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REVIEW ARTICLE: LINGUISTIC CONTEXTUALISM AND MEDIEVAL POLITICAL THOUGHT: QUENTIN SKINNER ON MARSILIUS OF PADUA Vasileios Syros1,2Abstract: This article discusses hitherto unexplored aspects of Quentin Skinners work on the history of political thought by offering a critical appraisal of the medieval section of Skinners Foundations of Modern Political Thought. The article investigates and critically assesses Skinners study of the medieval classics with a specific focus on his interpretation of the fourteenth-century political thinker Marsilius of Padua. In particular, the paper demonstrates that Skinners analysis of Marsilius political ideas is at odds with his own methodology. It also contends that Skinners emphasis on the intellectual-linguistic context as a starting point for the interpretation of major political writers of the past downplays the normative value of Marsilius political theory and is, in the end, a narrow interpretation of the overall scope of Marsilius Defensor pacis.

One of the largely unstudied aspects of Quentin Skinners work on the history of political thought is the medieval part of his Foundations of Modern Political Thought.3 The failure of scholarship on Skinners methodology to offer a critical appraisal of the medieval foundations of Skinners Foundations, that is, Skinners application of his methodology in his study of medieval political thought, can be attributed to a number of reasons. The bulk of scholarship on Skinners work on methodology, and especially the papers collected in the Meaning and Context4 and Rethinking the Foundations of Modern Political Thought5 volumes do not look at Skinners application of his own methodological precepts in his interpretation of certain classic

1 The Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion, The University of Chicago, 1025 E. 58th St., Swift Hall, Chicago, IL 606371509, USA. Email: vsyros1@ 2 I would like to thank Bernardo Bayona Aznar, Janet Coleman, Jeong-soo Kim, Evan Kuehn, Cary Nederman, Kari Palonen, Paul Rahe and Gary Shaw for valuable suggestions and criticisms. Thanks are also due to Nathan Tarcov for earlier discussions and for sharing his unpublished manuscript, Quentin Skinners Method, Machiavelli and Thomas More, with me. 3 Q. Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Vol. 1: The Renaissance (Cambridge, 1978). 4 Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics, ed. J. Tully (Princeton, NJ, 1988). 5 Rethinking the Foundations of Modern Political Thought, ed. Annabel Brett and James Tully (Cambridge and New York, 2006).


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thinkers and texts.6 In addition, no attempt has been made so far to examine how Skinners methodological programme relates to his study of major figures in the history of medieval Western political thought. As a result, there remains a genuine need to explore the potential and limits of Skinners methodology with regard to the study of medieval political ideas. Though the largest part of Skinners work is focused on modern political thought, he clearly intended the medieval and Renaissance section of his Foundations as a propaedeutic to his survey of modern political thought. The objective of this article is to explore Skinners study of medieval classics with a specific focus on his interpretation of the late-medieval political thinker Marsilius of Padua (1270/12901342). I do not purport to offer a detailed study of the medieval component of Skinners Foundations; instead, I use Skinners discussion of Marsilius to evaluate Skinners methodological programme. I will demonstrate that Skinners study of Marsilius ideas contradicts his own methodology. I will also suggest that Skinners emphasis on the intellectual-linguistic context as a starting point for the interpretation of classic political thinkers downplays the prescriptive dimensions of Marsilius political theory. Anachronisms In his discussion of the appropriate procedures to follow in approaching and understanding classic texts,7 Skinner challenges the idea that the text itself should form the self-sufficient object of inquiry and understanding. He quotes William Bluhm, who claims that the goal must be to provide a reappraisal of the classic writings, quite apart from the context of historical development, as perennially important attempts to set down universal propositions about political reality.8 The historians or interpreters tantalizing dilemma of whether he should concentrate simply on the text in itself amounts essentially to saying that it will never in fact be possible simply to study what any given classic writer has said (especially in an alien culture)

6 Notable exceptions are P.A. Rahe, Situating Machiavelli, in Renaissance Civic Humanism: Reappraisals and Reflections, ed. J. Hankins (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 270308; N. Tarcov, Quentin Skinners Method and Machiavellis Prince, Ethics, 92 (1982), pp. 692709, excerpted in Meaning and Context, ed. Tully, pp. 194203; N. Tarcov, Political Thought in Early Modern Europe II: The Age of Reformation, Journal of Modern History, 54 (1982), pp. 5665. For an intellectual portrait of Quentin Skinner, see K. Palonen, Quentin Skinner: History, Politics, Rhetoric (Cambridge, 2003). 7 Meaning and Context, ed. Tully, p. 30. 8 Ibid.; William T. Bluhm, Theories of the Political System: Classics of Political Thought & Modern Political Analysis (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1965), p. v.

