A History of Political Theory  

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"This history of political theory is written in the light of the hypothesis that theories of politics are themselves a part of politics. In other words, they do not refer to an external reality, but are produced as a normal part of the social milieu in which politics itself has its being. Reflection upon the ends of political action, upon the means of achieving them, upon the possibilities and necessities of political situations, and upon the obligations that political purposes impose is an intrinsic element of the whole political process. Such thought evolves along with the institutions, the agencies of government, the moral and physical stresses to which it refers and, which one likes at least to believe, it in some degree controls."--A History of Political Theory (1937) by George Holland Sabine

"The opening decades of the seventeenth century began a gradual process of releasing political philosophy from the association with theology which had been characteristic of its earlier history throughout the Christian era. The release which came in the seventeenth century was made possible by a gradual recession of religious controversy and by a gradual secularizing of the issues with which political theory had to deal. It was furthered also by a secularizing of intellectual interests which was inherent in the return of scholarship to antiquity and the spread through northern Europe of the admiration for Greece and Rome already so conspicuous in the Italian scholars of Machiavelli’s generation. Stoicism, Platonism, and a modernized understanding of Aristotle brought into being a degree of naturalism and rationalism such as the study of Aristotle in the fourteenth century had not been able to produce. Finally, an indirect effect in the same direction was produced by epoch-making progress in the mathematical and physical sciences. Social phenomena generally, and political relationships in particular, began to be conceived as natural occurrences, open to study by observation and more especially by logical analysis and deduction, in which revelation or any other supernatural element had no important place." --A History of Political Theory (1937) by George Holland Sabine

"This criticism and gradual elimination of the system of natural law culminated in Hume’s Treatise of Human Nature, published in 1739- 40. This work occupies a crucial position in the history of modern philosophy and its importance is not even mainly in the field of political philosophy. At the same time, the general philosophical position that Hume developed had a profound bearing upon all branches of social theory. What Hume supplied was a penetrating logical analysis which, if accepted, destroyed all the pretensions of natural law to scientific validity. In addition he extended this critical result to specific applications of natural law in religion, ethics, and politics. At least the main principles of Hume’s analysis must be stated because they affected the whole future course of social theory. The technicalities in which he formulated his argument and which are now obsolete may be neglected."--A History of Political Theory (1937) by George Holland Sabine

"Even in economics, which remained the stronghold of natural law well into the nineteenth century, Adam Smith was on the whole less devoted to a deductive method than the classical economists after him, probably because the latter were more influenced than Smith by the French Physiocrats."--A History of Political Theory (1937) by George Holland Sabine

"Throughout the eighteenth century the tradition of philosophical rationalism and the system of natural law which was its most typical creation was in a state of gradual decadence. Rousseau s denial of it was largely a matter of feeling ; he lacked the intellectual penetration and the steadiness of intellectual application to criticize the system in place of which he set up the autonomy of sentiment. But this criticism already existed, the work of David Hume. From the time of Locke, the growth of the empirical philosophy and the increasingly empirical practice of social studies had caused a steady infiltration of incongruous ideas into the system of natural law. Perhaps it would be truer to say that the system of natural law itself had included from the start, under the name of reason, a variety of factors which for the sake of clearness needed to be discriminated and which grew steadily more incongruous as social studies advanced. The breaking ^part of the old system was due mainly to the analytic genius of Hume. His negative limitation of reason was really a logical precondition \both of the value which Rousseau attributed to moral sentiment and of that which Burke attributed to a growing national tradition. "--A History of Political Theory (1937) by George Holland Sabine

