Althusius’s Societal Federalism: A model for the EU?

Johannes Althusius

Many supporters of the European integration strongly believe in a kind of federalism that would be closer to European citizens, more transparent, and more representative of Europe’s plurality of communities than is the case under the current form of the European Union. The problem obviously arises in the moment when it is necessary to pin down these abstract proposals to a more concrete federal model that would embody them. This article will try to show that when approaching this task, we can gain much if we explore the very roots of the federalist thought as they are found in the work of an early modern political thinker Johannes Althusius. As we will discover below, Althusius’s federalism presents a ‘bottom-up’, dynamic, participatory, consensual, and solidarist alternative to that static federal model, which is popular in our modern times.

Let us first briefly start with the life of Johannes Althusius (1557-1638) himself. Besides being a jurist and prolific Calvinist political thinker, Althusius was engaged in active politics of the city of Emden. As a syndic of that city, he had become the main instigator of the arrest of the city’s provincial lord, count of Eastern Frisia, by Emden’s city councillors that transpired on 7 December 1618. Althusius vigorously defended the councillors’ decision as a ‘legitimate act of self-defence and resistance’ against the provincial lord’s infringements on the city’s rights, considering it an ultimate resolve ‘warranted under every natural and secular law’.[1] As will become apparent with the discussion of his work, the right of resistance to tyranny of a government that does not respect the rule of law is a key part of his federal thought.[2] His most famous work Politica Methodice Digesta (Politics Methodically Digested, first published in 1603), which will be taken here as the main source of Althusius’s federal thought, in a similar vein justifies the right of the Dutch provinces to secede from the crown lands of the Spanish ruler.

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The Idea of Europe in the work of Denis de Rougemont and the French non-conformists

Denis de Rougemont was a main thinker of the so-called non-conformistes des années trente, a movement of young intellectuals that appeared in France at the beginning of the turbulentcover 1930s, in opposition to both the individualism of liberalism and the collectivism of the Soviet Russia. [1] The main bulk of their work was published between 1930-34 and was concentrated around three separate currents:

  • The founders and members of L’Ordre nouveau. An intellectual movement established by the Russian migrant Alexandre Marc (born in 1904 in Odessa as Aleksander Markovitch Lipiansky), its goal was to prepare the conditions for a ‘spiritual rebirth’ of the European culture. Its effort was concentrated on going beyond such dualistic divisions as nationalism-internationalism and capitalism-communism. Its inspirations came, among other sources, from the Christian existentialism of Kierkegaard, the federalism of Proudhon, the great critique of Modernity Nietzsche, or from the historicism of Péguy. The thinkers who were a part of L’Ordre nouveau also included Robert Aron, Arnaud Dandieu, Daniel-Rops, Jean Jardin and finally Denis de Rougemont.
  • The Catholic revue L’Esprit of Emmanuel Mounier, founded in 1932. From the beginning it evolved in tight collaboration with L’Ordre nouveau. In reaction to the events of the Second World War it radically shifted to the political left , in order to slowly move back to more moderate positions of the ‘New Left’, under which it still publishes to this date.
  • Young thinkers of Jeune Droite, who were mostly dissidents of the French reactionary and monarchistic right Açtion française. These thinkers included Jean de Fabrègues, Jean-Pierre Maxence and Thierry Maulnier.

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