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History of Concepts Newsletter 2

History of Concepts Newsletter 2

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Published by: Contributions to the History of Concepts on Dec 31, 2012
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08/11/2013

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Mailing Address
Karin Tilmans
I
Wyger Velema,University
of
Amsterdam,Department
of
History,Spuistraat134,1012 VBAmsterdam, TheNetherlandse-mail:Karin.Tilmans@hum.uva.nl http://www.hum.uvainll-huizingainieuws
Colophon
Editors:Karin Tilmans.Wyger Velema,Freya Sierhuis Lay-out: BasBroekhuizen
HUIZINGA
IN
STITU
UT
Onderzoekschool
voor
Cultuurgeschiedenis
Research Institute
and
Graduate School
of
Cultural History
History
of
Concepts Newsletter
Nr
2,
Summer
1999
In
this Issue:
Thepracticaluse
ofbe
grilfsgeschichtebya
historian
of
European
pr
e-m
odem
political thoug
ht:
someprobl
ems
Acu
ltu
re
of
exchange:politicsandsociabili
tyin
France
16
60-1680
Th
e concepts
of
"ci
' ! ;
"
~
!'"I~hip
"
and
"r
epublic"
inth
e
Nethe
rl
ands
:
p r e
limin
a
i~'
re~~..;.
I.1
;
!: i
ult
~;
 
The practical use
of
Begriffsgeschichte
by an historian
of
European pre-modern politicalthought: some problems
Prof. Janet
Co
leman, Govern
me
nt Department,
Lo
ndon
Sc
hool
of
Economics and PoliticalScience
I
have
just
put thefmal touchestothe text
of
a ratherlarge book,in twovolumes,that
is
the result
of
averylong-term project on
AHistOlY
of
PoliticalThoughtfi'oln
the Ancient Greeks to
th
eRenaissance
(Blackwell,
forthcoming).BecausecoursesinEuropean andAnglo
Americanuniversi
ti
esoften
treat
the
history ofpoliticaJ
thoughtas astudy
of
canonical greattheoris
ts
and
th
eir
te
xts,
I
ha
ve
taken
intoaccount studentsneeds
and
primarily
fo
cusedonthepolitical philosophies
of
Socrate
s,
Plato,
Ari
stotle,Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, a selection
of
medieval theorists,andI end with Machiavelliand
hi
scontemporarycivic humanists. But this
is
no
Sophie'sWorld
with footnote
s.
I havetreatedthese thinkers political theories
or
political philosophiesas embeddedwithin asmuchsocio political historyasIcould include in order toelucidate why thetexts askand answer certainquestions (and don't askand answer others)without,I hope,drowning thereaderin the
minutiae
of
differe
nt
and
othertimes.I have
takenthe
seindividual
theori
sts
to
bere
pr
esentatives
of
groups, parties,
all
of
them positioned instructures
not
of
theirownmaking. I do nottreatthemsimply asindividual linguistic agentsin
speechs
ituation
s,
but
ra
th
e
r,
as
representativesaflocal
kinds
of
arg
umen
ts set
in
co
nte
x
ts
that
were
not purelylin
g
ui
s
tic.
But
th
ese co
ntext
s
~
urvive
for
us
throu
gh texts whichre-prese
nt
the
non-ling
ui
s
tic
c
ircumstan
ces
in
which
conceptsweredevelopedand experienceshad. Crucially,
theseselectedphiloso
ph
ers
or
theorists
are
not
taken
to
b
e.
because
th
eywerenot
in
their
own times,
representativ
e
voices
o/
