C B Macpherson

C B Macpherson: and the Problem of Liberal Democracy

Jules Townshend
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    C B Macpherson
    Book Description:

    In this sympathetic restatement of C B Macpherson's ideas, Townshend provides an overview of Macpherson's theory of possessive individualism and critique of liberal democracy. He suggests that criticism of Macpherson has been misplaced and asks whether his theories should now be given more prominence by political theorists. This is the first book to deal comprehensively with the issues surrounding Macpherson's work; previous studies have used him as a point of departure rather than the focus of detailed analysis and none have included an overall assessment of his thought.Key Features*Examination of Macpherson's project in its totality.*Defence of Macpherson against his liberal, feminist, Marxist and ecological critics.*Defence of his interpretation of Hobbes and Locke.*Demonstration of his continuing relevance for contemporary political philosophy and for the study of politics generally.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-7987-4
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. List of abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Life and project
    (pp. 1-30)

    ‘Possessive individualism’ was Crawford Brough Macpherson’s theoretical signature. It stood at the centre of his lifelong preoccupation with the relationship between property and democracy. Yet ‘possessive individualism’ was also shorthand for a multifaceted project, taking him into a terrain that cut across many of today’s academic disciplines within the human sciences. Macpherson has been described as a ‘hedgehog’, who has one big idea, in contrast to a ‘fox’, who has various small insights. He accepted this description with good humour. Compared with many contemporary academics, who are often fully paid up members of the hedgehog tendency, Macpherson was a rather...

  6. Chapter 2 Hobbes as possessive individualist
    (pp. 31-61)

    Before looking at Macpherson’s treatment of Hobbes and Locke and the critical response in this and the next chapter, a number of general considerations ought to be borne in mind. The first is that, like the format of nearly all his works, PI consisted of a collection of essays, written over a ten-year period. Not surprisingly, lines of questioning and levels of assertion undergo subtle changes in different chapters, although the possessive individualism motif pulls them together. The second consideration is that while possessive individualism constitutes the main theme, Macpherson uses it to establish a number of disparate claims, which...

  7. Chapter 3 Locke as possessive individualist
    (pp. 62-98)

    Macpherson’s portrait of Locke, the patron saint of Western liberalism, as a possessive individualist aroused even more controversy than his picture of Hobbes. His detailed textual analysis of Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, demonstrating that Locke’s fundamental contradictions could be explained by social assumptions closely entwined with a nascent capitalism, was more than his critics could stomach, at least initially. His unflattering account of Locke invited both refutation and the need to offer an alternative interpretation. Yet after the dust settled most grudgingly accepted that there existed some kind of link between Locke and capitalism. The net effect of the...

    (pp. 99-135)

    The next two chapters deal with the wide variety of responses to Macpherson’s attempt to recover, with the help of Marx, an earlier type of Millian liberal democratic theory that had been forgotten, as noted in Chapter 1. The responses to Macpherson’s project indicate the extent to which it serves as a barometer of academic fashion over the past thirty years. Indeed, the fashion factor in academia was something of which he was acutely aware.¹

    The first wave of criticism in the early 1960s came from liberals, whose thinking was in many respects shaped by the Cold War. Although they...

  9. Chapter 5 Retrieving democracy (2): COMMUNITARIAN, MARXIST AND FEMINIST CRITICS
    (pp. 136-159)

    The previous chapter considered critics who disliked Macpherson’s Marxist inflection. This chapter shows how his communitarian, Marxist and feminist critics saw his project as mired by the other central strand of his thought: liberalism. Perhaps unwittingly they picked upon a danger in his immanent critique of liberalism. This attempted to expose its two contradictory ontologies and suggested that its possessive individualist one was becoming historically played out. He suggested that its ‘retrieved’ Millian, developmental ontology was now a genuine possibility. In adopting this strategy Macpherson, these critics argued, was seemingly unable to move off the liberal terrain, especially of abstract...

  10. Chapter 6 Retrieving Macpherson
    (pp. 160-188)

    The previous chapters have evaluated critical commentaries on Macpherson’s work showing where they were misguided or posed arguments that could either be plausibly rebutted or led to the need for some kind of reformulation. While this account of intellectual jousting has hopefully been interesting and informative, the question still remains: why bother? This chapter will attempt to show the continuing relevance of his project. Figuratively, this will involve doing a ‘Macpherson’ on Macpherson. That is to say, his thought will be ‘retrieved’ in order to focus a critical spotlight on the various current schools of thought which criticised him. Such...

  11. Index
    (pp. 189-191)