What Intellectual History Teaches Us: A Conversation w/ Quentin Skinner (The Governance Podcast Ep6)



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The Centre for the Study of Governance and Society at Kings College London presents The Governance Podcast. Professor Quentin Skinner is the former Regius Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and is currently the Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities and Co-director of The Centre for the Study of the History of Political Thought at Queen Mary University of London.

He discusses the meaning of intellectual history, key insights about republicanism and political representation, and the perennial lessons we stand to learn from the humanities about our political present, including his thoughts on Brexit, Facebook and how the English think about freedom.

About CSGS:
The Centre for the Study of Governance and Society (CSGS) examines how both formal and informal rules of governance operate and evolve, and how these rules facilitate or imperil peaceful, prosperous, and ecologically secure societies.

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*Skip Ahead*

1:05: What do intellectual historians do, and what are the defining features of the Cambridge school?

6:34: Is there a reason intellectual historians are so drawn to the early modern period?

8:08: What is Hobbes’ legacy? Why is he important?

10:38: What was so original about the Hobbesian conception of the state?

16:00: Why did Britain fail to adopt the Hobbesian view of the state?

19:41: What is republicanism, and why is it important?

25:00: What does the Irish case teach us about republicanism?

28:00: Your new book is about teaching the humanities. Why is that so important?

33:10: What is the meaning of laughter?

37:15: What is Hobbes’ theory of political representation?

40:45: How do classical debates about representation bear upon the present?

43:50: How much can we learn from the past?

49:02: How do you see yourself entering public debate as a moralist?