their times.Rather, they were judged bylater Europeanstohavebeenexemplary
of
thebest
of
the pas
t.
Hen
ce,
the
y
ar
e
the
winners,judged or
mi
sjudged
as
such,
retrospectively,by laterEuropeans
who
activelyreconstructedtheir
own
pasts,
in
part
by
establishinga
selec
ti
ve
ca
non
of
grea
ta
nd
in
s
pirin
g
thinker
s w
ho
,if
properlyunderstood,theythoughtcould beessentially imitatedlaterdownthe
hi
storical road. [I havedea
lt
with
thi
s
further
in
J.
Coleman
,
Alleient
and
MedievalMemories,
st
udies
ill
th
erecollstructiOIl
o/
th
epast
(Cambridge,1992)].
2
Ontheonehand I have looked atselectedpolitical theories
and
discussed
their
genesis
in
their
ownsocia-politicalcontexts,
but my
principle
for
inclusion
of
one
as
opposed
to
anotherthinker has been founded on a retrospective
examination
of
which texts
European
s,
in
the
c
ourse
of
their
construction
of
therr
own identities
and
tradition
s,
themselvesdeemed worthy
of
actively adoptingand
nece
ssarily
misinterpreting
to
serve
their
own
pr
ese
nt. Pa
stconce
pt
s
for
such
European
s
in
the
pre-modem periodwere
not
a
nti
qua
rian
curiosities;
th
eyjudged
th
e
te
xts,which expressed
pa
stconce
pt
s
tobe
u
sab
l
e,
or
else
th
eyignored
th
em
and
didnot
have
them
rec
opied
for
futur
e
ge
neration
s.
Unlikepost-19th-century
hi
storian
s,
earlierEuropeans lookedfor answers
to
whattheytook to beunchang
in
gquestions,and
th
eythought theycouldengage unproblematically
in
dialogueswithphilosophers across timeandre-use theirsolutionsto what they tooktobe eternalproblemsabouthumangovernance.
Of
course,from
our
point
of
view,
what
they
didwas
construct continuities
withtheirselectedpasts,believing themselves to be able
to
learnfromand indeed,repeat thevirtues
of
thepast becausetheyheld that the pastwasfiUedwith
men
whowere
just
like them. In fact, theywereonlyable
to
sustain this essentialcontinuity by completelytransforming past
conce
pts
to
s
uit
th
eiro
wn
circumstances
and
expe
ri
ences.
Theythought theywerelivingwithin atradition butactually werein theextendedprocess
of
constructingone.
In
stead
of
focusingon lessercontempora
ry
texts,although I
h
ave so
metimes included them
to
showparallels
or
differenceswith whatcametobe consideredthe more
famou
stexts, I
have
focused
on
what
ha
sbecome
for
Europeans a canon because1 think there actually has been one establishedbyEuropeans,especially forthe longperiod
from
classical
antiquity
until
the
Renaissance.which
is
remarkablystable andit hasundoubtedlywiped
out
a
variety
of
pa
st contemporaryvoicesa
nd
perspectives
from
our
view.
I
think
thi
s
in
itself
has
tr
eme
ndou
sconsequences
for thesuccess
or
otherwi
se
of
asynchronicmapping
of
keyconceptsthatcomprised acomplexpastsociety'spolitical andsocialvocabulary.Ishallsay somethingmoreab
out
this
below.
The
ca
non
is a collection
of
evolving
European
prejudices
about
themselv
es
and
others,
and
ha
sbeenforged precisely
as
women
and
mino
ritygro
up
s
hav
eto
da
ycla
im
ed,
throu
gh a
proc
ess
of
exclusion
and
se
l
ection
which
 
