- John of Salisbury
One of the major developments in the history of political thought since the publication of J. G. A. Pocock's The Machiavellian Moment in 1975 has been the emergence of the view that early modern political thought is continuous in important ways with medieval political thought. Cary Nederman has been at the vanguard of this development. His essays collected in Worlds of Difference: European Discourses of Toleration: 1100-1550 (Pennsylvania State, 2000), as well as many of those included in two anthologies on toleration he co-edited, forcefully argue that what we think of as coherent theories of religious toleration did not suddenly emerge in the context of seventeenth-century juridical discourse. They were in fact forwarded much earlier by figures such as John of Salisbury, Christine de Pizan, and Marsiglio of Padua. And in a cluster of closely related essays which first appeared separately in a wide range of leading scholarly journals and which are now available in Medieval Aristotelianism and its Limits: Classical Traditions in Moral and Political Philosophy, 12th-15th Centuries (Ashgate, 1997), Nederman shows that many features of the classical republicanism which we associate with Aristotle and Cicero are present in a wide range of medieval authors.
The emergence of medieval political thinkers as major figures in the republican tradition of political thought has been somewhat disconcerting for some literary critics such as myself who are interested in how early modern English literature is related to civic humanism and the republican tradition of political thought at large. For we were taught by Hans Baron and Pocock that the Middle Ages really [End Page 161] did not matter to this tradition. As a result of the work of Nederman and others, such as Quentin Skinner and James Blythe, the Middle Ages now do matter, and comprehensive discussions of how early modern English literature is related to republican tradition must recognise the achievement of figures from this period.
Attempting to do so, I turned to Nederman's recent book on John of Salisbury (1115/1120-1180). I wanted a short, clear, and scholarly introduction to this figure which would give me a basic sense of the circumstances in which he was writing, the major writings, and the important scholarship that has been done to date. I wanted to know, in particular, what kind of contact he had with other figures in republican tradition, especially Aristotle and Cicero. Nederman delivers on all counts. In the first of the two chapters of the book, he provides a succinct account of John's life and highly variegated career that is grounded in citations of John's works as well as generous acknowledgements of the scholarship that has been devoted to John since 1983. In so doing, Nederman forwards what strike me as persuasive positions on several contentious issues in the field: the dates of composition of the major works; John's attitudes towards his teachers and other classical and contemporary figures; his relations with Thomas Becket; his final years in Chartres; and the relationship between his thinking and his work as an ecclesiastical official who was caught up in the clash between Henry II and Becket during the 1160s.
In the second chapter of the book, Nederman considers in more detail the major writings: Entheticus Maior, Policraticus, Metalogicon, Historia Pontificalis, and the correspondence. Continuing to draw on much of his own earlier work on John, as well as work by K. S. B. Keats-Rohan, Kate Langdon Forhan, Peter von Moos, John Ward, and Ronald Pepin, Nederman provides a lucid account of the major sources and authorities for each work and their major claims and arguments. For reasons mentioned above, I was especially interested in Nederman's discussion of the ways in which John was influenced by the ethical and political ideas of Aristotle which John knew not from the Ethics and the Politics (which had not yet been translated into Latin) but from the Organon and works by...