"Since Locke’s purpose was to defend the moral validity of the Revolution of 1688, he devoted the latter part of the second treatise to discussing the right to resist tyranny. The most effective part of this argument is that which he drew from the principles of Hooker. In substance it amounts to this: English society and English government are two different things. The second exists for the wellbeing of the first, and a government which seriously jeopardizes social interests is rightly changed. This argument is supported by a rather lengthy examination of the right which can be gained by conquest. Locke here distinguished between just and unjust warfare. A mere aggressor gains no right, and even a conqueror in a just war can never establish a right which contravenes the liberty and property of the conquered. The argument is evidently directed against Hobbes in particular and in general against any theory that governments derive a just power from the successful use of force. The principle of Locke’s argument is essentially the same as that later developed by Rousseau, that moral validity and force are two distinct things, the latter being incapable of giving rise to the former. Consequently a government which begins in force can be justified, as all governments are justified, only by its recognition and support of the moral rights inherent in persons and communities. In other words, the moral order is permanent and self-perpetuating, and governments are only factors in the moral order. In this sense natural law meant for Locke substantially what it had meant for Cicero and Seneca and the whole of the Middle Ages."--A History of Political Theory (1937) by George Holland Sabine

"In the course of the eighteenth century the system of natural law, which provided the logical basis for Locke’s political philosophy, receded gradually from the dominating position which it held in the scientific thought of the seventeenth century. This was due in part to a general progress of empirical method both in the natural sciences and in social studies, but in no small degree to the development of those parts of Locke’s philosophy which stressed the importance of a natural history of human understanding. This development followed lines already suggested by Locke himself. It greatly expanded the psychological explanation of behaviour, making it depend upon the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain as its sole motives. In place of the rational standard of inherent good sought by the theory of natural law it put a utilitarian theory of moral, political, and economic value. About the middle of the century Hume showed that this development, if logically carried through, made it possible to dispense with the theory of natural law altogether."--A History of Political Theory (1937) by George Holland Sabine

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A History of Political Theory is a book by George Holland Sabine on the history of political thought from Ancient Greece to fascism and Nazism in the 1930s. First published in 1937, it propounds a hypothesis that theories of politics are themselves a part of politics. That is, they do not refer to an external reality but are produced as a normal part of the social milieu in which politics itself has its being.

The book has been translated into Arabic, Greek, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.

In 1973, Dryden Press issued a fourth edition, revised by Thomas Landon Thorson.



Part I : The Theory of the City-State
1. The City-State
2. Political Thought Before Plato
3. Plato, The Republic
4. Plato, The Statesman and The Laws
5. Aristotle, Political Ideals
6. Aristotle, Political Actualities
7. The Twilight of the City-State

Part II : The Theory of the Universal Community
8. The Law of the Nature
9. Cicero and the Roman Lawyers
10. Seneca and the Fathers of the Church
11. The Folk and its Laws
12. The Investiture Controversy
13. Universitas Hominum
14. Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII
15. Marsilio of Padua and William of Occam
16. The Conciliar Theory of Church Government

Part III : The Theory of the Nation State
17. Machiavelli
18. The Early Protestant Reformers
19. Royalist and Anti-Royalist Theories
20. Jean Bodin
21. The Modernized Theory of Natural Law
22. England : Preparation for Civil War
23. Thomas Hobbes
24. Radicals and Communists
25. The Republicans : Harrington, Milton, and Sidney
26. Halifax and Locke
27. France : The Decadence of Natural Law
28. The Rediscovery of the Community : Rousseau
29. Convention and Tradition : Hume and Burke
30. Hegel : Dialectic and Nationalism
31. Liberalism : Philosophical Radicalism
32. Liberalism Modernized
33. Marx and Dialectical Materialism
34. Communism
35. Fascism and National Socialism

Thorson edition

Thomas Landon Thorson, author of Logic of Democracy (1962) and Biopolitics (1970), revised A History of Political Theory in 1973 for a fourth edition. He explains the revisions in a preface:

A new first chapter has been added which attempts to put the history of political theory into context both of the evolution of man and of pre-Greek, pre-philosophic thought.... A variety of judgements scattered throughout the discussion have been softened, generally by omitting words or sentences, most notably in the chapter on Hegel where several pages have been omitted.

The new first chapter refers to cultural evolution:

To borrow a way of talking from biology, we can say that just as nature at a certain time and place evolved mammals, so did the culture-bearing animal evolve and come to carry with him disciplined, self-conscious political inquiry.

To maintain such an anthropological scope, Thorson sketches the dominant cultures before the arrival of democracy in Greece. He concedes a Middle Eastern dominance.

