Book

The Opinion of Mankind

Paul Sagar

Published by Princeton University Press

Published in print February 2018 | ISBN: 9780691178882
Published online September 2018 | e-ISBN: 9781400889808
The Opinion of Mankind

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What is the modern state? Conspicuously undertheorized in recent political theory, this question persistently animated the best minds of the Enlightenment. Recovering David Hume and Adam Smith's underappreciated contributions to the history of political thought, this book considers how, following Thomas Hobbes's epochal intervention in the mid-seventeenth century, subsequent thinkers grappled with explaining how the state came into being, what it fundamentally might be, and how it could claim rightful authority over those subject to its power. Hobbes has cast a long shadow over Western political thought, particularly regarding the theory of the state. This book shows how Hume and Smith, the two leading lights of the Scottish Enlightenment, forged an alternative way of thinking about the organization of modern politics. They did this in part by going back to the foundations: rejecting Hobbes's vision of human nature and his arguments about our capacity to form stable societies over time. In turn, this was harnessed to a deep reconceptualization of how to think philosophically about politics in a secular world. The result was an emphasis on the “opinion of mankind,” the necessary psychological basis of all political organization. Demonstrating how Hume and Smith broke away from Hobbesian state theory, the book suggests ways in which these thinkers might shape how we think about politics today, and in turn how we might construct better political theory.

Keywords: modern state; opinion of mankind; political thought; Western political thought; Scottish Enlightenment; human nature; secular world; David Hume; Adam Smith; Thomas Hobbes

Book.  280 pages. 

Subjects: Social and Political Philosophy

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