This volume is one of a series. Professor Burns has already edited the Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought: c. 250-c. 1450 (1988), Dr Goldie is to join with Robert Wokler in editing the Cambridge History of 18th-Century Political Thought, and a volume on the 19th century is to follow. These furthermore are 'Cambridge histories' in the classic sense, laid down by Lord Acton a century ago: general editors co-ordinate a series of chapters on related topics, each written by an authority in the field it defines. Academic culture today teems with multi-author volumes, many no more than the proceedings of particular conferences; and the problem which Burns and Goldie have confronted is that of seeing that their volume is more than a collection of loosely convergent essays. They have surmounted that problem, rather than solved it; their volume possesses coherence and unity, but as Professor Burns observes in his introduction, one can select a pattern of unity only in the knowledge that another, equally defensible pattern could have been selected. Since selection is inescapable, there can be no 'solution'; and there is a sense in which no such thing as 'the history', even 'the Cambridge history', 'of political thought' can be said to exist until it has been selected and invented.
LRB 7 January 1993 | PDF Download