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In the 1960s, Quentin Skinner wrote a series of polemical if terse papers arguing that the conventional approach to the history of political theory was confused. Using Hobbes as something of a vehicle for his position, Skinner enunciated what is now well known as the "Cambridge" approach to political theory. He urged that we situate authors in their intellectual contexts so that we can isolate what is distinctive, perhaps subversive, in their use of language: only then, he argued, can we have any valid historical understanding on what they are doing in writing these weird books in the first place. This new study, daunting in its erudition, marks Skinner's return to Hobbes. It is tempting to take it as exemplary of the method he has so assiduously propounded - and practiced - over the years, to think that its merits demonstrate the soundness of that method, its flaws the weaknesses or perversity. The temptation ought to be avoiced, I think, or at least gratified with exceeding caution. There is more and less to the method than one could conceivably find in any particular instantiation, however faithful.


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