Common good and private justice (Beck)Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz
Today’s #microreview turns towards Christopher Beck’s article ‘Common good and private justice: letters of marque and the utilitas publica in fourteenth-century Marseilles’ which provides a fascinating case study about a medieval municipality navigating between political thought, the urban market, private property rights, and the common good.
Throughout late medieval Western Europe, marques presented an instrument of legal enforcement, especially for merchants. Municipal governments could grant the seizure of foreign goods in their city to compensate open debts or other claims against actors outside of their jurisdiction. Yet, over the course of 14th century, the council of Marseilles several times suspended its citizens’ marques for economic and diplomatic reasons: Open marques could dissuade foreign merchants to travel to Marseille and hindered the influx to the city’s market. They could also let the city appear as contentious and not led according to the ideal of peace. Publicly, the town council justified the suspensions and thus the neglect of its own burghers’ property rights with the common good of the community, reflecting learned discourse about just government. The issues pointed out by Beck also applied to Hanseatic city councils which had to balance individual interests not only with the common good of the city but also with the common good of the #Hanse. Not just in light of recent political debates, it seems worthwhile reminding that the question of how a society negotiates the relation between public and private interests is not an invention of modernity.