the following review essay with a critical analysis of one recent attempt to discussthe canon of political thought, Siep Stuurman’s essay “The Canon of the Historyof Political Thought: Its Critique and a Proposed Alternative.”
I follow this witha long appraisal of Patricia Springborg’s
Western Republicanism and the OrientalPrince
, and locate it within renewed debates about the nature of the ancient
,and the “birth” of political theorizing. I conclude this article with a reﬂection onthe importance of the intervention that this work and allied studies make to theconceptualization of any canon of political thought.Stuurman begins his analysis by pointing out, uncontroversially, that “thecanonical story of political thought is at the very center of European, and moregenerally, Western identity.”
Its very nature has been under attack for sometime,andithas “lostits sereneauraofﬁnality,”butis unfortunately“easilycriticizedbutnot so easily dismissed.”
Stuurman proposes two lines of critique, which he termsthe “democratic critique,” and the “methodological critique.” The democraticcritique suggests that the canon is “selective and incomplete” and is representativeof only European males. Stuurman is sympathetic to this argument, particularlythose that emanate from gendered critiques of the canon, and he strongly criticizesthe “textbooks fail[ure] to discuss the gender bias and the patriarchal assumptionswithin the classical texts of the canon, brought to light by the feminist critique of male political thought.”
His discussion of Eurocentrism is, however, problematic.Anti-colonial thought, and the critique of the canon’s “complacent silence aboutimperialism and racism” enters Stuurman’s essay via Edward Said’s
.There is a total absence of any major prior anti-colonial thinkers in Stuurman’sessayorfootnotes—notMahatmaGandhi,C.L.R.James,GeorgePadmore,FrantzFanon, Amilcar Cabral, Jawaharlal Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah, Angela Davis, toname just a few. What Sylvia Wynter in a recent interview has termed theextraordinary way in which the memory of the anti-colonial struggle has beenexcised from the consciousness of the world is fully evident in this essay.
Nevertheless, Stuurman correctly suggests that the importance of the demo-cratic critique, is that it could result in a salutary “alter[ation] [of] the social andintellectual context of
discourses about liberty, and therewith the range of
Siep Stuurman, “The Canon of the History of Political Thought: Its Critique and a ProposedAlternative,”
History and Theory
39 (2000): 147–66.
Ibid: 148. The difﬁcult status of political theory might well arise, according to Stuurman, from inter-and intra-disciplinary perspectives on its utility: “empiricist political scientists tend to see it, at best,as a prelude to real, ‘hard,’ political science, philosophers often dismiss it as ‘too historical’ andtherefore superﬁcial, while historians frequently question its validity as ‘history.’” Stuurman (2000):152.
David Scott, “The Re-enchantment of Humanism: An Interview with Sylvia Wynter,”
8(2000): 119–207.AARON KAMUGISHA