The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.


Althusius is one of the very few German authors of the period between the Reformation and the Early Enlightenment to rate a mention in recent works on political thought. This is not least due to the fact that he had been recovered during the nineteenth century by Otto von Gierke. Gierke used Althusius to support a modern 'associational' natural law and politics, illustrating the anachronistic "anticipation of modern epistemological or ethical doctrines" which the seminar sets out to rectify. What had been largely overlooked by this older approach but has been recovered during the last twenty years - primarily by Michael Behnen, Emilio Bonfatti, and Horst Dreitzel (though in scattered articles) - is the relation between Althusius' ethics, religion and political theory and practice. Horst Dreitzel has emphasised the way in which Althusius in his inaugural lecture at Herborn (Oratio Panegyrica, de necessitate, utitilitate & antiquitate scholarum) subsumed Christian doctrine under the issue of civic improvement, treated like a discipline of philosophy. For example, Christ and the Apostles are described in terms of the founders of institutions of erudition; and studying at such institutions as the Herborn Academy is described as a means of perfecting the soul and recovering its prelapsarian condition. Emilio Bonfatti has elaborated Althusius' conception of Conversatio Civile as a means of rite facere. Because Althusius included the virtues under the norms described by theology, law and politics, ethics as an independent discipline is left only with decorum: not with recte facere, but with rite facere. This finding has to be squared with Michael Behnen's research on the place of vices and virtues in Althusius' Politica, in particular the middle-chapters outlining the practical problems of magistrates dealing with subjects. Here Althusius characterises the affections of magistrates and subjects, and discusses ways of treating subjects designed to facilitate effective government. In particular, the last edition of the Politica (1614) carries out an extensive analysis of this issue, thus reflecting to some degree Althusius's work as syndic of the town of Emden from 1604, and also the struggle of the urban magistrates both against their own subjects and against the local prince. Active participation of magistrates, high and low, remained central to securing the welfare of the res publica. For this reason, insight into the problems of human vices and passions, adequate control of them in others, and sufficient shaping of them in magistrates - not least by attending educational institutions - was crucial for Althusius's understanding of own persona. But it was also central to his vision of the persona of the responsible magistrate, the vir bonus, whose successful government is inextricably linked to a vita activa and the active rule over subjects.

On this site