welcome back to the governance podcast and sent for the study of governance and society of King's College London my name is Jeremy Jennings I'm a professor here and head of the school of politics and economics and I'm your host today IRA please welcome Quentin Skinner who is Barbara Bowman professor of humanities at school of history of Queen Mary University of London and who was formerly Regis professor of history at the University of Cambridge professor Skinner is well known as a leading intellectual historian and political theorist his most recent book from humanism to Hobbes studies in rhetoric and politics was recently published with Cambridge University Press Quentin thanks so much for joining us at the governance podcast we've actually looking forward to discussing your new book however before we do that I want to just you a few general questions about your research interests and what you study you're an intellectual historian often associated with what is referred to as the Cambridge School of intellectual history can you explain first what do intellectual historians do and second what are the defining features of the Cambridge schools approach to intellectual history well thank you Jeremy and thank you very much for agreeing to talk to me it's a great pleasure to be back in touch with you pleasure for me to in Center well being an intellectual historian I think I would have to concede that it's not a wonderful label is it I mean you can see how it came to replace the traditional label of historian of ideas because that seemed to reify the ideas and get rid of agency and of course that was polemical from the outset but intellectual historians I suppose would think of themselves as people who study not just the philosophies but more generally the beliefs and attitudes that we encounter in the past but then what's meant to be the distinction with cultural history and then again what about the history of science are they examples of intellectual historians I think they would all want to say probably not so there are porous bound is here but I think what it's trying to capture is the idea that we are studying the activity of thinking in the past rather in the same manner as you would study any other activity in the past you know making things or growing things or whatever historians have traditionally studied now as to the Cambridge School Jeremy um a vexed question really as you kindly said in your introduction as many years since I taught at the University of Cambridge so I'm not sure if there's still a Cambridge school but I could certainly tell you what my approach looks like and maybe there's something distinctive about that certainly there has been supposed to be over time or else I wouldn't have had so many critics so I think I could encapsulate my approach to the sort of intellectual history I study by saying something very general about the phenomenon of natural languages it seems to me we do have to think in rather than continue in terms of languages as having you might say two dimensions and there's the one that's traditionally thought of as meanings meanings of words meanings of propositions meanings of entire texts and that's been the traditional topic of hermeneutics the interpretation of texts has been an attempt to recover their meaning of course deconstruction came along but didn't alter the traditional questions of hermeneutics it simply told us that there were no stable meanings so I have wanted to focus on something other than meanings and they're assumed stability or instability I've wanted to focus on what I'm calling this other dimension which one might think of as language as a species of social action so that the question when I'm saying something is not what it means exclusively but what am i doing I'm an agent issuing an utterance what is going on here and let me give you an example that will I I hope really clarify how this significantly alters intellectual history take the case it's a writer I've written a lot about of Machiavelli integrating if the Prince Machiavelli says successful prince must learn to imitate the line on the Fox well interpreters have said here what we have to do obviously is unpack the metaphor the lion is the symbol of force the Fox is the symbol of guile and so the meaning of the passage is that successful rulers have to reckon to include both force and fraud in being successful in politics I have nothing to say against that that's obviously all correct but now consider the following the most important work of moral political philosophy to anyone of Machiavelli's generation in Renaissance Italy would have been Cicero's delicous his book concerning duties now in the opening book he talks about the virtues and especially because he's talking about morals and politics the virtue of justice and he says there are two ways in which injustice can be done either by force or by fraud but force reduces you to the level of learn and fraud to the level of the Fox this is beastly this is not manly this is unworthy of humankind all right so now let's go back to Machiavelli it turns out it was in addition to everything we've said about unpacking the metaphor he is quoting Cicero he is also commenting on a particular formulation of Cicero's about injustice he is repudiating it and you might say in addition he's satirizing Cicero's moral earnestness this is what he's doing so a whole new dimension enters and if you were to ask why that matters the answer is that now when we think about the texts that intellectual historians characteristically study we are thinking about interventions in discursive contexts and that is very much the approach I always tried to adopt what's going on to put it more pejoratively what is this writer up to is there any particular reason why most of those over the house was 50 years of publishing it's probably longer I don't know yes it's a long long time there's been a whole spin the book most they were focused on the early modern period yeah is there a particular reason why you've been especially drawn to that in terms of what you've just said is that it to me I noticed one of the phrases you've going to phrase of you use and many of your books as I said the in epoch-making he has the sense that what the frig you look at something really big is going on there that's very interesting I don't expect to have been very self conscious about that but I wanted to go sufficiently far back in time for there to be as you say epochs so that we're able to show moral systems shifting religious systems shifting whole conceptual schemes being abandoned and maybe we'll even talk about that and subsequently and I think that my attraction to these much earlier periods and I suppose I written on the 14th century and 5060 17th never later than the early 18th century is this wish to come upon strong contrasts and especially moments when contrasts are very strongly drawn and white but particularly mentioned your interest