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Editors' introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

David Runciman
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
Magnus Ryan
Affiliation:
University of London
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Summary

Life and work

F. W. Maitland (1850–1906) was a legal historian who began and ended his intellectual career writing about some of the enduring problems of modern political thought – What is freedom? What is equality? What is the state? His first publication, printed privately in 1875, was an extended essay entitled ‘A historical sketch of liberty and equality as ideals of English political philosophy from the time of Hobbes to the time of Coleridge’. This sketch takes as its starting point the basic question, ‘What is it that governments ought to do?’, only to conclude that such questions are ‘not one[s] which can be decided by a bare appeal to first principles, but require much economic and historical discussion’. Among his final publications, written nearly thirty years later, are the series of shorter essays collected in this book, each of which addresses itself less directly but with equal force to the question of what it is that states, and by extension the governments of states, actually are. In between these excursions into political theory, Maitland produced the work on which his fame has come to rest, the historical investigations into the foundations and workings of English law and of English life which have gained him the reputation as perhaps the greatest of all modern historians of England.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2003

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