Quentin Skinner on Meaning and Method
Quentin Skinner is the Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary, University College London. He is the author of numerous books and articles on early modern political thought and is a founder of the so-called ‘Cambridge School’ of the history of political thought.
Recently, Teresa Bejan sat down to interview Professor Skinner in his London home. What follows is Part I of that conversation. You can read the continuation, “Quentin Skinner’s Context,” by clicking here.
Art of Theory: What brought you to the study of history, specifically intellectual history and the history of political thought? Did it arise out of any particular political engagement when you were younger?
Skinner: Well, at school, when we specialized—and of course English schoolboys and girls specialized very early—I studied three subjects. I studied the classics—a great deal of Latin and some Greek—history, and English literature. So, the first question in going to university was which of those subjects I would continue with, and history was the very obvious answer.
I wasn’t a gifted classicist, and as to the study of literature, at that point it would have seemed obvious to schoolteachers who were advising you that the study of literature at an advanced level was a kind of dilettante subject. It didn’t have the kind of high seriousness that people of that generation would have associated with the study of history, which was meant to be, after all, a nursery of statesmen. So, there was no contest as it were, I was going to study history.
What turned me on to the history of ideas is harder to say, but I have a very particular adolescent memory of coming upon Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. I remember, as I was a bookish adolescent, thinking that this was just the most exciting book I had ever come across. Dazzlingly written and with an extraordinary scale and scope. I remember settling down to read it and then beginning to take notes, which more or less consisted of copying the book out. It seemed to me a marvel, and if there’s one work that really made me feel I want to know more about this subject, it was that one.
As to why, if I was interested in the history of philosophy, it turned out to be the history of political philosophy, I suspect the answer to that is simply that it was an artifact of the Cambridge syllabus. That is what was taught.
When I became a professional historian, I did at various times try to burst out of those bounds because, obviously, they’re arbitrary. And one wants to study the history of moral theory and social theory as well as political theory, and also other kinds of philosophy. So, I think that although political theory was an important engagement of mine, that’s probably the answer to it.
But I was very politically engaged as a teenager and as a student. That was commonplace of course, at the time. Especially in Great Britain, practically everyone of my generation was politicized by that final gasp of empire in the  Suez expedition, its calamitous collapse, and the parting of the ways between Foster Dulles and the American regime, on the one hand, and Eden with dreams of glory, on the other. That was both a great national humiliation and a great moment of national crisis. Almost immediately after that came the complete divestment by the British of their empire. So to have lived through that was to be politicized.
Art of Theory: “Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas”, your major methodological essay, was published over 40 years ago and it remains your most cited work. What do you think accounted for its impact?
Skinner: Yes, it’s a bit humiliating that something that I wrote in my mid 20′s should turn out to be my only piece of work that people read. But I think that [“Meaning and Understanding”], in retrospect, turns out to have been part of a kind of cultural movement of the mid- to late ’60s in which people became less interested in the idea that we studied the history of philosophy in order to winnow the true things they said from the false things they said and to focus on the true things and became more interested—in a kind of anthropological spirit—in the question of whether what they said might have been interesting, although we might not ourselves be disposed to affirm it. And, in the idea more generally that there are many cultural worlds that differ radically from each other, but they each have their own internal logic and our aspiration should be to try to recapture them on their own terms.
It’s hard to remember how central anthropology was as a humanistic discipline at that time. I suppose it was in ’73 when Clifford Geertz’s classic text, The Interpretation of Cultures, was published, but that collected essays that he had been writing over the last ten years.
The other person—who was a close friend of [Geertz]—who emerges from that period saying something similar was Thomas Kuhn, especially in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; the idea that when Galileo debated with Bellarmine, that this was a collision of world systems in which both were able to produce a rational and strongly defensible account of the positions they held. Although it took Richard Rorty later to say that when we chose Galileo over Bellarmine, that was what he calls the ‘rhetoric of science’.
Well, that was the pure relativistic story that emerged a decade later. But my essay was part of a kind of mild relativism. What I was attacking in that essay essentially was the view that unless the forebears whom we study can be shown to be asking our questions than it would be pure antiquarianism to study them, and that must have seemed at the time to have been part of a wider movement.
Art of Theory: That piece is notable not only for its argument, it’s also quite passionate in the way you take on what you see as the prevailing orthodoxies.
