Machiavelli, the Great Alternative to Plato: A Conversation with Catherine Zuckert

Professor Catherine Zuckert is one of America’s preeminent political theorists. The Nancy Reeves Dreux Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame University has written award-winning books including Natural Right and the American Imagination (1990) and Plato’s Philosophers: The Coherence of the Dialogues (2009). Zuckert has edited the Review of Politics for 13 years, and she has contributed scholarly articles to other journals like the Review of Metaphysics, History of Political Thought, and the Journal of the International Plato Symposium.

Zuckert’s new book, Machiavelli’s Politics, is just out from the University of Chicago Press. For this first installment of Conversations, a new feature at Law and Liberty, Associate Editor Lauren Weiner recently put questions to Professor Zuckert about it. Here is our Q and A.

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France Must Practice a Politics of the Possible

Chimera of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris.

At the beginning of his career, Pierre Manent spoke of political philosophy’s “healing light.” Likewise, he pointed to Cicero as a classical model of a philosophically informed citizen who could speak to princes and peoples alike about matters of public concern. His modern-day model was his teacher, Raymond Aron. After a period of apprenticeship, then a steady stream of works of political philosophy, Manent himself entered the civic conversation. Beyond Radical Secularism is his most recent contribution, appearing in French as Situation de France in 2015. 

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Relativists Get Their Favorite Movie Wrong

Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 classic film, Rashomon

Final grades were due a few days ago, and for those of us who teach, grading season has just come to a close. With visions of student papers dancing in my head, I can’t keep from thinking, Rashomon is a perfect movie for our culture.

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Marco Rubio vs. Aristotle?

Statue of Aristotle

Aristotle, unfortunately, won’t be on the ballot.

Marco Rubio’s form of dissing liberal education is probably more ridiculous than the more insistent and policy-driven efforts of Scott Walker, although Rubio, just as obviously, is much smarter than Walker. It’s reasonable to believe that Rubio and his supporters can be educated concerning how his ill-considered rhetoric aids and abets the more deeply misguided attack on liberal education.

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We Must Be Forced to Be Free

rousseau

Many things will be said in the coming days about the Supreme Court’s holding in Obergefell v. Hodges, better known as the same-sex marriage case.  I don’t think I can in general improve upon the dissents written by the four Supreme Court justices—who object to the sweeping and poorly reasoned argument offered by Justice Anthony Kennedy as the “reasoned judgment” of a “bare majority” of his colleagues.  But I think I have something to add to the discussion regarding Kennedy’s understanding of his role as a Supreme Court justice.

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The Political Thought of Walter Berns

walter-berns

The death of Walter Berns (1919-2015) has deprived this country of a patriot both remarkably devoted and remarkably thoughtful. He was a thinker resolutely loyal to, yet resolutely reflective about, the United States. These two qualities were also characteristic of Walter as a person and as a friend.

Among the numerous subjects that this political theorist addressed, I am selecting for special (though far from exhaustive) attention these: constitutionalism, patriotism, punishment, public morality, civic education, and religion. How, and to what extent, has he illuminated these subjects? How consistent are his viewpoints regarding them, advanced in various contexts over many years?

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Jaffa As Neo-Puritan

In the days since Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns passed away, the former’s angry disputes with his fellow Straussians have received a lot of commentary. There are those who say it was all quite childish. And you know, a lot of it was, precisely because the differences so often seemed small or, when examined closely, not really differences at all. Still, some of the differences are real enough to merit our close attention.

On the more general issue of which student of Strauss is more faithful to the true and complete teaching of Leo Strauss, the most obvious response is that the capable students of any great teacher always grab on to part of what he (or she) taught and confuse it with the whole. Marx and Hegel. Alexandre Kojève and Hegel. Maybe even Aristotle and Plato.

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Harry V. Jaffa: An Inconvenient Thinker

Harry Jaffa

Harry V. Jaffa, who died January 10, at 96, may well be American conservatism’s most consequential thinker, for having attempted to re-found conservatism on the basis of its most philosophic principles and most revered figures. He was also one of the most dismissed, berated, and scorned of scholars, earning derision from former friends and those who knew him only from his writing, much of which had become acerbic.

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God, Political Science, and Werner Dannhauser

Anyone who takes higher education seriously attends to the words of legendary teachers. They are likely to be undisciplined, witty, and unfashionable; about great books; ironic about the careerism of their colleagues, students, and administrative bosses; self-indulgent; and insistently erotic, without being creepy.

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The Real John Locke—and Why He Matters

LockeScores of textbooks attest that John Locke is the most important intellectual influence on America’s Founding. No other first-tier philosopher can provide a moral and theoretical justification for the United States, its traditional culture, and its form of government. Even the skeptics who question Locke being the only influence concede he was the most significant. The practical problem is that modern experts are confused about what Locke actually thought.

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