Primacy of Individual Conscience or Primacy of the State? The Clash between Dirck Volckertsz. Coornhert and Justus Lipsius


History and Philosophy

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 1997


The bitter clash between Justus Lipsius and Dirk Volckertsz. Coornhert, occasioned by Lipsius' Politica, reveals the different agendas of these two men. Lipsius' almost axiomatic acceptance in the Politica of only one official religion in a state was abhorrent to Coornhert, a staunch champion of freedom of conscience. Coornhert proffered spiritualist objections to Lipsius' primarily political (and religiously neutral) views. Lipsius intended the Politica as a political manual for rulers and thus as a natural sequel to his earlier De Constantia, a Neostoic guide out of the morass of religio-political strife and vicissitudes so prevalent at the time. But Coornhert saw in Lipsius' arguments for uniformity the grave danger of a return to persecution and religious intolerance. He rejected the primacy of Staatsraison and argued instead for a pluriform state whose inhabitants would be allowed to follow the light of their own conscience in making a religious choice.