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Political Theology, Volume 21, Issue 6 Is Now Available

The journal Political Theology publishes its special issue on Jean Bodin and the Sovereignty of Exclusion

Political Theology 21.6

Special Issue on Jean Bodin and the Sovereignty of Exclusion


Bodin Now; or, What’s Wrong With Intellectual History?

James Renton Anya Topolski

Pages: 475-478 | https://doi.org/10.1080/1462317X.2020.1806609


There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.

Walter Benjamin, Theses on the Philosophy of History (1940)

As we write, the demand for justice of Black Lives Matter rings in the ears of the academy: pull down the statues, decolonize the canon! Seemingly against that grain, especially for scholars of racism, we are nonetheless publishing this collection of articles on one of the towering figures of white privileged male Western thought: Jean Bodin (1529/1530–1596), the French philosopher, jurist, historian, economist, whose definition of sovereignty as the power of the State was one of the defining contributions to political thought in occidental Europe in the midst of its bloody civil wars, and the beginnings of colonialism overseas. How can our publication be justified at this moment?

It is now, more than ever, that we need to make visible the intellectual architecture of modernity that is foundational to discrimination and inequality. We must bring this edifice, of which Bodin is an important part, out of the unlit corners of our libraries, and show how it is still all around us. 1 We must, therefore, re-read the origins of these structures with a new agenda that centers questions of difference and inequality. The answer to this challenge is not to be found only in the provincialization of Europe, which Dipesh Chakrabarty called for long ago, 2 and has been taken up by the much more recent field of global intellectual history. 3 Too often, universities consider that some additional research and teaching about the world beyond Europe is enough to tackle the whiteness of the curriculum, and the research agenda in the humanities and social sciences. Urgently, we must also stare into the very core of Europe. Too much of what Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) and the Frankfurt School warned us about within Europe’s modernity has been left unscrutinized by scholars. 4 The pursuit of decolonial/global history helps us to de-centre the West in history, but it is not enough to unearth the roots of the inequalities inside the West’s intellectual universe. Multi-disciplinary research into the global past must be a part of this endeavor, but provincializing Europe is not the same task as deciphering Europe.

Born into a wealthy family in Angers, close to the Loire river in western France, Bodin studied philosophy in Paris as a junior member of the Carmelite Order, followed by law at the University of Toulouse, where he also taught. He went on to join the Bar at the Paris Parlement, and served both King Henry III and his brother, the Duke of Alençon/Anjou. 5 An advocate of humanist inquiry, with an indefatigable belief in the agency and centrality of God, 6 the Angevin wrote in a number of fields, including economics and natural theology, but his name was made by his sweeping works of universal history (Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem, 1566) and political philosophy (Les six livres de la République, 1576), together with his treatise on witchcraft (De la démonomanie des sorciers, 1580). In particular, the République, in which he set out his definition of sovereignty, was the cornerstone of his tremendous intellectual influence in Western Europe, though, of course, the trajectory of its imprint (which was far from linear or uniform) is not easily traced. 7

Some scholars have pointed to Bodin as an early example of modern racialised thought, especially in reference to his ethnological schema of humanity, in which he placed great emphasis on the influence of climate. 8 This critique belongs to a growing body of scholarship, which began in earnest in the 1990s, on race and racism in Western Europe before late modernity, from antiquity to the Enlightenment. 9 The thesis of early modern racism, and Bodin’s part in it, has, nonetheless, been challenged. 10 More significantly, this work has been resolutely ignored by the vast majority of intellectual historians and those working in political theory. Following the exemplar of Quentin Skinner, in particular, the “Cambridge School” of intellectual history has dominated the study of Renaissance political thought. 11 According to its numerous adherents, the distinguishing feature of that school is the attention paid to intellectual and political context in a given time and space. But the contexts deemed to be of interest are quite narrow; despite the vast literature on Bodin, few historians of his oeuvre have concerned themselves with race (though literary scholars have paid much more attention).

Gender has fared much better than race in Renaissance and Bodin studies. 12Over the last three decades, many have written on the mass persecution and killing of women in the war on witches, including Bodin’s hugely influential Démonomanie. However, just like race, the question of women and witchcraft is mostly dealt with as a subject apart from Bodin’s major contribution to Western European political philosophy on sovereignty and the State, 13 and even as a sort of intellectual curiosity in the writing of the most prominent figure from the “Cambridge School.” 14 In this special issue, we wish to challenge this assumption of separation. We contend that questions of difference, and, specifically, who belongs to the political community and who is excluded, were pivotal to Bodin’s model of the State, and his political philosophy.