Skinner: Yes, well [“Meaning and Understanding”] was sort of fierce. I would never write like that now. That may well be because I had to re-read it. I try never to re-read my works but I had to when I collected my papers about ten years ago, and I hadn’t in the intervening 30 years. And I was struck, if I may say this, that it was very funny. I thought it had a lot of quite good jokes in it. And yes, maybe that had a certain shock value, because it was a satire amongst other things.
Art of Theory: Did any of the people that you wrote about respond?
Skinner: Oh yes, oh yes, it caused some hurt. But it was intended to.
Art of Theory: Did you have difficulty in getting it published?
Skinner: I did, yes. If you know the essay, which was published in the end in History and Theory, which is a large format journal, it occupied nearly 60 pages of that journal. So, the important thing to say, over the fact that it was turned down by two journals, is that it was an extremely long essay to be asking any journal to publish uncut. And one journal did accept it but with the condition that it was cut down to 10,000 words, I don’t know how long it was but I think it was easily twice that length.
What I probably should have done is to have published it as a little book. But at that time, I had a very deferential view of books. I was quite shocked by some of the books that my contemporaries published, plus I felt in those days you shouldn’t really publish a book unless it was something definitive. And this was actually a kind of polemical squib, that’s all it was. So I had no such ambition for it, but it is true that it wasn’t simply its length that got it into trouble.
It did shock the referees for the two journals I sent it to. And I did get some remarkably hostile reactions to it. And this is the sort of thing that Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions tells us about, that if there is a strongly established paradigm and you challenge it, the first attempt that will be made is to sideline you, and I certainly had that experience.
On the other hand, and this is something that Kuhn is not sufficiently sensitive to in that book I think, is that there isn’t ever just one paradigm—in the humanities, at least—there are going to be several, and this article in the end had the good fortune to come into the hand of Maurice Mandelbaum, who was a German-trained historicist on the editorial board of History and Theory, and he was a very major thinker at that time in the subject, and he simply commanded them to publish it, which they did. He had great authority, and also he deeply believed in some of the things that I was saying. So there wasn’t one paradigm. For all of the people who were hostile to what I was saying, there were also people who were very happy to have it said.
Art of Theory: In “Meaning and Understanding”, you made the case for a kind of third way in the history of political thought, between an ahistorical textualism on the one hand and a reductive, mostly Marxian, contextualism on the other. You argued that the relevant context in which to situate texts were intellectual and discursive as opposed to socioeconomic.
Yet people seem to have lost sight of that latter target and the attempt to claim the middle ground and instead associate that piece—and the Cambridge school more generally—with a strict contextualism and antiquarianism. Why do you think that is, and can you reflect a bit on the reception of the argument?
Skinner: Yes, well I think that’s extremely perceptive.
I was disappointed that nobody much picked up on what I thought was the most important, or at least the most novel thing I was trying to say, which was that it was meant to be a critique of the then very prevalent Marxist theories of ideology. And I wanted to make the anti-Marxist point that there is a causal role of ideas in relation to the explanation of social and political action, but that causal role does not have to run through the assumption that an avowed principle can help causally to explain a course of action if and only if the principle is the motive for the action.
Now that had been the position which it was assumed would be taken by anyone who was adopting a non-Marxist stance. Then, of course, it was easy to make it seem intolerably naive to imagine that people’s professed principles are generally—or even ever—the actual motives for their behavior. What I wanted to say was, “Let’s concede that case. Let’s suppose that my avowed principles are never the motives of my conduct.”
It’s nevertheless the case, because of the importance of being able to legitimize what I’m doing, that what I do should be compatible with the claim that it was motivated by some avowed principle. That requirement of legitimation, which generates the requirement of compatibility in turn, places very strong restrictions upon what you can do. Because if what you can do is only what you can both do and legitimize, then some reference to the legitimizing principles will have to enter into the causal account of why this particular course of action was undertaken.
Now, that’s not a completely straightforward argument, and I don’t think I put it very well in the article. I restated it later, in a 1974 article called “Some Problems in the Analysis of Political Thought and Action” in Political Theory, and there I think I managed to get it more or less exactly as I would want to put it. But it was there in the 1969 article, as you rightly say, as an attempt to question the idea that the context that would have to be explanatory of social and political principles and actions would have to be socioeconomic, and that wasn’t taken up at all.
