- A Wolf in the City: Tyranny and the Tyrant in Plato's Republic by Cinzia Arruzza
In this excellent book, Cinzia Arruzza offers the first book-length study of Plato's prominent treatment, in the Republic, of tyranny and the tyrannical character type. The book is divided into two parts of roughly equal length, entitled "Tyranny and Democracy" and "The Tyrant's Soul," each subdivided into three chapters. Part I focuses on Plato's political thought, and Part II on his moral psychology. Although the two parts could be read independently, Arruzza insists, rightly, that they inform and enhance each other, and are best read together. This reflects her conviction that the psychological and political strands in the Republic are inextricably intertwined.
Arruzza's main claims in Part I are that Plato's detailed depictions of tyranny and the tyrant in Republic 9 (i) represent an amalgam of well-established literary tropes, not a critique of some specific historical individual or regime, and (ii) are best understood as part of his attack on democracy. Both claims are grounded in the idea, defended in chapter 1, that common depictions of tyranny in (primarily fifth-century) Greek literature played an important role in shaping democratic self-understanding. Specifically, Arruzza argues, negative literary depictions of tyranny served as a kind of "inverted mirror" in which democrats might "contemplate the key features of democratic practice by way of opposition" (9). Plato's key move in the Republic, Arruzza maintains, was to unsettle democrats' use of tyranny as an inverted mirror by identifying as the opposite of tyranny, not democracy, but rather a society ruled by philosophers. Indeed, Plato goes further: democracy is not only not the opposite of tyranny, but also tyranny's natural progenitor—both because a regime ruled by popular opinion will be susceptible to capture by a demagogue, and also because democracy's valorization of freedom (understood merely as lack of constraint) and characteristic hedonism naturally lead people to aspire to the tyrant's life.
Arruzza's claims here are original, well defended, and plausible. Her interpretation also explains some features of the Republic that have puzzled or frustrated interpreters: Plato's stereotypical and exaggerated depiction of the tyrant; his portrait's failure to align with any particular historical figure; his low ranking of democracy among corrupt regimes; and his claim that tyranny naturally "grows" out of democracy. The book's first part also nicely illustrates two general features of Arruzza's approach to Plato. The first is her focus [End Page 750] on Plato's appropriations of literary tropes for his own distinctive purposes (the image of the tyrant as a wolf is a prominent example running through the book). The second is her opposition to any tendency to "prune" Plato—that is, to try to "save him from himself" by marginalizing strains of his thought that go against the grain of modern sensibilities, including his critique of democracy (4–5).
The second part of the book explores the psychology of Plato's tyrant. Its three chapters correspond to the three parts of the Republic's tripartite soul: "appetite," "spirit," and "reason." Arruzza takes as her working hypothesis a moderate form of "realism" about parts of the soul: they are real entities, not mere labels for kinds of desire, but do not each have their own reasoning powers. Her main claims are: (i) Plato depicts the tyrannical man as governed by appetite and eros (which is sexual, but not itself an appetite); (ii) spirit, best understood as a "drive to self-assertion" (193), plays an important and underrecognized role in the tyrant's psyche (Plato's imagery of the tyrant as a wolf reflects the hardened and corrupt state of his soul's spirited part); and (iii) the tyrant has strong intellectual capacities (his enslaved rational part remains active; indeed, he is a person of great talent: a "philosophical nature gone astray" ).
Arruzza's discussion of the tyrant's moral psychology is sophisticated, rich, and nuanced. Especially...