In this book, stressing the ubiquity and extraordinary staying power of kingship, Francis Oakley argues that it may be the most common form of government known to humankind. He traces its history from the time of the Neolithic revolution and the spread of agrarian modes of subsistence around the eastern Mediterranean (c. 8,000-5,000 B. C. E. ) down to its widespread loss of legitimacy in the modern industrial world. The author considers the many forms that kingship took during this period, including: the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt; the emperors of Japan; the Maya rulers of Mesoamerica; the medieval popes and emperors; and the English and French monarchs of early modern Europe. While acknowledging the panoply of governing roles that kingship could involve - administrative, military, judicial, economic, religious, and purely symbolic - his central focus is on its intimate connection with the sacred. From despots to powerless figureheads, and from Hellenistic Greece to the Fiji Islands, Oakley examines the nature of kingship and its centrality to the political experience of humankind.
His account draws on the insights of cultural anthropology and comparative religion, as well as the on the resources provided by historians.
Francis Oakley is the Edward Dorr Griffin Professor of the History of Ideas and President Emeritus of Williams College, Massachusetts. He is also President Emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies, New York. In 1999 he was Isaiah Berlin Visiting Professor of the History of Ideas at Oxford University. He is the author of The Medieval Experience (1988 ), Omnipotence, Covenant,and Order (1984), The Conciliarist Tradition (2003), and Natural Law, Laws of Nature, Natural Rights (2005).