Archive Civic Polity Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Simon Kennedy

Althusius on the role of ruler

In his Politca, Althusius says the following about the ruler:

The ruler, prefect, or chief directs and governs the functions of the social life for the utility of the subjects individually and collectively … Petrus Gregorius says that just as the soul presides over the other members in the human body, directs and governs them according to the proper functions assigned to each member, and foresees and procures whatever useful and necessary things are due to each member … so also it necessary that in civil society that one person rule the rest for the welfare and utility of both individuals and the whole group.1

Althusius here makes a distinction between general and particular goods. The ruler is to have a mind to both the individual case, and the entire population within his jurisdiction. As is very characteristic of Althusius, he then quotes a number of sources to bolster his case. And he is notably irenic. First Augustine from City of God:

Therefore, as Augustine says, to rule, to govern, to preside is nothing other than to serve and care for the utility of others, as parents rule their children, and man his wife.2

And finally, Thomas from On Princely Government:

Or, as Thomas Aquinas says, “to govern is to lead what is governed to its appropriate end.” And so it pertains to the office of governor not only to preserve something unharmed, but also to lead it to its end.3

Government is not simply about leaving things be, although perhaps in this day and age we could use more of this. But it is also considered by Althusius to be a governing force. It shapes and molds for the good.

  1. Politica, trans. Frederick S. Carney, p.20, I.13
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., pp. 20–21

By Simon Kennedy

Simon is a PhD candidate at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Queensland. He resides in Geelong, Victoria with his wife and four children.