AND ILLUSTRATED WITH
SACRED AND PROFANE
THE GENERAL ELEMENTS OF POLITICS
Politics is the art of associating (consociandi) men for the
purpose of establishing, cultivating, and conserving social life among them.
Whence it is called 'symbiotics'. The subject matter of politics is therefore
association (consociatio), in which the symbiotes pledge
themselves each to the other, by explicit or tacit agreement, to mutual
communication of whatever is useful and necessary for the harmonious exercise
of social life.
The end of political 'symbiotic' man is holy, just, comfortable, and
happy symbiosis, a life lacking nothing either necessary or
useful. Truly, in living this life no man is self-sufficient (autarkhV), or adequately endowed by nature. For when he is
born, destitute of all help, naked and defenceless, as if having lost all his
goods in a shipwreck, he is cast forth into the hardships of this life, not
able by his own efforts to reach a maternal breast, nor to endure the harshness
of his condition, nor to move himself from the place where he was cast forth.
By his weeping and tears, he can initiate nothing except the most miserable
life, a very certain sign of pressing and immediate misfortune.
Bereft of all counsel and aid, for which nevertheless he is then in greatest
need, he is unable to help himself without the intervention and assistance of
another. Even if he is well-nourished in body, he cannot show forth the light
of reason. Nor in his adulthood is he able to obtain in and by himself those
outward goods he needs for a comfortable and holy life, or to provide by his
own energies all the requirements of life. The energies and industry of many
men are expended to procure and supply these things. Therefore, as long as he
remains isolated and does not mingle in the society of men, he cannot live at
all comfortably and well while lacking so many necessary and useful things. As
an aid and remedy for this state of affairs is offered him in symbiotic life,
he is led, and almost impelled, to embrace it if he wants to live comfortably
and well, even if he merely wants to live. Therein he is called upon to
exercise and perform those virtues that are necessarily inactive except in this
symbiosis. And so he begins to think by what means such symbiosis, from which
he expects so many useful and enjoyable things, can be instituted, cultivated,
and conserved. Concerning these matters we shall, by God's grace, speak in the
The word 'polity' has three principal connotations, as noted by
Plutarch. First it indicates the communication of right
(jus) in the commonwealth, which the Apostle calls
citizenship. Then, it signifies the manner of administering and
regulating the commonwealth. Finally, it notes the form and constitution of the
commonwealth by which all actions of the citizens are guided. Aristotle
understands by polity this last meaning.
The symbiotes are co-workers who, by the bond of an associating and
uniting agreement, communicate among themselves whatever is appropriate for a
comfortable life of soul and body. In other words, they are participants or
partners in a common life.
This mutual communication, or common enterprise, involves
(1) things, (2) services, and (3) common rights (jura) by which the
numerous and various needs of each and every symbiote are supplied, the
self-sufficiency and mutuality of life and human society are achieved, and
social life is established and conserved. Whence Cicero said, 'a political
community is a gathering of men associated by a consensus as to the right and a
sharing of what is useful.' By this communication, advantages and
responsibilities are assumed and maintained according to the nature of each
particular association. (1) The communication of things (rei) is the
bringing of useful and necessary goods to the social life by the symbiotes for
the common advantage of the symbiotes individually and collectively. (2) The
community of services (operae) is the contributing by the symbiotes of
their labours and occupations for the sake of social life. (3) The communion of
right (jus) is the process by which the symbiotes live and are ruled by
just laws in a common life among themselves.
This communion of right is called the law of association and symbiosis
(lex consociationis et symbiosis), or the symbiotic right (jus
symbioticum), and consists especially of self-sufficiency
(autarkeia), good order (eunomia), and proper discipline (eutaxia). It includes two aspects, one functioning to
direct and govern social life, the other prescribing a plan and manner for
communicating things and services among the symbiotes.
The law of association in its first aspect is, in turn, either common or
proper. Common law (lex communis), which is unchanging, indicates that
in every association and type of symbiosis some persons are rulers (heads,
overseers, prefects) or superiors, others are subjects or inferiors.
