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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2013

Department of History, Harvard University E-mail:


Intellectual history and the history of political thought are siblings, perhaps even twins. They have similar origins and use similar materials. They attract many of the same friends and make some of the same enemies. Yet like most siblings, they have different temperaments and ambitions. This essay explores the family resemblances and draws out the contrasts by examining two major works by one of the most prominent political theorists of the past half-century, Alan Ryan, who has recently published two big books that intellectual historians will find rewarding and provocative.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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1 Ryan, Alan, On Politics, 2 vols., vol. 1, A History of Political Thought from Herodotus to Machiavelli; vol. 2, Political Thought from Hobbes to the Present (New York, 2012)Google Scholar; Ryan, The Making of Modern Liberalism (Princeton, 2012).

2 See Maurice Natanson's review in American Journal of Sociology 77/6 (May 1972), 1237–9; and cf. Alexander Rosenberg's review in Philosophy of Science 39/3 (Sept. 1972), 424–7.

3 Kloppenberg, James T., “Thinking Historically: A Manifesto of Pragmatic Hermeneutics,” Modern Intellectual History 9/1 (April 2012), 201–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

4 Peter Gordon, “Contextualism and Criticism in the History of Ideas,” in Darrin McMahon and Samuel Moyn, eds., Rethinking Modern European Intellectual History for the Twenty-First Century (forthcoming from Oxford University Press).

5 Kloppenberg, James T., “Objectivity and Historicism: A Century of American Historical Writing,” American Historical Review 94/4 (Oct. 1989), 10111030CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Kloppenberg, , “Why History Matters to Political Theory,” in Kloppenberg, , The Virtues of Liberalism (Oxford, 1998), 155–78Google Scholar; and Kloppenberg, , “Pragmatism and the Practice of History: From Turner and Du Bois to Today,” in Shusterman, Richard, ed., The Range of Pragmatism and the Limits of Philosophy (Oxford, 2004), 197220Google Scholar.

6 Ryan's account of Roman political ideas is useful also because it helps explain why Quentin Skinner has embraced the adjective “neo-Roman” in preference to “republican” in his recent writings about the emergence of the modern liberal tradition. See Skinner, Quentin, Liberty before Liberalism (Cambridge, 1998)Google Scholar.

7 Gregory, Brad, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Cambridge, MA, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 For a detailed elaboration of this argument see Kloppenberg, James T., Tragic Irony: The Rise of Democracy in European and American Thought (forthcoming from Oxford University Press)Google Scholar.

9 The most successful attempt to establish the coherence of Rousseau's philosophy remains the work of his most reliable translator, Masters, Roger D., The Political Philosophy of Rousseau (Princeton, 1968)Google Scholar.

10 Riley, Patrick, The General Will before Rousseau (Princeton, 1988)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and for a searching comparative analysis that locates the idea of the general will in a much broader discourse, Riley, Patrick, Will and Political Legitimacy: A Critical Exposition of Social Contract Theory in Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel (Cambridge, MA, 1982)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Weber, Max, “Zur Lage der bürgerlichen Demokratie in Russland” (1906), in Weber, , Gesammelte Politische Schriften, ed. Johannes Winckelmann, 2nd edn (Tübingen, 1958), 3065Google Scholar. One section of the essay has been translated and excerpted in Weber: Selections, ed. W. G. Runciman, trans. Eric Matthews (Cambridge, 1978); the quoted passage appears on page 282 of this edition. For the evidence sustaining my argument on Weber and the similarities—as well as the significant differences—between his ideas and those of other “new liberals” such as L. T. Hobhouse, Léon Bourgeois, and John Dewey, see Kloppenberg, James T., Uncertain Victory: Social Democracy and Progressivism in European and American Thought, 1870–1920 (Oxford, 1986)Google Scholar, esp. 298–415; the passage from Weber is quoted at 388.

12 Two recent books examine these mid-century debates. On the relation between economics and politics on both sides of the Atlantic see Burgin, Angus, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression (Cambridge, MA, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and on the tensions between democracy and expertise in American thought see Jewett, Andrew, Science, Democracy, and the American University: From the Civil War to the Cold War (Cambridge, 2012)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.