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Reviews197 RepublicsAncientandModern, by Paul Rahe; xiv 8c 1,204 pp. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992, $50.00. Although not stricdy concerned with "literature," Paul Rahe's monumental and impressively documented book is essential reading for scholars throughout the humanities as well as in history and political science. Combining the expertise of a classical philologist, a historian, and a scholar of political theory, Rahe provides a comprehensive examination of the character of political and social life in the ancient polis, highlights the radical differences between classical and modern republicanism, and illuminates the extent to which modem political life owes its distinctive character to a conscious project devised by philosophers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and carried to fruition by the philosophes of die eighteenth century and the founders of the American republic. Like Gaul, Republies Ancient and Modern is divided into three parts. The first, "The Ancien Régime," offers a brutally realistic account of political life in the Greek polis, the true model of which, Rahe argues, is found in Sparta rather than Athens. Book Two, "New Modes and Orders," traces the modern revolution in die relation between theory and practice from its origins in the thought of Machiavelli, Montaigne, and Bacon, through the scientific revolution led by Descartes and Newton, to the new science of"political architecture" advanced by Hobbes and Locke, Harrington and Montesquieu and embodied in the politics of eighteendi-century England. In Book Three, "Inventions of Prudence," Rahe surveys the political thought and accomplishment of die American Founders, emphasizing both the extent to which they were inspired by the example of classical republican politics and the more fundamental dependence on theform ofrepublic they established on the political thought of early modernity, as seen in its encouragement of commerce and of technologically oriented science and in its reliance on what Tocqueville called the principle of "self-interest righdy understood" rather than the governmental inculcation of morality and fraternity to attach the citizenry to their civic duties. Although Rahe's book illuminates an enormous multitude of issues ranging from the political significance of Greek homosexuality to the American Founders' treatment of slavery, its broadest value may be suggested here by highlighting two points. First, Rahe counteracts the tendency of contemporary scholars to idealize the ancient polis by stressing die fundamentally "illiberal" character even of Athens, to say nothing of Sparta. (In this respect, he buttresses the argument put forward in the nineteenth century by Benjamin Constant's essay contrasting "the liberty of the ancients" with that of the moderns and in Fustel de Coulanges's masterful study, The Ancient City, but often ignored by contemporary classicists eager to establish the "relevance" of 198Philosophy and Literature their field to American politics and by historians maintaining the continuity of a supposed "classical republican" tradition running from the ancients through Machiavelli to the American Constitution.) Second, he confirms the political efficacy of philosophic thought, and of modem philosophy in particular, in contrast to die tendency of contemporary historians and literary theorists to treat it as the mere ideological reflection of more fundamental, impersonal economic or social "forces." While fully recognizing that political philosophers like John Locke were active participants in the public affairs of tiieir time rather dian disembodied intellects concerned only widi "timeless" issues, Rahe also demonstrates the capacity of such thinkers to transcend the prejudices of their age and even to shape die politics of future ages. And while recognizing diat most people do not read philosophic works, Rahe traces the "paper trail" of popularizing and politicaljournalism diat indeed led from Locke's thought to the American Revolution. While properly appreciative of die success of the modern, liberal project in reconciling political freedom with a far greater degree of humaneness than that which characterized the ancient city or Christian monarchy, Rahe concludes with a sober warning suggesting that the "present discontents" of liberal democracy result from its founders' having established a political "régime" without an accompanying "regimen" that would provide its citizens with moral guidance as premodern régimes did. His book is an invaluable contribution to the enterprise ofperiodic reflection on the "first principles" ofour régime such as ThomasJefferson diought essential to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 197-198
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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