After reading this article you will learn about the bio, life and political ideas of Samuel Pufendorf.
Life and Works of Samuel Pufendorf:
Samuel Pufendorf was born near Chemnitz in Saxony on January 8, 1632. In the same year Spinoza and Locke were born. His parents were devoted to Lutheran theology.
At an early age he was sent to the University of Leipzig to study theology. But the narrowness of religion created apathy in his mind against religion and he rebelled. Pufendorf left Leipzig and went to the University of Jena where he studied jurisprudence.
After completing his study at Jena, he went out in search of a teaching post which he failed to get. Because of political turmoil he was sent to jail where he spent eight months. In order to free himself from the drudgery of solitude he engaged his mind to the serious study of philosophy and other related subjects and the solitary life in jail opened new vistas of thought.
Being released from jail Samuel Pufendorf went to Holland and joined the University of Leyden, where he showed the manuscript on Two Books on the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence to some of his friends and urged upon them to publish it.
This was published in 1660. Immediately after the publication of the book the attention of the intellectual circles was drawn to the scholarship and wisdom of Pufendorf. All on a sudden he sprang into prominence.
After the publication of the book the University of Heidelberg appointed him to the newly created post of professorship in natural and international law.
After the publication of the above-noted book his luck began to show favour and the first instance was that he was invited by the king of Sweden to join the professorship at the University of Lund. While at the University of Lund Pufendorf published his famous book Eight Books on the Law of Nature and of Nations. From Sweden he went to Stockholm to take the post of royal historiographer.
This change in occupation curtailed his interest in jurisprudence and the enrichment of the subject at the hands of a renowned scholar ceased. This is a great loss. He became an archivist and historian. But the world remembers Pufendorf as a great scholar of international law and jurisprudence. He held the post of historiographer until his death in 1694.
In order to understand the political ideas of Samuel Pufendorf we shall have to go through his Elements of Universal Jurisprudence. His other treatise The Law of nature and of Nations is also important. But it is an elaboration of the contents of Elements.
In these two books, Samuel Pufendorf has said little new or original. Of course he has acknowledged his debt to Hugo Grotius, the propounder of international law, and Thomas Hobbes, the great author of social theory.
Political Ideas of of Samuel Pufendorf:
1. The State of Nature and Law of Nature:
The starting point of Samuel Pufendorf’s political and philosophical analysis is the state of nature. The term state of nature may be used in two senses.
According to the interpretation of Dunning the first sense is the residual attributer of the concept humanity, when abstraction is made of the qualities and conditions which are due to civilization and enlightenment.
The second sense designates an actual condition which has prevailed at sometime among each of the various races of men, though not necessarily among all at the same time. In the Law of Nature and of Nations Samuel Pufendorf defines the state of nature as a condition in which there is no civil or political organisation, though in a qualified sense the term may be applied to the relation of families or states that have no common superior.
The state of nature is a wretched and intolerable condition, but not a permanent state of war as Hobbes imagined. In his own words – His state of nature is in-between absolute disorder and anarchy and abode of heavenly peace. Due to the absence of civilized law and administration normalcy in life and living was absent.
“The state of nature is a condition of liberty, but must have been uncomfortable and dangerous. Nature itself wishes there to be some cognatio between men enjoining them not to kill, but rather to assist one another, but this cognatio has little effect among those living in natural liberty. Therefore, though a man need not treat his neighbour as his enemy, he must nevertheless regard him as an uncertain friend”.
So in the view of Pufendorf the state of nature is not characterized by indiscriminate war but by peace. But there is a dark side of the state of nature to which Pufendorf does not forget to draw our attention.
The state of nature is not a state of perpetual and absolute peace. From the above passage of Pufendorf it is obvious that in his judgment the people of the state of nature did not feel comfort and were not free from danger. From the picture of state of nature depicted by Pufendorf it is clear that people ever primarily moved or guided by passions and unreasonable motives and all these created some troubles and problems.
In the state of nature prevails the law of nature which acts as a brake to the indiscriminate behaviour of men meted out to others. What is the law of nature? In his definition of the law of nature Pufendorf follows Hugo Grotius.
It is the dictate of right reason determining what is right and wrong in human conduct. Like Hobbes he has conceived that the first law of nature is that a pacific and social life must be maintained.
That is, self-interest is the working principle of the law of nature. We thus find that in his analysis of the law of nature Pufendorf has combined the views of Grotius and Hobbes. But in one respect he has departed from Grotius and leaned to Hobbes.
The distinction made by Grotius between the law of nature and law of nations has been rejected by Pufendorf. He shares Hobbes’s dictum that the law of nature and law of nations are the same thing.
Samuel Pufendorf holds as against Hobbes that men are naturally sociable and this sociability or natural inclination to join societies is the foundation of the law of nature and necessary conditions for forming society. We shall now turn to that.