in Machiavelli about whom you've written a lot but one thing's probably primarily of you writing about Hobbes of late what suspect when you're not alone in being fascinated by Hobbes Michael okay shot the walls and others yes what Dwight what's the particular attraction of hops why's Hobbes so important yes in all of this because you manifest in the ears why yeah as your book well traditionally of course Hobbes has been thought important as the most systematic exponent of a theory of absolutism in modern physical philosophy and again that's not wrong he clearly is but I have been interested in Hobbes for two quite separate reasons and which are not strongly connected with that way of thinking about Hobbes and one is in Hobbes as a theorist of freedom and there we have a revolution Hobson is the person who introduces into Anglophone political philosophy a particular way of thinking about freedom namely that the antonym of freedom is coercion which seems to us obvious but was a revolution at the time I was very interested in what exactly he was up to in wanting to produce that formulation and the short answer to that is an engagement with Republican political theory but for me what's most important about Hobbs and here I'd been much in discussion with David ransom inand his wonderful work early work on Hobbes and personality of the state is Hobbes as a theorist of the state and that's where he is as it were in our present as well as in his own past Leviathan is the state and Hobbes is the exponent of a particular way of thinking about the state namely that it's the name of a distinct person a fictional person but nevertheless the seat of sovereignty which I think is in contemporary political theory neglected to the detriment of our ways of thinking about public path and so it's really in relation to those two themes freedom and the state that Hobbes seems to me a person we really need to engage with in one case we might want to question an account is account of freedom which we would in general now tend to endorse but in the other case I would think there's a case for reviving thinking about the state um as a kind of moral person actually would say pass on behalf you know this project is very very much concerned with good governance in general that well F obviously the state were to say little bit more about what was so regional about the Hobson conception of the state yes certainly well the state is a piece of musical terminology was not very well established at the time when hops was writing of course I would want to say that any attempt to isolate any strongly normative term which is also foundation for our politics and give a definition which we could at least in principle agree on is a lost cause I mean these concepts are always weapons they're always part of wars and debates and we're never going to get a neutral account of these sorts of normative concepts but what's important about hops is the way in which he enters existing discussions about the state so here there would be a very strong contrast with contemporary political theory seems to me we've largely evacuated traditional ways of thinking about the state if you open any newspaper it talks about the state but by the state it just means the government so should the state re nationalize the railways that's a question about the present governments who did not do that if you're feeling in a very fancy mood you would pick up max Faber's view which was has been incredibly influential that when we talk about the state we're talking indeed simply about a coercive apparatus the apparatus of government but it is apparatus over a particular territory all right that adds something else but notice that we've just said we're talking about an apparatus of government now in the way in which the concept was first introduced into Western political theory the whole pint of talking about the state was to oppose it to existing systems of government as a way of inquiring into their legitimacy and the first way in which this was done was through the very traditional image of the body politic and the very natural way of thinking about the body is having a head as we still say a head of state and so that's the way that Cantara it's thinks about the the Kings two bodies which is that there's the personal body of the king but the Sabari of the King as head of state and that's a natural metaphor a head and body but of course it was intensely contested in the revolutions of the early modern period but I hope people who wanted to say this is a false metaphor political bodies are not like natural ones a political body is its own head if we're asking about the seat of sovereignty he's not the king it is the people now it's into that huge debate in English revolution which is way of articulating the English revolution in the 1640s with it with after on the abolition of the monarchy and the execution of the head of state that Hubbs enters to say not the seat of sovereignty is not the king of it as head of state but it's also not the people it is a completely separate entity and that's a revolutionary moment that's Leviathan and that comes about by Hobbes saying well what exists in nature the state doesn't exist in nature a multitude exists in nature but it would comes to see that it can't live as an altitude because they have conflicting desires and the state of nature is going to be one of their altar life so it's rational to recognize that and it's therefore rational to have a critical covenant in which you will away your rights to an authorized representative who acts in your name and of course any theory of representative democracy agrees with that so Hobbes says notice however and this is it's really crucial conceptual rule that if a multitude authorizes its representation it ceases to be a multitude because it now has a single will and a single voice and it can act because it can act through a representative so there's a new question in political theory which is what is the name of the multitude which makes itself a person by having a representative or to put the question as Hobbes does who does the sovereign represent and the answer is the state now the state is simply a fiction but HUD says we need these legal fictions and of course he's right there we need the idea that the corporation is more than its members and the state is more than a government if we're going to talk about for example the idea of responsibility we can't hold an organization responsible unless we can treat it as a person and identify the natural persons who represent the fictional person so there is Hobbes theory of the state and at the time of course it's absolutely epoch-making it's not very influential in England but I'm hardly tell you this it's extraordinary influential in the natural law theory of the state in continental Europe I mean this is what proof and off takes up he says wrong to think of it as a fictional person it's an immoral person persona