The Classical Republicans: An Essay in the Recovery of a Pattern of Thought in Seventeenth Century England

The Classical Republicans: An Essay in the Recovery of a Pattern of Thought in Seventeenth Century England

The Classical Republicans: An Essay in the Recovery of a Pattern of Thought in Seventeenth Century England

The Classical Republicans: An Essay in the Recovery of a Pattern of Thought in Seventeenth Century England

Excerpt

This book is a chapter in the history of ideas. It is, moreover, concerned with a complex of ideas -- the complex which represents in the field of political theory that aspect of the Renaissance which had its motive force in imitation of the classical past. It is based on the assumption that the vast number of references in Renaissance writers to classical political thought and to classical political models and their supposed modern counterparts are not to be dismissed merely as arguments dragged in to support preconceived ideas, though such use was often enough made of them, but are also significant as representing a formative element in modern political thought. It assumes that when seventeenth-century royalist writers in England charged that the reading of the books of the ancient Greeks and Romans made men into republicans, they were stating, certainly not the whole explanation of why some men became republicans, but an important element in the explanation. It claims no more than this; it is not an attempt to deny the operation of other causes, such as men's own experiences and religious beliefs, or to assert necessarily the primacy of the cause with which it deals. The book assumes, in short, that there existed in politics a counterpart to that aspect of the Renaissance which led to classical imitation in literature, architecture, and numerous other fields; that classical writers and models spoke to men in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with prestige in the field of politics as they did in the arts. It predicates, however, no blind or slavish adherence to classical precedent in political theory, but rather that kind of free adaptation and modification which in architecture led to St. Peter's being something like a Roman temple, but also something quite different. That these assumptions are justified and that because they are, classical imitation must be recognized as a formative element not only in modern political thinking, but in modern political evolution, it is the object of the evidence presented to show.

More is intended to be accomplished in the present study, however, than simply a history of a complex of political ideas. The seventeenth-century Englishmen who were influenced by classical political thinking were in several cases men of letters who injected their political ideas into their literary works. It has therefore been my object to study, not only the development of the ideas them-

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