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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: September 2011

Introduction to Part II

from Part II

In Part I we saw how Hobbes and Spinoza developed their respective theories of sovereignty in order to respond to certain skeptical arguments that were prevalent in their era. Part II jumps to the twentieth century to draw upon the critiques of skepticism developed by Ludwig Wittgenstein and Stanley Cavell (and to a lesser extent J. L. Austin) to demonstrate a way of conceiving political order that can take account of the skeptical challenge without necessarily resorting to the institution of sovereignty. One possible objection to my argument is that by jumping forward over 400 years from Hobbes and Spinoza’s writings on sovereignty to a contemporary critique of the concept, I am ignoring the ways in which sovereignty may have changed over time. From the perspective of a contextualist intellectual historian such as Quentin Skinner, I am in danger of writing a “mythology of doctrines.” By focusing so narrowly upon the doctrines of sovereignty in Hobbes and Spinoza, I risk turning them into an ideal type and arguing that nothing has changed with the concept since they first wrote. Worse still, from the contextualist perspective, I could be accused of falling into the trap of assuming that all thinkers since Hobbes and Spinoza have used the concept of sovereignty in an identical way. I am broadly sympathetic to the Cambridge School critique of the “history of ideas.” Namely, that in presupposing what sovereignty is prior to approaching the text, the interpreter will then misread how the author uses the term.

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Captives of Sovereignty
  • Online ISBN: 9781139003322
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