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Horst Steinke


bility in human society, in respect to which the Romans were a

case-in-point, as breathlessly narrated in paragraph § 1006:

The commonwealth remained aristocratic as long as the fathers pre-

served the authority of ownership within their reigning orders, and un-

til the plebs […] had obtained from the fathers themselves laws ex-

tending to them the certain ownership of the fields, the right to solemn

nuptials, the sovereign powers, the priesthoods, and thereby the sci-

ence of the laws. But as soon as the plebs […] became numerous and

inured to war, and with force on their side […] began to enact laws

[…], then the commonwealth changed from aristocratic to popular.

[…] In this revolution, in order that the authority of ownership might

retain what it could […], it naturally became the authority of wardship.

[…] In virtue of this authority, the free peoples […] submitted to ad-

ministration by their guardians, the senates. But when […] the free

peoples […] let themselves be seduced by the powerful […], then fac-

tions, seditions, and civil wars […] brought on the monarchical form.

It is at this point that Vico breaks off his reflections on Ro-

man law and governance. What follows is uncharacteristic, a

lengthy polemic against Jean Bodin’s (1530-1596) political theo-



. It is true, of course, that throughout

Scienza nuova

, Vico peri-

odically contrasts his views with that of other early modern

thinkers, in particular Grotius, Selden, and Pufendorf


, but nev-

er to the extent to which he goes here (§§ 1009-1019). And what

is his main issue and controversy with Bodin? In the very first

paragraph of the section, Vico pinpoints it: «the political theory

of Jean Bodin, which places the successive forms of civil consti-

tutions in this order: they were first monarchies, then […] be-

came free and popular, and finally became aristocratic». This

does not simply represent a disagreement about a secondary as-

pect of speculative historiography, but, in Vico’s view, strikes at

the heart of his overall theoretical edifice, and, if left un-

addressed, places his entire “new science” in doubt; hence his

unusually strong wording: «We might here content ourselves