Very recently, Professor [David] d’Avray, in his book Rationalities in History, has quite explicitly made your point and has said that this seems to him the most original thing that I said, and that he wants to make it more widely accepted, but it’s true that it wasn’t much taken up. So one was left with the idea that what I defended was a kind of contextualism so strict that it was just antiquarian.
Now, that was always a philistine argument because I had wanted, quite explicitly, to say that the fact that the texts I was studying did not necessarily share our questions, let alone our answers to those questions, didn’t mean that they weren’t worth studying.
So to call that antiquarian is almost doubly philistine. I mean, maybe there would be other reasons for studying these texts, for one thing. But for another thing the point I earlier made about how we might learn from looking at worlds very alien to our world and its belief systems and practices. That point was one that the accusation of antiquarianism, it seems to me, also failed to get to grips with.
Art of Theory: Education as a process of alienation.
Skinner: That’s nicely put. Yes, exactly. Finding out about something other than yourself. Getting lost in something other than yourself. That’s very important.
Art of Theory: Some of your early polemical targets seemed to approach historical texts with the presumption of their own infallibility and to fault past authors for failing to conform to present sensibilities (e.g. why didn’t Locke talk about race or universal suffrage?). On the other hand, Leo Strauss, who is often regarded as a key antagonist of the Cambridge School, recommended approaching great texts with a presumption of their infallibility and the author’s superior intelligence.
How would you characterize your own mindset when approaching a text in the history of political thought?
Skinner: Well, one doesn’t want to be too prescriptive because there is much to be said for Gadamer’s hermeneutics here—that is to say, the view that essentially you must just lie down in front of the text and let it roll over you.
But I would want to say two things. One is that, for me, the unit is always the text, and I think it is a great mistake to presume that what one should be looking for is a unified set of beliefs across an oeuvre. We all experience changing our minds. It would be extraordinary if thinking people over their lifetime didn’t radically change their minds about important aspects of what they thought and said.
I am very often criticized for having changed my mind, but that really is an extremely strange criticism to make of someone who is a professional thinker. I mean, suppose the evidence was such that you felt you had to change your mind. It would be irrational not to, wouldn’t it? So, I feel that if we apply those very obvious thoughts to an oeuvre, we would want to say that if there is any unit it cannot be a larger unit than a single text in which we are looking for coherence or a particular viewpoint.
My second thought would be that, yes, I think we should do something rather along the lines of what you describe Strauss as saying. That is to say, assume that these thoughts hang together, assume that they are rationally grounded, assume that we are dealing with someone upon whose thinking processes a good deal of weight can be placed so that you find yourself saying, “Well here they say this, so they’re going to have to say that, or they can’t say the other”.
But the injunction has to stop short of any kind of belief in their infallibility, of course. Again, it is a very common experience that we reach the limits of our intelligence and we get confused and we say things that don’t fit together, and that is going to be true of the greatest thinkers as well, so be ready for your assumptions about rationality and coherence not to work.
Art of Theory: You mentioned elsewhere your love of Bertrand Russell and his History of Western Philosophy, and in that book he describes his mindset as one of “hypothetical sympathy”.
Skinner: Very good, yes. One of the extraordinary achievements in that text, which simply reveals his remarkable literary skills is that he is brilliant at paraphrase, and you can read a paraphrase of his which is very accurate and yet is full of ridicule at the same time. And it would be wonderful to know how to do that—it’s quite unfair, of course. His sympathies are very easily engaged at the level of wanting to reproduce what someone has said, and he’s brilliant at doing that. But of course, at another level his sympathies may not be engaged at all.
Art of Theory: Yes, and the difficulties of paraphrase are…
Art of Theory: “Meaning and Understanding” started out as a conference paper called “The Unimportance of the Great Texts”, and you’ve acknowledge that it was intended as an attack on the idea and importance of a canon. You have continued to affirm your 1969 position that because the questions asked in texts in the history of political thought are not our questions, we must learn to do our thinking for ourselves.
But in recent years, it seems that your friend and early methodological ally, John Dunn, has moved more towards the position that we should read the canonical authors in particular because of their intellectual power and insight in addressing some of the same problems we confront in contemporary political life. Is there a genuine tension here between your positions?
Skinner: Yes, I think there is.
