Johannes Althusius– The First Federalist

The First Federalist

Johannes Althusius

“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” –Thomas Jefferson: Declaration of Independence, 1776.

The sovereignty of the state belongs to the people. Before the American Revolution– even before Socrates and Plato– jurists and philosophers have worked to improve government. A significant contribution came from Johannes Althusius. He is best known for his work, “Politica Methodice Digesta, Atque Exemplis Sacris et Profanis Illustrata,” first published in 1603, with revisions in 1610 and 1614.

La Politica

“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[1] 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.”– Johannes Althusius, Politica, 1603, page 1.

Althusius Home, Diedenshausen

Born in Diedenshausen, Germany in 1557, he is often mistaken for being Dutch, in part because his book served as the only systematic defense of the Dutch Revolt of 1609, and because in the engraving pictured above, his stylish collar-of-the-day makes him look like a Dutch Master. Also, the city of Emden, where he was a Master (a Syndic), is close to Holland. The Encyclopaedia Britannica calls him a “German political theorist who was the intellectual father of modern federalism and an advocate of popular sovereignty.” His considerable academic career was sponsored by a local Count (Count Georg von Sayn-Wittgenstein), and in 1603, he was elected to be a municipal trustee of the city of Emden, in East Frisia. The next year, he became a city Syndic, placing him at the helm of Emden’s governance until his death in 1638.

More recently, Stanislav Maselnik, in “Althusius: A Thinker of European Federalism,” The European Strategist, writes:

Stanislav Maselik

“As the ‘F-word’ is increasingly discussed in the intellectual and political circles as a viable solution to the Eurozone crisis, it is useful to remind ourselves that there is more to federalism than the well-known model of the United States. In fact, there is an older strand of federal thought that is peculiar to Europe. And this unknown thinker whom I would like to present on the following lines can be rightly called its father. Readers will shortly discover that Althusius’s federalism is easily distinguishable from its American counterpart by its extension of the federal principles onto the society as a whole. The federation is not simply a kind of a nation-state that distributes political prerogatives between the institutions at the state and federal levels. Althusius’s European federalism goes much further below. It is already families, firms, towns and other socio-economic entities that are perceived as rightful holders of political and other rights, and who need to have a say in the decision-making of higher strata of society that contains them. This, indeed, might be precisely what is needed in building a functioning polity in such a complex social reality as we have in Europe.”

Althusius’s thoughts on federalism have been part of the design of the Israeli Kibbutz, according to Daniel J. Elazar, a writer for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, in his article, “Althusius and Federalism as Grand Design”

Daniel J. Elazar

“At the very beginning of his classic study of the Israeli kibbutz as a model for the reconstruction of society along cooperative lines, Martin Buber described the proper social order as a consociatio consociationum, deliberately selecting Johannes Althusius’ formulation as the starting point from which to develop his own realistic utopia.1 Bernard Susser has described Buber’s politics as anarcho-federalism.2 In that light it is clear why Buber found the kibbutz, as a voluntary commune, the first building block in what he hoped would be a comprehensive cooperative society linking social and political institutions in the manner described by Althusius.”

More info on Johannes Althusius can be found at:

Diedenshausen, Germany, is the ancestral home of most Hackenbrachts. 200-some years after Johannes Althusius, ancestors Johann Heinrich Hackenbracht and his bride, Fredericke Marie Spies, emmigrated from Diedenshausen to Eastern Ohio in 1848. Her mother was Anna Margarethe Althaus, whose distant ancestor may have been Johannes Althusius. Althusius is Althaus, latinized, and is of Ashkenazic origin, from altes Haus ‘old house.’

About jayhack2012

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