Dissertation Project

How did the French civil war of the sixteenth century lead to both political breakdown and governmental centralization? The increasing professionalism of lawyers working for court bureaucracies holds the key to answering this question. My project, provisionally titled “Legal Nationalism in Early Modern France,” will uncover the source of these lawyers’ drive to centralize. Because administrators’ political loyalties were divided between the king and a rebel group of nobles, their situation is a case perfect case study of the autonomous evolution of collective standards of practice. I hypothesize that French lawyers’ desire to give government a national identity outweighed all competing political demands.

My primary case study will be a comparative textual analysis of the works of Michel de L’Hospital (ca. 1503-1573) and Jean Bodin (1529/30-1596), one of whom worked primarily for the royal administration and the other of whom pursued his career in the regional courts. While de L’Hospital’s career was devoted to establishing the authority of a truly national crown, Bodin sought to explain how both the regional and central organs of government were tied together in an immaterial ‘state.’ If my hypothesis is correct, the area of congruence between these two thinkers represents the theoretical foundation of the doctrine of state sovereignty as understood by jurists of the following generation. The futility of de L’Hospital’s and Bodin’s efforts to promote religious tolerance shows that their understanding of legitimate authority as centralized, exclusionary, and national was much more important to the history of legal thought than their personal politics.