An Introduction to 16th Century Political Thought

Table of Content

                        Political thought during the 16th century centered on the concept of the modern state, which replaced the idea of ‘two cities’, which dominated the Medieval Period. In the middle of the 1400s, the Middle Ages focused on the establishment of a modern republic within the Italian city state. However, support for the concept declined as autocratic systems are emerging in the central and northern regions as well as the rebirth of feudal and monarchial states in the southern portions (Liceo Scientifico Marconi, “Political Thought in the 16th century”).

            Political philosophy in the 16th century was triggered by the work of Nicollo Machiavelli. Sixteenth century political thought centered on the prince, characterized by ethical implications and unique virtues. This was the stepping stone for Nicollo Machiavelli, who believes that the state determines politics (Liceo Scientifico Marconi, “Political Thought in the 16th century”).

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The Importance of the State

            The concept of ‘ragion di stato’ which underscores the ultimate worth of the state. This was explicitly elaborated on by Machiavelli. There were significant contributions from Jean Bodin, Piedmont Giovanni Botero, and many others. Towards the conclusion of the 16th century, northern Europe saw the rise in juridical-naturalistic thoughts (Liceo Scientifico Marconi, “Political Thought in the 16th century”).

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Jean Bodin

            Lawyer, economist, historian, natural philosopher Jean Bodin was among the principal political thinkers that flourished in the 16th century.  His most important book entitled “The Six Books of the Commonwealth,” which he wrote in 1576 embodied the overall legal and political thoughts of the Renaissance in France (Turchetti, “Jean Bodin”).

            Bodin’s main influence in 16th century political thought is the sovereign state. According to him, sovereignty has an influence in the internal and external affairs of the state. He said that sovereignty is the highest form of power over the people in a Commonwealth (Turchetti, “Jean Bodin”).

            In his discussion of sovereignty, Bodin explained that tyranny is a justifiable in certain instances. For example, if there are forces that threaten the sovereignty of the state, then tyranny is justifiable (Turchetti, “Jean Bodin”).

            Jean Bodin likewise differentiated the various forms of government. According to him, monarchial rule is one wherein authority emanates from a single ruler; aristocracy, for Bodin, is a government run by a few while in a democracy, the sovereign power comes from the citizens. However, Bodin reiterated that a monarchial government can become democratic if the magistrates and state offices are accessible to its people. On the other hand, it can be aristocratic if chosen people are given state powers (Turchetti, “Jean Bodin”).

            In his study, Bodin said that knowledge of the different kinds of government is important in distinguishing between royal, despotic, and tyrannical monarchies (Turchetti, “Jean Bodin”).

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Giovanni Botero

                        Giovanni Botero is best known for his work entitled The Reason of the State which was released in 1589. His work directly contradicted the belief of  Nicolo Machiavelli  (Nation,  “Giovanni Botero”).

            Although he disagrees with Bodin’s political philosophy on sovereignty, Botero was influenced by Bodin’s  Six Books of a Republic. His concept of political economy was more liberal compared to the concept of Bodin(Nation,  “Giovanni Botero”).

            For Botero, the prince could only get involved in trade on the following premises: 1) if private individuals had no means to afford it; 2) if a single individual would gain enough power; 3) if there was insufficient supply and that the situation would require the intervention of the prince. Eventually, Botero believed that the citizens would become the primary force in the economy of the state(Nation,  “Giovanni Botero”).

Politics and Thomas Hobbes

            Thomas Hobbes spearheaded the dawning of modern political thinking. He ignited debates about the basics of politics towards the present time. He addressed such issues as human actions need to be justified. Hobbes also believed that every human being should be given equal rights (Williams, “Thomas Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy”).

            Aside from his connection to philosophical thinking, Hobbes was also a scientist, mathematician, classical translator, and law writer. However, it was in his political thoughts that gave Hobbes so many accolades(Williams, “Thomas Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy”).

            According to Hobbes, man is completely helpless and needy. As humans try to find their way in society, they will most likely commit errors because of their fragility and viability for errors(Williams, “Thomas Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy”).

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            For Hobbes, man’s present life offers  little expectations. According to him, living in peace in an authoritarian society is the best that man can look forward to. His principle of “natural condition” depicts a violent, insecure, and constantly dangerous state(Williams, “Thomas Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy”).

