School of Politics and International Relations

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Ben Holland

Associate Professor of Political Theory and International Relations, Faculty of Social Sciences



Ben Holland is an Associate Professor of Political Theory and International Relations. His research is concerned with the intellectual history of the European state, its sovereignty, and the historical connections between political and theological discourse. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a graduate of the University of Cambridge (MA, Social and Political Sciences) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (MSc and PhD, International Relations).

Expertise Summary

Ben's research is focused on the history of the idea of the state. His first book, The Moral Person of the State, is a study of the seventeenth-century philosopher Samuel von Pufendorf's influential theory of state personality. His second, Self and City in the Thought of Saint Augustine, is a study of Augustine's theories of human psychology and political community.

Teaching Summary

Ben teaches courses on political theory at all levels. He co-convenes the third-year module POLI3088 Theories of the Modern State with Dr Adam Lindsay.

He is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and has won two awards for his teaching and contribution to student learning: the Political Studies Association's Sir Bernard Crick Prize for outstanding teaching in 2014; and a Lord Dearing Award in 2018.

Research Summary

Ben's main field of research is the history of political thought. Within this broad area, he is particularly concerned with the history of philosophical and scholarly reflection on the modern… read more

Selected Publications

Ben is very keen to supervise MRes and PhD students working on:

  • the history of European political thought, especially during the 17th/18th centuries;
  • the concept of the state;
  • the concept of sovereignty;
  • intellectual history of International Relations;
  • political theology.

Successful PhD students have written theses on the African Union and peacekeeping (Jude Cocodia, 2016), the genealogy of the concept of constituent power (Adam Lindsay, 2017), the ancient Roman and Greek inheritances in the writings of Carl Schmitt and Hannah Arendt (Yared Akarapattananukul, 2017), the social and political thought of Friedrich von Hayek (Aref Ebadi, 2018), friendship in international relations (Lisa Gibson, 2020), Lenin on democracy (Joe Pateman, 2021), and governmentality in Security Sector Reform (Hanen Keskes, 2022). Ben also co-supervised a successful MRes thesis on civil-military relations in Pakistan (Filippo Boni, 2013).

Current PhD students are working on the constitutional thought of Hugo Grotius (Charlie Bradley), the concept of ressentiment in Nietzsche (Selim Koru) and dystopian literature (Katherine Bayford).

Ben has acted as internal examiner of PhD theses on the concept of displacement in international political thought (Jonathan Mansell, 2014), a comparison of the political thought of Spinoza and Schmitt (Ignas Kalpokas, 2015), financialisation and hegemonic rise and decline (Özgün Tursun, 2019), international fora (Marco Genovesi, 2021) and the concept of education in international development policy (Ian Wash, 2022). He was external examiner of a DPhil on the philosophy of conceptual history at the University of Oxford in 2017.

Current Research

Ben's main field of research is the history of political thought. Within this broad area, he is particularly concerned with the history of philosophical and scholarly reflection on the modern European state, the concept of sovereignty and the intersections between political thought and theology.

Ben concluded a large project on the idea of the state in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a few years ago. He investigated a particular analogy that was often drawn between the individual human person and the state during this period. Certain ideas about how human beings are constituted as free and rational agents, he showed, were taken up by theorists of the state as they thought about how the state was constituted, and what responsibilities states had towards their own subjects as well as to each other. The monograph, The Moral Person of the State, was published by Cambridge University Press in July 2017.

Ben's second book is Self and City in the Thought of Saint Augustine (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020). This volume again explores the analogy between person and state, although in the case of Augustine it would be more accurate to say that the analogy is between the self and the city: between, that is, the human being as body and soul, always in relation to other such beings, and the city as a society ordered by love, whether self-love in the case of the Earthly City, divided love in the Pilgrim City, or love of others and of God in the City of God.

This book he envisages as the first step of a larger project on the history of the political thought on sovereignty. He is concerned with certain analogies between the powers of the sovereign and those of God that appear so often in European philosophy from the medieval period. Again, the concept of 'person' is key here: for in the Christian tradition, to which Augustine is central, God is three persons in one substance. Ben wants to examine how different understandings of the Trinity informed different conceptions of God's power and, by means of prevailing analogies, the powers of rulers and publics.

Ben directs the history of political thought activity stream in the Centre for Research into Ideas and the Study of Political Ideologies. He is an elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

School of Politics and International Relations

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