ALTHUSIUS Johannes (from Latin alter—a lawyer and political writer, b. in Diedenhausen in 1557, d. in Emden August 12 1638. He was a professor of law starting in 1586 at the University of Herborn. In 1604 he became syndic of the town of Emden in Friesland where he spent the rest of his life. He defended the rights of city-dwellers and the poor and actively opposed the nobility. His legal writings include the following: De arte iurisprudentiae romanae libri duo […] (Bas 1586), and a good textbook which had the same views: Dicaeologicae libri tres [&hellip] (Herborn 1617, which was Althusius’ chief legal work; his work Civilis conversationis libri duo [&hellip] (Han 1601) which was a systematic presentation of ethics; and his best-known political work Politica methodice digesta […] (Herborn 1603, 16142).
Although Althusius belonged to the monarchomachs he was opposed to absolute authority and thought that politics is an art that disposes people to a common or shared life. The rules of community life are established, nurtured, and preserved by the members of a group who commonly realize the conventional law and derive common benefits. Thus politics by its nature looks to co-operation, community, and man. Social development begins from the first social form, which is the family, and continues with the establishment of broader and more complex forms.
Every social grouping or society is subject to a leader—one properly chosen by all—whose authority is higher than the authority of the members of the group as individuals, but at the same time lower that the authority of the society as a whole. The rights or laws of the society as whole are established by the majority. Social groupings of different scope may enter in to the composition of other broader and more complex structures and so create a universal public community. This community is the state, in which cities and provinces are bound together to form a uniform organism. In this conception of the federal state there is one authority and its orders have a universal character. The leader manages all, which is necessary for the good of the citizens, but the highest authority does not belong to him, nor does belong even to a king, but it belongs to society, and the king is subject to the higher law of the community.
The people cannot relinquish their supreme authority nor can they transfer it to someone else, but can only delegate the execution of the highest laws or distribute it among various subjects. Every community and people may grant, award, and impart fully authority to its administrators, but the administrators remain servants of the community. They are the executors of the law, but do not establish the law. Both the administrators and the rulers of the state, to whom was entrusted a mandate of confidence, may be released from their duty if the people decide otherwise or if the established conditions have expired. Then another ruler may be chosen or a new constitution may be established.
With his political doctrine Althusius made an important contribution in the history of the modern theory of the state and the development of the democratic aspect of the state.
O. von Gierke, Johannes Althius und die Entwicklung der naturrechtlichen Staatstheorien, Br 1879, Aalen 19585; G. Jellinek, Allgemeine Staatslehre, B 1900, 19143 (passim); A. Passerin d’Entrèves, Giovanni Althusius e il problema metodologico della filosofia politica, Rivista internazionale di filosofia del diritto 14 (1934), 109–123; P. Mesnard, L’essor de la philosophie politique au XVIe siècle, P 1936, 19773; E. Wolf, Grosse Rechtsdenker der deutschen Geistesgeschichte, T 1939, 19513, 176–216; G. Santonastaso, Le dottrine politiche da Lutero a Suárez, Mi 1946; E. Reibstein, Johannes Althusius als Fotsetzer der Schule von Salamanca, Kar 1955; P. J. Winters, Die “Politik” des Johannes Althusius und ihre zeitgenössischen Quellen, Fr 1963; T. O. Hüglin, Sozietaler Föderalismus. Die politische Theorie des Johannes Althusius, B 1991 (bibliogr.).