bookes of Constancie back in 1939.

But what do you think of Bodin, nowe that yowe hath reade hym?

Miss Self-Important said...

That souvereigntie is a truely false principall and Bodin, "a famous lawyer, and a man of great experience in matters of state," hath committed a grosse injustyce to Aristotle.

Alpheus said...

Out of pure curiosity, what's the nature of Bodin's injustyce to Aristotle?

Miss Self-Important said...

I think to establish sovereignty as a "fact"--that is, the only legitimate and logical way to conceptualize political power--requires an attack on Aristotle and Polybius, and the assertion that what they said has never been and never could be. He has to show that the mixed regime is not possible and has never occurred, and that equality under the law is equally impossible because there is always some ultimate power that rules in every instance and makes law and so is exempt from it. But he can't really prove this since it's only an argument about how we ought to conceptualize power, not what power really is, so he just drowns Aristotle and Polybius in his own assertions--he reads popular sovereignty into every ancient regime (including the Roman Empire), claims that this was the cause of their instability, and then offers us absolute monarchy instead.

Alpheus said...

MSI: Thank you! That's quite interesting.

It seems like the Roman Republic is the really interesting test case. If sovereignty is embodied in any one *institution*, it's the Senate (since it could define when the laws applied and when they didn't). But I guess Bodin wasn't comfortable with the idea of sovereignty inhering in an order or plural institution.

Tae-Yeoun Keum said...

so explains my lifted-from-a-more-modern-source-but-not-all-that-modern citation:

"Yet it is not our intent or purpose to figure out the onely imaginary forme and Idea of a Commonweale, without effect, or substance, as have Plato and Sir Thomas More Chauncelor of England, vainely imagined..."*

* Jean Bodin, Les six livres de la republique [FIND TRANSLATION INTO REAL ENGLISH]

Miss Self-Important said...

Alpheus: Bodin doesn't think the Senate was sovereign in the republic b/c it couldn't make law, and b/c it gradually ceded its power to the people. (If the plebs can secede and bring the state to a stop, then the non-seceding element can't be said to have ultimate power.) He says an aristocracy could potentially be sovereign if the aristocrats are considered as a corporate body, but once you accept the principle of sovereignty (that there is, somewhere in the state, always some ultimate combined legislator/executive), you will have to follow the logic down to admitting that a plural sovereign is extremely inefficient and prone to faction. The more fundamental thing is to prove that sovereignty exists--that it's a true description of all organization of political power (vs. the mixed regime that says power inheres in the whole, the city acting together, even if individual political decisions are made by different offices or people in different contexts). Once you accept this for the Roman Republic, you're already in Bodin's hands, regardless of where you locate the sovereignty.

Tae-Yeoun: Wait, the source says "find translation..."? That would be amazing.