Lineages of European Political Thought

Lineages of European Political Thought: Explorations along the Medieval/Modern Divide from John of Salisbury to Hegel

Cary J. Nederman
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    Lineages of European Political Thought
    Book Description:

    This book examines some of the salient historiographical and conceptual issues that animate current scholarly debates about the nature of the medieval contribution to modern Western political ideas

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-2083-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)

    There is surely no field of study within the broad tradition of Western political theory that has been so grossly underrepresented in recent English-language scholarship as the Latin Middle Ages. Numerous reasons may be adduced for this fact, but I suspect that many of them can be traced to a deeply ingrained pedagogical prejudice that is reproduced each semester in classrooms throughout the English-speaking world. Princeton University’s Paul Sigmund—himself one of the few political scientists whose career has run counter to this trend—is fond of citing a survey in which college-level political theory instructors identified the teaching of...

  5. PART I. Historiographies of the Early European Tradition:: Continuity and Change
      (pp. 3-12)

      For students of medieval political thought who worked during the second half of the twentieth century, it was impossible to escape the influence of the doyen of that field, the Cambridge University professor of medieval history Walter Ullmann.¹ A generation ago, Ullmann was ubiquitous. Yet the reputation of Ullmann (who died in 1983) has undergone a precipitous decline, to the point that now he is all but invisible. As of the first decade of the twenty-first century, Ullmann’s voluminous writings are almost entirely out of print.² It is indeed remarkable that a defining figure of twentieth-century medieval studies should disappear...

    • 2 QUENTIN SKINNER’S STATE: Historical Methodology and the Formation of a European Tradition
      (pp. 13-28)

      The extent to which the work of Quentin Skinner, particularly following publication of The Foundations of Modern Political Thought,¹ has captured the attention and imagination of political theorists is little short of remarkable. As Kari Palonen recently commented, “Skinner’s international reputation is due above all to his two volume book The Foundations . . . . . . .”² Seldom has a scholarly endeavor generated such extensive dissection as the Foundations—a function, no doubt, of the breadth and scope of its intellectual vision. Briefly, the Foundations concentrates upon three aims: first, to narrate the development of early modern political...

    • 3 PATHOLOGIES OF CONTINUITY: The Neo-Figgisites
      (pp. 29-48)

      Although the casual observer might presume that the study of medieval political thought is a staid and perhaps even arcane enterprise, scholarship in the field has undergone dramatic, almost cataclysmic, changes during the past half-century. Large numbers of previously unknown or unavailable texts have been edited or translated, surprising new connections have been uncovered, and entirely fresh lines of interpretation have been pursued. Scholarly interest in medieval topics has been stimulated, in particular, by the growing recognition that we must abandon a strict division between “medieval” and “modern” political mentalities. As the introduction to the present volume revealed, a sizeable...

    • 4 A MIDDLE PATH: Alexander Passerin d’Entrèves
      (pp. 49-60)

      In the preceding examination of some of the major recent trends in the historiography of medieval and modern European political thought, we have observed a noticeable tendency to promote a “universalistic” system of interpretation. The value of a political text is judged according to a preconceived yardstick, whether of “ascending” doctrine or the state or constitutionalism or natural rights. In the current chapter, I offer an example of a historian of political thought who eschewed such one-dimensional interpretative frameworks in preference for a more nuanced and multifaceted approach to reading and relating political texts: Alexander (or Alessandro) Passerin d’Entrèves. Alas,...

  6. PART II. Dissenting Voices and the Limits of Power
    • 5 TOLERATION AND COMMUNITY: Functionalist Foundations of Liberty
      (pp. 63-80)

      In his famous little essay entitled “What Is Enlightenment?” Immanuel Kant presses the case for liberty of conscience in the following terms:

      A prince who ... holds it to be his duty to prescribe nothing to men in religious matters but to give them complete freedom while renouncing the haughty name of tolerance, is himself enlightened and deserves to be esteemed by the grateful world and posterity as the first, at least from the side of government, who divested the human race of its tutelage and left each man free to make use of his reason in matters of conscience.¹...

