This book examines some of the salient historiographical and conceptual issues that animate current scholarly debates about the nature of the medieval contribution to modern Western political ideas. On the one hand, scholars who subscribe to the 'Baron thesis' concerning civic humanism have asserted that the break between medieval and modern modes of political thinking formed an unbridgeable chasm associated with the development of an entirely new framework at the dawn of the Florentine Renaissance. Others have challenged this hypothesis, replacing it with another extreme: an unbroken continuity in the intellectual terrain between the twelfth and the seventeenth centuries (or later). The present book seeks to qualify both of these positions. Cary J. Nederman argues for a more nuanced historiography of intellectual continuity and change that depends upon analyzing a host of contextual as well as philosophical factors to account for the emergence of the European tradition of political theory in the medieval and early modern periods. He finds that categories such as 'medieval' and 'modern' can and should be usefully deployed, yet always with the understanding that they are provisional and potentially fluid. The book opens with an introduction that lays out the main issues and sources of the debate, followed by five sets of interrelated chapters. The first section critically assesses some of the leading scholars who have contributed to the current understanding of the relationship between medieval and modern ideas. The central part of the book includes three sections that address salient themes that illuminate and illustrate continuity and change: Dissent and Power, Empire and Republic, and Political Economy. The volume closes with a few examples of the ways in which medieval political doctrines were absorbed into and transformed during the modern period up to the nineteenth century.
Cary J. Nederman is professor of political science at Texas A&M University and author of numerous published works including Machiavelli, John of Salisbury, Worlds of Difference: European Discourses of Toleration, c. 1100 - c. 1550, and Medieval Aristotelianism and Its Limits.