Jean Bodin, ‘This Pre-Eminent Man of France’: An Intellectual Biography

Jean Bodin, ‘This Pre-Eminent Man of France’: An Intellectual Biography This book is a timely attempt to ‘fill a gap in the available literature on one of France’s most significant thinkers’. It is a learned, elegant work, coming at what is a fertile moment in Bodin studies thanks in part to the author’s recent edited volume, The Reception of Bodin; other key contributions include the Harvard Bodin Project and the recent edition of Bodin’s Démonomanie. Lloyd is clear about what we do not know about the enigmatic Bodin’s actual life: we do not know which books he owned or how he read them other than through his citations; we do not know if he was the ‘Jehan Baudin’ who was imprisoned for Reformist beliefs in 1569; where he was for the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacres; or if he was the author of the Colloquium Heptaplomeres de rerum sublimium (but Lloyd, after reviewing the critical debate, thinks he probably was). There is an appendix on the problem of identifying the real Bodin in the archive, owing to his very common name. Still, Lloyd paints a detailed picture of the educational setting of the 1540s and 1550s before Bodin’s rise to prominence and brings to light rarely discussed episodes in Bodin’s later life, such as his failures of tact in England c. 1581. Fed by such anecdotes, a compelling character portrait emerges of a man with a voracious intellect and vigorous social persona: Lloyd describes Bodin as ‘congenitally argumentative’, notes his ‘high moral tone’ in the République and that he seems to have ‘lacked the qualities of oral eloquence and engaging personality required for a legal career’; he describes too Bodin’s grandiose ambitions, and attraction to the universal, the ‘lodestar of his thought’ and the key, in Bodin’s view, to constructing a pluralist, and yet non-conflictual, religious and political framework. Lloyd is prepared to criticize Bodin as well as to praise him, writing that the Letter to Malestroit (1568) shows him ‘at his worst’, but defending him against charges of incoherence laid against the Methodus (1566) by Grafton and others; Lloyd argues that Bodin was nothing if not true to his purpose. This foreshadows the conclusion of the entire book: that Bodin more or less achieved his vast ambition of writing human, natural and divine histories and exposing the association of each with particular virtues, and spheres of law. Lloyd traces interesting links between Bodin and his contemporaries (the relationship with a key patron, Guy du Faur de Pibrac, emerges as a key thread; parallels are made with minor figures, such as François Grimaudet). Conversely, there is relatively little discussion of, or comparison with, the other pre-eminent men of his age such as Montaigne or Louis Le Roy; nor are there many women in this book, eminent or otherwise. In his remarkably succinct account of Bodin’s wide oeuvre, Lloyd strikes a good balance between attention to the major and minor works. It is pleasing to see the detailed attention to Bodin’s first publication, a translation in 1555 of a Greek poem (the Cynegetica) and discussion of a little-known late work, the Paradoxon (1591). In terms of key debates, Lloyd appropriately sets aside the question of Bodin as a harbinger of absolutism. He insists that Bodin had a ‘more positive relationship with Aristotle than he pretended’. He dismisses ideas that Bodin was either Jewish or a Judaizer, suggesting that much of what has been read as evidence of this is actually testament to Bodin’s Neoplatonist influences. There is a nuanced account of Bodin’s association with the Catholic League c. 1590. Lloyd seems interested most of all in Bodin’s religiosity, writing that ultimately Bodin did not subscribe to any one orthodoxy but rather sought to ‘strip away’ dogma of any kind. On the celebrated Six livres de la République, Lloyd insists on the ambivalence of the scope of sovereign power in Bodin’s conception of it and considers that seeing Bodin’s treatment of the magistracy as a transitional moment in political thought is overstated, but does not cite who he is disagreeing with here. Later, there is a suggestive comment on the relationship between witch-hunting and statecraft for Bodin (implicitly, then, on connections between the République and the Démonomanie) that scholars exploring connections between religion and politics might wish to see pushed further. One might have wished generally for slightly more thematic clustering (for instance on Bodin and climate) and for some discussion of aesthetics and form (for instance, regarding Bodin’s predilection for harmonic schemes and a version of the sublime). In the final sentences of this book, Lloyd cites Bodin’s view (voiced in the République) that a singularly wise and virtuous man may prove virtue itself to be stronger than any law or weapon and regrets that this sentiment did not have a greater impact on political consciousness after his death. The project of intellectual biography (recently discussed by Peter Ghosh (‘Constructing Marx in the History of Ideas’ Global Intellectual History (2017) 124–68)) lends itself to portraits of such singular men who are produced by particular contexts but somehow exceed them. More interrogation of the politics of this genre, its merits and its limitations, would be welcome; but this is an excellent example of it and will be a key reference for scholars in as many disciplines as Bodin himself sought to master. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png French History Oxford University Press

