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.
In our post-Enlightenment world, the word “tradition” often carries negative connotations. When coupled with adjectives like “regressive” and portrayed as that which impedes whatever has acquired the label of progress, the idea of tradition conveys a sense of being antithetical to humans’ wellbeing. Hence we encounter phrases like, “She’s rigid and traditional.” A rather different and more creative understanding of tradition is found in the writings of the German philosopher Josef Pieper (1904-1997). Perhaps most famous for his book Leisure as the Basis of Culture (1948), Pieper spent his life engaged not only in lecturing at the University of Münster, but…
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.
How persistent is memory, politically speaking? Machiavelli argued that “the memory of ancient liberty,” possessed by republican peoples, is tenacious, presenting an obstacle for a ruler bent on tyrannizing those long used to self-government. In chapter 5 of The Prince, he counseled harsh measures like wiping out the entire population as the only sure mode to exterminate the remembrance of things past. Instead of Carthage-scale eradication, the society in The Giver has found a new mode—seemingly kinder and gentler—by which to neutralize memory, thereby creating a pliant citizenry.
The loss of great literature in the schools and its replacement with something that is manifestly not great—and is meant in fact to put an end to the very idea of greatness—is no academic matter. As Plato taught us long ago, whoever controls the stories, what today we call “the narrative,” of any society, will inevitably control the society. If we give up our stories, we lose our surest means of teaching young people what is truly good and true and beautiful; we lose the best way of teaching them how to be human. Should we give that up because self-appointed educational experts apparently don’t know how to talk about a great book when it is put in front of them?
The current Liberty Law Talk is with Nicholas Johnson on his new book Negroes and the Gun. Paul Rahe pens a compelling review essay in our Books section this week on Mark Blitz's Divine Law and Political Philosophy in Plato’s Laws: [Blitz] thinks Plato’s Laws may be a better guide to the manner in which reason and revelation can to good effect interact (at least where revelation takes the form of law) than the various works dedicated to that subject by Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, and the leading figures of the 18th century Enlightenment. David Henderson and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel: The Inevitability of a…
Plato’s Laws is a neglected work. For this, there are many reasons. A large book, it cannot be read at a single sitting as an entertainment. It is also an exceedingly sober book—a dialogue between three elderly men, none of them exceedingly frisky. Two are Dorians, reared, respectively, in Knossos on Crete and at Sparta in the Peloponnesus with an eye to war in circumstances quite rigorous, and, as one would expect, neither is light of heart. Moreover, as one would also expect, this dialogue between old codgers lacks the drama that makes the Symposium, the Gorgias, the Protagoras, and…
Which President advocated the following conservative notions in his State of the Union Address? Restoring local government, reviving charities, freeing business from regulation, denouncing the education bureaucracy, tightening the borders, and strengthening “the values of traditional families.”
Contrast this with a more progressive President whose State of the Union Address emphasized raising the salaries of academics and doctors; calling for frank discussion of race relations, declaring a “year of culture,” and increasing trust in the government—while never mentioning God.