Morales that's of course what we so takes from proof and off the pass on the high that's what Kant takes from from Rousseau that's what Hegel takes from can't and so it's an extraordinary story of the evolution of a particular way of thinking about the state one which we have completely so one of the questions that the historian of ideas should always be asking is well we've abandoned it but is that loss or is that the game and in this case I think it's a clear loss because the motivation was to find the standing means to ask about the decency of government granted that what renders government's legitimate is that they act for the benefit of the people as a whole ie for the benefit of the state I wouldn't think about it isn't England or Britain that we've seen are the most difficulty talking about mistakes it's a choice whereas in continental Europe the end if you walk up to the average French citizen and say what is the state yes well that actually feels pretty reasonable yes I knew that in Britain people just look at this room I couldn't agree more it's a very interesting fact about English liberalism that it couldn't adopt this view and if you ask why I connected strongly to the rise of classical utilitarianism because if there's one thing that Bentham in his early youth hates and of course it's the grounds of his attack on Blackstone is the idea of legal fictions but the legal fiction as Maitland was later to say trying to revive the idea is the state it is the most important legal fiction it's only a fictional person although it's the person who declares Ward puts you in jail and understanding politics is understanding how a fiction can put you in jail and of course the miracle notion is representation that does everything but we've never thought in those terms because you through terrorism has told us well we have to talk about facts and the fact is that there's a gunman yes yes so that's obviously fascinating just at any back to bet the first question about about what does the intellectual historian – I mean we've all hoop like myself and generations until it's historians have learned so much from you and I think I think the first thing we review those brilliant first essays you wrote was this was a really important thing to do and there was almost no I was incredible science department it almost reached the stage where every default would have its Titan political yeah serious or historically the sort which said caged they're bringing out the cupboard and that was it and you may bring it back at center stage is a really important part of what we want done and and that's had an impact and extraordinary impact I think but looking at the sometimes of this question about well what does intellectual storyand do one of the ways in which you've expressed I think many many times is in a sense obviously I want to and use in the latest book you talk you start with Hobbes says and that beautiful phrase you've got about my you say you say my aim is simply to supply enough history to understand the meanings and tensions of the right as I discuss by recovering the circumstances in which they wrote which is not crazy enough which is your paraphrase of yeah of harvest which is absolutely wonderful some wonderful beginning to the book elsewhere you know you said some defective or one things we do one things about history is you stay in fact history for its own sake but it tells you about the courses which we do not take gadget it tell us about what we've done but what we've not taken and therefore the possibilities that were available – unless again that's something I think we've all been greatly don't a lot from that one of the course has not taken ography has been republicanism and that's that's the other yes one of the other in very very important strands of your work over many years which it's pretty to say something more about that and because one of your books is Hobbes and republicanism emigrated could you say something more about that because here's an alternative tradition yes and one of your views which has been largely forgotten right away and one of the things you've been doing is excavating around and bringing it to the to the surface again would you say something more about what you understand by republicanism why you think this is so important well thank you Jeremy that's a beautiful account of one of the things I've been trying to do as you say I've wanted to historic eyes the subject of fiscal theory and to make it about discursive contexts in which sometimes similar but sometimes different concepts are as issue sometimes if they look familiar sometimes they look deeply unfamiliar and I suppose going back to what I said at the beginning one reason I've wanted a long survey is to see the paths not taken and of course one path not taken we've talked about which is the state we just have given up on that idea in Anglophone philosophy if you talk especially United States to people about the state they have no notion of what although it's called the United States so the other concept that I have subjected to the same kind of scrutiny you rightly point out is the theory of freedom it's not I who called it Republican freedom the classic work on this has been done by Philip Pettit in his book of 1997 republicanism and I published a book about a month later in 1998 which was called Liberty before liberalism and so we announced our views about this issue very much the same time but we've been talking together for many years and I've been greatly influenced by I feel it's work so what he calls a Republican theory of freedom and what I've preferred to call near Rome is a view which challenges what I've already set out as the Hobbesian view or the view that would nowadays seem very natural to adopt which is that if you are free and a choice what that means is no one is stopping you from doing what you want you're free you're free because no one is impeding you and so the Antonine of freedom is taken to be coercion coercion might be physical you might be stopped from doing it it might be moral in as much as a threat might cause you not to do it but that's the way the fundamental way in which freedom is affected by acts of interference with your will now the Republican view it says well that is of course all true but that absolutely misses what's critical was crucial to the theory of freedom which is that the Antonine of the fundamental antonym for freedom is not interference or coercion it is dependence so the large conceptual gulf that opens up there is that on this account you could be unfree even in the absence of any act of interference or even in the absence of any threatened active interference because what it is to be unfree is for you to be dependent upon the world of somebody else the reason i wanted to call this new roman' is that the aura text for freedom seen as the Antonine of dependence is the roman law terminal of course has been the law code starts by