Arendt: “The reality in which we live”

“Never has our future been more unpredictable, never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest — forces that look like sheer insanity, if judged by the standards of other centuries. It is as though mankind had divided itself between those who […]

Misremembering Plato’s Noble Lie

Back when I taught at Yale, I used to give a quiz about Plato’s Republic in the first class meeting for one of my upper-level seminars. The students were all supposed to have taken at least one prior course in which the Republic was read, and I wanted to see how well they remembered it.  (I also […]

One Cheer for Sectarian Strife

“If I have called for a renewal of interdenominational strife (a strange argument, I admit), it is only because I don’t want the ideological certainties of this world to pollute or dilute theological seriousness. Conservative clamors about “religious freedom” have, perversely, only hastened the secularization of intellectual life, by painting “religion” into a corner of […]

Hillary Clinton, Stephen Douglas, and the Logic of Success

Would liberals favoring Clinton over Sanders in 2016 have rooted for Lincoln’s opponent in 1858? My colleague Corey Robin wrote a column earlier this week on  the fallacies and forgetfulness of liberal Democrats who continue to favor Hillary Clinton for the party’s Presidential nominee.  At this point the liberal Democrat case for Clinton essentially comes down to the (dubious) notion […]

Leviathan’s Science of Morals

1. Time for another go at Hobbes’s moral philosophy.  This time around, I’d like to take a closer look at how Hobbes himself defines moral philosophy in Leviathan, and how he makes use of that definition. “Morall Philosophy,” he says, “is nothing else but the Science of what is Good, and Evill, in the conversation, […]

Thoreau the Revolutionary

1. In “Thoreau and the Tax-Collector,” I looked at Thoreau’s reasons, as stated in “Civil Disobedience,” for refusing to pay his poll-tax.  My concern was to emphasize Thoreau’s political purpose, his understanding of the act as a practical step toward  combating the evil of slavery.   As I noted, this side of his argument in “Civil Disobedience” has often been slighted, when readers focus […]

Thoreau and the Tax-Collector

There’s a side of Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” that I believe is often misunderstood – or maybe just misremembered. We remember his refusal to pay the Massachusetts poll tax, even at the cost of going to jail.  But what is it that he hopes this act will accomplish, practically speaking?     Perhaps that question seems […]

Laws of Nature in De Cive and Leviathan

Fourth in a series. The first two posts in this series sketched my proposal for reading Hobbes’s moral theory in Leviathan, together with some remarks on the bearing of that theory on the book’s political argument.  In the third, I pointed out some discreet, but decisive differences between Leviathan‘s Laws of Nature and their antecedents in De Cive, […]