Political Theory

Montesquieu: The Spirit of the Laws

Charles_MontesquieuThe Spirit of the Laws (French: De l'esprit des lois) is a 1748 political treatise by Charles Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu. Setting out to explain the principles underlying the laws of different nations, Montesquieu was innovative in the breadth of his comparative approach, and in considering natural factors such as climate. This nevertheless sometimes led him to pernicious conclusions, such as his belief that slavery, though wrong, was more tolerable in tropical regions.

Montesquieu's political recommendations were strongly influenced by his experiences in England, although it has often been insisted that he misunderstood English arrangements - generations of British schoolchildren have been taught that he missed the role of the Lord Chancellor as a member of the executive, legislature and judiciary. Nevertheless, his doctrine of the separation of powers was a decisive influence on the constitution of the United States.

The Spirit of the Laws at online book stores
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Free online texts
English texts
Internet Archive: Montesquieu - The Spirit of the Laws, Rousseau - On the Origin of Inequality, On Political Economy, The Social Contract. Britannica Great Books of the Western World edition. EPUB, MOBI, PDF and TXT formats.
Liberty Fund: The Spirit of the Laws. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and PDF formats.
Wikisource: The Spirit of the Laws, translated by Thomas Nugent (1758). HTML and other formats.
French texts
Gutenberg: Esprit des Lois. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and TXT formats.
Wikisource: De L'Esprit des Lois. Multiple editions. HTML and other formats.

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Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

MaryWollstonecraftA Vindication of the Rights of Woman, a 1792 work by Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest modern statements of the case for political and social equality for women.

Wollstonecraft strongly defended the French Revolution against the criticisms of Edmund Burke in her previous work, A Vindication of the Rights of Men. Her dismay at the new French regime's conservative proposals for female education provided the immediate occasion for a second Vindication addressed to the statesman responsible, Talleyrand. Though novel, her argument that women should exercise full political citizenship, and be educated accordingly, drew heavily on prevalent enlightenment concepts of natural rights.

After her early death, Wollstonecraft's work was overshadowed by the hostile reception to William Godwin's biography of her. However, her reputation recovered with the growth of the women's movement by the early twentieth century, and the Vindication has come to be seen as a central precursor to modern feminism.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman at online book stores
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Free online texts
Early Modern Texts: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.
Gutenberg: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and TXT formats. 
Internet Archive: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. 1891 Unwin edition. EPUB, MOBI, PDF and TXT formats.
University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. EPUB, MOBI and HTML formats.
Wikisource: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. HTML and other formats.

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Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France

Edmund_Burke_by_James_NorthcoteReflections on the Revolution in France is a 1790 work by Edmund Burke. The best-known critique of the revolution, it was originally written with a polemical purpose which deployed elements of satire as well as more considered arguments in attacking the revolutionaries and their British supporters.

Although many of Burke's factual claims have warranted close historical scrutiny, the influence of his ideas about the organic nature of society and the dangers of radical change based on abstract theory, have nevertheless made the Reflections a founding text of modern conservative thought.

Reflections on the Revolution in France at online book stores
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Free online texts
Early Modern Texts: Reflections on the Revolution in France, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.
Gutenberg: The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol III. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and TXT formats.
Internet Archive: On the Sublime and Beatiful, Reflections on the French Revolution, Letter to a Noble Lord. Harvard Classics edition. EPUB, MOBI, PDF and TXT formats.
University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): Reflections on the Revolution in France. EPUB, MOBI and HTML formats.
Wikisource: Reflections on the Revolution in France. HTML and other formats.

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Rousseau: The Social Contract

'Portrait_of_Jean-Jacques_Rousseau'_by_François_GuérinThe Social Contract (French: Du Contrat Social) is a 1762 treatise by Jean Jacques Rousseau, outlining a theory of political rights based on unlimited popular sovereignty.

In contrast to Hobbes, Rousseau argues that is only in political society that human beings can be truly free. His suggestion that under circumstances people must be forced to be free has led some to see him as an authoritarian, although this has been challenged by those who stress his egalitarian republicanism. His undoubted role as a key intellectual influence on the French Revolution has given point to the controversy.

The Social Contract at online book stores

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Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: The Social Contract, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: The Social Contract and Discourses, translated by G.D.H. Cole. EPUB, HTML, MOBI and TXT formats.

Internet Archive: A Treatise on the Social Compact. English translation. Multiple formats. Digitisation of a copy owned by John Adams.

Internet Archive: Montesquieu - The Spirit of the Laws, Rousseau - On the Origin of Inequality, On Political Economy, The Social Contract. Britannica Great Books of the Western World edition. EPUB, MOBI, PDF and TXT formats.