    • 6 THE ROYAL WILL AND THE BARONIAL BRIDLE: The Bractonian Contribution
      (pp. 81-98)

      For many centuries, the medieval English jurist Henry de Bracton has enjoyed a prominent reputation among legal practitioners and political theorists alike, largely as the result of his ascribed authorship of the seminal lawbook De legibus et consuetudinibus Angliae.¹ For instance, during the 1571 trial of the Duke of Norfolk, an admissibility ruling by Chief Justice Catline contained the remark that “Bracton is indeed an old writer of our law.”² Throughout the partisan disputes of the seventeenth century, Bracton’s name and the text of the De legibus were invoked on all sides—by royalists as well as antiroyalists—and found...

    • 7 POLITICAL REPRESENTATION: Modern Theory and Medieval Practices
      (pp. 99-121)

      Among the various contributions identified by historically minded scholars as medieval bequests to modern thought, few have been as widely proposed as political representation.¹ For some authors, this phenomenon can be traced to the widespread use of “representation” in the construction of ecclesiological, especially conciliar, doctrines. Brian Tierney claims that representation has an important genealogy in canonistic writings that crystallized as a political theory in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries among conciliarsts. Although ultimately failing to plant firm roots in the soil of ecclesiology, Tierney observes, “the ideas of the great medieval Churchmen on representative government had more influence in...

    • 8 FOR LOVE AND MONEY: Theorizing Revolt in Fourteenth-Century Europe
      (pp. 122-138)

      Conventionally, medieval political theorists expressed the relationship that inhered between a ruler and his subjects through the language of amor and caritas, that is, “love” and “charity” (the two are virtual cognates). St. Augustine had emphasized “love” as the basis for all human associations, although the only “true” love was love of God, which did not partake of or inhere in mundane concerns such as government.¹ Medieval authors deployed the language of “love” in a more positive sense to describe the arrangement of temporal politics and polities. In particular, the virtuous prince loves his people and he is loved by...

  7. PART III. Republican Self-Governance and Universal Empire
      (pp. 141-159)

      The enthusiasm for republicanism that has gripped political theorists and historians during the last fifty years or so has reaped unintended rewards for a host of authors who had been long forgotten or little appreciated. Perhaps no thinker benefited more from this revival in the restoration of his reputation than Brunetto Latini, the thirteenth-century Florentine rhetorician and civil servant. In his own era, Latini was eulogized by a younger contemporary, Giovanni Villani, as a “great philosopher” who tutored the Florentines “in the arts of speaking well and guiding and ruling our republic.” Latini may have been a teacher of Dante,...

    • 10 MARSIGLIO OF PADUA: Between Empire and Republic
      (pp. 160-176)

      The name of marsiglio of padua is so closely associated with his major work, the Defensor pacis, that scholars sometimes fail to take note of his authorship of several other political treatises as well.¹ The most extensive and important of these was the Defensor minor, written about fifteen years after the Defensor pacis. In 1325, Marsiglio had abandoned France, where he had completed the Defensor pacis the year before, for the precarious protection of the German king and imperial claimant Ludwig of Bavaria.² While at Ludwig’s court, Marsiglio’s pen seems to have been inactive until the composition of the Defensor ...

    • 11 TRANSLATIO IMPERII: Medieval and Modern
      (pp. 177-189)

      In the foregoing chapters, we have encountered a number of recent scholars for whom the medieval and early modern periods are of one piece. Indeed, this position has achieved a nearly orthodox status in the current historiography of European political thought. Still, as noted in the introduction, a few scholars have resisted the historiographical tendency to emphasize complete and unremitting continuity between medieval and modern visions of political thought. Perhaps the most prominent figure in this camp is John Pocock, who, following in the line of scholarship pioneered by Hans Baron, endorses entirely a rupture between these two political worldviews....

      (pp. 190-198)

      Antony black has drawn attention to a major lacuna in the present literature on the history of republican thought: its failure to take account of the Christian contribution to the development of Western republicanism.¹ Black laments that scholars assume without warrant the equation of the Christian tradition of politics with monarchical absolutism, systematically ignoring the fact that republican practices as well as theories were central to the development of Christianity from its earliest days.² He implores us to set aside an “essentialist” tendency to view republicanism as a purely secular phenomenon, antithetical to the hierarchical concord so commonly propounded by...

