Return to the Sources: Political Hebraism and the Making of Modern Politics

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Abstract: Natural law thinking in early modernity underwent a significant transformation: from a medieval scholastic understanding, with its teleological metaphysics, to a modern notion that empowers man and places covenant at the center of discussions of the legitimacy and scope of political authority. In the transition to the modern understanding, political theorists such as Grotius, Hobbes, Harrington, Locke, and others employed and interpreted Hebrew sources in different ways, and they were united by the Hebraic tradition serving as their reference point. This moment has been termed “political Hebraism.” And although a century later, the employment of Hebrew sources by political theorists was unheard of, the thought developed by seventeenth-century political Hebraists was by no means tangential. Indeed, the conceptions of law and politics developed then are still central to contemporary political life, and the ideas developed then resonate in political theory to this day.

Biography: Jonathan Jacobs is a professor of philosophy at Colgate University in New York. He is author of several books including Choosing Character: Responsibility for Virtue and Vice (Cornell, 2001), Dimensions of Moral Theory: An Introduction to Metaethics and Moral Psychology (Blackwell, 2002), and Aristotle’s Virtues: Nature, Knowledge, and Human Good (Peter Lang, 2004). He has written widely on moral psychology and metaethics, as well as on topics and figures in medieval philosophy (chiefly Maimonides and Aquinas). He has served as director of the Division of the Humanities at Colgate University and he is a life member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. He has been John MacMurray Visiting Professor at the University of Edinburgh, and a visiting fellow at the Centre for Ethics, Philosophy, and Public Affairs at the University of St. Andrews.

Volume 1, Number 3 (Spring 2006) pp. 328-342