Principles of Social & Political Theory

By Ernest Barker | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THIS book is based on a course of lectures regularly delivered in the University of Cambridge during the latter years of my tenure of the Chair of Political Science. (The course was last delivered in the academic year 1938-9.) Encouraged by some of those who originally attended the lectures, and especially by one or two who have since become teachers and lecturers in the subject, I have turned some eighty pages of crabbed manuscript notes, packed with additions and alterations, into something which may seem new and strange to those who knew the argument in its original form. It has been a little like putting the pieces of pith called "'Japanese flowers'" into water; but it has taken much more time and very much more mental effort. I despaired again and again in the course of writing the book (the arteries of the mind are hardened by the time one reaches the middle seventies); but somehow I got to the end, and I now present to the reader the testament of my old age.

I had written the major part of this book when I came across a passage in one of Professor Whitehead's books which comforted me greatly. It is a sentence in one of the essays in his Aims of Education, and it runs as follows: 'It should be the chief aim of a University professor to exhibit himself in his own true character--that is as an ignorant man thinking, actively utilising his small store of knowledge.' I was the more comforted by these words, and especially by the word 'ignorant', because I was very conscious of my want of that sort of knowledge of politics which comes from actual experience. But my mood changed when I noted that Mr. Amery, in the introduction to his Thoughts on the Constitution, had quoted a sentence from Spinoza which could not but be depressing to the theorist of the study. 'It cannot be doubted that politicians themselves have written much more happily than philosophers about political matters.' Professor Whitehead had comforted me. Could I think of any comfort in the face of Spinoza's dictum?

A reflection occurred to my mind, which I drew from my master Aristotle. In a passage in the third book of his Politics he draws a distinction between those who are 'executants', or 'men of directing skill', in any given field of activity, and those who

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