Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution - Vol. 2

Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution - Vol. 2

Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution - Vol. 2

Republics Ancient and Modern: Classical Republicanism and the American Revolution - Vol. 2

Synopsis

Where many intellectual historians discern a revival of the classical spirit in the political speculation of the age stretching from Machiavelli to Adam Smith, Rahe brings to light a self-conscious repudiation of the theory and practice of ancient self-government and an inclination to restrict the scope of politics, to place greater reliance on institutions than on virtuous restraint, and to give free rein to the human's capacities as a toolmaking animal.

Excerpt

More than ten years ago, I set out to transform my dissertation into a publishable monograph. In the course of making the attempt, I paused in my work, unhappy with the conceptual framework into which I was trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle constituted by late fifth-century Sparta and Athens. I then thought that I would better be able to deal with those scattered fragments of information if I first clarified my own thinking about the character of ancient politics by composing a brief article comparing the constitution of ancient Lacedaemon with that of the modern United States. Had I had any notion at the time of the enormity of the task that I was then taking on, I would no doubt have jettisoned the project right then and there.

When I began that essay in comparative politics, I presumed that I knew virtually all that I needed to know about modern republicanism. I had been born in such a republic. I had grown up there, and I had spent three glorious years in Great Britain, studying ancient history and observing the politics of that remarkable polity at close hand. But, as I pursued my new project, I lost my way--or, rather, discovered that I had never had a very good grasp of where I was--and gradually I came to find strange and mysterious that which had always seemed familiar and obvious. The more I learned about the foundations of modern politics, the less I found that I could depend upon that which I had been taught and had always been inclined to take for granted. And so what began as an attempt to elucidate the character of ancient politics became as much, if not more, a study of modernity.

So, let the reader be warned. This three-volume work is not a summary of the received wisdom concerning the republics of ancient Greece, the political speculation of early modern Europe, and the character of the American founding. Moreover, it is unlikely that the arbiters of intellectual fashion will ever find my thinking congenial. In the three spheres discussed, I have not only broken with the orthodoxy currently reigning in the academy; I have also eschewed the latest trends; and I suspect that many, both in and outside our universities, will find what I have to say unsettling. Thus, for example, where present-minded ancient historians are inclined to place emphasis on the institutions or to stress the sociology of the ancient Greek city and to treat Athens as an exemplar, I present the world of the pólis in the light cast by the regime-analysis of Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, and the like, and I try to show that the ancient tendency to prefer Sparta to Athens made con-

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