This article presents a reinterpretation of James Harrington's writings. It takes issue with J. G. A. Pocock's reading, which treats him as importing into England a Machiavellian ‘language of political thought’. This reading is the basis of Pocock's stress on the republicanism of eighteenth-century opposition values. Harrington's writings were in fact a most implausible channel for such ideas. His outlook owed much to Stoicism. Unlike the Florentine, he admired the contemplative life; was sympathetic to commerce; and was relaxed about the threat of ‘corruption’ (a concept that he did not understand). These views can be associated with his apparent aims: the preservation of a national church with a salaried but politically impotent clergy; and the restoration of the royalist gentry to a leading role in English politics. Pocock's hypothesis is shown to be conditioned by his method; its weaknesses reflect some difficulties inherent in the notion of ‘languages of thought’.
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