History of Political thought to c. 1700

Course Material 2024/25

This paper spans the history of Western political reflection from the city states of ancient Greece to seventeenth century arguments about revolution and empire. It offers the chance to investigate ancient conceptions of political organisation, human nature and virtue in their own time and place as well as under the later impact of Christianity in the dramatic dialogue between the Church and the Roman Empire.

The paper then explores the afterlife and seemingly inexhaustible powers of these ancient texts to stimulate and structure political thinking in later centuries. Aristotle’s works, Roman philosophy and Roman law all re-surfaced and were put to work in the Latin West in medieval debates on the relationship between the Church and secular powers. It covers humanist responses to the classical past and to classical conceptions of virtue in the political thought of Machiavelli and others, the role of the Reformation in reshaping political discourse and the rise of the state as the object of government and the subject of sovereignty.

New from Michaelmas 2023 will be topics on animals and the environment, slavery, gender, Western engagement with Islam and colonialism, widening the range of political actors the paper considers and extending its scope beyond the bounds of Europe.