HST7203 – Early Modern Theories of State
Module code: HST7203
Teaching Staff: Quentin Skinner
Semester: SEM 2
Module Convenor: Professor Quentin Skinner
Some early-modern political theorists locate the authority to make laws and exercise political control in the figure of the ruler or prince. The seminar will begin by examining the most celebrated example, Machiavelli's The Prince (1513). Others locate these powers in the body of the republic or people. Thomas More's Utopia (1516) and Machiavelli’s Discourses (c1519) offer contrasting examples, and the next four sessions of the seminar will focus on these texts. The second half of the course will then turn to Hobbes’s contrasting claim in Leviathan (1651) that these powers lie instead with the fictional person of the state. The main aim of the seminar will thus be to engage in a close reading of four classic texts of early-modern political thought.
The aim of the module will be to examine some of the most influential views about the location of sovereign power articulated in early-modern political thought. Some theorists located the authority to make laws and exercise political control in the figure of the ruler. The first two sessions of the seminar will be devoted to examining the most celebrated example, Machiavelli’s The Prince (1513). When we turn, however, to Machiavelli’s later work, The Discourses (1519), we instead find him expressing a preference for assigning political authority to the body of the people. The next two sessions will consider Machiavelli’s defence of this commitment. The central four sessions of the seminar will then be devoted to Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651), in which he locates the seat of sovereign authority neither with the sovereign, nor with the people, but rather with what he describes as the fictional person of the state. The seminar will end with two sessions devoted to the rival theory of popular sovereignty articulated by John Locke in his Second treatise of government (1689). The main aim of the seminar will be to engage in a close reading of four classic texts of early-modern political thought, but a broader aim will be to consider the origins of some of our current debates about the concepts of liberty, authority, representation and the state.
Assessment: Essay (4,000 words) [100%]