Christopher Hill, Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Hamilton College, specializes in the history of medieval Europe. His research focuses on the relations between law and religion in the pre-modern world and in the development of Western political philosophy.
On Tuesday evening, 24 February, at 7 pm in the AHI’s headquarters, Professor Hill will explore “The Liberal Legacy of the Barbarian West.” Protection of the individual as a central aim of governance, he contends, has “roots that stretch deep into the medieval period, before the apparatus of centralizing states had the ability to dominate the populace in any meaningful way. As societies became more complex in the waning years of the Middle Ages, the tenets associated with liberalism declined as the political theory of absolutism gained currency. During the English Civil War and the Enlightenment, when Europeans began discussing political theories that considered popular sovereignty, they were able to do so because of the unusual documents and political traditions that linked their world with an earlier, in some ways more primitive, one.”
Thus liberalism, according to Professor Hill, is less a triumph of the modern world than an echo of a simpler time when sovereignty did not mean a final arbiter, an absolute power to which persons of a country must adhere. Liberalism, suggests Hill, “might well have disappeared entirely, were it not for the accidents of history that preserved it until a period when its utility was more easily recognized.”
In preparation for his talk, Professor Hill recommends several documents on medieval liberty.
His talk is open to the public. A bountiful reception will follow, and first arrivals will receive priceless gifts.