The Platonic Political Art

The Platonic Political Art: A Study of Critical Reason and Democracy

JOHN R. WALLACH
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 480
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5325/j.ctt7v43t
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  • Book Info
    The Platonic Political Art
    Book Description:

    In this first comprehensive treatment of Plato’s political thought in a long time, John Wallach offers a "critical historicist" interpretation of Plato. Wallach shows how Plato’s theory, while a radical critique of the conventional ethical and political practice of his own era, can be seen as having the potential for contributing to democratic discourse about ethics and politics today. The author argues that Plato articulates and "solves" his Socratic Problem in his various dialogues in different but potentially complementary ways. The book effectively extracts Plato from the straightjacket of Platonism and from the interpretive perspectives of the past fifty years—principally those of Karl Popper, Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, M. I. Finley, Jacques Derrida, and Gregory Vlastos. The author’s distinctive approach for understanding Plato—and, he argues, for the history of political theory in general—can inform contemporary theorizing about democracy, opening pathways for criticizing democracy on behalf of virtue, justice, and democracy itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05432-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-14)

    We rarely stop to think about the political art. If we do, it may seem like an inspired dream that has become a buried nightmare, one that we dare not recollect. For a moment, however, let us try to imagine its potential.

    In its most exemplary form, the political art signifies a capacity to shape well the practice of power in a collectivity. Words are its primary tools; deeds are its direct objects; the common good is its ultimate aim. Exercising the political art transforms discourse into action that would benefit a political community. Ideally, the political discourse would be...

  5. PART I: SETTINGS
    • ONE INTERPRETING PLATO POLITICALLY
      (pp. 17-40)

      Critical political discourse arises amid geographies of power, even if it is not entirely determined by them. To understand Plato’s conception of the political art, we need to account for what differentiates his era and our own. After all, enormous gaps in time, space, and arrangements of human power separate Plato and the Athenian democracy of his time from the technologically advanced capitalist democracies of today.

      Five major conditions in ancient Athens pointedly mark the contrasts: (1) The Athenianpolis, like every ancient society of the Mediterranean, condoned legally unequal statuses for its major social groups. It accepted slavery as...

    • TWO HISTORICIZING THE PLATONIC POLITICAL ART
      (pp. 41-120)

      Determining the historical way in which Plato constituted the relation between words and deeds in his conception of the political art is especially difficult. For example, he wrote texts in a cultural context that experienced the creations of new social practices of reading and writing. In addition, the very nature of his discourse undercut the relevance of the immediate audience it would address. He wanted his critical discourse and its lessons not only to supplant inherited meanings, conventional practices, and other forms of discourse, but also to reduce the power and significance of actual political judgments as a sufficient guide...

  6. PART II: INTERPRETATIONS
    • THREE THE POLITICAL ART IN APORETIC DIALOGUES, OR PLATO’S SOCRATIC PROBLEM AMID ATHENIAN CONVENTIONS
      (pp. 123-212)

      The historical Socrates had searched for virtue amid the ethical and political practices and discourse of Athenian life. In doing so, he believed that his conduct consistently relatedlogosandergon. With Socrates’ trial and death, however, the gap between the effects of Socrates’ life and the political application of Athenian laws must have seemed to Plato to have become unbridgeable. Plato disagreed with the Athenians’ conviction of Socrates, but he had to comprehend its significance and aftermath. This raised an issue: How could one value the words and deeds of Socrates’ life when the practical embodiment of thepolis,...

    • FOUR THE CONSTITUTION OF JUSTICE: The Political Art in Plato’s Republic
      (pp. 213-330)

      TheRepublicprovides a theory of the political art as the constitution of justice. It relates pivotally to the aporetic dialogues, for it provides a theoretical resolution of the tension between virtue and the political art. In relation to Plato’s later dialogues, it serves as a conceptual background for a theory of the political art as the art of political leadership (Statesman) and as hypothetical laws for a second-best city (Laws).¹ For this study of the Platonic political art, therefore, theRepublicoccupies center stage.² No other Platonic dialogue deals more extensively or intensively than theRepublicwith the relation...

    • FIVE THE POLITICAL ART AS PRACTICAL RULE
      (pp. 331-388)

      TheRepublicleft unexplored any systematic discussion of the way in which thelogosof justice and its idealpoliteiaiof soul and state could be practiced—that is, any discussion of the political art as the ongoing exercise of practical rule in the political domain. TheStatesmanandLawsundertake this discussion. These dialogues offer Plato’s most extended analyses of the political art as an art of producing virtue that enforces practical political rule. TheStatesmanfocuses directly on the meaning of the political art as a personal art of leadership. TheLawsinstitutionalizes that art in a system...

  7. PART III: AN APPROPRIATION
    • SIX THE PLATONIC POLITICAL ART AND POSTLIBERAL DEMOCRACY
      (pp. 391-432)

      We have come to the end of Plato’s road. Now, we must return to our beginnings, even though our situation has changed. What have we learned? There are, of course, many ways of learning from Plato’s dialogues—just as there have been and will continue to be many ways of reading them. But any appropriation will not do. We may converse with, interrogate, and appropriate Plato, but we ought not to exploit him. So, what difference should my interpretation of Plato make “today”? In this chapter, I justify my answer to this question and deploy Plato in contemporary political arguments....

  8. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 433-457)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 458-468)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 469-469)