asking who is subject to the law and since it's a slave society it has to say well citizens or subjects of the law but slaves or not and that's because citizens are free and slaves by definition are not free but of course that leaves the Roman law with the question well what is it that makes a citizen free it must be the same as makes a slave unfree and the answer is having a master the slave has a master and the citizen does not so the citizen might be poorer than the slave or might be in very exigent circumstances or might have all sorts of difficulties which was laid with a benign master does not have but the fact remains that the slave has a master benign as' is neither here nor there because it to be subject to the will of somebody else means that you're at their mercy it may be all right but the horror of slavery is that you never know if it's going to be all right now whereas the status of the free person is that he or she has an independent will so there's the Republican view and of course it has enormous implications for thinking about our contemporary world because this is the view that we gave up and if you asked me in this case where we wise to give it up I would say that it was a one of the great ideological missed steps that we took it's very easy to understand why we took it but we did I just saw that I'd recently bought a while ago if everything went back to me buh-bye Christoph turbo more only hadn't wrote a book on Ireland and as a marvelous passage I I should send it to him in Senate you where he precisely articulates that position in the context of the Irish and the British yes and you know it doesn't matter how free they look good they are not free like it cannot be free precisely because of their dependence on the English and the fact that the English at any time yes at their choosing yes couldn't be yeah at least and that's usually the case of islands where it good exam yes think of I think of that way of thinking very good and I think that's a very profound case because me it's the one that comes up from a very early stage in this debate in fact Molyneux's book called the case of Ireland in the 1720s argues exactly this and it was at a point where there was some pressure being brought to bear on the idea that freedom should be understood as absence of dependence and of course the Irish case is one of pure dependence so they want to say we're in a slave condition of all companies earn a slave condition and of course that became the rallying cry for the enemies of the colonists in the United States as an as in Canaan and that's to say this is the theory of freedom which is presented to the British soon and there's very little that the British can do within the parameters of the Neo Roman view the freedom to answer that because the famous allegation of course is that we're being taxed without representation and so the level of Taxation is wholly arbitrary and discretionary well as in Ireland and and of course this is the answer that was always given is well you can trust us we won't do we won't do anything terrible but the point is that slavery buddy why should we trust you because we're completely at your mercy and I connect the repudiation of this new roman view of freedom which was more or less Universal before the 17th century to the fact that they don't have an answer to the colonies they don't have an answer to an 18th century Empire but what they do begin to say is as Bentham of course says as great an enemy of the Declaration of Independence they don't understand freedom freedom is completely de-facto so only the question am I being coerced of course I'm not being coerced you know this was the English did do terrible things as well but how sure yes but but I thought thank you so I came across this than that I should have realized that they've been broader debate about the irish case it's such an obvious yes well as an instance of the general case of colonies if you look at the renaissance Reviver of the new roman understanding of freedom in great republican thinkers Machiavelli and this is why I'm so interested in Machiavelli not as the author of the prince but the author of the discourses Lizzie on the how Rome gave up monarchy and became a free state as he calls it a cavitus Libre in in Livy the being stati in America what is it to be started inhibitor well it's the same for your body as it is for a body politic it is for your body to be under the control of your own will but of course if you're a colony or under the control of somebody else's will just as if you're a slave so body politics can be slipped enslaved and that attack on Empire and that insistence on republicanism in the strict sense of being anti-monarchic or is the whole Machiavellian legacy we might come back on to the the roots not taken late later on and what were his broader implications of that fact that Mia Roman theory of Liberty but now I would like to give me the opportunity to tell us something about your your new book oh good yeah sound from humanism to Hobbes and it's what are the books about why is it important because it's essentially about teaching to humanities and its impact upon ears political thought and soul each one thing I know it's Bob it's a marvelous read and extraordinarily rich and well it's called studies in rhetoric and politics and it is a series of linked studies stemming from work I've been doing on questions about rhetoric and politics now for quite a long time as you rightly say it's organized really around the idea of history of a curriculum the humanities in the early modern period and stemming again from classical antiquity and its Reviva the Renaissance was the name of a curriculum and it was a curriculum in five parts of which the first was so-called grammar to go to school hence the name grammar schools of course because what you learned was Latin Latin grammar and then you learned classical rhetoric and that was what you did for three years in the so called sixth form which was sometimes called the rhetoric form that's what you learned and what you were being trained in and this containing would continue at university in the Renaissance universities in this country of course only to Oxford in Cambridge they reformed their curricula in the 16th century to make them humanists which meant that you went on to study rhetoric once again treated not of course just as a way of embellishing our utterances although it is that and that was important but as a theory of persuasive argument rhetoric told you the optimal way to present an argument to have the space of force and so what mattered to the restorations was not so much from what they called ornament that's to say the figure the figures and tropes of speech but what they called invention and disposition invention meaning the finding out of the best arguments and disposition meaning organizing me to the best effects now that's what you learnt at university and you learn poetry and history