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Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui

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Title: Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui  
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Subject: Human rights, Natural law, List of political theorists, United States Declaration of Independence
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Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui

Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui.

Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui (French: ; 24 June 1694 – 3 April 1748) was a Swiss legal and political theorist who popularised a number of ideas propounded by other thinkers.[1]


Born in Geneva into a Calvinist family (descended from the wealthy 16th-century Italian merchant Francesco Burlamacchi[2] of Lucca executed for his Republican sentiments) who had taken refuge religionis causa, he studied law and at 25 he was designated honorary professor of ethics and the law of nature at the university of Geneva. Before taking up the appointment, he travelled through France and England, and made the acquaintance of the most eminent writers of the period.[3]

On his return he began to lecture and soon gained a wide reputation for the simplicity of his style and the precision of his views. He continued to lecture for 15 years, when he was compelled on ill health to resign.[1] His fellow citizens at once elected him a member of the council of state, and he gained as high a reputation for his practical sagacity as he had for his theoretical knowledge. He died in Geneva.[3]


His works were Principes du droit naturel (1747) and Principes du droit politique (1751). These have passed through many editions, and were very extensively used as textbooks. Burlamaqui's style is simple and clear, and his arrangement of the material good. His fundamental principle may be described as rational utilitarianism and represents a digest of the thoughts of like-minded theorists, particularly Richard Cumberland and Hugo Grotius.[1]

Burlamaqui's treatise The Principles of Natural and Politic Law was translated into six languages (besides the original French) in 60 editions. His vision of [4] For example, his understanding of checks and balances was much more sophisticated and practical than that of Montesquieu, in part because Burlamaqui's theory contained the seed of judicial review. He was frequently quoted or paraphrased, only sometimes attributed, in political sermons during the pre-revolutionary era. He was the first philosopher to articulate the quest for happiness as a natural human right, a principle that Thomas Jefferson later restated in the Declaration of Independence.[5]

Burlamaqui's description of European countries as forming "a kind of republic the members of which, independent but bound by common interest, come together to maintain order and liberty" is quoted by Michel Foucault in his 1978 lectures at the Collège de France in the context of a discussion of diplomacy and the law of nations.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Davies, Stephen (2008). "Burlamaqui, Jean-Jacques (1694–1748)". In  
  2. ^ Burlamaqui-Burlamacchi patronymic derived from Buglione from the Latin word bulla for seal of Papal document; meaning to boil, bubble
  3. ^ a b "Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui".  
  4. ^  . See also U.S. Department of State: Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of State: "America’s Founders were inspired by the ideas and values of early Swiss philosophers like Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui and Emer de Vattel, and the 1848 Swiss Constitution was influenced by our own U.S. Constitution. Swiss commitment to democracy is an example for nations and people everywhere who yearn for greater freedoms and human rights."
  5. ^ Kopel, David B.; Paul Gallant; Joanne D. Eisen (Fall 2007). "The Human Right of Self-Defense". BYU Journal of Public Law ( 
  6. ^ M. Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, ed. M. Senellart, trans. G. Burchell (2007; pbk. ed., 2009), pp. 303–04; and see p. 310 n. 31.
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