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The century in which Richelieu and Louis XIV fashioned an absolute dynastic state in France is noteworthy in English history for a very different reason. While the state was being set for Louis XIV to declare, if he wished, "I am the state," Englishmen were establishing the principle that all political authority is limited by law. This idea, which is called constitutionalism, was surely not new, having had its roots in English, feudal, and medieval history. But, what is profoundly significant for Western Civilization is that this idea became an operative political principle in late seventeenth century England. In the eighteenth century the English successfully devised a frame of government which preserved the gains which they had made earlier. [excerpt]

Additional Resources

An excerpt from The Hafner Lobrary of Classics series has been removed due to copyright. An earlier printing of John Locke's Two Treatises of Government is available here.


This is a part of Section IX: Early Modern Europe, 1500-1789. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.