because of course there were examples of this and then finally moral philosophy in the fifth item where you applied all of this and this is a very practical training because what we were going to do if you've been to university one of three things you'd either go into the law or you go to politics or above all you go into the church but all of these avocations put the public speaking especially in the Protestant country of course absolutely at the top of the agenda so it was meant to be a very practical training for an elite now my point is that the Macy figures whom I talk about this is unashamed Western European elite culture but there are four people whom I've always written about from this perspective and the first chronologically is Machiavelli and the second is Shakespeare who's been occupying me always but I wrote my last book about him published 2014 forensic Shakespeare the third is Milton who's never far from my thoughts in whom I've written a lot about and finally as you've been rightly saying Hobbes on whom I've written three books now all of these people had in common that they went through this humanist education Shakespeare is the one who doesn't go to university but he goes to a very good grammar school and so he gets all of this now my point is that there are many features of the writing of all of these major figures that you actually have no chance of understanding unless you see that the structure of their thinking is a rather unfamiliar structure to us it's the structure of rhetorical invention and so in a succession of essays I try to show that first of all in the case of Machiavelli and hysteria political virtue and then in two of Shakespeare's plays where I try to show engagement Venice and also in Coriolanus that these are wholly rhetorically organized plays and then of course Milton and Hobbes are humanists in politics and I really want to say about Hobbes that the the step from humanism to Hobbes the title of my book is a very short stem indeed Hobbes's often thought of as someone who replaced his rhetoric was science in politics and that's not wrong he does aspire to that but he is deeply indebted to the humanist tradition and above all to humanist understandings of how to think about representation especially in classical theories of representation and so that's what I try to pick up in talking about jobs and there's a mob a section on their own on laughter are there is something about that I mean this is there's so much in this book is fascinating things it's a section of math again so if you bank you make Duque Beijing hopes but you do say the thing of what important this thing this Hobbs Games gives up on this bit he ties up this with time and he doesn't say bunions like yes well the psychology of laughter has always interested me and there's a brilliant book by Mary beard that's recently come out called laughter in age Rome which puts me right about various things but also goes over some terrain that I've been deeply interested in which is what emotion is being expressed by laughter and what I encourse a called the classical view although it may be hoc is just one classical view is the view that although you may not like the sound of this the truth is that when you laugh you're expressing contempt and this is picked up in the Roman rhetorical tradition and in quintillion he says look this is even written into our language reader a latin verb for to laugh is the same as do either a the latin verb for to the right so when you laugh you're always expressing derision an uncomfortable thought but one that is extremely intellectual in Renaissance and early modern culture in two ways one of which has been much written about and one hardly written about at all the one that's been much written about sees laughter a Saturn alien it's a way of keeping the elite in order it's a way of mocking elite and bactine celebration study of her ballet is an important source here has given rise to a large literature on Saturn alien ridicule the world turned upside down the sort of thing that Natalie Davis so interestingly and picked out I'm interested in something quite different which has been very little written about which is that the elite also uses laughter understood as an expression of contempt to police the alien and a lot of the conduct books beginning with caste Leone which of course is enormous ly indebted into classical sources especially Cicero you have the view that you're trying to produce a courtly elite with values which are not barbaric they're not militaristic they are civilized they're meant to be tolerant and they are going to be great enemies of what a seen as the potential worst vices of the elite namely pride and arrogance and vanity and avarice and so I was interested in the use of laughter to police the elite by the indeed and Hobbs picks this up in his early writings and he says yes laughter expresses contempt we never laugh with people were always laughing at them and he takes this classical view what's interesting in Leviathan is rightly as you say he eventually comes to view that this is not only a partial view of laughter but it's a very cruel and it's a kind of warning to the elite in the Leviathan that laughing at people is very dangerous because he's dealing with a Dueling Society in which he says you knew you loved someone you might be dead but it's all part of what I take to be Hobbes's fundamental watchword in the Leviathan which is calm down this is the society which is very very uncommon and the aristocratic ethos with the code of dueling refusing even the law as somehow got to be tamed and so much of what Hobbes is saying is look these laws of nature I'm telling you about which are precepts of reason there are all precepts like you know don't mock people don't be prideful be cooperative these are the laws of nature because these are the ways to live in peace and so laughter is seen there is an enemy of peace the next question is is really the sense it's the theme of the book so if they were so forgiving it at that we can summarize this but the point you've already made it actually when when you actually do look at this the distance from humanism to Hobbes is by no means as great yeah as one would be inclined yeah I think at the outset no that's true and that the most important instance in which I try to show that is in Hobbes's theory of representation shall I say a word about there because that's what most interests me in the harbor city um Hobbes enters into a political arena in which in the course of the English revolution in the 1640s a very substantial theory of political representation had been evolved which was called virtual representation just suppose is roughly the view that we still have today where the fundamental metaphor for vertical representation is taken from this offering a good representation of someone in traditional aesthetics is offering as people used to say a speaking likeness so political