The Ellen Meiksins Wood Reader


Ellen Meiksins Wood is a leading contemporary political theorist who has elaborated an innovative approach to the history of political thought, the ‘social history of political theory’. She has been described as the founder, together with the historian Robert Brenner, of ‘Political Marxism’, a distinct version of historical materialism which has inspired a research program that spans a number of academic disciplines. Organized thematically, this Reader brings together selections from Wood’s groundbreaking ...

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Ellen Meiksins Wood is a leading contemporary political theorist who has elaborated an innovative approach to the history of political thought, the ‘social history of political theory’. She has been described as the founder, together with the historian Robert Brenner, of ‘Political Marxism’, a distinct version of historical materialism which has inspired a research program that spans a number of academic disciplines. Organized thematically, this Reader brings together selections from Wood’s groundbreaking scholarship, published over three decades, providing an overview of her original interpretations of capitalism, precapitalist societies, the state, political theory, democracy, citizenship, liberalism, civil society, the Enlightenment, globalization, imperialism, and socialism.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9789004230088
  • Publisher: Brill Academic Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 9/15/2012
  • Series: Historical Materialism Book Series , #40
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Ellen Meiksins Wood is Professor Emerita in the Department of Political Science, York University. She is the author of numerous books, including Democracy against Capitalism, The Origin of Capitalism, Citizens to Lords and, most recently, Liberty and Property.

Larry Patriquin is Associate Professor of Social Welfare and Social Development, Nipissing University. He is the author of Inventing Tax Rage and Agrarian Capitalism and Poor Relief in England, 1500-1860.

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Table of Contents



Introduction: The ‘Method’ of Ellen Meiksins Wood

1. Capitalism The ‘economic’ and the ‘political’ in capitalism Class-power and state-power Feudalism and private property Capitalism as the privatisation of political power The localisation of class-struggle England vs. the dominant model of capitalism The bourgeois paradigm Begging the question Opportunity or imperative?
The commercialisation-model Marx on the transition Towns and trade Agrarian capitalism Market-dependent producers A different kind of market-dependence?
Competitive markets

2. Precapitalist Societies Class and state in China and Rome Rome and the empire of private property The city-states of Florence and Venice Master and slave vs. landlord and peasant Free producers and slaves Slavery and the ‘decline’ of the Roman Empire The ‘logic’ of slavery vs. the logic of capitalism The ‘slave-mode of production’
Agricultural slavery and the peasant-citizen The nexus of freedom and slavery in democratic Athens

3. The State in Historical Perspective Class and state in ancient society The emergence of the polis in ancient Athens The ‘essence’ of the polis
Class in the democratic polis
Village and state, town and country, in democratic Athens The rise and fall of Rome The culture of property: the Roman law From imperial Rome to ‘feudalism’
Absolutism and the modern state The idea of the state The peculiarities of the English state Contrasting states: France vs. England

4. Social and Political Thought The social history of political theory Political theory in history: an overview Plato The Greek concept of freedom Jean-Jacques Rousseau John Locke Revolution and tradition, c. 1640–1790

5. Democracy, Citizenship, Liberalism, and Civil Society Labour and democracy, ancient and modern From ancient to modern conceptions of citizenship Capitalism and democratic citizenship The American redefinition of democracy A democracy devoid of social content From democracy to liberalism Capitalism and ‘liberal democracy’
Liberal democracy and capitalist hegemony The idea of ‘civil society’
The civil-society argument
‘Civil society’ and the devaluation of democracy

6. The Enlightenment, Postmodernism, and the Post-‘New Left’
Modernity vs. capitalism: France vs. England From modernity to postmodernity Modernity and the non-history of capitalism Themes of the postmodern left Enlightenment vs. capitalism: Condorcet vs. Locke Enlightenment-universalism The periodisation of the Western left Left-intellectuals and contemporary capitalism

7. Globalisation and Imperialism Globalisation and the nation-state Nation-states, classes, and universal capitalism The indispensable state Precapitalist imperialism The classic age of imperialism Globalisation and war Globalisation and imperial hegemony The contradictions of capitalist imperialism

8. Socialism The end of the welfare-state ‘compact’
There are no social democrats now Market-dependence vs. market-enablement Left-strategies of market-enablement The political implications of competition The working class and the struggle for socialism Class-conflict and the socialist project Socialism and democracy The state in classless societies Liberalism vs. democracy
‘Universal human goods’
The self-emancipation of the working class The socialist movement Democracy as an economic mechanism

Bibliography of Works by Ellen Meiksins Wood, 1970–2012



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Edited readers are becoming more important for both students and academics. Readers are ideal for those who are unable or unwilling to peruse thousands of pages of an author’s output – and who would not know where to begin, even if they had the time. With the publication of eleven books (two co-authored) and dozens of articles, the writings of Ellen Meiksins Wood have reached a point where an edited collection is needed. This reader serves as an overview of her ideas; it will be helpful especially for those just beginning to encounter her works.
Like similar texts, the excerpts are presented in thematic, rather than chronological, order. Unlike many readers, however, I have refrained from the common practice of incorporating whole chapters or entire articles from the author. This approach seems to me to defeat the purpose of a reader. At the same time, I have avoided, for the most part, cutting the original texts into small fragments, which would have given the work a ‘prison-notebooks’ feel. I have tried to strike a middle-ground, in effect incorporating Wood’s ‘greatest hits’, consisting of pieces both long and (relatively) short. The result, I believe, is a showcase for Wood’s groundbreaking scholarship, with important insights on every page. Those making use of this collection are obviously free to skip through the text, though I recommend that it be read from start to finish, as the material in the opening chapters on capitalism, precapitalist societies, and the state informs, in important ways, the theoretical arguments developed in later chapters.
In the chapters, sections are taken from a variety of Wood’s texts. Even when they are excerpted from the same book or article, however, the sections reprinted here often do not follow consecutively in the original works, so readers should assume the presence of an ellipsis before each sub-title. When excerpts do not begin at the start (or finish at the end) of a paragraph (as found in the original publication), these excerpts are preceded (or followed) by an ellipsis. Ellipses have also been used occasionally to remove sections of material, either large or small, though they have been employed typically to eliminate phrases such as ‘in the previous chapter’, ‘as we have seen’, and so on. Editorial interjections are made inside square-brackets. If information has been placed in square-brackets in the original works, ‘– EMW’ appears before the closing bracket.
Small changes were made to Wood’s footnotes for consistency of style and to update information on cited works noted as forthcoming in the original publications. A few discursive notes were left out. One footnote was added in brackets, a brief explanation of the phrase ‘New “True” Socialism’. I have also made slight changes to some sub-titles and added sub-titles when there were none in the original publications (for example, where Roman numerals were used in place of sub-titles).
Some of the excerpts are from books co-authored with Neal Wood. However, in the case of Class Ideology and Ancient Political Theory, the preface (p. x) indicates that while ‘both of us have criticised and amended each other’s works’, Chapters Two and Four, from which material is included here, were written by Ellen Meiksins Wood. The other book is A Trumpet of Sedition, from which I have used a small excerpt on John Locke.
The ‘Bibliography of Works by Ellen Meiksins Wood, 1970–2012’, found at the end of the reader, does not include translations (which have appeared in more than a dozen languages), though it does include a few works (in German and French) which have not yet been published in English. A number of the entries in the bibliography are reprints of earlier works, some expanded and further developed, others reproduced ‘as is’. Many of the articles have been incorporated, typically with revisions, into Wood’s books (see the relevant acknowledgements-pages of these books for further details).

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