Jean Bodin, ‘This Pre-Eminent Man of France’: An Intellectual Biography

French History , Volume Advance Article (2) – May 3, 2018

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Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com
ISSN
0269-1191
eISSN
1477-4542
D.O.I.
10.1093/fh/cry014
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Abstract

This book is a timely attempt to ‘fill a gap in the available literature on one of France’s most significant thinkers’. It is a learned, elegant work, coming at what is a fertile moment in Bodin studies thanks in part to the author’s recent edited volume, The Reception of Bodin; other key contributions include the Harvard Bodin Project and the recent edition of Bodin’s Démonomanie. Lloyd is clear about what we do not know about the enigmatic Bodin’s actual life: we do not know which books he owned or how he read them other than through his citations; we do not know if he was the ‘Jehan Baudin’ who was imprisoned for Reformist beliefs in 1569; where he was for the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacres; or if he was the author of the Colloquium Heptaplomeres de rerum sublimium (but Lloyd, after reviewing the critical debate, thinks he probably was). There is an appendix on the problem of identifying the real Bodin in the archive, owing to his very common name. Still, Lloyd paints a detailed picture of the educational setting of the 1540s and 1550s before Bodin’s rise to prominence and brings to light rarely discussed episodes in Bodin’s later life, such as his failures of tact in England c. 1581. Fed by such anecdotes, a compelling character portrait emerges of a man with a voracious intellect and vigorous social persona: Lloyd describes Bodin as ‘congenitally argumentative’, notes his ‘high moral tone’ in the République and that he seems to have ‘lacked the qualities of oral eloquence and engaging personality required for a legal career’; he describes too Bodin’s grandiose ambitions, and attraction to the universal, the ‘lodestar of his thought’ and the key, in Bodin’s view, to constructing a pluralist, and yet non-conflictual, religious and political framework. Lloyd is prepared to criticize Bodin as well as to praise him, writing that the Letter to Malestroit (1568) shows him ‘at his worst’, but defending him against charges of incoherence laid against the Methodus (1566) by Grafton and others; Lloyd argues that Bodin was nothing if not true to his purpose. This foreshadows the conclusion of the entire book: that Bodin more or less achieved his vast ambition of writing human, natural and divine histories and exposing the association of each with particular virtues, and spheres of law. Lloyd traces interesting links between Bodin and his contemporaries (the relationship with a key patron, Guy du Faur de Pibrac, emerges as a key thread; parallels are made with minor figures, such as François Grimaudet). Conversely, there is relatively little discussion of, or comparison with, the other pre-eminent men of his age such as Montaigne or Louis Le Roy; nor are there many women in this book, eminent or otherwise. In his remarkably succinct account of Bodin’s wide oeuvre, Lloyd strikes a good balance between attention to the major and minor works. It is pleasing to see the detailed attention to Bodin’s first publication, a translation in 1555 of a Greek poem (the Cynegetica) and discussion of a little-known late work, the Paradoxon (1591). In terms of key debates, Lloyd appropriately sets aside the question of Bodin as a harbinger of absolutism. He insists that Bodin had a ‘more positive relationship with Aristotle than he pretended’. He dismisses ideas that Bodin was either Jewish or a Judaizer, suggesting that much of what has been read as evidence of this is actually testament to Bodin’s Neoplatonist influences. There is a nuanced account of Bodin’s association with the Catholic League c. 1590. Lloyd seems interested most of all in Bodin’s religiosity, writing that ultimately Bodin did not subscribe to any one orthodoxy but rather sought to ‘strip away’ dogma of any kind. On the celebrated Six livres de la République, Lloyd insists on the ambivalence of the scope of sovereign power in Bodin’s conception of it and considers that seeing Bodin’s treatment of the magistracy as a transitional moment in political thought is overstated, but does not cite who he is disagreeing with here. Later, there is a suggestive comment on the relationship between witch-hunting and statecraft for Bodin (implicitly, then, on connections between the République and the Démonomanie) that scholars exploring connections between religion and politics might wish to see pushed further. One might have wished generally for slightly more thematic clustering (for instance on Bodin and climate) and for some discussion of aesthetics and form (for instance, regarding Bodin’s predilection for harmonic schemes and a version of the sublime). In the final sentences of this book, Lloyd cites Bodin’s view (voiced in the République) that a singularly wise and virtuous man may prove virtue itself to be stronger than any law or weapon and regrets that this sentiment did not have a greater impact on political consciousness after his death. The project of intellectual biography (recently discussed by Peter Ghosh (‘Constructing Marx in the History of Ideas’ Global Intellectual History (2017) 124–68)) lends itself to portraits of such singular men who are produced by particular contexts but somehow exceed them. More interrogation of the politics of this genre, its merits and its limitations, would be welcome; but this is an excellent example of it and will be a key reference for scholars in as many disciplines as Bodin himself sought to master. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

French HistoryOxford University Press

Published: May 3, 2018

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