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A History of Modern Political Thought: An Anthology

A History of Modern Political Thought: An Anthology

Iain Hampsher-Monk

ISBN: 978-1-405-13024-0

Nov 2018, Wiley-Blackwell

656 pages


(Background: I have been thinking about a volume on historical political philosophy for the philosophy anthology series for some time, as we only have Pettit and Goodin's contemporary anthology to date. HPT is ubiquitous in departments of political science and philosophy, often as a very high enrollment introductory offering. Although in an ideal world students read the text, the whole text and nothing but the text, they are increasingly reliant upon excerpted material due to the cost involved in purchasing the six or so editions of the core canonical works. Although there are editions which gather together in one volume a number of primary texts in their entirety (Hackett produce the most comprehensive, and CUP have apparently mooted the idea of stringing together various texts from their Blue series of canonical works), and despite the availablilty of texts online, there is a clear rationale for a good single volume anthology which reproduces a substantial amount of the canonical material, and which offers a rich pedagogical framework for study.

Given Iain Hampsher-Monk's success with his narrative text, he seemed the appropriate person to seek to involve. This volume will work well in tandem with his text, but will be designed to be free standing, and so usable by those who do not teach with a narrative text.

The challenge, as with any project which seeks to draw upon a rich and relatively stable canon, is to provide selections which reproduce a sufficient amount of the core material that gets taught, whilst offering something distinctive and pedagogically valuable (and hence makes up for the perceived loss of textual integrity). The proposal here plans to meet these demands by both using substantial selections from the major theorists alongside 'foil' or contextualising readings. This complements IHM's approach in the textbook, and resonates well with the UK market that he has captured. Admittedly the historicising approach pioneered by Quentin Skinner is not universally endorsed in the US (though it is orthodox in the UK), but it appears sufficiently widespread to warrant optimism that a good level of adoptions can be secured. Those who object to the methodology are unlikely to be teaching modern political theory historically, rather than thematically, anyway.


A new edition of IHM's narrative text is under contract, and the feedback from the market research for that will feed into our plans for the anthology, especially as that relates to maximising the relevance of the coverage to a US audience. We will be conducting extensive syllabus research in the US during August to work out a maximally relevant list of figures to anthologise. I am proposing this at a relatively early stage of development, but with the editor and organising principle strongly endorsed by reviewers).


The History of Political Thought is taught as a required outline course in many Politics and History Degrees, and in a slightly different accent, often in Philosophy degrees too. Students are required to get to grips with a series of major texts, classically, as in the Oxford PPE school, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Mill, Marx, but sometimes also including Montesquieu, Hume, Smith, The Federalist Papers (invariably in the States), Burke, Bentham, Kant, Tocqueville, Hegel etc.

Two important changes have taken place in relation to this area of teaching and learning. Firstly, and in common with the sector as a whole, the growth of mass higher education and the loss of student grants. Secondly, specific to this area, and associated with the methodological revolution of JGA Pocock and Quentin Skinner, the adoption of an historically contextualised approach to the texts in preference to a more purely analytical one.

The first has meant large numbers of often ill-funded (and sometimes ill-motivated) students, with neither the money to purchase (or the disposition to read) entire texts. The second has stressed the importance of recovering the controversial context of the more famous texts. Paradoxically, in light of the first consideration, this required more, not less reading.

One response to the first situation is to bow to the inevitable, and to provide students with edited (ie abbreviated) textual selections. A number of publishers – even those such as CUP who have been most committed to the integrity of the text – have accepted the inevitability of this and begun to produce anthologized selections of various kinds. This proposal differentiates itself from all but the most encyclopaedic of these in seeking to meet the second development in addition to the first, by providing, where appropriate, excerpts from the major controversial opponents of the ‘canonical’ author. This works better with some than with others (it obviously works well with Burke) but even where an author is not obviously controversially situated (such as Montesquieu) his thought can still be illuminated through identifying alternative contemporary representative views.

The precise number and range of authors to be included would obviously be a matter of policy, and would involve market-research- and publishing- considerations as well as the academic judgments on which this more general strategy is based. On the presumption that the reader would be related to the successful ‘History of Modern Political Thought’ text, decisions about what to include should be co-ordinated with any developments planned for the second edition of that text which is in train.