After Machiavelli and Hobbes: James Harrington’s Commonwealth of Israel

this article in
pdf format

Abstract: In this essay, I analyze James Harrington’s discussion of the commonwealth of Israel to show how Harrington employs methods and concepts from Niccolע Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes while ultimately distinguishing himself from both. I argue that Harrington makes use of Machiavelli’s method of historical example and adopts his republicanism while abandoning his belief that all states are mortal. From Hobbes, Harrington derives the idea that nature provides the principles for a timeless polity, but he criticizes Hobbes’ political conclusions. By selectively adapting and rejecting elements of both Machiavelli’s and Hobbes’ theories, Harrington arrives at a divided conception of Israel – one part historical and finite, the other ideal and immortal.

Biography: Gary Remer is an associate professor of political science at Tulane University and was a visiting scholar at the Center for American Politics and Citizenship at the University of Maryland in the fall of 2005. He is the author of Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1996) and coeditor of Talking Democracy: Historical Perspectives on Rhetoric and Democracy (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004). He has published numerous articles in journals such as Political Theory, History of Political Thought, Journal of Political Philosophy, Review of Politics, and Polity.

Volume 1, Number 4 (Summer 2006) pp. 440-461