The first of three volumes, this definitive study explores the politics of social institutions, from the time of the ancient Greeks to the Reformation in the sixteenth century.
Tony Burns focuses on those civil-society institutions occupying the intermediate social space which exists between the family or household, on the one hand, and what Hegel refers to as ‘the strictly political state’, on the other. Arguing that the internal affairs of social institutions are a legitimate concern for students of politics, he focuses on the notion of authority, together with that of an individual’s station and its duties. Burns discusses the work of such key thinkers as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Marsilius of Padua, Nicholas of Cusa, Jean Bodin, Charles Loyseau, John Calvin, Martin Luther and Gerrard Winstanley. He considers what they have said about the relationship that exists between superiors in positions of authority and their subordinates within hierarchical social institutions.
Tony Burns is professor of political theory in the School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham, and director of its Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice (CSSGJ).
This book, the first of three volumes, links the politics of recognition to the evolution of Western social institutions. It challenges not only those who associate the politics of recognition with late-20th-century multiculturalism but also someone such as Craig Calhoun, who pushes its foundation back to Hegel’s civil society theory. Burns (Univ. of Nottingham, UK) sees evidence of premodern origins and makes it his task to trace how increased societal differentiation was wedded to developments in the significance of recognition. The book is organized into two parts. The first provides discussions of ancient Greece, Rome, and medieval Christianity. The second picks up the narrative in the late Middle Ages, beginning with “corporation theory,” in which figures such as Nicholas of Cusa and Jean Bodin loom large. The study concludes with a discussion of the Protestant Reformation, focusing on Martin Luther and John Calvin. This is high quality and engaging intellectual history. Burns succinctly summarizes his argument at the end, namely that the non-state institutions that developed in the premodern world prior to the emergence of civil society called for recognition and in so doing sowed the seeds of democratic decision-making. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students and faculty.
An adventurous and scholarly book that stretches our notion of recognition and widens the horizons of our conceptions of the political. It adds to our understanding of the history of political thought in the ancient, medieval, and early modern worlds. It is an excellent read, and whets our appetite for the forthcoming volumes in the projected trilogy of books on recognition.