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Liberty and Property: A Social History of Western Political Thought from the Renaissance to Enlightenment

From Machiavelli to Rousseau, reading theorists as responding to the conflicts of their time.
The formation of the modern state, the rise of capitalism, the Renaissance and Reformation, the scientific revolution and the Age of Enlightenment have all been attributed to the “early modern” period. Nearly everything about its history remains controversial, but one thing is certain: it left a rich and provocative legacy of political ideas unmatched in Western history. The concepts of liberty, equality, property, human rights and revolution born in those turbulent centuries continue to shape, and to limit, political discourse today. Assessing the work and background of figures such as  Machiavelli, Luther, Calvin, Spinoza, the Levellers, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, Ellen Wood vividly explores the ideas of the canonical thinkers, not as philosophical abstractions but as passionately engaged responses to the social conflicts of their day.


  • “ ... This book is clearly written, incisively argued, and immensely informative.”
  • “a notable book, wide-ranging and perceptive... [Wood]addresses the heartland of the historiography of political thought from Machiavelli to Rousseau, the territory of its most successful recent practitioners.”


  • Ellen Meiksins Woods: Capitalism and Human Emancipation

    Ellen Meiksins Wood (1942-2016) was a leading political theorist and one of the world's most influential historians. Her wide-ranging and original work, covering topics which range from examinations of Athenian democracy to contemporary American imperialism, has, alongside Robert Brenner, inaugurated the 'Political Marxist' approach to history. 

    In this piece, originally delivered as an Issac Deutscher memorial lecture published in NLRI/167, Wood analyses the prospects for emancipation in contemporary capitalism.

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  • Another University is Possible

    The SOAS students' struggle to decolonise their curriculum is a call to reshape and re-imagine what the university is for and whom the university should serve. 

    The School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) was founded by the British state in 1916 to strengthen imperial interests in Asia and Africa. It admitted its first students in 1917, among them colonial administrators, as well as military officers, doctors and missionaries, to instruct them in the languages and cultures of the regions to which they would be posted to govern and rule on behalf of the British Empire. It is in light of the institution’s centenary that SOAS students are seeking to decolonise it. This collective action undertaken by academic staff and students attempts to challenge the university’s “self-image as progressive and diverse” and build a more just and inclusive institution. Some of the aims of decolonisation are reparative: students are demanding the provision of more scholarships for refugees and displaced people, regardless of their immigration status, and more bursaries and grants for working-class students. Linked to the decolonising agenda is also the campaign to end the outsourcing of cleaning staff and for their secure work and pay.

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  • 'The maddest Christmas that ever I saw': The Levellers at Christmas

    In this extract from The Leveller Revolution, John Rees describes one of the great popular mobilisation of the English Revolution over the Christmas of 1641. It was described by one eye-witness, Captain Robert Slyngsbie as ‘the maddest Christmas that ever I saw’

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Other books by Ellen Meiksins Wood