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Hume's Politics

Coordination and Crisis in the "History of England"

Andrew Sabl

Publication Year: 2012

Hume's Politics provides a comprehensive examination of David Hume's political theory, and is the first book to focus on Hume's monumental History of England as the key to his distinctly political ideas. Andrew Sabl argues that conventions of authority are the main building blocks of Humean politics, and explores how the History addresses political change and disequilibrium through a dynamic treatment of coordination problems. Dynamic coordination, as employed in Hume's work, explains how conventions of political authority arise, change, adapt to new social and economic conditions, improve or decay, and die. Sabl shows how Humean constitutional conservatism need not hinder--and may in fact facilitate--change and improvement in economic, social, and cultural life. He also identifies how Humean liberalism can offer a systematic alternative to neo-Kantian approaches to politics and liberal theory.

At once scholarly and accessibly written, Hume's Politics builds bridges between political theory and political science. It treats issues of concern to both fields, including the prehistory of political coordination, the obstacles that must be overcome in order for citizens to see themselves as sharing common political interests, the close and counterintuitive relationship between governmental authority and civic allegiance, the strategic ethics of political crisis and constitutional change, and the ways in which the biases and injustices endemic to executive power can be corrected by legislative contestation and debate.

Published by: Princeton University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

...In his own time, Hume’s religious opinions and his largely naturalistic treatment of morality made him a controversial figure. My own encounter with Hume has, perhaps surprisingly, retained a hint of forbidden knowledge. My only formal education in Hume (two sessions in an undergraduate survey course) in effect assured...

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pp. 1-20

...Many find David Hume’s writings on politics agreeable. This book will argue that they are also astonishingly useful. Hume’s political ideas illuminate a host of questions in political theory, political science, and practical politics that would otherwise seem intractable, as well as calling into question some political assumptions that would...

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Chapter 1 Coordination and Convention

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pp. 21-42

...brought to believe, deserve their support. Many great problems of high politics can thus be seen as problems of coordination. When the status quo or “social norm” solution is doubtful or contested, they become problems of authority, since only authority can adjudicate the norm. When the convention of authority itself is doubtful or contested, they are...

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Chapter 2 Coordinating Interests: The Liberalism of Enlargement

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pp. 43-89

...with their perceived inferiors, and no reason to abandon local fiefdoms that let them flaunt their power, must be brought to prefer the advantages of peace, prosperity, and an expanded scope for potential projects and achievements to the squalid but independent...

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Chapter 3 Convention and Allegiance

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pp. 90-120

...allegiance reminds us that constitutions and institutions are simply other ways of describing conventions that human beings have found to be advantageous. Since all government rests on opinion, the units of political governance have no existence apart from...

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Chapter 4 Crown and Charter: Fundamental Conventions as Principles of Authority

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pp. 121-156

...private and public law as matters of convention; Hume repeatedly uses the word himself. But few have recognized that he regards certain conventions as fundamental: immune to alteration (except in the extremely long term, at least generations and more likely centuries...

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Chapter 5 Leadership and Constitutional Crises

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pp. 157-187

...at the roots—leadership is as Machiavelli portrayed it in the Prince: a matter of force and guile, personal charisma and deliberate terror, whatever will convince people that the new leader’s rule is relatively durable (and through convincing them, make it so; once again, coordination solutions are self-fulfilling). When long experience...

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Chapter 6 Vertical Inequality and the Extortion of Liberty

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pp. 188-206

...theory is obviously attractive to those who live under conditions of brutal civil war or anarchy, or who fear such. Not yet explained is why it should appeal to everyone else. Contemporary citizens demand not just order but other things: at the least, liberty, equality, and democracy...

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Chapter 7 What Touches All: Equality, Parliamentarism, and Contested Authority

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pp. 207-226

...than the relationship of kidnapper to captor; they are not party to a convention of authority and allegiance). My thesis is unoriginal, though a bit unpopular among many U.S. political theorists: the main guarantor of equality, in the face of the inequality that governing elites would otherwise prefer, is—and historically...

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pp. 227-248

...cultural changes that have unsettled the old ones or made new ones seem imaginable for the first time). Government is universally necessary in the first instance as the only actor that can settle disputes about property (and by implication other disputed conventions); once in place, it also furthers public goods of all kinds and is perceived to be ever more necessary...


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pp. 249-312


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pp. 313-326


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pp. 327-338

E-ISBN-13: 9781400845521
E-ISBN-10: 1400845521
Print-ISBN-13: 9780691134208
Print-ISBN-10: 0691134200

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Core Textbook