Front Page Titles (by Subject) Neo-Harringtonians on Power, Interest, & Virtue - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1982, vol. 5, No. 2
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Neo-Harringtonians on Power, Interest, & Virtue - 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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Neo-Harringtonians on Power, Interest, & Virtue
“J.G.A. Pocock's Neo-Harringtonians: A Reconsideration.” History of Political Thought 1 (Summer 1980): 237–259.
Historian J.G.A. Pocock has studied the intellectual tradition of civic humanism and republicanism from 15th century Italy to the American Revolution. As part of this civic humanism interpretation, Pocock analyzes writers he classifies as “neo-Harringtonians”—17th and 18th century developers of the thought of the English republican author of Oceana, James Harrington (1611–1677). The neo-Harringtonians, according to Pocock, posed a major challenge to England's political leadership and the type of society that was emerging under its corrupt guidance. “Pocock places at the center of this neo-Harringtonian perspective an idealization of medieval society and government as the epitome of English liberty and a corresponding concern about those social and economic trends—especially the increasingly commercial and urban character of English society—that threatened to undermine the traditional basis of English freedom. Pocock believes that this political and historical view pervaded the writings of the neo-Harringtonians and exerted a great influence on social thinking in the 18th century.
Goodale critiques various aspects of Pocock's interpretation of the neo-Harringtonians, by studying, successively, the thought of: such early Commonwealthmen (and their defence of liberty) as Henry Neville (author of Plato Redivivus in 1681), Andrew Fletcher (author of Plato Redivivus in 1681), Andrew Fletcher (author of A Discourse of Government with Relation to Militia's in 1697); and the neo-Harringtonian opposition to Walpole, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon (authors of the influential Cato's Letters during the 1720s), and Lord Bolingbroke (1678–1751).
Goodale stresses the leitmotifs of suspicion of governmental power and privilege, the “balance” of power, and the adjustment of private vs. public interest, and the need for a civic spirit in the social, economic, and political thought of the neo-Harringtonians: “Concern over the domination of private interests operating through the political superstructure distinguished the political analysis of the neo-Harringtonians. Above all else, they were inheritors of a republican tradition who found themselves in a monarchy and, therefore, with a king and court as a permanent private interest in the government. A monarchical system seemed to be compatible with a greater degree of stability and freedom than Harrington had imagined possible. In Pocock's view, the neo-Harringtonians reacted to this fact by twisting Harrington's political concepts until they could accept and even celebrate England's limited monarchy. On the contrary, it was their adherence to Harrington's republican analysis that made these neo-Harringtonians wary of England's political system and gave to their political and historical thought an intellectual tension that Pocock's approach to their work cannot capture.
Pocock also errs in supposing that the neo-Harringtonians viewed commerce, trade, credit and money as necessarily opposed to liberty. On the contrary, from Neville to Bolingbroke, these writers did not present a conflict between commerce and land, virtue, and liberty, but rather they described the rise of trade and commerce as an aid to the growth in the number of economically independent citizens. Pocock and Isaac Kramnick mistake “discussions of political causes of corruption and tyranny as proof of a belief in the essential corruption of commercial life.” Not commerce, but politicized and privileged governmental control over the operations of commerce (“corruption”) is the recurring target of the neo-Harringtonians.
“In his recent study of early modern political thought, Quentin Skinner describes two approaches to the question of how best to provide for the general interest. One school of thought, to which Harrington surely belonged, relies upon the effective working of political institutions to defend the general good. The other stresses that it is ‘the proper spirit’ of the rulers, the people and the laws which needs above all to be sustained. The special quality of the neo-Harringtonians is the tension in their thought produced by an adherence to Harrington's belief in the primacy of political institutions at the same time that their analysis of contemporary political life pushed them towards a belief that only civic virtue could ultimately protect the general interest.”