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Virginia and the Birth of Corporate Law

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  1. Patrick S. O'Donnell says:

    Regarding the third point which we might, broadly, put under the heading of religious toleration: This may have been an innovation of sorts, but certainly there was precedent for this well before the Peace of Westphalia, and perhaps it provided inspiration for this part of the Virginia Company’s charter; for example, in the work of the sixteenth-century exponent of “absolute” monarchy, Jean Bodin, a preliberal and nondemocratic theorist. One political if not economic rationale for Bodin’s *Les six livres de la republique* (1576) was the toleration of religious diversity. As Stephen Holmes writes, “Ordinary men and women in sixteenth-century France did not understand the need for separating religious and political allegiances. Many preferred civil war to sharing their country with heretics.” Holmes continues:

    “The *Republique* issues a plea that ‘no man be forbidden the private exercise of such his religion’ (IV,7,539). The king should cease attempting to save souls, punish heretics, or eliminate religious dissonance. Such futile efforts only undermine political order and provoke rebellion. Sovereign authority should lower its sights, resting satisfied with the lesser goal of establishing a modus vivendi between conflicting groups. [....] Instead of attempting in vain to confer moral perfection on his subjects, the monarch should attempt to ‘avoid commotions, troubles, and civil war’ (V,5,598). If the king keeps the peace, his subjects can pursue a wide variety of spiritual objectives. The state is a legal framework in which moral antagonists can coexist and cooperate in secular undertakings. Sectarian religions can also flourish, but only so long as they adapt themselves pliantly to the rules of peaceful coexistence.” Bodin set the stage for Liberal toleration in as much as he recognized that “repression is to be avoided, if at all possible, because it is self-defeating.”

    Bodin’s views are rather remarkable for his time and place: “Against zealots of all denominations, Bodin–who may or may not have been a believer–argues that tolerance for religious diversity does not necessarily imply personal indifference to religion. Deep devotion does not necessarily require a rabid persecution of nonbelievers. Not only political power, but even the piety of the prince, can survive a reform that leaves religion up to individuals.”

    Please see Holmes’ brilliant chapter, “The Constitution of Sovereignty in Jean Bodin,” in his Passions and Constraint: On the Theory of Liberal Democracy (1995), 100-133.