representation the representation of the people should be the creation of the likeness of the people now of course Hobbes can't tolerate that thought because that means that any valid representation of the people must itself be a body of people so that seems to cancel monarchy and of course it was intended to it's a very radical view now Hobbes comes along to say and it's one of the most creative moments in his political theory but it comes straight out of classical humanism you've got the wrong metaphor for representation representation is not a matter for the O's anything to the visual arts it owes everything to the theatre and that's how he introduces it and it's from a quotation from sis from Cicero saying that what representation is is speaking someone else's lines so representation on the stage is not necessarily when I resemble you we've never really worked out on the stage whether we think people should resemble other people but that's not the point it's not impersonation it's personation I take upon you I take upon myself your role I act your part I speak your lines all the world's a stage so Hobbes profoundly believes that all the world's a stage you're either representing yourself or you're representing somebody else and that means you're either speaking your own lines or you're speaking somebody else's lines so notice he's disjoining political representation from any act of authorizing a body that has to resemble you he's saying think of it more like a theater or a court of law when you go into a court of law and the judge says who represents you you can point to an advocate who is a woman and you could say she represents me the judge won't say well she doesn't look anything like you you say that's absolutely fine or you can say I'm going to represent myself the judge will probably say well I wouldn't do that if I were you but that is your right but is saying that's representation it's a sufficient condition of you being my representative that I have authorized you it's nothing to do with whether you look like me because that is a dramatic moment because there of course monarchy is immediately placed on the same footing as any representative assembly and we can start that debate again just me no because we were about 45 minutes already and so again going back to this says what it means to be an intellectual historian and the wrong and paths we've taken etc you've described a series of wrong paths mutate already today how does that bear then upon the present and there's sort of debates we might now have about representation about the stage about the meaning of freedom as always yes what would you sell you as an intellectual historian how would you how would you situate yourself in those yes well very very good question thank you well I'm an historian and through my fundamental aspiration is to reconstruct the past of our thinking about these issues so far as possible on its own terms of course that's an ideal type and all sorts of contaminations from the present are likely likely to enter but the aspiration of the intellectual historian has to be to give an account of what the project was that one of these writers I'm interested in was himself interested in but then when I do that when I study Machiavelli I find this particular view of freedom it blazes out from the first two chapters of the discourses how do we think about freedom that's the fundamental question in the theory of the state because in the absence of freedom there is no greatness of states so there's Machiavelli's problematic when I read Hobbs on representation I see him repudiating the view of representation that seems to us completely natural when I think about Hobbes on the state I see that we've completely abandoned thinking about state personality so in each of these cases once I've reconstituted the theory as best I may in its own terms it becomes a candidate for belief there it is it's not the way we think about these things anymore but is that good or is that bad we can start to think again about that that reconnects us with our traditions but it in a way abolish is the distinction between the past and the present because the past is in the present here and is asking us to think again about our past but of course my aspiration is to hold the past in the present completely free from one another because the more you import yourself into the past the more you contaminate it and say you just use it as a mirror yes yes and the more you use it as a mirror the more you admire yourself and so that means why are we bothering with the past the reason morally speaking for bothering with the past is that it has things to tell us that's one of the great tensions isn't it that this past and present and happened of the I guess the aspiration is always in Scent in census is to remove ourselves from the present yeah but I think from what you're saying that inevitably there are these these implications from the present yes is it enough in terms of what you do my opposed just sketched it just sort of in sense to leave it there if something we've read I've recovered this I've set this out for yet and there you are I mean there's a Marvis one of your famous phrase across many many years ago is about doing your thinking for yourself yes of course I mean and how does that bear upon very good after idea yes good right um well my aspiration is to set the past before the present and to set it before the present in its own terms and we're not here to praise or blame the past but here to learn from it now to learn from it in the very strict sense that we're now talking about Germany would not be to act in propria persona as an historian it would be to act as a first-order moralist but I find that with increasing age and with having spent so much time trying to reconstitute what seem to me important debates about freedom about representation about the state in their own terms very much more interested now in stepping forward as a moralist and saying for example in relation to the theory of freedom we really have gone in a terrible direction and near liberalism as a theory of the state and as the view that you're free as long as no one is messing you around it's doing terrible damage to our institution and I really want to come forward to say that the reason that damage is being done to our institutions is because we have the wrong view of freedom I really want to say that it's not a fruitful view it misses out extraordinarily important elements in anything that's to do with the phenomenology of feeling free I do not feel free if I know that all my actions are in fact permissions and that you could stop me from doing them if you wanted although as it happens you're not or you say I'm completely benign this leaves me in a condition of dependency so one of the things I become very upset about is the D unionizing of labor forces where we now have contracts which allow of course dismissal at will by the employer they