What is liberty? This cherished ideal, which lies at the heart of our democracy, has proved very difficult to define. In this provocative lecture, eminent political theorist Quentin Skinner explores some influential meanings of liberty—especially those that define liberty in negative terms, as the absence of interference or arbitrary domination. He shows how negative liberty has important implications for the conduct of democratic government.
Quentin Skinner is the Barber Beaumont Professor of the Humanities at Queen Mary University of London. His interests lie in modern intellectual history and philosophical themes including the nature of interpretation and historical explanation, and the concept of political liberty and the character of the State. Skinner’s historical research centers on early-modern Europe, particularly the Italian Renaissance. He has published books on Machiavelli, on early Renaissance political painting, on ideals of civic virtue, and has edited Machiavelli’s The Prince. He also works on seventeenth century England, and has written extensively on the relations between rhetoric and philosophy. He recently completed a book on Shakespeare and forensic eloquence, and has published three books on the philosophy of Thomas Hobbes. His best-known work, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, attempts to span the whole early-modern period.