‘The History of Political Thought Above All’

A Portrait of Johann P. Sommerville (1953-)

In: Hobbes Studies
Cesare Cuttica Lecturer in British History, Department of Anglo-American Studies ( depa), Université Paris 8-Vincennes, Saint-Denis, France,

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Well-known for his work on absolutism, divine right theory, and his contextual reading of Hobbes’ ideas, Sommerville also published successful critical editions of Sir Robert Filmer and King James vi and I’s political writing. Sommerville’s engagement in key historiographical debates on early- modern British history, involving “opposing camps” of revisionists and post-revisionists, is less explored. Here, I focus on the question whether pre-Civil War England was immune to ideological conflict or, instead, featured a confrontation between King and Parliament based on ideas of power, liberty and obedience. I also highlight the continued relevance of Sommerville’s innovative account of English political thought as deeply shaped by European theories. His work reminds us of the role of the history of political thought in rectifying false claims and unchecked opinions, so commonly expounded in our divided world. In conclusion, I advance my own critical interpretation of Sommerville’s views on absolutism and patriarchalism.

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