The 2016 Haskins Medal is awarded to Francis Oakley (Williams College) for his trilogy, The Emergence of Western Political Thought in the Latin Middle Ages (Yale University Press, 2010-2015).
Committee members: Robert E. Bjork (chair), Annemarie Weyl Carr, Richard W. Kaeuper
Francis Oakley’s three-volume The Emergence of Western Political Thought in the Latin Middle Ages is the recipient of the 2016 Haskins Medal for a distinguished work in medieval studies. The culmination of a stellar academic career, the trilogy dazzlingly substantiates a simple thesis: the secular nature of modern political thought emerged not from ancient Greece and Rome but from the Latin Middle Ages. In the first volume, Empty Bottles of Gentilism: Kingship and the Divine in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages (to 1050), Oakley shows—contra received opinion since the Enlightenment—that the ruling institutions of Antiquity were not entirely secular in nature but instead were profoundly invested in sacral notions of kingship. In the second volume, The Mortgage of the Past: Reshaping the Ancient Political Inheritance (1050 to 1300), he demonstrates how those sacral notions were adopted by thinkers of the early Middle Ages and adapted to a Christian context. And in the third volume, The Watershed of Modern Politics: Law, Virtue, Kingship, and Consent (1300 to 1650), he details how those sacral notions, under increasing pressure from social, cultural, and religious developments, finally gave way to the politics of consent that denied the divine right of kings and affirmed the universal right of resistance as asserted in such documents as the English Magna Carta (1215), the Hungarian “Golden Bull” (1222), and the Aragonese Act of Union (1287). Deeply learned, engagingly written, encyclopedic, and wise, The Emergence of Western Political Thought is already regarded as a monument in the history of ideas, a masterful explication of the interplay among religion, politics, and education in the West. It richly deserves this honor, which we humbly bestow upon it.