For all government is held together by imperium and subjection; in fact,
the human race started straightway from the beginning with imperium and
subjection. God made Adam master and monarch of his wife, and of all creatures
born or descendant from her. Therefore all power and government
is said to be from God. And nothing, as Cicero affirms, 'is as
suited to the natural law (jus naturae) and its
requirements as imperium, without which neither household nor city nor nation
nor the entire race of men can endure, nor the whole nature of things nor the
world itself.' If the consensus and will of rulers and subjects
is the same, how happy and blessed is their life! 'Be subject to one another in
fear of the Lord.'
The ruler, prefect, or chief directs and governs the functions of the
social life for the utility of the subjects individually and collectively. He
exercises his authority by administering, planning, appointing, teaching,
forbidding, requiring, and diverting. Whence the ruler is called rector,
director, governor, curator, and administrator. Peter Gregory says that just as
the soul presides over the other members in the human body, directs and governs
them according to the proper functions assigned to each member, and foresees
and procures whatever useful and necessary things are due each member —
some useful privately and at the same time to all or to the entire body, others
useful publicly for the conservation of social life — so also it is
necessary in civil society that one person rule the rest for the welfare and
utility of both individuals and the whole group. Therefore, as
Augustine says, to rule, to govern, to preside is nothing other than to serve
and care for the utility of others, as parents rule their children, and a man
his wife. Or, as Thomas Aquinas says, 'to govern is to lead what
is governed to its appropriate end'. And so it pertains to the
office of a governor not only to preserve something unharmed, but also to lead
it to its end. The rector and moderator so endeavours and
proceeds that he leads the people by method, order, and discipline to that end
in which all things are properly considered.
Government by superiors considers both the soul and the body of
inferiors: the soul that it may be formed and imbued with doctrine and
knowledge of things useful and necessary in human life, the body that it may be
provided with nourishment and whatever else it needs. The first responsibility
pertains to education, the second to sustentation and protection. Education
centres on the instruction of inferiors in the true knowledge and worship of
God, and in prescribed duties that ought to be performed towards one's
neighbour; education also pertains to the correction of evil customs and
errors. By the former, inferiors are imbued with a healthy knowledge of holy,
just, and useful things; by the latter, they are held firm in duty. The
responsibility for sustentation of the body is the process by which inferiors
are carefully and diligently guided by superiors in matters pertaining to this
life, and by which advantages for them are sought and disadvantages to them are
avoided. Protection is the legitimate defence against injuries
and violence, the process by which the security of inferiors is maintained by
superiors against any misfortune, violence, or injury directed against persons,
reputations, or properties, and if already sustained, then avenged and
compensated by lawful means.
The inferior, or subject, is one who carries on the business of the
social life according to the will of his chief, or prefect, and arranges his
life and actions submissively, provided his chief does not rule impiously or
Proper laws (leges propriae) are those enactments
by which particular associations are ruled. They differ in each specie of
association according as the nature of each requires.
The laws by which the communication of things, occupations, services,
and actions is accomplished are those that distribute and assign
advantages and responsibilities among the symbiotes according to the nature and
necessities of each association. At times the communication regulated by these
laws is more extensive, at other times more restricted, according as the nature
of each association is seen to require, or as may be agreed upon and
established among the members.
On the basis of the foregoing considerations, I agree with Plutarch that
a commonwealth is best and happiest when magistrates and citizens bring
everything together for its welfare and advantage, and neither neglect nor
despise anyone who can be helpful to the commonwealth. The
Apostle indeed advises us to seek and promote advantages for our neighbour,
even to the point that we willingly give up our own right, by which we guard
against misfortune, to obtain a great advantage for the other
person. For 'we have not been born to ourselves, inasmuch as our
country claims a share in our birth, and our friends a share'.
The entire second table of the Decalogue pertains to this: 'you shall love your
neighbour as yourself; 'whatever you wish to be done to you do also to others',
and conversely, 'whatever you do not wish to be done to you do not do to
others'; 'live honourably, injure no one, and render to each his
due'. Of what use to anyone is a hidden treasure, or a wise man
who denies his services to the commonwealth?
In light of these several truths, the question of which life is to be
preferred can be answered. Is it the contemplative or the active? Is it the
theoretical and philosophical life or the practical and political life?
