Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos and the Tyranny of Propositional Nationhood

7 November 2023

By Dr. Adi Schlebusch

I’m currently collaborating with a publisher in South Africa to produce the first-ever translation of Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (1579) from the original Latin into the Afrikaans language. In working on the translation of the third question treated in this work, I discovered a fascinating claim made by the author in defence of the idea that even the authority of a hereditary monarch is a manifestation of the self-rule of a specific nation.

Anticipating the objection that hereditary monarchs actually derive their rights from their own forefathers and not from the people they govern, the author counters with the following claim:

Like the constant flow of a river ensures its continued existence, so the cycle of births and deaths ensures the perpetuation of a nation. Just as we have the same Seine and Tiber today, so we have the same German ... and Roman people, except for those places where peoples mixed [intervenerint].1

The Latin word intervenerint literally means to "they came in between one another," and in this particular case it refers to the intermingling of peoples with one another which, according to the Vindiciae, leads to the eradication of distinct peoples. Furthermore, in the context of this passage it is clear that for the author of Vindiciae, rulers derive their rights and authority not from mere masses of individuals, as if their gubernatorial rights and authority were universal, but he rather presents their rights and authority as derived from the very specific people they govern. This idea not only corresponds with the Biblical principle of kin-rule (Deuteronomy 17:15), but also suggests why the idea of a multicultural, propositional nation tends towards tyranny: it abstracts the rights and limitations of rulers from the very real people or nation as the divinely-ordained covenantal unit which sanctioned those rights and limitations in the first place.    

1.  Ut enim perenne fluvium fluxus; ita populu immortalem ortus et intertius vicissitudo facit. Itaque ut idem est, qui ante mille annos Rhenus, Sequana, Tyberis: idem etiam est populus Gemanicus, ... Romanus, nisi forte Coloniae intervenerint