are of course said to be free contracts because they're not coercive Lee entered into but they're not free contracts if you think the freedom is dependents because they leave you at the mercy of an employer moreover as employers know perfectly well and this is another insight from antiquity slaves are always slavish if you live in servitude you can't fail to be served out of course because you don't know what's going to happen to you so that seems to me a tremendous loss another thing which I've become a profound enemy of is all institutions which tell us that they're benign but harvest huge amounts of personal data which are available for sale now to harvest personal data on colossal scale is rightly of course seen in contemporary political debate as an attack on privacy it is of course but that again shows that we're thinking wrong about freedom it's also an attack on freedom because this information is power now what is said by the huge engines that create and hold all this information is one that we're not going to do anything harmful with is of course and I want to say well but I'm being manipulated here and you could do something very harmful you could for example you might be able to blackmail me but you say well I would never dream of doing that but these are very server relationships that we're talking about so if we were thinking differently about freedom we would certainly think differently about Facebook we wouldn't say look this is a bit of a problem for privacy we would say this is a fundamental attack on freedom we would also be saying this I think about much that passes for liberal democracy now I mean I'm very struck that the conditions that produce freedom in democracies which of course are not simply electoral but include and must include other institutions which mean that people have control over that democracy these are increasingly under threat and I was very shocked in the brexit negotiations when the High Court judges employing as we must I think if we're going to value freedom a mixed constitution came out with the judgment which made them enemies of the people this is very dangerous talk and I think that anyone who thinks about freedom as I do will want to say that you not only need to have a mixed Constitution and sense that there must be parties that are able to impose on another and have proper and informed debates but there must be some complex relationships between executive branch and the legislative branch and the judicial branch and that none of these must use up the others because any such usurpation loses popular control and popular control is the name of democracy so I worry about democracy because I worry that we've got the wrong theory of freedom it's not a democratic theory at all hmm and so how would you own this is obviously obviously fascinating so how would you I'm not a distinction between the historian and the more how do you I mean I'm aware that you you have been associated with certain political interventions over for exit for example you're cited as one of the people supporting remain and what-have-you how do you see yourself I mean can we expect the next book to be the Quinton Skinner more or less book well yes if you sort I mean yeah you articulate those things minute how do you see yourself taking those things further I guess into broader public debate eyes well thank you yes because I have been extremely exercised by the constitutional aspect of the brexit negotiations not just the public we heaped upon the judges for doing their job which seemed to me an extremely sinister development but also the very fact that it was thought an appropriate mechanism under our Constitution to ask the latitude for its view the multitude doesn't have one view that's Hobbs this punch the multitude almost never has a single view and indeed our multitude had 52% had one view and 48% had the other view or if you take how many were eligible to vote then 37.5% of the multitude had the view that Great Britain should leave the European Union but um our Constitution tells us that we don't poll the multitude we have a representative system in which my understanding is that when we vote for members of parliament we vote for someone to use their discretion as a result of hearing debates in order to help to arrive at a judgement which they think to be for the public good that is our system rightly or wrongly now if in the brexit negotiations we do not come to a point in which the houses of parliament say look Parliament is sovereign thanks for doing the negotiations it is now our constitutional duty to see whether we believe that to be in the public good they will be in dereliction of the fundamental constitutional duty as a representative assembly and I wait with great trepidation to see what will happen are we going to be ruled by the vote of a minority of those eligible to vote in the multitude who were in a highly mendacious campaign told a pack of lies or are we going to use our own Constitution are we really not going to use our own Constitution I feel very exercised about all of this but of course that's to speak as a citizen and as a moralist and as someone interested in the theory of representation yes but to answer your more general question well honesty Jeremy how long am I going to be able to do this you sweet you said I've been doing it quite a long time and it's true that my earliest that's because you started young yeah okay well the fact remains that my earliest published work on these issues was in 1962 says that it's a long time ago and I don't take for granted that I'm going to be able to do this but my current research is about how we ever came to lose this theory of freedom and it's going to be an attempt to show historically what the forces were that undermined the few of freedom which is a view of equal freedom and therefore a view of democratic freedom which seems to me is alone of your freedom that we should have in a democracy so that will be an historical work well the motivation will not be historical but I think if the truth be told my motivations have never been historical they've always been moralistic and I've always wanted to study those aspects of historical record that enable me to try to say something of some moral relevance well it's very interesting that's a good point I think to end thank you very very much indeed thank you I'm looking forward greatly to the next book because I'm sure everyone who's heard this this podcast will be thinking and we cannot wait to read oh well it'll take me some time absolutely absolutely marvelous thank you very much indeed I think it's been a marvelous overview of what you've done and why you do it and why it's so important and I'm saying thank you very very much indeed well let me just end by thanking you Jeremy for excellent questions and for letting us pursue them in this winding and conversational way I've really like it'd been a pleasure thank very much indeed you