Online Library of Liberty: Ideal Empires and Republics. Rousseau’s Social Contract, More’s Utopia, Bacon’s New Atlantis, Campanella’s City of the Sun, with an Introduction by Charles M. Andrews (1901). Multiple formats.

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): The Social Contract. EPUB, HTML and MOBI formats.

Wikisource: French texts and English translation by George Douglas Howard Cole. HTML and other formats.

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Milton: Areopagitica

Areopagitica_1644bw_gobeirneAreopagitica is a 1644 polemical essay by the poet John Milton arguing for freedom of the press. Written early in the English Civil War, at a moment when Parliament had broken the authority of Charles I's controls on publishing, it was unsuccessful in dissuading the dominant Presbyterian faction from instituting its own censorship. It nevertheless became a formative influence on later arguments for freedom of speech in the  liberal tradition.

Areopagitica at Amazon: United States | Canada | United Kingdom | France | Germany | Spain | Italy

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Dartmouth College: Areopagitica. HTML format.

Gutenberg: Areopagitica. HTML, EPUB, Kindle and TXT formats.

Internet Archive. English Minor Poems, Paradise Lost, Samson Agonistes, Areopagitica. Britannica Great Books edition. EPUB, TXT, MOBI and PDF formats.

Internet Archive. Areopagitica. Clarendon (1894) with notes by John W. Hales. EPUB, TXT, MOBI and PDF formats.

Internet Archive: Essays Civil and Moral and The New Atlantis by Francis Bacon, Areopagitica and Tractate on Education by John Milton and Religio Medici by Thomas Brown. Harvard Classics, Vol 3. EPUB, TXT, MOBI and PDF formats.

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): Areopagitica. PDF, EPUB, TXT and Kindle formats.

Wikisource: Areopagitica. HTML and other formats. See also Harvard Classics edition.

Other Resources

Librivox: Areopagitica | Areopagitica (version 2) - public domain audiobooks.

Wikipedia: John Milton - Areopagitica

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Euripides: The Suppliants - quoted at the start of the text.

Isocrates: Areopagitikos - the inspiration for the title of Milton's work.

John Aubrey: Brief Lives - includes a life of Milton.

Harold Bloom's Western Canon: includes the Areopagitica.


John Locke: Two Treatises of Government

Embarquement_de_Guillaume_d'Orange_pour_l'Angleterre_en_1688The Two Treatises of Government by John Locke are seminal works in the history of the liberal tradition, originally published in the aftermath of England's Whig revolution of 1688, with which Locke was intimately involved, though written some years earlier.

The First Treatise attacks the doctrine of the divine right of kings, defended by Anglican theologians such as Sir Robert Filmer, an important bulwark of the legitimacy of the Stuart monarchs.

The Second Treatise offers Locke's positive political theory, putting forward a social contract argument, which unlike that of Hobbes, provides a basis for limited representative government. If this Locke's key significance for his admirers, his critics point to his theory of property, which allows for slavery, and has been interpreted as allowing greater to rights to those who exploit natural resources more fully, potentially favouring European settlers in the Americas over natives.

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Free online texts

Constitution.org: Second Treatise of Civil Government. HTML and TXT formats.

Early Modern Texts: Second Treatise on Government (1689), adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: Second Treatise of Government. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Two Treatises of Government, with Patriarcha by Robert Filmer, edited by Thomas I. Cook. Hafner Library of Classics. Multiple formats.

Liberty Fund: Two Treatises of Government, edited by Thomas Hollis. Multiple formats. See also enhanced edition.

Marxists.org: The Second Treatise of Government. HTML format.

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): The Second Treatise of Civil Government. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: Two Treatises of Government. HTML and other formats.

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Spinoza: The Theologico-Political Treatise

Saul_and_David_rembrandtThe Theologico-Political Treatise (Latin: Tractatus Theologico-Politicus) by Baruch Spinoza is an analysis of the Hebrew Bible published anonymously in Latin in 1670. Intended to vindicate political freedom against encroachments based on religious authority, its interpretation owed much to contemporary Hobbesian political theory. While extremely controversial in its own day, it was an important influence on later biblical criticism.

The Theologico-Political Treatise at Amazon: United States | Canada | United Kingdom | France | Germany | Spain | Italy

Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: Treatise on Theology and Politics, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Constitutional Society: Selected Political Works of Baruch de Spinoza. HTML and text formats.

Gutenberg: Theologico-Political Treatise - Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 - translated by R.H.M. Elwes. Multiple formats for parts 1 & 2, RDF for parts 3 & 4.

Internet Archive: The Chief Works of Benedict de Spinoza, Vol I, translated by R.H.M Elwes. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Theologico-Political Treatise. Latin text. Multiple formats.

Spinoza et Nouse: Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Latin text. HTML format.

Wikisource: Theologico-Political Treatise, translated by Robert Willis. HTML and other formats.