I haven’t very much talked to John about this of late times, but I wrote an essay that was published in his Festschrift in which I went back over the evolution of his thinking about John Locke, and it’s very striking that he began by wanting, as it were, to alienate himself from Locke’s questions and to reconstitute the work in purely historical terms. And that later, what he wanted to tell us, was that it was a text to be read to solve some of our current problems, especially about the role of trust and representation in government.
I have always preferred a not very brilliant metaphor of mine about buried treasure, but I suppose that arises out of thinking in Foucauldian terms about archaeology. For me, what has always been more of a guiding light is the idea that if you begin by alienating yourself from the past, seeing it as strange, and trying to see things their way, seeing things their way would be trying to reconstitute answers to questions that we do not ask, and trying to make coherent concepts the readings of which are for us completely different readings.
Nevertheless what you might find is that that operation turns out to carry with it some very interesting implications for our current thought, and that has been the direction of my thinking in all of the work that I’ve done in the last two decades about the theory of freedom and of the state. I got interested in the latter as a kind of pre- or, if you like, anti-Weberian way of thinking about the state as a moral person and trying to make sense of the very unfamiliar idea that the state is not just the name of the government, but a distinct, if fictional person and trying to make sense of that.
But, once I had to my satisfaction made sense of it through working on questions about authorization and representation, I came to the conclusion that the setting aside of this idea of the moral personality of the state within liberalism—in some way either confused, or sinister or both—was a great mistake and has lost us something extremely valuable in our political discourse.
Likewise, and even more important to me, has been the work I’ve been doing on the theory of freedom, which began with my essay in a volume that Richard Rorty and I edited in 1984, trying to show that there was a negative view of freedom which was not the view that freedom is simply the absence of interference with our powers.
I was greatly helped in the ’90s by Philip Pettit’s wonderful work on this topic, and I don’t think I would have got as far as I eventually did without his help, but I ended up as Philip did in a slightly different way, with a picture of negative freedom seen as something completely other than absence of interference, and thus completely opposed to contemporary liberal ways of thinking about what un-freedom consists of.
Now I’ve come to feel that this alternative view, which sees freedom essentially as the absence of arbitrary power and hence as absence of dependence, is a more interesting way of thinking about freedom, more valuable for us here and now and something that gives us a better way of getting into what goes wrong with relations between government and the governed, and how we should be thinking about citizenship and the state. Now all of that emerged precisely from not going to the past texts in the hope that they had a better account of freedom than we had, but finding that they had a very different view—which at first I couldn’t make much sense of—but which, when I thought I had made sense of it, suddenly seemed to me much more illuminating than our own ways of thinking.
Art of Theory: In your early work, you emphasized the importance of recovering an author’s intention in any particular intervention to an interpretation of their work. More recently, it seems that you’ve shifted away from this focus on authors as human agents in favor of an almost anti-humanistic emphasis on the text as the unit of analysis. The meaning of a text is to be discovered not in the author’s intentions but intertextually, as in your recent book, Hobbes and Republican Liberty. Has there been a shift, and if so, why?
Skinner: Yes, there has been a shift. I made the shift in the name of protecting and trying to strengthen my original and basic argument.
What I originally tried to argue has been much misunderstood. I didn’t want to say that the meaning of the text is whatever the author meant. That was a complete misunderstanding. I wasn’t talking about the meanings of texts, I was talking about speech acts.
The sense of ‘meaning’ in which I was interested was the sense of somebody meaning something by doing something. That’s to say, with what intentions did they do them? Then it was objected against me, and it was objected still against the recent book on Hobbes that you mention, that I did not succeed in establishing that Hobbes intended his analysis of freedom and subjection in Leviathan as a criticism of, and an attempt to discredit (notice all those speech acts) the republican theory of freedom and government.
Now the reason, as it turns out, why these critics think that I haven’t established that this was Hobbes’s intention, is that they believe that intentions are irrecoverable mental entities, and that in order to establish that this was Hobbes’s intention you would have to get inside Hobbes’s head at the moment that he picked up the pen and started to write.
This is philosophically primitive to a shocking degree. If you look at a review of my book like the one by Blair Worden, it makes no sense when he says this is all in my mind and not in Hobbes’s at all, except on the hypothesis that this is what he must suppose it would be to recover someone’s intentions. But of course that’s a mistake about intentionality.
