Quentin Skinner is Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University of London. His latest book, Forensic Shakespeare, will be published later this year. (June 2014)

What Should You Learn from Machiavelli?

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Rosso Fiorentino, early sixteenth century
When the Florentine Republic collapsed in 1512 and the Medici princes returned to power, Niccolò Machiavelli was suddenly and violently ousted from the position he had occupied in the Chancery since 1498. Writing to his friend Francesco Vettori in December 1513, he reported that he was now living on his …

The Advancement of Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon has always been given a leading part to play in the grand narratives about the origins of modern thought. The philosophers of the Enlightenment made him a hero of their story about the triumph of reason over superstition and ignorance. Immanuel Kant, for example, hails him in the …

Bringing Back a New Hobbes

Thomas Hobbes’s reputation as one of the leading figures in the history of European philosophy chiefly rests nowadays on a single work, his Leviathan of 1651. It is hardly surprising that Leviathan continues to attract so much attention. As Michael Oakeshott once memorably remarked, it is “the greatest, perhaps the …

The Past in the Present

Stephen Toulmin has always been a philosopher of extraordinary range and confidence. Over the past forty years he has published a steady stream of important books, encompassing such diverse topics as the logic of explanation, the uses of argument, the place of reason in ethics, and the historical development of …

Ms. Machiavelli

Hanna Pitkin’s central argument in Fortune Is a Woman is that “where politics meets gender” we come upon “the troubled heart of Machiavelli’s complex thought.” Machiavelli, for her, is “both a republican and something like a protofascist”; and the “focus of the ambivalence” she finds in his texts is “manhood: …

Habermas’s Reformation

Among the ever-increasing volume of studies devoted to the social philosophy of Jürgen Habermas and other members of the Frankfurt school, Professor Raymond Geuss’s recent book, The Idea of A Critical Theory, stands out as a contribution of exceptional originality and interest. It is searching in its criticisms, but never …

The World as a Stage

The term “negara” in Professor Geertz’s title refers to the pattern of supreme political authority that prevailed over much of Southeast Asia in the precolonial period. The main purpose of Geertz’s study is to delineate the general structure of the negara by focusing on one particularly well-documented case, that of …

The End of Philosophy?

Ever since Aristotle declared that philosophy is “the first and last of the sciences,” philosophers have tended to take a very exalted view of the importance of their subject. They will find it much harder to do so after reading Professor Richard Rorty’s disturbing and brilliantly argued book. He opens …

Duellist

As scholars grow older and more eminent, it has been observed, they tend to write less but to publish more. Among historians, Professor J. H. Hexter is a distinguished case in point. He first began to make books out of his previously published articles as early as 1961, when he …

Taking Off

In the first volume of Capital, Marx declares that “the modern history of capital dates from the creation in the sixteenth century of a world-embracing commerce and a world-embracing market.” This suggestion has recently been followed up by Immanuel Wallerstein, who achieved a considerable vogue in 1974 with his book …

The Lesson of Thomas More

This is the five-hundredth anniversary of Sir Thomas More’s birth. Anniversaries are traditionally a time for taking stock, so it seems an appropriate moment to ask what reasons there may be for continuing to think about More’s life and writings so many centuries after his death. To a historian there …

The Flight from Positivism

Before the intellectual and political upheavals of the Sixties, many practitioners of the social disciplines had begun to convince themselves that they were well on the way to establishing a genuinely “scientific” method for the study of social life. But since that time, as the English sociologist Anthony Giddens has …

Milton, Satan, and Subversion

Although Christopher Hill is undoubtedly one of England’s leading historians, his reputation has recently suffered from a number of astonishingly vituperative and unfair attacks, the most intemperate of which was launched a couple of years ago by Professor J.H. Hexter in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement. Hill’s many …