Wikisource: Theologico-Political Treatise, translated by R.H. Elwes. (Currently incomplete, with only first part transcribed). HTML and other formats.

Yesselman.com: Theologico-Political Treatise, translated by RH. Elwes. HTML format.

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Thomas More: Utopia

UtopiaUtopia by Thomas More inaugurated a new literary genre on its first publication in Latin at Louvain, Belgium in 1516. It's title, from a Greek term meaning 'nowhere', has become the established term for any imaginary, ideal Commonwealth.

Utopia took inspiration from the voyages of discovery of More's own day, being ostensibly the account of Raphael Hythloday, a traveller with Amerigo Vespucci. In book 1, Hythloday and More discuss the role of the philosopher in civic life, touching on many of the ills of contemporary Europe. Hythloday introduces his account of the idealised society he encountered on the island of Utopia in book 2. The Utopian system of common property contrasts sharply with the enclosures then underway in contemporary England, and the sharpness of the book's satire may have contributed to its publication on the continent, under the editorship of Erasmus.

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Free online texts

Bartleby: Utopia - Harvard Classics, Vol. 36, Part 3. HTML format.

Gutenberg: Utopia. Multiple formats. 

Internet Archive: Utopia, Robinson translation and Latin text (1895). Multiple formats.

Marxists.org: Utopia. 1901 Cassell & Co. edition. HTML format.

Online Library of Liberty: Ideal Empires and Republics. Rousseau’s Social Contract, More’s Utopia, Bacon’s New Atlantis, Campanella’s City of the Sun, with an Introduction by Charles M. Andrews (1901). Multiple formats.

Open Utopia - 2016 translation, including letters, commendations and marginalia, with Creative Commons license. Multiple formats.

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): Utopia. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: Latin text and English translation by Gilbert Burnet (1901). HTML format.

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Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

Leviathan_by_Thomas_HobbesLeviathan by Thomas Hobbes is one of the outstanding works of political theory in the English language. It develops an early social contract theory to argue that human beings must put themselves under a single absolute sovereign as the only way out of a state of nature in which life is famously said to be 'nasty, brutish and short'.

For much of Hobbes' life such an argument would have been seen as favourable to the Stuart monarchy. By the time of Leviathan's publication in 1651, however, it could be read as supporting the effective authority of Cromwell's Commonwealth. Hobbes was acordingly repudiated by former associates among the exiled royalist court in Paris.

His time in France was nevertheless fruitful through associations with the leading philosophers and scientists of the day. This is reflected in the mechanical philosophy of the opening pages of Leviathan, in which living things are compared to automata, and the state to an artificial man, a figure memorably illustrated in the book's original frontispiece.

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Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: Leviathan, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: Leviathan. Multiple formats. 

Internet Archive: Hobbes's Leviathan, edited by W.G. Pogson Smith (1909). Multiple formats.

Online Library of Liberty: Leviathan, edited by W.G. Pogson Smith (1909). Multiple formats.

Marxists.org: Leviathan (first five chapters) - from the Cambridge Revised Student Edition, Edited by Richard Tuck, 1996. HTML format.

University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): Leviathan. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: Leviathan. HTML and other formats.

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Machiavelli: Discourses on Livy

OrigenDeLaRepublicaRomana_CastoPlasenciaThe Discourses on the First Ten Book of Titus Livius, (Italian: Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio), often known simply as The Discourses, were written by Niccolo Machiavelli in the second decade of the sixteenth century, in the sme period as his most famous book, The Prince. In contrast to the monarchical concerns of that work, Machiavelli focuses in The Discourses on the political of republican government, through a commentary on Livy's account of the early history of Rome. Many scholars have argued that The Discourses provide a fuller picture of Machiavelli's political beliefs than The Prince.

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Free online texts

Biblioteca Philosophica: Discorsi sopra la Prima Deca Di Tito Livio. Italian text. HTML format.
Gutenberg: Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius, translated by Ninian Hill Thomson. Multiple formats. 
Internet Archive: Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio. Vol I | Vol II. Italian text. Multiple formats.
Internet Archive: The Prince and the Discourses. The Discourses translated by Christian E. Detmold. With an Introduction by Max Lerner. Modern Library (1940). Multiple formats.
Marxists.org: Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, translated by Christian Detmold (1882). HTML format.
Online Library of Liberty: Niccolo Machiavelli, The Historical, Political, and Diplomatic Writings, vol. 2 (The Prince, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, Thoughts of a Statesman). Translated by Christian Detmold. Multiple formats.
University of Adelaide (Internet Archive): Discourses of Niccolo Machiavelli on the First Ten Books of Titus Livy. English translation. Multiple formats.
Wikisource: Italian text and English translation by Henry Neville. HTML and other formats.

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