A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution

A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution

A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution

A History of Political Thought in the English Revolution

Excerpt

It was in the English revolution that modern democratic ideas began their great career. Developed amidst fierce controversy, they inspired their exponents to make unprecedented demands upon social life. In the course or the argument and struggle around these demands, the bounds of social life itself were widened. That is why England's revolution is a decisive fact in Western history.

In the following pages, we shall encounter the large range of political doctrines which played their part in the English revolution, particularly those which appeared between 1645, when the Levellers first seized upon the revolution's wider implications, and 1660, when Charles II was restored. These years form something of a unity, for it was approximately within their span that the magnificent ferment of ideas for which the age is memorable achieved definitive expression in a number of writings of permanent importance. For the first time since Richard Hooker, a body of political literature was produced which, as we can see in retrospect, at once placed its authors in the foremost rank of European political theorists. And yet, although the revolution is a period of the greatest accomplishment in political thought, this aspect of it has not been dealt with in all its fullness. Neither the special studies, nor even the more general works concerning some of the ideas of these years, have taken up all the important writers who were then active. A few of the latter remain all but unknown and are here discussed for the first time. Some of the principal conceptions and theorists, moreover, are not yet so well understood as they might be. This is true, for example, of the Leveller Agreement of the People, that earliest written constitution to be proposed in English history; it is certainly true of Hobbes. Indeed, concerning most of the major figures of the time, more remains to be learned if we are to gain a fuller comprehension of their work. It is this conviction, and the belief also in the desirability of having what has thus far been lacking, a general survey which would discuss analytically, and with reasonable completeness, the revolution's political . . .

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