bas detennined whichvoicesfrom the past were,
in
fact,
takenserious
ly
.I have notlookedfor thegenesis
of
modem
concepts,
l~e
thestate,
in
the
se
earlierperiods because I
think
teleology's can only be constructed retrospectively,and
in
theconstructionthey tellusperhapsmoreabout ourselves than about past peoples'self-understandings. But I havetried
to
identify certain conceptualconfigurationsthroughlanguages usedatthe timein order
to
alert readers
to,say,a notion
of
us
or
ri
g
ht,
whosemeaning isperhaps
related
to
some
of
our uses
of
th
enotion
of
rightbut which,
when situated
in
anothercontext,impliesa range
of
other
id
eas,some
of
whichseemdistinctly
stra
nge
to
us.
Throughqut this project I have attempted
to
usesome
of
tilemethods
of
Reinhart Koselleck's
Begriffsgeschichte.
As
aclassicist and medievalist,and notsimply
as
a historian
of
classical andmedieval
political
theory, my trainingensuredthatIwas much influenced
by
Otto Brunner's
wo
rk,without
however, coming
to
simi
lar
conc
lu
sionsabout
the
benefits
of
nationalsocialism!But I admitto havingfound
it
often
mucheasier
to
sustain
the
theoreticaldiscussion especially
of
Brunner'she
ir
sandsuccessors,includingwhatI take
to
be the Heideggerian and Gadamerianinfluenceson Koselleck's own work,than
to
engage the theory
in
practice
as
I'vemovedfromtheancient Greek world throughthat
of
the Romans, early Christians,medievals-early and later,and
that
of
the
renaissance
th
eo
ri
sts.
First
of
all, thereis,
of
course,a hugeproblem
of
ust which
we
can ca
ll
a political theorist in aperiodwhen there were
many literary genres which
we
might not recognize
as
expressingpolitical
or
socialconcepts.And thereweremany menwith verydifferent professional trainingswho wrote
aboutthesocialand political ordering
of
human life butperhaps couchedtheirviews
in
biblical and theological
tenns.Iseverysurviving textcapable
of
revealing sociala
nd
political concepts?
In
some sensethe answer must be yes.Is every author then, a political andsocial theorist?This is not
simplyaproblemfor medievalso-ca
ll
ed(by us) political
thought.
It
raises
th
equestionabo
ut
thecriteria
we
usewhich enable us
to
privilege political andsocialconcepts
which both GGandIwish
to
do, not least because thisprivileging
of
the political
as
an exclusive realm
of
(usually
male) publicvalues is anotableEuropeanpractice.Itake
th
ere
to
besomething
of
an
unacknowledged problem
concerning
our
capacity
to
recognize what distinguishes
politicaland soci
al
fromother kinds
of
concepts
in
pre
modernsocie
ti
es.
Thensecondly,
for my
kind
of
book,aimed at advanced
undergraduates
and
postgraduates, who
ar
einterested
in
coming
to
so
me
understanding
of
coherent
whole
politicaltheories
of
the past,Ifound
it
insufficient
to
followKoselleck's suggested method
of
tracking antitheticaldualisms or
Gegellbegriffe
of
theso
rt:
hellenesibarbarians,Christianlbeathen,thatKoselleck
sele
cts
in
his"Thehistorical-political
se
mantics
of
asymmetric
counterconcepts",
Futures Past,
on
thesemantics
of
historical time,
trans.
K.
Tribe (MITPress,Cambridge, Mass
.,19
85).Indeed,I)[want
to
suggestthat there
is
aproblemwith
the
use
of
Gegenbegriffe.
It
seems
to
berooted
in
an
unspoken epistemological theory
of
the bi-polar or
the
binarymind.
It
is
not thatthere
is
somefixed ontology
of
conceptswithwhich
Ko
se
ll
eckand
hi
s colleaguesareworking,but there does appear
to
bea submergedtheory aboutthegenesis
of
contingent frames
of
meaningthat
is
based on presumed psychological polarities whichgetfilled
up,
as
it
were, by contested words which signifyconcepts.Hence,diachronic transformationis,for Koselleck,
necessarily
polar.
[n discussing
the
concept
BUild,
for instance, [in
"Begriflsgeschichte
and SocialHistory",
Futures Past,
all
thesemantics
of
historical time,
trans.K. Tribe(MITPress, Cambridge, Mass
.,
1985,
pp
.
73-91
,pp. 88-9] Koselleckoffersus a religiousand a politicalsense,and while
he
tells
us
that the
religioussensewasnev
er
completelyabandoned,
he
seems
to
havea notion
of
understanding
as
dependent onbinary contradictions. Koselleck
ha
s written thatwithout
the
invocation
of
parallel
or
opposedconcepts,withoutordering generalized
and
particular
co
ncepts,
and
without
re
gistering
the
overlapping
of
twoexpressions,
it
isnotpossible
to
deducethestructural value
of
a word
as
concepteitherforthesocialframework or for the disposition
of
politicalfronts.
["Begriffsgeschichte
and Social
Hi
story",
p.
87].KoseHeck affmns thatexpressionsare multiple but
it
seemsthat
to
engage
in
Begriflsgeschichte
we
must assume that
co
nceptsgettransformeddiachronicaHy only through polar
opposition. Thislookstome
to
be astatementabouth
ow
ourrecognition
in
sources
of
parallel or opposedconcepts
allowsus
to
infer a practice
of
human understanding:that
humansonly
ha
velimitedperspectives on thingsandtbey
ac
hi
eve
se
lf-definition
as
it
emerges through distinguishing
whois
in
andwhoisout.There isnota problem
of
the
relation betweenwordsand things but betweenalimited perspective on things always framed by the polarities
of
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