Intentions are ways of describing actions. The intention with which I did something identifies the act as being an act of a certain kind. The intentionality is in the action. An act of waving your arms in greeting is different than the act of waving your arms in warning, although the gesture might be identical. But that’s to say that if we’re going to be able to discriminate which it is, it must be because of a context and an assumption about what this person is doing, that’s to say intentionally doing, in waving.
So once you see that that’s the way I’m thinking about intentions, there’s no objection to my putting it as I originally put it, except of course that I then get vulgarly misunderstood as making a point about intentionality and meaning, which I’m not.
However, I think it was due to conversations with Annabel Brett and certainly through reading her beautiful essay on intellectual history in the collection What is History Now? that I came to see that a good way of protecting my position would be to say, “Well, you may think I haven’t shown that it was Hobbes’s intention in Leviathan to repudiate republican theories of government, but the Leviathan constitutes such a repudiation.”
That is without question the case. We may say that that’s true about the text and forget about the author, or if you were going to go back to Wittgensteinian and Austinian terminology, you would want to say maybe I haven’t shown the illocutionary act that was performed, namely the act of discrediting, but I’ve shown the force of the actions. The actions have the force of repudiating just as my wave may have had the force of a warning.
So it was an attempt to protect my basic position, but of course I still want to say that the idea that intentionality has no place in interpretation is a really quite primitive misunderstanding of intentionality, or else is a mistake about the two admittedly and unfortunately easily confused senses of the word ‘meaning’ that we use in this context.
I’m not saying that intentions give you meaning, I’m saying intentions give you action. Well, everybody thinks that intentions give you action. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as criminal responsibility. I think, although I don’t like to put it quite like this, that although I decided to protect my position by retreating in exactly the way you have identified, I did so in the face of arguments against my position which are not good arguments.
Art of Theory: In an earlier answer you also talked about beginning with the text as a way to avoid the temptation of imposing coherence on an author. Is that also a consideration here? Is beginning with the text as opposed to the author a safeguard against that?
Skinner: Yes, because then you might find as I did find in writing a book about Hobbes, that if you begin with Leviathan, there’s a completely clear and coherent understanding of the theory of freedom in government and obligation to government. But it’s not the same as you would find if you read the De Cive. And if you go back from the De Cive to The Elements of Law, it’s not the same there.
So there’s an evolution of his thinking here, and one that I find it very interesting to trace. But once you’ve started to talk like that, you’re back in traditional humanistic terms talking about the evolution of somebody’s thinking, and there’s no reason not to do that.
Art of Theory: You have frequently compared the task interpreting Leviathan to that of interpreting a speech in Parliament. Is there a problem with approaching a text like Hamlet or All’s Well that Ends Well in a similar way? How do you approach these texts as opposed to texts in the history of political thought?
Skinner: Well, of course, there’s a difference. The point of that observation was to try to say that what may appear at first sight a completely abstract work of philosophy like Hobbes’s Leviathan may nevertheless be a political and a highly polemical political intervention, so that understanding it would require you to understand not merely the character of the philosophy but the character of the intervention. So that was my point there.
Now, the obvious point I would therefore have to add is that I’m by no means saying that all of our references constitute polemical interventions. And maybe the idea of a lyric poem or a sonnet as a polemical intervention is simply ludicrous, so that you would want to say that this just doesn’t apply.
Now, that is often going to be so, but the caution I would want to say—and I can’t really get away from my own hermeneutics very readily—is that this claim that the idea of a contextual hermeneutics centered on the idea of speech acts just wouldn’t apply to poetry, for example, that can’t be right. It cannot be a point about genre. So, for example, Jonathan Bate in his recent book on Shakespeare has a brilliant chapter in which he shows that Shakespeare’s sonnets were intensely polemical about the conventions of sonneteering and that many of those sonnets can only be understood if you recognize that he’s satirizing a number of these conventions.
So, there we are back to the kind of hermeneutics that I’m most comfortable with, but we’re talking about a sonnet sequence. So it’s not a point about genre, but of course, there may be utterances in respect to which the application of this kind of hermeneutics would not be very fruitful.
Art of Theory: If we turn to the particular authors to whom you’ve devoted much of your scholarly attention, Machiavelli and Hobbes, both are often lumped together in a sort of rogues’ gallery in political theory, and they’re renowned among other things for their reputed atheism or more or less explicit anti-Christianity.
