Tyranny: A New Interpretation

Overview

This is the first comprehensive exploration of ancient and modern tyranny in the history of political thought. Waller R. Newell argues that modern tyranny and statecraft differ fundamentally from the classical understanding. Newell demonstrates a historical shift in emphasis from the classical thinkers' stress on the virtuous character of rulers and the need for civic education to the modern emphasis on impersonal institutions and cold-blooded political method. The turning point is Machiavelli's call for the ...

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Tyranny

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Overview

This is the first comprehensive exploration of ancient and modern tyranny in the history of political thought. Waller R. Newell argues that modern tyranny and statecraft differ fundamentally from the classical understanding. Newell demonstrates a historical shift in emphasis from the classical thinkers' stress on the virtuous character of rulers and the need for civic education to the modern emphasis on impersonal institutions and cold-blooded political method. The turning point is Machiavelli's call for the conquest of nature. Newell traces the lines of influence from Machiavelli's new science of politics to the rise of Atlanticist republicanism in England and America, as well as the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century and their effects on the present. By diagnosing the varieties of tyranny from erotic voluptuaries like Nero, the steely determination of reforming conquerors like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and modernizing despots such as Napoleon and Ataturk to the collectivist revolutions of the Jacobins, Bolsheviks, Nazis, and Khmer Rouge, Newell shows how tyranny is every bit as dangerous to free democratic societies today as it was in the past.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Learned, searching essays directed toward the recovery of the notion of tyranny from Machiavelli’s almost successful attempt to suppress it. Anyone who wants to understand modern politics will profit from Waller Newell’s eye-opening analysis.”
– Harvey Mansfield, Professor of Government, Harvard; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford

“In this extraordinary new book Waller Newell offers the first systematic account of the difference between ancient and modern tyranny. The author argues that modern tyrannies are the products of modern philosophy. To understand tyranny aright we must view it as part of the revolutionary effort of modern philosophers to provide the tools for the conquest of nature, including human nature. This book should prove an instant classic taking its place alongside other seminal studies of modern totalitarianism by the likes of Hannah Arendt and Raymond Aron.”
– Steven B. Smith, Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science, Yale University

“A powerful challenge to recent, more democratic, and ethical readings of Machiavelli. Ancient and modern understandings of tyranny are fundamentally different, Newell argues, because they rest on different understandings of nature – both cosmic and human. Whereas the classical view of tyranny to be found in the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Xenophon is essentially erotic, the modern view originated by Machiavelli consists in a will to master and transform human beings as well as the world in which we live.”
– Catherine H. Zuckert, University of Notre Dame, editor of Political Philosophy in the Twentieth Century

“A distinguished scholar of the history of political philosophy elaborates a study of tyranny… that dark but recurring phenomenon. By focusing on Machiavelli as the hinge of fate in the theory and meaning of tyranny, Newell reveals the historical dynamic that has brought into being the peculiar combination of the demonic and the prosaic that characterizes tyranny in our late modern epoch.”
– Thomas L. Pangle, University of Texas at Austin

“A masterful account of the fatal evolution of tyranny from ancient to modern and from charm to terror… offers insightful analyses of political thought from Plato to Hobbes and beyond.”
– Barry Strauss, Cornell University

"The term 'tyrant' sounds antique, but Newell's Tyranny awakens us to its insidious, all-pervasive modern form, ideologically aimed at nothing less than commandeering human nature. This monumental work is an advance in the history of consciousness, worthy of the closest reading as it takes its place on the shelf of modern classics of political thought."
— Norma Thompson, Yale University

“For almost half a century now, scholars have focused their attention on republicanism, both ancient and modern, and tyranny has received short shrift. In this remarkable and subtle work, published on the 500th anniversary of Machiavelli’s drafting of The Prince, Waller R. Newell redresses the balance, examining tyranny as a practical phenomenon; juxtaposing its analysis in Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle with the account provided by Machiavelli and Hobbes; and tracing its transformation in modern times to the repudiation of eros and the metaphysics attendant on it by the Florentine political philosopher and his English admirer and to their embrace of a doctrine that asserts that everything, including human consciousness, is reducible to matter in motion. If Newell is correct, as I fear he is, tyranny is apt to be no less profound a threat to human flourishing in our time than it was in the concluding century of the past millennium.”
— Paul A. Rahe, Hillsdale College

"With great skill and learning, Newell has written a beautiful book that virtually creates a new subject, one of immense importance to everyone who thinks seriously about politics. I recommend it without reservation.”
— Stanley Rosen, Boston University

“Newell’s provocative arguments will unsettle preexisting categories and prompt readers to explore novel questions. Newell has produced a rich, timely, and imaginative study on a subject of perennial philosophical and political significance. His erudition and imagination shine through on every page.”
— Ryan Balot, University of Toronto

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781107010321
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 6/30/2013
  • Pages: 540
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Waller R. Newell is Professor of Political Science and Philosophy at Carleton University. He is the author of The Soul of a Leader: Character, Conviction, and Ten Lessons in Political Greatness (2009), The Code of Man: Love, Courage, Pride, Family, Country (2003) and Ruling Passion: The Erotics of Statecraft in Platonic Political Philosophy (2000).

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments; Introduction: the conquest of eros; 1. The ontology of tyranny; 2. The tyrant and the statesman in Plato's political philosophy and Machiavelli's rejoinder; 3. Superlative virtue, monarchy, and political community in Aristotle's Politics; 4. Tyranny and the art of ruling in Xenophon's Education of Cyrus; 5. Machiavelli, Xenophon, and Xenophon's Cyrus; 6. Glory and reputation: Machiavelli's new prince; 7. The republic in motion: Machiavelli's vision of the new Rome; Conclusion: tyranny ancient and modern; Epilogue: the hermaneutical problem of tyranny; Bibliography.

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