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Early Modern Concepts for a Late Modern World

Althusius on Community and Federalism

By Thomas O. Hueglin
Subjects Political Science
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Hardcover : 9780889203228, 275 pages, December 1999

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Early Modern Concepts for a Late Modern World: Althusius on Community and Federalism by Thomas O. Hueglin


1. Introduction: Reconstruction, Relevance, and Context

Part One: The Contextual World of Althusius’ Thought

2. Four Hundred Years of Althusius Controversy and the Need for a New Interpretation

3. The Historical Context: The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the Dutch Revolt against Spain, and the Rise of the Absolutist State

4. Theoretical Consequences: Absolutism and Territorial Centralization

5. Recourse to Alternative Traditions: Political Calvinism, Aristotle, and Germanic Communitarianism

6. The Method: Politica Methodice Digesta Exemplis Sacris & Profanis Illustrata

Part Two: The Althusian System of Politics

7. Consociation: The Principle of Political Community in a Civil Society

8. Societal Federalism: A Compound Polity of Particular and Universal Citizenship

9. Representation: Problems of Participation and Legitimacy in the Political Process

10. Subsidiarity and the Division of Powers: The Balance between Autonomy and Solidarity

11. Sovereignty: Organized Unity of Action and a Right to Civil Disobedience

Part Three: The Relevance of Althusius Today

12. Conclusion: Lineage and Affinities

Appendix A: Chronology

Appendix B: Schema




Who was Althusius, and why is the work of a seventeenth- century political theorist important in modern times?

Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) was a political theorist and a combative city politician who defended the rights of small communities against territorial absolutism. He designed a system of politics in which sovereignty would be shared and jointly exercised by a plurality of collectivities, spatial as well as social, on the basis of mutual consent and social solidarity.

Early Modern Concepts for a Late Modern World places Althusius in the context of his times and explains the main features of his political thought. It also suggests, perhaps most significantly, why his theories continue to resonate today. Hueglin’s use of sources is thorough and scrupulous. He has worked in depth in Germanic scholarship and this access to German-language sources, some of which are almost unknown to the English-speaking world, provides a new interpretation of Althusius’ theory.

With its emphasis on pluralized governance, negotiated compromise instead of majority rule, and the inclusion of the economic sphere into the political, Althusius’ theory belongs to a countertradition in Western political thought. Although it was written at the beginning of the modern age of sovereign politics, it applies to today’s search for a post-sovereign system of politics.


``The political theory of Althusius deserves a central place in the development of political thought, and Thomas Hueglin makes a compelling argument that we should pay more attention to it. He skillfully builds an intellectual bridge from the early modern epoch to our own late modern times, and his careful historical contextualization and close reading of the original Latin text succeed beautifully in demonstrating Althusius' contemporary relevance while avoiding undue modernizations. I am very happy that an excellent book-length treatment of the first modern theory combining consociationalism and federalism is now available. ''

- Arend Lijphart, University of California

``We are constantly told we need new ideas to find solutions to the challenges posed by post-modern, post-national politics. Thomas Hueglin's fascinating study gives us a window on new thinking with a difference: the radical, practical political prescriptions of an early seventeenth-century statesman grappling with the concepts of community, citizenship, federalism and subsidiarity before the sovereign state has asserted its hegemony. Some 400 years later Hueglin shows us with impeccable scholarship how relevant Althusius' views have become for constructing a post-sovereign global order. ''

- Stephen Clarkson, University of Toronto

``This is a critically important, scholarly and exceptional well presented contribution to the study of federalism, political democracy, and the history of western government. ''

- James A. Cox, Wisconsin Bookwatch

``Althusius provided the first full-scale theoretical model for the division of power between levels of government. He presented a specific type of federalism and subsidiarity, in which non-territorial groups had a constituted role, based on a particular historical experience of community. Hueglin has done a magnificent job in unearthing Althusius' original views, analyzing them in the historical and intellectual environment of his age, and in suggesting where these link up with our concerns in an increasingly post-statist world, and how they are related to twentieth-century federalist and pluralist doctrines. The result is a book of especial relevance for the postmodern world. Hueglin has combined meticulous scholarship with clarity of expression and originality of understanding. His book will enable statesmen and journalists, as well as academics and students, to deepen their understanding of community and power, and of the possible variety of federal systems, by exploring the way these were explicated by the fertile mind of Althusius in a different but far from alien culture. ''

- Antony Black, University of Dundee