            Furthermore, Thomas Hobbes believes that sovereignty can only work if the citizens have more motivation aside from their self-interest(Williams, “Thomas Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy”).

Hugo Grotius

            Born on April 10, 1583, Hugo Grotius is recognized for important works such as Pontifex Romanus, which is a compilation of six essays discussing current political events. He was an acclaimed writer who wrote and edited close to 60 book-length works and different smaller works (Miller, “Hugo Grotius”).

            According to Grotius, obligations are innate in man being rational, social, and self-preserving. Aside from that, Grotius believed that man’s essence is not static but is constantly moving depending on their abilities and activities. This is seen in his understanding of rights. He believes that rights are transferable(Miller, “Hugo Grotius”).

            Grotius likewise attempted to find out where the state is obtaining its power. There are two common sources regarding this. One, Grotius believes that it was God who established the state and He sanctioned its authority. The second source is that because of its power, the state has the right to govern(Miller, “Hugo Grotius”).

            For Grotius, the authority of the state emanates from private individuals and is a product of collective agreement. The power of the state is not given by God or from force but from the willful transfer of individual rights. In addition, Grotius believes that individual and groups of persons have rights(Miller, “Hugo Grotius”).

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Samuel Pufendorf

            Samuel Pufendorf is best known for his work entitled “On The Duty of Man and Citizen” published in 1673. He was the son of a clergyman and Pufendorf had an interest in entering the church as well but in a university. However, he foregoes this plan and instead became a university teacher and advisor to kings and aristocrats. His application to enter Law School was rejected. In response to that action, Pufendorf criticized German lawyers about its constitution (Classic Encyclopedia, “Samuel Pufendorf”).

            One of Pufendorf’s greatest ideas is that natural law does not go beyond the boundaries of man’s life and that it is confined within the constantly regulated external acts. He disagreed with Hobbes’ belief about the concept of the state instead, he cam up with the conclusion that the nature of war is peace. He believes that the peaceful nature of the state is unstable which means that if it is not supported then there is nothing much that man can do(Classic Encyclopedia, “Samuel Pufendorf”).

            Another contention of Pufendorf is that the will of the state is a collection of the will of the citizens. He likewise introduced in his works the “collegial” theory. This theoretical concept distinguishes the inherent power of the state over ecclesiastical matters and ecclesiastical power. This was the first theory that emphasized on the difference between church and state(Classic Encyclopedia, “Samuel Pufendorf”).


            The likes of Pufendorf, Hobbes, Botero, and Bodin characterized political thought in the 16th century. Their individual works focused on the influence of political affairs on the state.

            Bodin believed that the sovereignty is the ultimate power and that it has a huge impact on the internal and external affairs of the state. He believed that tyranny is justifiable if the sovereignty of the state is being threatened.

            Giovanni Botero, on the other hand, based his works on Jean Bodin’s Six Books of a Republic. For him, the state can use their sovereignty on three conditions: if an individual cannot afford it, if entities become too powerful from the benefits they gained from the trade, and if there is insufficient supply of trade.

            Thomas Hobbes, meanwhile, feels that man needs help because they are fragile. Aside from that, he believes that the success of sovereignty is determined by the individual’s motivation.

            Hugo Grotius said that the sovereignty of the state comes from private citizens and from their collective consensus. For him, God did not grant the sovereignty of the state but is a result of the willful transfer of individual rights.

            Finally, Samuel Pufendorf  introduced the concept of “collegial powers” which means that the state has jurisdiction over ecclesiastical affairs and ecclesiastical powers.

            These are the various political thoughts that have made the sixteenth century a very long period.

Works Cited

“Giovanni Botero”. Nation 27 July 2008. <>

Miller, Jon. “Hugo Grotius”. 16 December 2005. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 27 July 2008. <>

 “Political Thought in the 16th century”. Liceo Scientifico G. Marconi. 27 July 2008. <>

“Samuel Pufendorf”. 2006 October 6. Classic Encyclopedia. 27 July 2008. <>

Turchetti, Mario. “Jean Bodin”. 12 December 2006. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 27 July 2008. <>

Williams, Garrath. “Thomas Hobbes Moral and Political Philosophy”. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 27 July 2008. <>

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An Introduction to 16th Century Political Thought. (2016, Oct 23). Retrieved from

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