Reconstructing the History of Political Languages: Pocock, Skinner, and the Geschichtfiche Grundbegriffe

History and Theory 29 (1):38-70 (1990)
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The program of the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, formulated primarily by Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck, calls for relating conceptual change to structural transformations of government, society, and economy in German-speaking Europe. J. G. A. Pocock, of Cambridge, identified the range of alternative and competing political discourses available to early modern writers, while Quentin Skinner, also of Cambridge, treated political theories in terms of those historical contexts and linguistic conventions which both facilitate and circumscribe legitimations of political arrangements, and he described such theories as intentional speech acts. Despite the differences in the German and Anglophone modes of treating political language, however, there are no major obstacles in bringing them together. The GG could profit from Pocock's technique of analysis and comparison in identifying early modern political languages, and the issues raised by Skinner about political thought and theorizing as forms of linguistic action, as well as the effect of general linguistic conventions upon available modes of legitimating political arrangements. The Anglophone mode might profit from considering the GG's non-reductive use of social history in conjunction with that of concepts, and from the GG's systematic use of contemporary sources of language and linguistic definitions



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