Front Page Titles (by Subject) The 'New' History\'s Presuppositions - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1982, vol. 5, No. 2
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The ‘New’ History's Presuppositions - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1982, vol. 5, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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The ‘New’ History's Presuppositions
“On the ‘New’ History: Quentin Skinner's Proposal for a New History of Political Ideology.” Telos 47 (Spring 1981): 174–183.
Quentin Skinner, author of The Foundations of Political Thought, 2 vols. (Cambridge, 1978), exemplifies the socalled “new history” of political ideology. Keane maintains that the entire new history project is feeble in its interpretative presuppositions and conservative in its uncritical, antiquarian consequences.
One central but fatal presupposition of the new history project may be termed the intentionality claim: historical interpretation is judged synonymous with explications of what past authors were self-consciously intending in their utterances. This intentionality claim pre-supposes two debatable points. First, it is a fantastic claim, in the light of self-deception and depth psychology, that agents always have privileged access to their own intentional utterances. Next, the subjectivist new history eclipses the semantic autonomy of texts.
The new historians' task is to interpret a past that reproduces the immediately given intentions of actors within their context of an ensemble of conventions of political argumentation. This embraces a positivist copy model of interpretation which presupposes the very objectivism the new historians decry. There can be no “presuppositionless” understanding of the speech and actions of others. We can understand the past, however, by what may be called a “negotiation model of historical interpretation.” The positivist presupposition of selfless researchers who are removed from their “object” of interpretation fails to consider that “subject” and “object” must be conjoined by an initial shared linguistic universe if interpretation is to be possible. Interpreters co-determine or “negotiate” the meaning of past utterances. The meaning of texts always goes beyond the author's intentions owing to unintended consequences and multiple interpretations.
Skinner's history of political ideology “unwittingly celebrates the power of the past over the present. It prefers antiquarian explication over critical evaluation.” But the past is rife with “power, interest and self-deception.” As historians we must be critical and not remain bogged simply considering an author's intention rather than questioning his relation to hegemony, oppression, and ideological self-deception.
More favorable interpretations of Skinner's Foundations are: the reviews by Judith Shklar and Julian Franklin in Political Theory 7 (November 1979): 549–558; and the comments by J. G. A. Pocock in Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory 3 (Fall 1979): 95–113.