Beginning around 1700 B.C., a wave of invasions from the north opened up a new phase in development of mankind.

Thorson then quotes William Hardy McNeill:

...a cluster of petty Greek city-states had begun to create a civilization which while drawing upon the Orient for many of its elements, was nevertheless profoundly different in quality. This civilization became a lodestar...

Thorson describes the global situation then:

The era of Middle Eastern dominance thereby came to an end; and a complicated cultural interplay began among the major civilized communities of Europe, the Middle East, India and China.

Fuller table of contents




I. The City-state

Social Classes — Political Institutions — Political Ideals

II. Political Thought before Plato

Popular Political Discussion — Order in Nature and Society — Nature and Convention — Socrates

III. Plato: the “Republic”

The Need for Political Science — Virtue is Know- ledge — The Incompetence of Opinion — The State as a Type — Reciprocal Needs and Division of Labour — Classes and Souls — Jus tice — Property and the Family — Education — The Omis- sion of Law

IV. Plato: the “Statesman” and the “Laws”

The Readmission of Law — The Golden Cord of the Law — The Muted State — Social and Political Institutions — Educational and Religious Institu- tions — The Republic and the Laws

V. Aristotle: Political Ideals

The New Science of Politics — The Kinds of Rule — The Rule of Law — Conflict of the Ideal and the Actual — Conflicting Claims to Power

VI. Aristotle: Political Actualities

The Political and Ethical Constitutions — The Democratic and Oligarchic Principles — The Best Practicable State — The New Art of the Statesman — Nature as Development

VII. The Twilight of the City-state

The Failure of the City-state — Withdrawal or Protest — The Epicureans — The Cynics CHAPTER


VIII. The Law of Nature

The Individual and Humanity — Concord and Monarchy — The City of the World — The Revision of Stoicism — The Scipionic Circle

IX. Cicero and the Roman Lawyers C icero — The Roman Lawyers

X. Seneca and the Fathers of the Church

Seneca — Christian Obedience — Divided Loyalty — Ambrose, Augustine, and Gregory — The Two Swords

XI. The Folk and its Law

The Omnipresent Law — Finding and Declaring Law — The King under the Law — The Choice of a King — Lord and Vassal — The Feudal Court — Feudalism and the Commonwealth

XII. The Investiture Controversy

The Medieval Church-state — The Independence of the Church — Gregory VII and the Papalists — Henry IV and the Imperialists

XIII. Universitas Hominum

John of Salisbury — St Thomas: Nature and Society — The Nature of Law — Dante: the Idealized Empire

XIV. Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII

The Publicists — The Relative Position of the Two Parties — The Papal Claims — Egidius Colonna — Roman Law and Royal Power — John of Paris

XV/Marsilio of Padua and William of Occam

Marsilio: Averroist Aristotelianism — The State — Law and the Legislator — The Church and the Cleigy — The General Council — William: the Freedom of the Church — The Conciliar Theory

XVI. The Conciliar Theory of Church Government

The Reform of the Church — The Self-sufficing Community — Harmony and Consent — The Power of the Council — The Importance of the Conciliar Theory


XVII. Machiavelli 285

Modern Absolutism — Italy and the Pope — Macliiavelli’s Interest — Moral Indifference — Universal Egoism — The Omnipotent Legislator — Republicanism and Nationalism — Insight and Deficiencies

XVIII. The Early Protestant Reformers 304

Passive Obedience and the Right to Resist — Martin Luther — Calvinism and the Power of the Church — Calvin and Passive Obedience — John Knox

Royalist and Anti-royalist Theories

The Religious Wars in France — The Protestant Attack on Absolutism — Vindiciae contra tyrannos — Other Protestant Attacks on Absolutism — The

'O^fesuits and the Indirect Power of the Pope — The Jesuits and the Right to Resist — The Divine Right of Kings — James I

XX. Jean Bodin 340

Religious Toleration — The State and the Family — - Sovereignty — Limitations on Sovereignty —

The Well-ordered State

XX^ The Modernized Theory of Natural Law 354

/ Althusius — Grotius: Natural Law — Moral Axioms and Demonstration — Contract and Indi- vidual Consent

