Political Theory

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.

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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: 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: 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.

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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: 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: 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: 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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Machiavelli: The Prince

800px-Santi_di_Tito_-_Niccolo_Machiavelli's_portraitThe Prince (Italian: Il Principe) by Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), one of the most influential political texts ever written, was dedicated to Lorenzo II de Medici in the early sixteenth century, a time when Machiavelli's native Florence was teetering between monarchical and republican rule. The fact that Machiavelli worked on this manual of advice for monarchs at the same time as his fervently republican Discourses on Livy, suggests that his deepest interest may have been the institute of the state itself.

Although he was writing in a long tradition of 'mirrors for princes', Machavelli's ruthless pragmatism was a new departure which damned him in the eyes of many then and since, but which contributed to a tradition of political realism taken up by Hobbes among others. The emergence of modern elite theory from the late nineteenth century underlined his lasting influence on Italian political thought.

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Free online texts

Constitution Society: The Prince, translated by William Kenaz Marriott. HTML format.
Early Modern Texts: The Prince, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.
Feedbooks: The Prince, translated by Ninian Hill Thompson. EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats.
Gutenberg: The Prince, translated by William Kenaz Marriott. Multiple formats. 
Ibiblio.org: Il Principe, Italian text, edited by Sálvio Marcelo Soares (2009). PDF format.
Internet Archive: The Prince and the Discourses. The Prince translated by Luigi Ricci and revised by E.R.P. Vincent. With an Introduction by Max Lerner. Modern Library (1940). Multiple formats.
Marxists.org: The Prince, translated by W.K. Marriott. 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.
The Prince Book Free. Marriott English translation and other languages. Multiple formats.
University of Adelaide: The Prince, translated by W.K. Marriott Multiple formats.
Wikisource: Italian text and multiple translations. HTML and other formats.

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Cicero: On the Laws

Richard_Wilson_-_Cicero_with_his_friend_Atticus_and_brother_Quintus _at_his_villa_at_Arpinum_-_Google_Art_ProjectOn the Laws (Latin: De Legibus) is a dialogue by Cicero written about 51 BC, which survives only in fragmentary form. In contrast to his other major political dialogue, the De Re Publica, Cicero gave On the Laws a contemporary setting, portraying a conversation between himself, his brother Quintus, and his friend Atticus, about the appropriate constitution for an ideal Roman state. The system which emerges reflects Cicero's pragmatic conservatism. It is defended in terms of an early and influential conception of natural law.

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Free online texts

Internet Archive: The treatises of M.T. Cicero: On the nature of the gods; On divination; On fate; On the republic; On the laws; and On standing for the consulship. Literally translated chiefly by the editor, C.D. Yonge (1878). Multiple formats.

Latin Library: De Legibus. Latin text, HTML format.

Online Library of Liberty: The Political Works of Marcus Tullius Cicero, vol. 2 (Treatise on the Laws), translated by Francis Barham (1841). Multiple formats.

Perseus: De Legibus. Latin text, HTML and XML format.

Wikisource: De Legibus. Latin text, multiple formats.

Other Resources

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Rhetorical Questions: Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Raphael Woolf on Cicero - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Cicero.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Ancient Political Philosophy.

Librivox: On the Laws - public domain audiobook.

Wikipedia: CiceroDe Legibus

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

Cicero: De Re Publica.

Plato: The Republic.

Plato: The Laws.

Latin resources: Learn to read Latin texts in the original.


Cicero: De Re Publica

De Re Publica, variously translated as The Republic, On the Republic or On the Commonwealth, is Cicero's major work on political theory. It was written between 54 and 51 BCE, years when Cicero was politically marginalised by the First Triumvirate whose break-up would shortly lead to civil war.

The dialogue is set in an earlier turbulent period in the preceding century. It's central character is Scipio Aemilianus, the victorious general of the Third Punic War, and leader of the aristocratic opposition to the popular faction of the Gracchi.

The Middle Ages knew only a single major fragment of the De Re Publica, the passage known as Scipio's Dream. A palimpsest found in the Nineteenth Century contributed to the other surviving portions.

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Free online texts

Internet Archive: The treatises of M.T. Cicero: On the nature of the gods; On divination; On fate; On the republic; On the laws; and On standing for the consulship. Literally translated chiefly by the editor, C.D. Yonge (1878). Multiple formats.

Latin Library: De Re Republica. Latin text, HTML format.

Online Library of Liberty: The Political Works of Marcus Tullius Cicero, vol. 1 (Treatise on the Commonwealth), translated by Francis Barham (1841). Multiple formats.

Perseus: De Republica (Teubner, 1889). Latin text, HTML and XML format.

Wikisource: De Re Publica. Latin text, multiple formats.

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Aristotle: The Athenian Constitution

The Athenian Constitution (Greek: Αθηναίων Πολιτεία) is thought to be the only text by Aristotle rediscovered in modern times, based on papyri recovered in the Nineteenth Century. It may be the last remnant of a project Aristotle is said to have initiated to collect the constitutions of all the Greek states.

The work should not be confused with another of the same title, once thought to be by Xenophon, but now generally attributed to an anonymous 'Old Oligarch'.

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Free online texts

Gutenberg: The Athenian Constitution, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. Multiple formats.

Gutenberg: Αθηναίων Πολιτεία by Aristotle. Greek text. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: The Works of Aristotle Vol X: Politica, Oeconomica, Atheniensum Respublica, the latter translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. Multiple formats.

Internet Classics Archive: The Athenian Constitution, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. HTML and TXT formats.

Internet History Sourcebook: The Athenian Constitution, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. TXT format.

Loebulus. L285 - Aristotle -- Athenian Constitution. Eudemian Ethics. Virtues and Vices. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Perseus: Greek text, edited y Frederic G. Kenyon. English text, translated by H. Rackham. HTML and XML formats.

University of Adelaide: The Athenian Constitution, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: The Athenian Constitution, translated by Frederic G. Kenyon. Multiple formats.

Other Resources

Librivox: The Constitution of Athens - public domain audiobook.

Wikipedia: Constitution of the Athenians.

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

Plato: The Republic, The Laws.

Aristotle: The Politics

Xenophon: The Spartan Constitution.

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.