Clearly, man by nature is a gregarious animal born for cultivating society with
other men, not by nature living alone as wild beasts do, nor wandering about as
birds. And so misanthropic and stateless hermits, living without fixed hearth
or home, are useful neither to themselves nor to others, and separated from
others are surely miserable. For how can they promote the advantage of their
neighbour unless they find their way into human society? How can
they perform works of love when they live outside human fellowship? How can the
church be built and the remaining duties of the first table of the Decalogue be
performed? Whence Keckerman rightly says that politics leads the final end of
all other disciplines to the highest point, and thus builds public from private
For this reason God willed to train and teach men not by angels, but by
men. For the same reason God distributed his gifts unevenly
among men. He did not give all things to one person, but some to one and some
to others, so that you have need for my gifts, and I for yours. And so was
born, as it were, the need for communicating necessary and useful things, which
communication was not possible except in social and political life. God
therefore willed that each need the service and aid of others in order that
friendship would bind all together, and no one would consider another to be
valueless. For if each did not need the aid of others, what would society be?
What would reverence and order be? What would reason and humanity be? Everyone
therefore needs the experience and contributions of others, and no one lives to
Thus the needs of body and soul, and the seeds of virtue implanted in
our souls, drew dispersed men together into one place. These causes have built
villages, established cities, founded academic institutions, and united by
civil unity and society a diversity of farmers, craftsmen, labourers, builders,
soldiers, merchants, learned and unlearned men as so many members of the same
body. Consequently, while some persons provided for others, and some received
from others what they themselves lacked, all came together into a certain
public body that we call the commonwealth, and by mutual aid devoted themselves
to the general good and welfare of this body. And that this was the true origin
first of villages, and then of larger commonwealths embracing wide areas, is
taught by the most ancient records of history and confirmed by daily
From what has been said, we further conclude that the efficient cause of
political association is consent and agreement among the communicating
citizens. The formal cause is indeed the association brought about by
contributing and communicating one with the other, in which political men
institute, cultivate, maintain, and conserve the fellowship of human life
through decisions about those things useful and necessary to this social life.
The final cause of politics is the enjoyment of a comfortable, useful, and
happy life, and of the common welfare — that we may live with piety and
honour a peaceful and quiet life, that while true piety toward God and justice
among the citizens may prevail at home, defence against the enemy from abroad
may be maintained, and that concord and peace may always and everywhere thrive.
The final cause is also the conservation of a human society that aims at a life
in which you can worship God quietly and without error. The material of
politics is the aggregate of precepts for communicating those things, services,
and right that we bring together, each fairly and properly according to his
ability, for symbiosis and the common advantage of the social life.
Moreover, Aristotle teaches that man by his nature is brought to this
social life and mutual sharing. For man is a more political
animal than the bee or any other gregarious creature, and therefore by nature
far more of a social animal than bees, ants, cranes, and such kind as feed and
defend themselves in flocks. Since God himself endowed each being with a
natural capacity to maintain itself and to resist whatever is contrary to it,
so far as necessary to its welfare, and since dispersed men are not able to
exercise this capacity, the instinct for living together and establishing civil
society was given to them. Thus brought together and united, some men could aid
others, many together could provide the necessities of life more easily than
each alone, and all could live more safely from attack by wild beasts and
enemies. It follows that no man is able to live well and happily to himself.
Necessity therefore induces association; and the want of things necessary for
life, which are acquired and communicated by the help and aid of one's
associates, conserves it. For this reason it is evident that the commonwealth,
or civil society, exists by nature, and that man is by nature a civil animal
who strives eagerly for association. If, however, anyone wishes not to live in
society, or needs nothing because of his own abundance, he is not considered a
part of the commonwealth. He is therefore either a beast or a god, as Aristotle
Furthermore the continuous governing and obedience in social life
mentioned earlier are also agreeable to nature. For, as Peter Gregory adds, 'to
rule, to direct, to be subjected, to be ruled, to be governed' are natural
actions proceeding from the law of nations (jus gentium). 'Anything else
would be considered no less monstrous than a body without a head, or a head
without members of the body lawfully and suitably arranged, or even lacking
them altogether. For it is especially useful to the individual member who
cannot meet his own needs to be aided and upheld by another. The better member
is said to be the one who meets his own needs, and is also able to help others.
