Quentin Skinner, contextual method and Machiavelli’s understanding of liberty

A new piece in History of the Human Sciences may interest AHP readers: “Quentin Skinner, contextual method and Machiavelli’s understanding of liberty,” by Nikola Regent. Abstract:

The article examines Quentin Skinner’s influential interpretation of Machiavelli’s views on liberty, and the sharp divergence between his methodological ideas and his actual practice. The paper explores how Skinner’s political ideals directed his interpretation against his own methodological precepts, to offer a basis for a ‘revival’ of republican theory. Skinner’s reinterpretation of Machiavelli as a theorist of negative liberty is examined, and refuted. The article analyses Skinner’s claim about liberty as the key political value for Machiavelli, and demonstrates that liberty is secondary to empire on the list of Machiavelli’s priorities. Skinner’s vocabulary and efforts to tone down or ignore Machiavelli’s more aggressive ideas are closely examined. The analysis offered in the article, it is suggested, has wider implications, showing the difficulty of applying contextualism in practice, by the very founder of this approach in the history of ideas.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.