Samuel Pufendorf

De Officio Hominis Et Civis
Juxta Legem Naturalem
Libri Duo


A German Calvinist, Pufendorf was the political theorist of choice among American Puritans in the early 18th century.

Author's Preface

It is evident that there are three sources of man's knowledge of his duty, of what he is to do in this life because it is right and of what his is to omit because it is wrong: 1) the light of reason, 2) the civil laws, and 3) the particular revelation of the Divinity. From the first flow the most common duties of a man, particularly those which render him capable of society with other men; from the second flow the duties of a man as a citizen living in a particular and definite state; from the third, the duties of a Christian.

...From this it follows that as human jurisdiction is concerned only with man's external actions and does not penetrate to what is hidden in the heart1 and gives no external effect or sign, and consequently takes no account of it, natural law too is largely concerned with forming men's external actions. For moral theology, however, it is not enough to mold men's external conduct to propriety. It's chief task is to conform the mind and its internal motions to the will of God; and it condemns actions which seem externally to be correct but which proceed from an impure heart. This also seems to be the reason why there is less discussion in the Holy Scripture about actions which are judged and penalized in the human court than about those which in Seneca's words are "beyond the scope of the statutes." This is very clear to those who have closely studied the precepts and virtues taught by Scripture... It is on this basis that the true lines of distinction between natural law as we teach it and moral theology become, in my opinion, perfectly clear. And it also becomes clear that natural law is not at all in conflict with the dogmas of true theology...

On Man's Duty to God, or on Natural Religion

Of all the notions which everyone must hold about God, the first is a settled conviction that God exists, that is, that there really is a supreme and first being on whom this universe depends. This has been most plainly demonstrated by philosophers from the subordination of causes which must find an end in some first thing, from motion, from reflection on the fabric of the universe, and by similar arguments. Claiming not to understand these arguments is no excuse for atheism. For since this conviction has been a constant possession of the whole human race, anyone who wished to overthrow it would not only have to produce a solid refutation of all the arguments which prove God's existence, but also come forth with convincing reasons for his own position. At the same time, since the salvation of the human race has been believed hitherto to depend on this conviction, he would also have to show that atheism would be better for the human race than to maintain a sound worship of God. Since this cannot be done, we must heartily detest and severely punish the impiety of all who make any attempt whatever to shatter that conviction.

The second notion is that God is the Creator of this universe. For since it is self-evident that all this world did not come into existence of itself, it must have a cause and that cause is what we call God.

On the Impulsive Cause of Constituting the State

We must now investigate why men have not been content with those first small associations, but have constituted large associations which go by the name of states. For this is the basis from which we must derive the justification of the duties which go with men's civil state.

Man is obviously an animal that loves himself and his own advantage in the highest degree. It is undoubtedly therefore necessary that in freely aspiring to civil society he has his eye on some advantage coming to himself from it...

Therefore the true and principal cause why heads of households abandoned their natural liberty and had recourse to the consitution of states was to build protection around themselves against the evils that threated man from man. For just as, after God, man may do more good for his fellow-man than anything else, so he may do most harm. And they judge rightly of evil men, and the remedy of that evil, who formulated the saying: "Without courts of law, men would devour each other."

But after men had been brought into order by means of states, and so could be safe from injuries from each other, the natural consequence followed of a richer enjoyment of the benefits which tend to come to man from his fellows; for example, the advantage that they are steeped from their earliest years in more suitable habits of behaviour and discover and develop the various skills by which human life has benn improved and enriched.

This account of the origin of states does not imply that civil authority is not rightly said to be of God. For God will that all men practice natural law, but with the multiplication of mankind such a horrid life was likely to ensue for men that there would scarcely have been a place left for natural law. And therefore (since he who commands the end is held also to command the necessary means to that end), God too, is understood to have given prior command to the human race, mediated through the dictates of reason, that when it had multiplied, states should be constituted, which are so to speak brought to life by sovereign power. In the Holy Scriptures too He expressly gives His approval to their order and assures the sanctity of that order by special laws and so demonstrates His particular concern for it.

On the Duty of Sovereigns

This is the general rule for sovereigns: the safety of the people is the supreme law. For authority has been given to them to achieve the end for which states were instituted. Princes must believe that nothing is good for them privately which is not good for the state.

De Jure Naturae
Samuel Puffendorf (1672)

On the Sanctity of the Supreme Civil Sovereignty

No sensible person doubts that it is wrong to resist sovereigns so long as they stay within the limits of their authority. For it is apparent from the end and character of sovereignty that there should necessarily be conjoined with it an obligation not to resist, that is, to obey without reluctance by doing or omitting that which it enjoins. On the other hand, it is a subject of the greatest debate whether a supreme sovereign, if he should order a subject to do something beyond what is right, or threaten some kind of injury, would then also be sacrosanct that the subject could in no way repel that injury by means of force.

Now a prince owes individual citizens permission to enjoy the same right as others of their rank, as well as defense and the administration of justice on their behalf, insofar as this can be done while the state remains safe. If a prince does not provide these things to individuals when the circumstances of the commonwealth lead them to expect them, he surely does them an injury...

A prince can violate the duty of a man toward single individuals in different ways. Consider, for instance, if he... pollutes the bedchambers of others through his adulteries; if he harms another's body, seizes his goods, or ruins him; if, at last, he takes the life of an innocent person through sheer violence, by suborning false accusers, or by getting judges (by means of promises) to hand down an unjust sentence, and other similar things...

Here we suppose that since all authority conferred upon someone is understood with the condition that the right of a superior is preserved, the citizens... are therefore not bound by commands of the civil sovereignty known to clash openly with the mandate of God...

A people can defend itself against the extreme as well as unjust force of a prince, which defense, when it has succeeded, is accompanied by freedom. This is because a master, in becoming an enemy, seems himself to absolve a subject from any obligation toward himself, so that the latter is thereafter not bound to return under the yoke even if the former wishes to change his mind.

1. Explicated in Luther's On Secular Authority.