The French political philosopher Jean Bodin (1529/1530-1596) influenced European intellectual history through his formulation of economic theories and of principles of good government and through his advocacy of religious tolerance in an intolerant age.
Jean Bodin was born in Angers, the son of a tailor. He received his early education in Angers and Paris as a member of the religious order of Carmelites. After leaving the monastic life, he studied and later taught law at the University of Toulouse. In 1561 he began to practice law in Paris and at about the same time published two significant books. In Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (A Method for the Easy Learning of History), Bodin attempted to determine the principles of universal law through a study of history; in Response aux paradoxes de M. Malestroit (1568; Response to the Paradoxes of Monsieur Malestroit), he contended that the revolutionary rise in prices in the 16th century was caused by the great influx of gold and silver— an analysis which has earned him a distinguished position among early modern European economists.
Bodin won the favor of King Henry III of France and of his brother, the Duke of Alençon. In 1571 he became counselor to the duke and was appointed king's attorney at Laon in 1576. In the same year he served as a delegate of the Third Estate (commoners) at the Estates General of Blois. There Bodin antagonized the clergy and nobility by favoring negotiation instead of war with the French Protestants. He also opposed the King's demand to gain additional revenue by selling public lands and royal demesnes. Because of his stand, Bodin lost favor with the King, but he continued to serve the duke.
Bodin's most famous work, Six livres de la république (1576; Six Books of the Republic), reflects his distress over the chaos in France during the Wars of Religion. The principles Bodin proposes for a well-ordered state are based on the doctrine of sovereignty. He believed the state needed one supreme authority to make and enforce law, an authority whose power was limited only by natural and divine law and by the "fundamental laws" of the land. Although he conceded that there could be different types of government, he thought monarchy the most stable because its sovereignty was not divided.
In 1583 Bodin returned to Laon as procurator to the presidial court and spent the rest of his life there. Bodin's interest turned from politics to religion, and his writings reflect this change. In La Demonomanie des sorciers (1580; The Demonomania of Witches), he advocated the burning of witches. In the Heptaplomeres (1588)—a colloquy between a Jew, a Moslem, a Calvinist, a Lutheran, a Catholic, a theist, and an epicurean—his characters eventually decide that since one religion is as good as another, they should live together in charity. In 1596 Bodin died of plague in Laon.
Further Reading on Jean Bodin
For specialized works on Bodin in English see the still-worth-while chapter in J. W. Allen, A History of Political Thought in the Sixteenth Century (1928; rev. ed. 1957); Beatrice Reynolds, Proponents of Limited Monarchy in Sixteenth Century France: Francis Hotman and Jean Bodin (1931); and Julian H. Franklin, Jean Bodin and the Sixteenth-Century Revolution in the Methodology of Law and History (1963).