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How (Not) to Use the History of Political Thought for Contemporary Purposes

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Many scholars seek contemporary insights from historical texts. Yet such efforts often fall short. Some studies do not demonstrate a gap in the literature, or they overgeneralize about the limitations of contemporary scholarship. Other studies misread contemporary authors or underestimate the complexity of contemporary issues. Interestingly, some studies use ideas that have been superseded: the history of political thought can constrain as well as liberate. Overall, I suggest, some of the boldest claims for the contemporary value of the history of political thought come from scholars whose own contemporary insights sometimes fall short. These problems risk undermining, not underlining, the contemporary relevance of the history of political thought. To draw contemporary insights from historical texts, we need to grasp how hard this can be.




Blau, A. (2021). How (Not) to Use the History of Political Thought for Contemporary Purposes. American Journal of Political Science, 65(2), 359–372.

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