The canon of the history of political thought: Its critique and a proposed alternative

History and Theory 39 (2):147–166 (2000)
Abstract
After a brief review of the origins and the nature of the received canon of the history of political thought, this essay discusses the critiques that have been leveled at it over the past decades. Two major lines of critique are distinguished: 1. The democratic critique, focusing on the omission of "plebeian," non-Western, and female voices from the traditional canon, as well as the failure of the canon to discuss issues such as popular radicalism, patriarchal rule, and the politics of empire. 2. The methodological critique in which the canon is deconstructed as an anachronistic, "Whiggish" enterprise, and its validity as history is questioned against the background of "history after the linguistic turn." The essay examines the consequences of both lines of criticism for some key concepts in the history of political thought, as well as for the coherence and the structure of the traditional canon. It calls attention to the paradox that, while virtually all elements of the canon have been subjected to incisive critique, the canon itself has so far survived relatively unscathed in the major textbooks and in the way the subject is taught in universities the world over. In the final section the question is raised what a new, reconstructed overall history of political thought might look like, and some preliminary suggestions are offered towards a revision of the canon that would satisfy both the democratic and the methodological critique
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