Book #64: Quentin Skinner, Liberty Before Liberalism

Quentin Skinner’s slim volume, “Liberty before Liberalism” contains an expanded version of his Inaugural Lecture as Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, and is well worth reading if, like me, you’re studying the history of “classical republican” political theory. The lectures are an excellent historical background into the “neo-roman theory of free states” as understood by English republicans of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Neo-roman republicanism is the notion that freedom is best served by, and indeed can be understood as being constituted by, citizens who live within a society whose rules are determined by common assent and which foster non-domination among the citizenry. This language is more Phillip Pettit’s way of describing it than Skinner’s, but the two are in fairly close agreement on the components of neo-roman republicanism.

This is important because the neo-roman theory stands in stark contrast to the classical liberal tradition, in which freedom is constituted by any situation in which the preferences and actions of individuals are free of interference. Skinner, Pettit, and to some extent Michael Sandel call into question whether the strict liberal tradition is, in fact, the best constitutive theory of freedom available to us; all believe that what we call “liberal” goals in the United States today are best achieved not through a society founded on classical liberal (or “libertarian”) non-interference, but rather through a revival of the “republicanism” of the Founding era, the Commonwealthmen in England, both ultimately deriving from “neo-roman” principles.

I have to admit a considerable sympathy for this viewpoint, which I hope to elaborate on at length here or at Progressive Commons. I want to finish Pettit’s book first, and connect some threads between Pettit, Skinner, Sandel, Charles Taylor (about which more in my next post), and Richard Rorty. Right now, as the year ends, I merely want to record my impressions reading Skinner, and say that I will be back for more, including Skinner’s two-volume work “The Foundations of Modern Political Thought”.

Comments

21 Comments so far. Comments are closed.
  1. Chris Boggs Joins Avenue A | Razorfish & Keeps SEM Community Ties

    is a major move for Chris and I am very happy for him. What is very interesting, in…

  2. Zo is Just Getting Warmed up

    trying to cause the rim harm with what few shots he threw very hard at the frightened backboard. Does not

  3. Iraqi Army Taking ‘Baby Steps’ to Secure Country

    roops Say They Need Better Supplies, Armor to Defeat Insurgents

  4. Palmer is First Female to Referee NBA Playoff game

    an NBA playoff game, working Game 2 of the first-round series between the Indiana Pacers and New Jersey Nets on Tuesday night.

  5. [Not TiVoSafe] Motorsports Highlights: May 13-14

    stages of the race, but in the end it was Greg Biffle’s Ford that came out on top. A hard-charging

  6. Cervical cancer vaccine protection ‘is long-lasting’

    cancer, reported five newspapers (6 April 2006). The newspapers accurately reported the reliable results of the four and half

  7. Heat’s Role Players Make the Difference Again

    owner of the Nets. Walker, a solid player but not a major star, standing toe to toe with Jay-Z, an

  8. New Portal Streamlines Laboratory Compliance Information, Saves Time and Resources

    portal to manage environmental health safety compliance. (PRWEB May 15, 2006)

  9. Alan Dean Foster, Award-Winning Author, To Headline FenCon III: Science Fiction Literary Convention To Feature More Than 60 Writers, Artists, and Singers

    Readings, Concerts, an Art Show, Science, a Dealers Room, Gaming, Panel Discussions, Autographs, and a Costume Contest. (PRWEB

  10. U.S. shows photos of battered al-Zarqawi (AP)

    of the battered face of Iraqs most feared terrorist Thursday and Iraqis celebrated with gunfire after

  11. Housing: Bigger, Cheaper, More Efficient Homes

    Efficient Mortgage Can Help You Buy a Home that Might Otherwise Be Too Expensive

  12. Al-Zarqawi Killing: More Harm Than Good?

    rabic Networks Highlight Negative Ramifications of Leader’s Death

  13. Wendy’s to Use Healthier Cooking Oil

    will employ a healthier cooking oil for frying french fries and chicken items.

  14. Coulter Fires Up the Media With Criticism of 9/11 Widows

    omen Say They’d Like the Attention to Turn to National Security Issues

  15. Trials For New Drug To Overcome HIV

    existing antiviral drugs is about to be tested in combination with standard antivirals. Called PA-457, it is the first of a new class of anti-HIV

  16. Al-Zarqawi Killing: More Harm Than Good?

    rabic Networks Highlight Negative Ramifications of Leader’s Death

  17. Blacks Have Highest Hearing Scores

    be a surprise to some – researchers say tests show little difference in average

  18. Suns Blow Out Lakers in Game 7

    24 on 8-16 shooting with Luke Walton chipping in 16 and Odom netting a dozen.

  19. Longford show two changes for Decie trip

    the Leinster Championship for their trip to Waterford in the Bank Of Ireland qualifiers on Saturday.

  20. Report Says Top U.N. Official Engaged in Sexual Misconduct

    nnan Overruled Report’s Findings

  21. 3D Launches Debut Album on Roy Jones Jr.s Label BHE

    debut album, #039;Boys Will Be Boys#039; on Body Head Entertainment, Roy Jones Jr#039;s label. (PRWEB Jun