1st Edition

Modeling Interpretation and the Practice of Political Theory

By Martin Beckstein, Ralph Weber Copyright 2022
    224 Pages 25 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    224 Pages 25 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Political theory offers a great variety of interpretive traditions and models. Today, pluralism is the paradigm. But are all approaches equally useful? What are their limits and possibilities? Can we practice them in isolation, or can we combine them? Modeling Interpretation and the Practice of Political Theory addresses these questions in a refreshing and hands- on manner. It not only models in the abstract, but also tests in practice eight basic schemes of interpretation with which any ambitious reader of political texts should already be familiar. Comprehensive and engaging, the book includes:

    • A straightforward typology of interpretation in political theory.
    • Chapters on the analytical Oxford model, biographical and oeuvre- based interpretation, Skinner’s Cambridge School, the esoteric model, reflexive hermeneutics, reception analysis and conceptual history.
    • Original readings of Federalist Paper No. 10 , Plato’s Statesman, de Gouges’s The Three Urns, Rivera’s wall painting The History of Mexico and Strauss’s Persecution and the Art of Writing; with further chapters on Machiavelli, Huang Zongxi and a Hittite loyalty oath.
    • An Epilogue proposing pragmatist eclecticism as the way forward in interpretation. An inspiring, hands- on textbook suitable for undergraduate and graduate students, as well as experienced scholars of political theory, intellectual history and philosophy interested in learning more about types and models of interpretation, and the challenge of combining them in interpretive practice.

    Introduction: A Typology of Interpretation in Political Theory

    1. From Text to Argument: An Analytical Interpretation of the Federalist Paper No. 10

    2. The Person Behind the Author: What Plato’s Life Tells Us about the Statesman

    3. What the Author also Authored: Understanding Olympe de Gouge’s The Three Urns through Her Oevre

    4. Speaking into the Context: Specifying the Illocutionary Potential of Diego Rivera’s The History of Mexico

    5. Subtexting: An Esoteric Interpretation of Leo Strauss’s Persecution and the Art of Writing

    6. The Reader in Front of the Text: De-/Recontextualizing Huang Zongxi’s Mingyi daifang lu

    7. Reading the Readers:How the Meaning of Machiavelli’s The Prince Changed before Its Publication

    8. Tracing the Concept of Contract: Interpreting a Hittite Loyalty Oath for Conceptual History

    Epilogue: Eclecticism in Political Theory


    Martin Beckstein is Senior Researcher and Lecturer at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. His publications include The Politics of Economic Life (Routledge, 2015) and ‘Political Conservation, or How to Prevent Institutional Decay’ (2019).

    Ralph Weber is Professor of European Global Studies at the University of Basel, Switzerland. He teaches the global

    "Beckstein and Weber have assembled an array of vital and interesting approaches to interpreting texts in the history of political thought. Students and practitioners alike will find this text to be a valuable resource for understanding the substance and utility of interpretive methods. Works from various historical eras, reflecting an array of issues and contexts, are presented, giving readers expansive insight into the applicability of these methods."

    Sean Noah Walsh, Capital University

    "This excellent book is impressively wide-ranging, covering eight approaches to interpreting a variety of texts – and importantly, arguing that we should combine approaches rather than using only one approach. The writing is clear and accessible, and the authors use examples very instructively."

    Adrian Blau, Associate Professor of Politics, Department of Political Economy, King's College London

    "How are we to interpret texts of political theory? What approaches work? Can we get different or contrary perspectives to work together? This book gets to grips with these questions, and what is more does so in a highly readable way. This is an eminently clear-headed and thoughtful book, which should be read by all those interested in political theory and its interpretation. It argues for pluralism, in a theoretically considered way, that asks hard questions of opposing styles of interpretation."

    Gary Browning, Associate Dean, School of Social Sciences, Oxford Brookes University

    With clarity, creativity, and verve, Beckstein and Weber advocate pragmatic eclecticism in the practice of political theory. Too often, a few texts and a single method of interpretation are passed unreflectively from teacher to student. Through an insightful, engaging, and often entertaining show-and-tell of methodologies, their limits and possibilities, Beckstein and Weber challenge this status quo. Their book is indispensable reading for beginning graduate students, and a valuable corrective for the rest of us."

    Nomi Claire Lazar, Associate Professor of Social Sciences, Yale-NUS College

    "This book offers balanced discussions of current models of interpretation and invigorates new directions of study.  Summing Up: Recommended. Advanced undergraduates through faculty."