Western Political Thought

Western Political Thought

Western Political Thought

Western Political Thought

Excerpt

The purpose of this book is to describe the main evolution of Western political thought in its historical context, and to analyse the texts of the most important writers. Existing works deal admirably with theory, but not with the social background which conditions thought. To fill this gap the present volume was designed.

The task has been one of selection and compression, and the author has preferred a full account of representative thinkers rather than a superficial account of many, though writers have been included whose influence has not been immediate but whose thought had a great future, and quotations made from documents which illustrate the outlook of a given age. Thus, in the seventeenth century, the works of Grotius, Hobbes, and Locke are naturally given priority, but an account of the political ideas of Spinoza has also been included, and the mentality of the Dark Ages has been illustrated by citations from Cassiodorus and Gregory of Tours. Throughout, it has been the author's aim to present the outstanding ideas of the great masters of political science, to relate them to one another, to the circumstances and intellectual climate of their time and to the continuity of historical evolution. This juxtaposition is intended to help the reader make his own judgement; the aim of the work has been an impartial presentation, though the author has indicated his own views, particularly in the concluding chapter.

This survey is not, of course, a work of original research; it is rather an introduction to a very great subject; a degree of over-simplification has been unavoidable, and in concentrating on essentials the study of minor influences has had to be sacrificed. It was planned, in the first place, as an introduction to the study of political theory, and forms no substitute for a first-hand knowledge of the works described or the books treating them in greater detail, of which a bibliography is given at the end of this volume. It is primarily intended to help those beginning the subject to get their bearings, and set about the study of the texts and fuller interpretations with clearer minds, though it may be also that specialists in other fields will have use for an account of a subject which, after all, trenches on many aspects of life, for the political philosophers, as well as the poets, are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind.

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