Historical and Political Essays

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Purchase Subscription prices and ordering Short-term Access To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above. This article is also available for rental through DeepDyve. View Metrics. Email alerts New issue alert. Advance article alerts. Although Part II -- "History as Political Thought" -- contains two essays from the s, the other three are much more recent, as is an "intermezzo" on Quentin Skinner.

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Historical and Political Essays - Online Library of Liberty

For those new to Pocock's take on the Cambridge method, these essays can serve as an accessible introduction. For those already familiar with Pocock's work, the convenience of having many if not all of his major methodological writings together is considerable. Political Thought and History is meant not only as an elucidation of the Cambridge method, but also as an application of it. At this late stage in his career, Pocock can look back at his place in the emergence of the Cambridge School in a distinctly Cantabrigian way.

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While others have already begun explaining the emergence of Cambridge contextualism as a product of its historical context, [1] there is something strange and fascinating in watching a great scholar attempt this procedure on himself and his own ideas. Pocock's self-historicization necessitates that the introduction and several of the essays in this collection are, at least in part, autobiographical.

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Pocock recounts the birth of the Cambridge school as the offspring of Herbert Butterfield and Peter Laslett. The former supervised and the latter inspired Pocock's doctoral dissertation, which eventually became his first book, The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law. Pocock theoretically defended the historical method applied in his work a decade later in the first of the seven chronologically-arranged essays on the topic in Part I.


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  • Variations on this method were then further articulated later in the decade by Skinner and John Dunn. Skinner, too, has recently collected his methodological essays, in the first of three volumes entitled Visions of Politics.

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    Unlike Skinner's highly revised essays, Pocock's have only been "lightly edited" xvii ; while these relatively minor changes to the bodies of the essays are not indicated, additions to the footnotes are clearly marked with square brackets. Far from making Pocock's volume less valuable Skinner's, this difference in editorial policy makes Political Thought and History an accurate record of the development of a body of thought over time in a way that Visions of Politics is not.

    Those who own Political Thought and History can save themselves from such characteristically Cantabrigian archival effort, and this is reason alone to purchase the book. The relationship between Pocock's methodological writings and those of Skinner and Dunn is a subtle one, but Pocock protests too much when he puts the "Cambridge method" in scare quotes. As Pocock freely admits, the Cambridge School is united by its insistence that historians interpret the history of political thought "as a multiplicity of language acts performed by language users in historical contexts" viii.

    Although it is both possible and legitimate to read texts in other ways -- as sources of philosophical arguments or of practical wisdom, for example -- such readings are necessarily unhistorical, and must be clearly labeled as such. Skinner typically emphasizes the historical contextualization of individually important moves in given language games -- that is, he engages in the interpretation what used to be called "great books".

    Contract Theory in Historical Context

    Pocock's work, by contrast, focuses on the languages in which these moves occur. The reader of Part I comes to understand how and why these languages were chosen as the primary protagonists in Pocock's historical narratives, with individual people and texts confined to secondary, if still important, roles. This book tackles the political conundrums of our times and asks what roles intellectuals might play therein. Chapter 2.

    Political Essays (Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought)

    The scales of ethnography: periodizing spatial coherence in early twentieth-century, Spain Chapter 3. Popular struggle, dissident intellectuals and perspectives in realist history: a case from late twentieth-century Peru Chapter 4. On the threshold between everyday practice and historical praxis.