The greater the good he communicates with others, the better and more
outstanding the member is. Then, this world has so great and so admirable a
diversity [...] that unless it be held together by some order of
subordination, and regulated by fixed laws of subjection and order, it would be
destroyed in a short time by its own confusion. Nor can the diverse parts of it
endure if each part seeks to perform its own function indifferently and
heedlessly by itself. Power set over against equal power would bring all things
to an end by continuous and irreconcilable discord, and would involve in its
ruin things that do not belong to it, and that it does not know how to
govern.' As long as each part decides to live according to its
own will, it may disregard the rule of discipline. Finally, the
conservation and duration of all things consist in this concord of order and
subjection. 'Just as from lyres of diverse tones, if properly tuned, a sweet
sound and pleasant harmony arise when low, medium, and high notes are united,
so also the social unity of rulers and subjects in the state produces a sweet
and pleasant harmony out of the rich, the poor, the workers, the farmers, and
other kinds of persons. If agreement is thus achieved in society, a
praiseworthy, happy, most durable, and almost divine concord is produced. [...]
But if all were truly equal, and each wished to rule Others according to his
own will, discord would easily arise, and by discord the dissolution of
society. There would be no standard of virtue or merit, and it follows that
equality itself would be the greatest inequality', as Peter Gregory rightly
asserts. Hence, when this harmony of rulers and subjects ceases,
and there are no longer servants and leaders, such a situation is considered to
be among the signs of divine wrath.
I add to this that it is inborn to the more powerful and prudent to
dominate and rule weaker men, just as it is also considered inborn for
inferiors to submit. So in man the soul dominates the body, and the mind the
appetites. So the male, because the more outstanding, rules the female, who as
the weaker obeys. Thus, the pride and high spirits of man should be restrained
by sure reins of reason, law, and imperium less he throw himself precipitously
1. [symbiotici: those who live together.]
2. [symbiosis: living together.]
3. [This sentence and the previous one are taken without acknowledgment
from Juan Mariana, The King and His Education, I, 1.]
4. 'On Monarchy, Democracy, and Oligarchy,' pars. 2 and 3. [Plutarch
refers therein to polity as citizenship, as statecraft, and as forms of
5. [There is no precise English counterpart for the Latin word
jus (pl. jura) as employed by Althusius. Often it means 'right'
(e.g., jus coercendi — right to coerce), sometimes 'law' (e.g.,
jus naturale — natural law), and upon occasion even 'authority',
'responsibility', 'power', 'legal order', 'structure', or 'justice'. It also
functions in many instances as a Janus-headed word eluding the capacity of any
single English term to express (e.g., jura regni — rights and laws
of the realm). Notations in text and footnotes have therefore been made from
time to time to assist the reader in observing its complex usage. The general
rule employed throughout is to translate jus as 'right' wherever possible, to
indicate by notation all places where jus has been translated by some other
term, and to insert occasional footnotes that provide variant translations in
critical places where the full meaning of jus cannot be expressed by a single
English word. In keeping with this rule, 'right' will henceforth be the most
frequent translation (usually without notation) of jus. (Unless noted,
'law' will always be a translation of lex.) The reader should be on
guard, however, not to attribute too readily to Althusius' understanding of
'right' the connotation of a self-evident system of 'public right' or the
notion of 'inalienable rights' of men or associations.]
6. Philippians 3: 20.
7. Politics, 1276b 17-1277b 4; 1293a
8. [communicatio: a sharing, a making common. Althusius sometimes
uses communion (communio) and community (koinwnia) interchangeably with communication.]
9. The Republic, I, 25.
10. [the fundamental law of living together; the demand that social life
make upon men both by its nature and by their agreement. This demand has some
elements common to all associations, and others proper to various species of
association (family, collegium, city, province, and commonwealth). In this
chapter it is usually called the law of association (lex
consociationis), but in later chapters symbiotic right (jus
symbioticum) is the more common expression.]