  8. PART IV. The Virtues of Necessity:: Economic Principles of Politics
      (pp. 201-221)

      It hardly constitutes an exaggeration to say that European economic life during the twelfth century underwent a dramatic transformation. In particular, the historical watershed crossed after 1100 may be characterized by three key factors. First, market relations became a central feature of the social structures of the Latin Middle Ages, generating what Robert Lopez many years ago proclaimed to be a “commercial revolution.”¹ Among the tokens of this revolution were the increased circulation of coinage, the expansion of long-distance trade, the formation of national markets, the emergence of systems of credit and banking, and the rising prominence of cities. Second,...

      (pp. 222-234)

      During the latin middle ages, as in the modern world, the language of liberty was applied in a bewildering array of contexts. In part, this is due to the large variety of traditions concerning liberty available to the Middle Ages, as discussed in chapter 5 above. The multiple manifestations of freedom in the medieval world, and their application in theory as well as practice, have received wide attention from recent scholars. In particular, we now enjoy an enhanced appreciation of how the discourses of liberty arising from the Latin Middle Ages were received, restated, and transformed in modern Europe.¹ But...

    • 15 MONEY AND COMMUNITY: Nicole Oresme
      (pp. 235-247)

      One of the main centers for the emergence of political economic thinking in the Late Middle Ages seems to have been the French royal court. The Valois King Charles V was noteworthy for his promotion of cultural and intellectual life generally and for associating himself with some of the finest minds of the late fourteenth century.¹ Among those upon whom members of the court showered patronage was Nicole Oresme, a University of Paris–trained philosopher, theologian, and churchman who, among numerous other contributions, produced beautifully illuminated French-language translations of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and Politics for Charles V.² The proximity of...

      (pp. 248-258)

      Nicholas oresme, as we have seen in the preceding chapter, represents one important contributor to the medieval tradition of political economy associated with the late medieval French court. Another figure within the ambit of royal culture in France during the Latin Middle Ages who proves worthy of attention as a thinker cognizant of the “political” dimension of economic conditions is Christine de Pizan. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that Christine counts among the most prolific political writers in medieval Europe, although she remains among the most overlooked. She is credited with no fewer than nine treatises concerned with...

  9. PART V. Modern Receptions of Medieval Ideas
      (pp. 261-276)

      In a provocative and wide-ranging study of The Spirit of Capitalism, Liah Greenfeld grapples with what she takes to be the central unanswered question of modern economic history: Why did the capitalist economy succeed in “taking off” (in the economist’s sense) when and where this occurred, while failing to do so elsewhere until later (if at all)? She rejects the materialist arguments favored by both liberal and Marxist economic thought, to the effect that the response to this question must be found internal to economic processes per se. Following a broadly Weberian line, Greenfeld argues that a fundamental shift in...

    • 18 VIRTÙ, FORESIGHT, AND GRACE: Machiavelli’s Medieval Moments
      (pp. 277-303)

      Few topics concerning the political thought of Niccolò Machiavelli inspire more controversy and contention than his attitude toward religion, in particular, Christianity.¹ To be sure, Machiavelli was no friend of the institutionalized Christian Church as he knew it. His examination of republican political theory, the Discourses on the Ten Books of Titus Livy, makes clear that conventional Christianity saps from human beings ings the vigor required for active civil life.² And his notorious little book the Prince speaks with equal parts disdain and admiration about the corrupt and worldly condition of the Roman Church and its papal head.³ Scholars have...

      (pp. 304-322)

      Modern political authors read medieval texts—of that there can be no doubt. But does the modern reception, even the citation, of writings dating from the Middle Ages amount to a discernable “influence”? Some historians of political thought, perhaps most notably Quentin Skinner, have challenged the attribution of “influence” on the grounds that ideas are not disembodied “units” capable of transmission across the ages.¹ Other scholars, such as Francis Oakley, insist that when modern writers draw upon medieval sources, we must judge them to have been “influenced” by the authorities that they choose to cite and quote.² The dilemmas posed...

      (pp. 323-342)

      It has become a commonplace for political theorists and historians to emphasize that a complete appreciation of the emergence and nature of the modern state presupposes an understanding of the medieval backdrop out of which it evolved.¹ This perspective has rightly been hailed by scholars in both disciplines for exploding the long-standing myth of the medieval period as a “Dark Age” separating the more enlightened epochs of antiquity and modernity. But it may be too hasty to assert that the “discovery” of the medieval foundations of the modern state is of recent vintage. It may be argued, rather, that far...

    (pp. 343-368)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 369-375)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 376-376)