2. Social Compact:
Samuel Pufendorf has argued that the sociable nature of man was the primary cause of the formation of the society but it was not the only cause.
Due to certain problems and unavoidable conditions the life of the people of the state of nature was not quite comfortable and peaceful. People of that situation sought a way out.
The primitive people knew it very well that by forming a civil society and becoming its member they would have to sacrifice their natural liberty. They would get something as members of society and simultaneously lose something as individuals.
So the genuine and chief reason why the partiarchs abandoned their natural liberty and formed states was in order to provide safeguards against the injuries which men may suffer at the hands of their neighbours.
Somehow the people of the state of nature came to the conclusion that the formation of a civil society based on contract could fulfill their requirement that is availability of safeguards against the misuse of power resulting in injuries and miseries. People regarded the civil society as a powerful weapon to fight the uncalled for behaviour of some persons.
Men of the state of nature decided to form a new social order or society which would give them permanent relief from the problems of state of nature. They thought that a mechanism was required and that was social compact.
The state is created by a contract and according to Pufendorf this is the first contract. People have finalized the terms and conditions of the contract unanimously and the dissenting voice will remain outside the contract as well as the civil society. But only one contract is not sufficient.
So they have made another and this is between the individuals as members of the corporate body and the would-be ruler. By enunciating the idea of double contract Pufendorf departs from Hobbesian concept of contract where there is the provision of only one contract.
His doctrine of double contract is characterized by liberalism or republicanism. The government contract reveals his anti-monarchic feeling. The king will have no scope to resort to arbitrary rule.
Contract with the ruler imposes limitations upon the activities of the monarch. There is another aspect of his republican philosophy.
The first contract is based upon the consent of each individual. These rules out the possibility or existence of coercion. Men are convinced of the utility of the contract. They are further convinced that only the state can bring about security and welfare.
The government also promises to promote the common welfare of the body-politic. Sovereignty of Pufendorf resembles that of Grotius and not of Hobbes. His sovereignty is supreme (summus) but not absolute (absolutus).
Sovereignty performs his functions within the limitation imposed by the corporate body.
What are the limitations?
(a) The laws of God and of nature,
(b) Custom and ancient usage,
(c) Duties of the sovereignty are determined by the contract and, finally, laws are to be interpreted not by the king but by the sane and intelligent persons.
Let us summaries Pufendorf’s views of double contract theory:
“Pufendorf argued that the creation of political authority involves not merely one agreement and a gift but two agreements. Once, heads of the families create an association through a contractual agreement specifying that they will seek a form of common leadership that will ensure their safety. Two, the members of the association issue a decree stipulating the form of government they think will secure this end. Three, the association enters into an agreement with a person or persons upon whom they confer sovereign power”.
Pufendorf’s agreement is reciprocal. The people undertake to obey the sovereign and to cooperate with him on the condition that the sovereign will make all arrangements for the safety of the state and their own safety. The sovereign will exercise power in accordance with conditions and constraints of the contract.
Conclusion to the Political Ideas of Samuel Pufendorf:
Samuel Pufendorf does not give any cognizance to the time-old divine right theory which was in past very popular. His love for republican thought led him to build up a theory of popular sovereignty which means that the power of sovereignty it derives from the people. This view found its place in Rousseau. A very interesting aspect of Pufendorf’s thought is that the authority is always accountable to the general mass.
This, we know, constitutes the main pillar of republicanism. We say that through the instrumentality of social compact Pufendorf has built up the foundation of liberalism and republicanism.
His another credit is he has freed political thought from the closed compartment of religion and has made people the supreme authority.
Pufendorf’s contract is individualist in nature. He has made the consent of everyone as essential. But like Locke he is persuasive, coercion plays no role in his thought system. Considering the utility of the civil society people will agree on its formation. This view brings Pufendorf nearer to Locke.
The civil society and its constitution are both democratic. His concept of safety lacks clarification. But it is not difficult for us to understand what he means. In the state of nature there were several uncertainties and one such related to liberty?
So we can easily surmise that men have formed society to protect their liberty. We thus come to the conclusion that through the social contract theory, Pufendorf maintains the liberal or republican tradition of the seventeenth century. In no sense he can be called an advocate of absolute monarchy.
There is a very interesting difference between contractualist Hobbes and republican thinker Pufendorf so far as the contract theory is concerned. Hobbes advised his people to surrender all their liberties and rights to the supreme authority.
He did not accept the objection that the sovereign might be oppressive which could be the cause of people’s misery. He believed that nothing could be worse than the state of nature. But “Samuel Pufendorf thought that human beings could create forms of government that would save them from hazards of the state of nature without requiring submission to an absolute sovereign”.