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What does it mean to be a free person?

Quentin Skinner: Milton, 22 May 2008

... After the appearance of Poems of Mr John Milton in 1645, Milton published no further works of poetry until Paradise Lost in 1667. During the intervening decades he devoted almost the whole of his literary energies to attacking the Stuart monarchy and defending the creation of the English commonwealth and, later, the Cromwellian Protectorate. As he repeatedly made clear, moreover, he took these commitments to be equivalent to furthering the ideal of a free way of life ...

A Third Concept of Liberty

Quentin Skinner: Living in Servitude, 4 April 2002

... My starting point is one of the claims most widely accepted in current discussions about the theory of liberty. There is one overarching formula, we are told, under which all intelligible locutions about freedom can be subsumed. The prevalence of this belief appears to be due in large part to the influence of a single classic article, Gerald MacCallum’s ‘Negative and Positive Freedom’ (1967 ...

Why It Matters

Ellen Meiksins Wood: Quentin Skinner’s Detachment, 25 September 2008

Hobbes and Republican Liberty 
by Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 245 pp., £12.99, February 2008, 978 0 521 71416 7
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... Is it possible, Quentin Skinner asks, that an entire tradition of political thought, including the most influential conception of freedom in anglophone political theory in the past half-century, ‘has been insensitive to the range of conditions that can limit our freedom of action’? A reasonable question, one might think, not only about Isaiah Berlin’s influential defence of ‘negative’ against ‘positive’ liberty but about the whole tradition of liberalism ...

Pocock’s Positions

Blair Worden, 4 November 1993

Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain 
edited by Nicholas Phillipson and Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 444 pp., £35, March 1993, 9780521392426
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... obvious disagreements, Hobbes and Harrington shared. Hobbes is the subject of two strong essays. Quentin Skinner follows the erratic development of his attitude to the Classical tradition which regarded a training in rhetoric and eloquence as essential to the advancement of both civic virtue and truth. In his works of the 1640s Hobbes’s mistrust of ...

Factory of the Revolution

Blair Worden: Quentin Skinner, 5 February 1998

Liberty before Liberalism 
by Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 137 pp., £19.99, November 1997, 0 521 63206 4
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... Quentin Skinner’s short book is an extended version of his Inaugural Lecture as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. There cannot have been a less contentious succession to that chair. In his field, the history of political thought, Skinner has earned an authority and distinction unrivalled anywhere in the world among scholars now below retirement age ...

Citizen Hobbes

Noel Malcolm, 18 October 1984

De Cive: The Latin Version 
by Thomas Hobbes, edited by Howard Warrender.
Oxford, 336 pp., £35, March 1984, 0 19 824385 5
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De Cive: The English Version 
by Thomas Hobbes, edited by Howard Warrender.
Oxford, 300 pp., £35, March 1984, 0 19 824623 4
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... surge of interest in Hobbes owes its impetus to the writings of three men: Howard Warrender, Quentin Skinner and Michael Oakeshott; of these, it is Warrender’s book The Political Philosophy of Hobbes (1957) that has produced the greatest quantity of subsequent discussion and development. This book had the merit of taking Hobbes seriously as a ...

Machiavelli’s Bite

Stuart Hampshire, 1 October 1981

by Quentin Skinner.
Oxford, 102 pp., £4.50, May 1981, 0 19 287517 5
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The Prince and Other Political Writings 
by Niccolo Machiavelli, translated by Bruce Penman.
Dent, 354 pp., £3.50, June 1981, 0 460 11280 5
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... scarcely more than a long essay, on a subject vastly investigated and written about. Professor Skinner’s powers of compression and command of the evidence provide as good an introduction to Machiavelli’s thought as could be asked for. As in his Foundations of Modern Political Thought, he is determined to place Machiavelli’s theorising in its ...

Liberation Philosophy

Hilary Putnam, 20 March 1986

Philosophy in History: Essays in the Historiography of Philosophy 
edited by Richard Rorty, J.B. Schneewind and Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 403 pp., £27.50, November 1984, 0 521 25352 7
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... in large part shaped by the communities to which we belong (here his thought connects with that of Quentin Skinner, whose lecture in this series tries to recover some of the insights in the tradition of Roman civic republicanism and its late Renaisance revivals). We need, so to speak, to be liberated from our own compulsive individualism. Philosophy, in ...

