From Locke versus Rousseau to the Present
New Thinking in Political Economy series
It is customary to present histories in chronological order. We do not object to chronological order. In addition, some scholars have understood and presented the history of political thought per se as a debate between ancients (primarily Plato and Aristotle) and moderns. In itself this can be very insightful. It has, however, serious limitations. To begin with, it largely ignores or downplays the importance of economics, especially in the modern period. More to the point, it tends to privilege the views of the ancients, sometimes to the point of the distortion of the views of the moderns. We think that while modern thinkers may be illuminated by contrast with classical thinkers, we also think that modern thinkers are better understood in terms of their engagement with each other. This is why we begin the conversation with Locke rather than Aristotle. As a general point of departure, we can contrast Aristotle’s world view with the Newtonian world view. Aristotle’s intellectual model was teleological biology. This translated into the belief that every entity had a purpose (telos) and this is what it meant to say it had a nature; the belief that the purpose of each entity fit within a larger net of purposes terminating in one hierarchical overall purpose; that the natural state of each object (Aristotle’s physics) was to be at rest and that motion or original motion had to be explained; and that time was to be understood as an endlessly repeating cycle, which is why history is either unimportant or cyclical, and most certainly not evolutionary; and the belief that when applied to human beings the preeminent function was contemplation and serving a larger social purpose.