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Any observer of the modern world of politics is likely to notice an interesting and puzzling fact to which social scientists and political theorists have not given sufficient attention. Today's world shows a bewildering variety of actual political institutions – from tribal chieftainships, to assorted monarchies, to the diverse range of modern democracies. Yet, the language deployed in describing, evaluating and analysing them is remarkably uniform, drawn primarily from the range of judgements that emerged from analyses of the political history of modern Europe. To appropriate Mill's phrase for our purposes, human beings' language about politics is much narrower than the actual diversity of their experience. This carries an interesting implication for the study of political ideas. It suggests that although in other locations of the world people are purportedly running socialist parties or liberal governments and working democratic systems, these qualifying adjectives frequently mean something appreciably different from the meanings they bear in their original Western contexts. As a result, the study of political language becomes a demanding yet exciting discipline – its task being to stalk and capture strange practices masquerading under familiar names. It is true that the early work of John Dunn that came closest to appreciating this complex subterfuge was not primarily or exclusively directed at this problem: its central purpose was to convey a deeply felt concern that the resources of contemporary Western political theory were inadequate for an understanding of the world in which the West lived. But by implication it was poorly equipped for meeting the challenges beyond the frontiers of the West.
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