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Body politic

The body politic is a metaphor that regards a nation as a corporate entity, likened to a human body. Here the word "politic" is a postpositive adjective: this is "a body of a nature", rather than "a politic of a bodily nature". A body politic comprises all the people in a particular country, considered as a single group. The analogy typically includes reference to the top of the government as head of state, though the analogy may also be extended to other anatomical parts, as in political readings of Aesop's fable of "The Belly and the Members".

A later European reference to the concept appears in The Book of the Body Politic (1407) by poet and court writer Christine de Pizan, in which she admits having borrowed the concept from a letter of Plutarch's to the Roman Emperor Trajan but does not mention John of Salisbury's work, Policraticus. The metaphor appears in the French language as the corps-état. The metaphor was elaborated in the Renaissance, and subsequently, as medical knowledge based on Galen was challenged by thinkers such as William Harvey. Analogies were drawn between supposed causes of disease and disorder and their equivalents in the political field, viewed as plagues or infections that might be remedied with purges and nostrums.

"Body politic" derives from the mediæval political concept of the King's two bodies first noted by mediaeval historian Ernst Kantorowicz, as a point of theology as much as statehood. The person to give the concept some legal bite and codified reality, as much as legitimacy as well as Sovereignty, was the 14th century Judge Sir William de Shareshull in 1351 for the offence of High treason in the aftermath of the Barons war. However, by the time of the fifteenth-century judge Sir John Fortescue the concept moves away from theology to jurisprudence in his The Difference between an Absolute and a Limited Monarchy, written from exile in about 1462 . Fortescue explains that the character angelus (divine character) of the king is his royal power, derived from angels and separate from the frail physical powers of his body. However, he uses the phrase body politic itself only in its modern sense, to describe the realm, or shared rule, of Brutus, mythical first king of England, and how he and his fellow exiles had covenanted to form a body politic. Unusually for the time, Fortescue was writing in English and not Latin: "made a body pollitike callid a reawme."



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