A Mistrust of Thunder and Lightning

Jeremy Waldron: Hobbes, 20 January 2000

Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes 
by Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 477 pp., £15.95, July 1997, 0 521 59645 9
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... be not powerful Eloquence, which procureth attention, the effect of Reason will be little.’ Quentin Skinner’s Reason and Rhetoric in the Philosophy of Hobbes is a monumental work which has joined his earlier two-volume Foundations of Modern Political Thought (1978) as a massive contribution to our understanding of late medieval and early modern ...

Grand Theories

W.G. Runciman, 17 October 1985

The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences 
edited by Quentin Skinner.
Cambridge, 215 pp., £17.50, July 1985, 0 521 26692 0
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by Erik Olin Wright.
Verso, 344 pp., £20, September 1985, 0 86091 104 7
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Powers and Liberties: The Causes and Consequences of the Rise of the West 
by John Hall.
Blackwell, 282 pp., £19.50, September 1985, 0 631 14542 7
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... of content which no serious academic author could possibly want to be charged with. Professor Skinner begins his Introduction by quoting from a celebrated attack on Talcott Parsons by C. Wright Mills, for whom Grand Theory was the most absurd but also the most serious impediment in the way of a sensible, informed and humane understanding of human ...

Europe, what Europe?

Colin Kidd: J.G.A. Pocock, 6 November 2008

The Discovery of Islands: Essays in British History 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 344 pp., £18.99, September 2005, 9780521616454
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Barbarism and Religion. Vol. III: The First Decline and Fall 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 527 pp., £19.99, October 2005, 0 521 67233 3
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Barbarism and Religion. Vol. IV: Barbarians, Savages and Empires 
by J.G.A. Pocock.
Cambridge, 372 pp., £17.99, February 2008, 978 0 521 72101 1
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... context have been the central preoccupations of the Cambridge School and its leading proponent, Quentin Skinner, whose recent retirement from the Regius chair at Cambridge signals just how far from the margins of history the history of political thought has travelled since the middle of the 20th century. John Pocock is often associated with the ...

Their Way

José Harris: On the Origin of Altruism, 12 March 2009

The Invention of Altruism: Making Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain 
by Thomas Dixon.
British Academy, 420 pp., £60, May 2008, 978 0 19 726426 3
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... the subsequent development and uses of the term, the book adopts the position recommended by Quentin Skinner, that words may be ‘engines’ as well as mere ‘reflections’ of social change. Indeed, it aims to go further than Skinner, by arguing that words in themselves may actively remould the concepts to ...

Utopia in Texas

Glen Newey: Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’, 19 January 2017

by Thomas More, edited by George M. Logan, translated by Robert M. Adams.
Cambridge, 141 pp., £9.99, August 2016, 978 1 107 56873 0
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by Thomas More, translated by Gilbert Burnet.
Verso, 216 pp., £8.99, November 2016, 978 1 78478 760 8
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... a republic’ etc. The phrase is echoed by Hythloday near the end of the book. Was More serious? Quentin Skinner, in The Foundations of Modern Political Thought (1979), contended that in saying this More ‘meant exactly what he said’. It’s a curiously flat-footed reading for a scholar so alive to textual nuance. For one thing, More doesn’t say ...

No More Scissors and Paste

Mary Beard: R.G. Collingwood, 25 March 2010

History Man: The Life of R.G. Collingwood 
by Fred Inglis.
Princeton, 385 pp., £23.95, 0 691 13014 0
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... has had some very distinguished supporters. By his own account, it was the book that inspired Quentin Skinner at the start of his own historical career – and Skinner of course went on to give his own distinctive spin to Collingwood’s slogan about all history being a ‘history of the mind’. And, if only in ...

English Changing

Frank Kermode, 7 February 1980

The State of the Language 
edited by Leonard Michaels and Christopher Ricks.
California, 609 pp., £14.95, January 1980, 0 520 03763 4
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... essay by Julian and Zelda Boyd on ‘Shall and Will’; a polite but penetrating inquiry by Quentin Skinner into the method of Raymond Williams’s Key Words; Michael Tanner on modern philosophical language; and at least half a dozen more. The editors refrain from pretending that this is an orderly collection; I doubt if anybody could say it ...

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