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5 - Politic History

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 June 2023

John Robertson
Affiliation:
University of Cambridge
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Summary

In this chapter Kinch Hoekstra analyses the particular understanding of time and history characteristic of ‘politic history’, identified by scholars as a distinctive genre in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England, where it flourished as a historiographical version of ‘reason of state’. At its heart, Hoekstra argues, was an epistemic question: whether it is possible to derive political lessons from empirical, historical truths. Influenced by Italian discussions of how political knowledge could be drawn from historical experience, politic historians looked in particular to Machiavelli and Guicciardini. It was Philip Sidney, in his Defence of Poetry, who posed the epistemic question most sharply, and Francis Bacon who offered the fullest response. In turn, Hoekstra suggests, a Guicciardinian and Baconian conception of the value of history informs Hobbes’ preface to his translation of Thucydides, whom he famously characterised as ‘the most politique historiographer that ever writ’. Hoekstra ends by rejecting the scholarly consensus that Hobbes’ turn to ‘civil science’ marked his repudiation of a historical politics.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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