11. Genesis 1: 26 f.; 3: 16; Ecclesiasticus 17.
12. Romans 13.
13. [Althusius employs jus naturae (or naturale)
interchangeably with lex naturae (or naturalis). Both expressions
are henceforth translated as 'natural law'.]
14. Laws, III, 1.
15. Ephesians 5: 21.
16. De republica, I, 1, 18 f. [I, 1, 8 and 10 in the 1609
17. The City of God, XIX, 15 [XIX, 14 in the Modern Library edition].
See also Seneca, Letters, num. 91 [num. 90 in the Loeb edition]; Marius
Salomonius, De principatu, II; Giovanni Botero, The Greatness of Cities,
18. On Princely Government, I, 13 and 14.
19. Or, as Jerome Osorius says, to rule is to direct toward the right
end. De regis institutione, I.
20. 'Whoever presides, let him preside with care.' Romans 12: 8. 'If
anyone does not take responsibility for his own, and especially those of his
own household, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.' I
Timothy 5: 8.
21. [as contrasted with common law (lex communis), discussed in
the last four paragraphs.]
22. [the second aspect of the law of association.]
22. 'Sayings of Kings and Magistrates,' [1st par.]
24. Philippians 2: 4-6; I Corinthians 10: 24; 12: 25 f.; Galatians 1: 3,
5; 5: 14; Romans 12: 18, 20; 13: 8, 10.
25. Cicero, Duties, I, 7.
26. Matthew 22: 39; 7: 12. [Shabbath 31a; Digest I, 1, 10,
27. See Ecclesiastes 4: 5-8 and the Commentarius thereon of Francis
Junius, in which are indicated the benefits of social life.
28. Bartholomew Keckerman, Systema disciplinae politicae.
29. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV, 3, 1.
30. Opposed to this judgment is the life and teaching of recluses,
monks, and hermits, who defend their error and heresy by an erroneous appeal to
Luke 1: 80; 10: 41; Hebrews 11: 38; I Kings 19: 8. But scripture places this
kind of life among its maledictions. Deuteronomy 28: 64, 65; Psalms 107 and
144; Code X, 32, 26. Note also that a wandering and vagabond life was imposed
upon Cain in punishment for his fratricide. Genesis 4: 14.
30. Politics, 1252a 24-1253a 38.
31. Politics, 1253a 31.
32. [Bracketed elision marks, wherever found in this translation,
indicate an unacknowledged omission by Althusius in a quotation from another
33. Peter Gregory, De republica, XIX; I, 1, 7 and 16 f.; I, 3, 12 f. [In
the 1609 edition the precise quotation is found in VI, 1, 1 f., although the
other passages indicated by Althusius are also generally relevant to the
discussion. Note, however, that Gregory says that 'to rule, to direct, to be
subjected, to be ruled, to be governed are agreeable to the natural law (jus
naturae), and are consistent with the divine law (jus divinum), the
human law of nations (jus gentium), and civil law (jus civile).
Anything else etc.'.
Also to be noted is that Althusius will have nothing to do, here or
elsewhere, with Gregory's often repeated division of the corporeal world into
four elements (earth, water, air, and fire), and therefore omits them from the
quotation rather than attributing the diversity of the world to them, as
Gregory does. Although these four elements recur throughout his De
republica, Gregory's best discussion of them is found in his legal work,
Syntagma juris universi, I, 1-9.
Finally, the sentence immediately after this quotation is in large part
borrowed, following Gregory, from Cassiodorus, Variarum, 16.]
34. The absence of a ruler is held to be the root of evils in Judges 17:
6 and 21: 25. The same is considered to be a punishment in Isaiah 3. [These
Biblical passages are also cited in Gregory, De Republica, VI, 1,
35. Ibid., VI, 1, 5. [Gregory acknowledges no source for his comparison
of social with musical harmony, but the same comparison in almost identical
words is found in Cicero, The Republic, II, 42, and Augustine, The City of God,
II, 21. Earlier Plato had compared the harmony of the inward man with musical
harmony in The Republic, IV, 443. In the sixteenth century Francis Hotman also
employed this comparison, attributing it to Plato by way of Cicero. See his
Franco-gallia (1573), 10 or (1586), 12.]