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without bringing to bear some of ones expectations about what he must have been saying.9 Skinner rightly calls attention to the hazards linked to projecting a particular idea or doctrine onto a thinker of the past. For instance, he cautions against ascribing to Marsilius a doctrine of separation of powers and against assuming that he could have meant to contribute to a debate the terms of which were unavailable to him, and the point of which would have been lost on him.10 However, Skinner seems to elide the difference between the concept of separation of powers as formulated by Montesquieu and other modern political thinkers and the notion that portions of authority can be assigned to various organs and agents within a political entity.11 Marsilius in his Defensor pacis (Defender of Peace, 1324)12 looks upon the legislator humanus, i.e. the entire body of the citizens or their valentior pars (weightier part) as the fountain and ultimate repository of political power within the political community.13 He thereby advocates the supreme and undivided sovereignty of the legislator humanus over the process of framing the laws and appointing, monitoring and correcting the ruler/government and the officeholders.14 Though he does not subscribe to the modern concept of separation of powers, he does entertain the notion that power can be divided among parts and organs when it comes to the administration of a political entity, without compromising the absolute authority (or sovereignty) of the legislator humanus. Marsilius scholarship is divided on this issue: for Cary Nederman, any kind of representative system and the idea of entrusting of power to a representative body are at odds with Marsilius idea of citizenship.15 In Hwa-Yong Lees reading, in contrast, Marsilius acknowledges that the body of the citizens can delegate authority to representatives withoutMeaning and Context, ed. Tully, p. 31. Ibid., p. 33. 11 See also B. Bayona Aznar, Religin y poder: Marsilio de Padua: La primera teora laica del poder? (Madrid, 2007), pp. 1712. 12 References to the Defensor pacis are to the edition Marsilius von Padua, Defensor pacis, ed. Richard Scholz (= Fontes iuris germanici antiqui in usum scholarum ex monumentis germanicae historicis, separatim editi; 7) (Hanover, 1932/33) (henceforth cited as Defensor pacis). Citations will be to discourse, chapter and paragraph. I have also consulted the following English translations: Marsilius of Padua, The Defender of Peace, Vol. 2: The Defensor pacis, trans. A. Gewirth (New York 1956; repr. 2001); Marsilius of Padua, The Defender of the Peace, ed. and trans. A. Brett (Cambridge 2005). 13 Defensor pacis I.xii. 14 Ibid., I.xv. 15 C.J. Nederman, Knowledge, Consent and the Critique of Political Representation in Marsiglio of Paduas Defensor Pacis, Political Studies, 39 (1991), pp. 1935; C.J. Nederman, The Theory of Political Representation: Medieval Reprsentatio and Modern Transformations, in Reprsentatio: Mapping a Key Word for Churches and Governance, ed. Alberto Melloni and M. Faggioli (Mnster, 2006), pp. 4159, esp. pp. 4851.10 9

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necessarily relinquishing their fundamental civil and political rights. In this sense, Lee argues, Marsilius articulates an instrumental notion of political representation as indispensable for appointing the organs entrusted with the enforcement of the laws and the establishment and coordination of the other parts of the political community.16 Likewise, Bernardo Bayona Aznar suggests that the Marsilian scheme of governmental organization is founded on the principle that the power of the legislator humanus is perpetual and irrevocable and that the legislator humanus can assign authority to one or several persons, but remains the ultimate source and holder of authority within the political community.17 Marsilius proposes a general model of political organization as the common feature of all legitimate constitutional forms (kingship, aristocracy and polity). This model is meant to apply to various political entities, and Marsilius does not indicate a preference for one specific form of governme