XXII., England: Preparation for Civil War 370

Nt More’s Utopia — Hooker: the National Church — Catholic and Presbyterian Opposition — The Inde- pendents — Sectaries and Erastians — Constitu- tional Theories: Smith and Bacon — Sir Edward Coke

XXIII. Thomas Hobbes 387

Scientific Materialism — Materialism and Natural Law — The Instinct of Self-preservation — Rational Self-preservation — Sovereignty and the Fictitious Corporation — Deductions from the Fictitious Corporation — The State and the Church — Hobbes’s Individualism

XXIV. Radicals and Communists 405

The Levellers — An Englishman’s Birthright — Moderate and Radical Reform — The Curb on the Legislature — The Diggers — Winstanley’s Law of Freedom

XXV. The Republicans: Harrington, Milton, and Sidney The Economic Basis of Republicanism — The Em- pire of Law — The Structure of the Common- wealth — John Milton — Filmer and Sidney

XXVI. Halifax and Locke

Halifax — Locke: the Individual and the Com- munity — The Natural Right to Property — Philo- sophical Ambiguities — The Contract — Society and Government — The Complexity of Locke’s Theory.

</j£xvn. France: the Decadence of Natural Law

The Revival of Political Philosophy in France — The Reception of Locke — The Changed Environ- ment — Montesquieu: Sociology and Liberty — Law and Environment — The Separation of Powers — Voltaire and Civil Liberty — Helvetius: French Utilitarianism — The Physiocrats — Holbach — Progress: Turgot and Condorcet

XXVIII. The Rediscovery of the Community: Rousseau

The Revolt against Reason — Man as Citizen — Nature and the Simple Life — ^The General Will — The Paradox of Freedom — Rousseau and Nationalism

XXIX. Convention and Tradition: Hume and Burke 503 Hume: Reason, Fact, and Value — The Destruc- tion of Natural Law — The Logic of Sentiment — Burke: the Prescriptive Constitution — Parliamen- tary Representation and Political Parties — Abstract Rights and the Politic Personality — The Divine Tactic of History — Burke, Rousseau, and Hegel

XXX* Hegel: Dialectic and Nationalism 522

The Historical Method — The Spirit of the Nation — A German State — Dialectic and Historical Necessity — Criticism of Dialectic — Individualiqy n arid the Theory of the Stat e — Freedom and Authority — The State and Civil Society — The Later Significance of Hegelianism

XXXI. Liberalism: Philosophical Radicalism 562

The Greatest Happiness Principle — Bentham’s Theory of Law — The Economic Theory of Early Liberalism — The Political Theory of Early Lib- eralism

XXXII. Liberalism Modernized 588

John Stuart Mill: Liberty — The Principles of Social Study — Herbert Spencer — The Idealist Revision of Liberalism — Liberalism, Conservatism, Socialism — The Present Meaning of Liberalism

XXXIII. Marx and Dialectical Materialism 628

v/ The Proletarian Revolution — Dialectical Ma- terialism — Economic Determinism — Ideology and the Class Struggle — Marx’s Summary — Engels on Dialectic — Engels on Economic Determinism — Capitalism as an Institution — Surplus Value — The Collective Worker

XXXIV. Communism 665

The Relation of Leninism to Marxism — Trade Unionist and Socialist Ideology — The Party —

Lenin on Dialectical Materialism — Imperialist Capitalism — The Imperialist War — The Bour- geois and the Proletarian Revolutions — The Dic- tatorship of the Proletariat — Capitalist Encircle- ment — The Temper of Communism

XXXV. Fascism and National Socialism 709

Nationalist Socialism — Prussian Socialism — Irrationalism: The Philosophic Climate of Opinion — Philosophy a Myth — Fascism and Hegelianism — The Folk, the Elite, and the Leader — The Racial Myth — Lebensraum — Totalitarianism — National Socialism, Communism, and Demo- cracy

Index 756

Selected bibliography



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The Last Days of Hitler. By H. R. Trevor-Roper. New York, 1947.

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