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  • A Wolf in the City: Tyranny and the Tyrant in Plato's Republic by Cinzia Arruzza
  • Kevin M. Cherry
ARRUZZA, Cinzia. A Wolf in the City: Tyranny and the Tyrant in Plato's Republic. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. 296 pp. Cloth, $74.00; ebook, $72.99

In this clearly argued work, Cinzia Arruzza focuses on the presentation of the tyrant—the titular wolf—in Plato's Republic. [End Page 132] Maintaining that tyranny is, if not "the heart of the dialogue," then at least "one of its main threads," she traces its influence from the opening argument with Thrasymachus to the concluding Myth of Er. Arruzza's approach to the dialogue is thus a holistic one. She takes seriously both its literary and philosophical dimensions as well as its political and ethical arguments, highlighting "the reciprocal interaction between moral corruption of the individual and political and moral sickness of the city."

In the first part of the book, Arruzza provides valuable context for readers of the Republic, exploring the political and philosophical context in which Plato wrote and the dramatic personae and setting of the dialogue. She argues that Plato does not intend his description of tyranny to match a particular historical tyrant. To be sure, the tyrant reflects the political context of Athens during and after the Peloponnesian War, with some specific traits that clearly recall Alcibiades. Plato's intention, however, is to adopt a wide range of literary and philosophical tropes critical of tyranny, appropriating "the democratic critique of tyranny and turn[ing] it into a weapon against democratic principles" by showing how tyranny arises, perhaps naturally, from democracy. There are two reasons for this connection. The first of these is institutional: Although the demos possesses political power, it is simply unable to use that power well, leaving it susceptible to "the political charisma of ruthless and self-interested politicians." More important, though, is the way that "tyrannical natures are literally created" by democracy insofar as that regime emphasizes freedom, understood as "the indiscriminate satisfaction of all their desires."

The latter, ethical problem of democracy leads to the second part of the book, which is likely to be of greater interest to specialists. Arruzza develops Plato's account of the way in which the soul of the tyrant is deformed, concluding that the tyrant is "a man with a philosophical nature gone astray." Although persuasive, this conclusion is not, as she acknowledges, wholly original. More original, though, is her account of what the deformed rational and spirited parts of the tyrannical soul are like. Without the guidance of reason and "inflamed" by lawless desires, the spirited part of his soul behaves savagely in the pursuit of "absolute power" in order to satisfy those desires. Despite its savagery, the tyrannical soul is also fearful because of the constant need for its calculating part to assess threats to the tyrant's position. The tyrannical soul is therefore incapable of satisfaction: Not only does "spatio-temporal existence" limit the tyrant's ability to pursue all pleasures at once, but "prudential considerations—primarily, concerns for self-preservation and for the preservation of his power" will also frustrate some of the appetites he has. The result of the domination of the appetitive part of the soul over the spirited and rational parts is not the desired freedom but rather slavery for both the tyrant and those whom he rules.

It is only in the conclusion that Arruzza alludes to the contemporary interest in tyranny, suggesting that Plato offers a "faithful psychological portrait of a number of contemporary tyrants." She denies that Plato can [End Page 133] ever be reconciled with democracy, although she is more open to the possibility of reconciling him with liberalism insofar as Plato's dialogues value "diversity, openness, freedom, and common inquiry." Her Plato is thus "anti-democratic" without being "proto-totalitarian." Although most philosophic natures will, in democratic times, be corrupted, Arruzza insists that a genuine philosopher must be ready and willing to take control "whenever the appropriate circumstances allow it." Left unsaid is what such a philosopher would do once in power in order to bring about the "radical political transformation" she envisions...


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pp. 132-134
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