What of political theology itself – the subject of this journal? It seems self-evident that Bodin should be an essential figure in the study of the largely hidden process of how medieval theologies influence modern political structures, as Carl Schmitt defined political theology in his landmark work of 1922; 15 “something still hung on the air from the spiritual constitution of the men of the last decades of the fifteenth century … age is past as presentness, a past merely overlaid with presentness,” to quote Thomas Mann’s narrator in Doctor Faustus. 16 Schmitt himself saw Bodin as a seminal figure in the philosophical histories of sovereignty and international law, and the basis for the work of Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and Alberico Gentili (1552–1608) in these fields. 17 The growing interest in early modernity per se among scholars of political theology has not, however, evinced a commensurate concern with Bodin in particular. 18 This neglect needs to be redressed. The Angevin is not just important because of his influence on the philosophy of the State and law. For political theology, Bodin’s significance arguably lies in his liminality – in his role as a bridge between medieval and modern, in which a new political episteme 19 of the divine (and the diabolical, as we shall see) was being worked out as a guiding frame for the establishment of temporal order. 20

We begin our special issue with Ashley Bohrer’s article, which connects Bodin’s economic thought with his works on sovereignty and witches. Writing from a materialist perspective, Bohrer argues that Bodin’s primary concern was the protection of State wealth, and that the hunting of witches, as a tool of population control, must be seen as a part of that project. Bodin’s views, as expressed in the Démonomanie, are critical to understanding his philosophy, which relies on a gendered and class-based regime of pronatalism. In contrast, Caroline Power argues against a materialist interpretation, but similarly points to the philosophical unity of Bodin’s works. Power’s argument is that the Démonomanie holds the key to the theological edifice that underpins Bodin’s ideas about political sovereignty, the universal State, and its legal order. Caroline Sherman then pursues an issue addressed in Power’s analysis: free will. Sherman demonstrates the influence of Reformation thought on Bodin, with his belief in the separation between the spiritual (the sovereign) and material domains, and the free position of humanity between the two. This state of free will was, according to Sherman, what provided the vulnerability in Bodin’s cosmology, and the possibility of subversion through witchcraft. The contribution by S. Jonathon O’Donnell homes in on the foundational theo-political function of the demonic in Bodin’s construction of the State. He argues that the idea of political sovereignty was built on the constitutive outsider that corrupts its familial basis – the diabolical (non)woman. Finally, Ryan Martínez Mitchell takes us into the realm of “international” law. While Bodin did not write explicitly about a system of law between nations, his work had implications that left a significant imprint on Western European thought in this area. Based on a framework of natural law, Bodin, Martinez Mitchell shows, positioned States as the rightful arbiters against tyrannical sovereigns, as opposed to internal rebellion, and claimed religion and legal order as the markers of state legitimacy; atheists (including demon-worshippers), bandits, pirates and anti-sovereign rebels were the enemy.

The significance and identification of the enemy in the Western European idea of the State, born out of holy wars and colonialism, internal and overseas: these must be the central concern of a new trans-disciplinary examination of intellectual history and political thought.



Sorcery and Sovereignty: Bodin’s Political Economy of the Occult

Ashley J. Bohrer

Pages: 479-495 | https://doi.org/10.1080/1462317X.2020.1730539


Witchcraft, Human Nature, and Political Theology in Jean Bodin’s de la Démonomanie des sorciers

Catherine R. Power

Pages: 496-511 | https://doi.org/10.1080/1462317X.2020.1731064


Spiritual-Material Noninterventionism: Reformed Influences on Bodin’s Political Theology

Caroline R. Sherman

Pages: 512-529 | https://doi.org/10.1080/1462317X.2020.1730541


Witchcraft, Statecraft, Mancraft: On the Demonological Foundations of Sovereignty

S. Jonathon O’Donnell

Pages: 530-549 | https://doi.org/10.1080/1462317X.2020.1759278


Jean Bodin’s Law of Nations

Ryan Martínez Mitchell

Pages: 550-569 | https://doi.org/10.1080/1462317X.2020.1800196

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