But for you, it seems one is a kind of Neo-Roman hero, and the other you’ve described as a nemesis. Can you say a bit about what in particular inspired your choice of subjects, and what they might have to do with each other?
Skinner: My early interest in both of these writers, was philosophical and methodological rather than historical. I wanted to argue the kind of case that we’ve just been talking about as a general way of thinking about hermeneutics.
And Machiavelli and Hobbes are both wonderful examples, because if you read Machiavelli’s Prince, you find if you know enough about the tradition of writing advice for princes and ruling classes and if you go right back into classical humanism, that much of what he’s doing in that text is satirizing those assumptions, quoting Cicero and mocking him by reversing what he wanted to say about the lion and the fox.
Of course, you’d have to know that he was quoting Cicero’s De Officiis, and as far as I can see commentators haven’t noticed that. But once you see what he’s doing, you understand the direction of his thinking, that it’s a satire.
So, for me that was perfect: What is he doing? He’s challenging, he’s satirizing, he’s repudiating some of the central tenets of classical humanism. So there’s a moment where it’s very hard to get away from the idea of the author… but likewise with Hobbes, my very earliest historical work was on Hobbes’s theory of obligation, and I tried to show that what motivated this, as Hobbes himself says at the end of Leviathan, was a wish to come to terms with the fact that the English had abolished the monarchy and set up a republic—should you obey this newly established power?
I wanted to say that to understand why Hobbes yokes obligation not to the concept of right, but to the idea of protection so strongly would be to understand that he is trying to defend and validate the new arrangements and give you reasons for accepting them. So that’s what he’s doing, and that’s what it is to understand the direction of his thinking. In both cases, they were very dramatic examples for me of what I wanted to state in general terms.
Art of Theory: One of the great things about your work on Hobbes is the attention to his dripping sarcasm and irony, which people sometimes seem determined to overlook.
Skinner: It’s full of jokes that book isn’t it? Yes, he’s a notable satirist. I sometimes thought that the mistake in the wider conspectus of Hobbes studies was to think that the person we most need to read in order to understand Hobbes is Descartes, when the person you most need to read to understand Hobbes might be Rabalais….
Art of Theory: You’ve insisted before that you’re not a political theorist and that your intention has always been to make the history of political thought a properly historical subject, and yet The Art of Theory is a political theory journal. How do you account for the persistence of political theorists’ interest in your work?
Skinner: Well, if I say I’m not a political theorist, I’m just insisting on a professional identity.
What’s been very important for me is that political theory when I was first studying and teaching was the kind of subject that had a canonical set of questions, a particular analytical idiom for addressing them, and an accompanying contempt for the historical. And I’ve wanted to challenge that. But, I’m not an antiquarian. The reason for studying the past is that, as my great mentor in Princeton, [Clifford] Geertz always used to say, “These guys are meant to be working for us!”
I think that’s a really fine remark. We are trying to find out what these guys think and we’re trying to take it on their terms. We’re trying to reconstitute their world. But of course we hope that that will illuminate our world, and if it doesn’t we’re not going to publish our results because they’re not going to be important. So where you have to be willing to spend a lot of time when it doesn’t work, and where you’ve got to be willing to press your luck where it does, is where you find that you have come upon a configuration, a theory, a way of viewing the world in the past which we have lost sight of, but which is well worth recapturing.
So there’s the Foucauldian image of buried treasure once again. And, I do think that that is a way of doing political theory. It’s rather labor intensive, and it doesn’t always work. But if it works, as for example in Philip Pettit’s writings on the theory of freedom, the payoff can be absolutely colossal. I mean Philip has single-handedly reconstituted a central feature of the discipline of political theory by making people think again about what’s wrong with both Aristotelian—that’s to say perfectionist—and liberal or individualist ways of thinking about freedom.
If he’s right, we’ve got to think again about several core concepts of our political theory and how they fit together. I certainly hope that I have made some contributions to political theory, especially with my own work about freedom, and my own work about the concept of the state.
I don’t say that these are important contributions but they’re definitely contributions to political theory. But they are the contributions of an historian.
This is Part I of a two-part series. You can read the continuation, “Quentin Skinner’s Context,” by clicking here.