Agents of the People by Pasi Ihalainen

By Pasi Ihalainen

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The methodological approach I follow combines conceptual analysis at the macro and micro levels. I use linguistically oriented research strategies of past political thinking by applying methodological tools provided by various continental conceptual historians and by the Cambridge School of the history of political ideas. 34 An approach combining the study of these semantic and pragmatic aspects of past political languages with a comparative analysis provides the most balanced methodological solution.

Parliamentary debates were, of course, only one dimension of political debate. Together with them we need to study other forms of public discourse—particularly those directly linked to current debates in Parliament. Such contextualization with other primary sources ensures the consideration of a wider range of the meanings assigned to the key concepts in the period studied. The relative importance of the two types of sources is quite apparent in this study. The public debate intensified considerably in the course of the eighteenth century, but as Black has reminded us, public opinion certainly did not determine the policies that eighteenth-century governments followed.

This concerns particularly concepts that were frequently used in representative institutions and which actually constituted part of the justification for the existence of these institutions in the first place. For this kind of analysis, the parliamentary and estate records provide hundreds of instances of how leading political speakers and decision-makers used concepts in the most respected political forum of each country. At the same time, they reveal a number of individual speech acts in both their long-term and their temporary contexts.

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