The sixteenth-century Protestant reformer, John Calvin, developed arresting new teachings on rights and liberties and church and state that shaped the law of early modern Protestant lands. Calvin's original teachings, which spread rapidly throughout Western Europe, were periodically challenged by major crises – the French Wars of Religion, the Dutch Revolt, the English Revolution, American colonization, and the American Revolution. In each such crisis moment, a major Calvinist figure emerged - Theodore Beza, Johannes Althusius, John Milton, John Winthrop, John Adams, and others - who modernized Calvin's teachings and translated them into dramatic new legal and political reforms. This rendered early modern Calvinism one of the driving engines of Western constitutionalism. A number of basic Western ideas of religious and political rights, social and confessional pluralism, federalism and social contract, and more owe a great deal to early modern Calvinism. This chapter, which introduces the volume, traces the development of rights doctrine in Calvinism, and situates it within a broader history of Western rights.
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