Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Ship of State

The Ship of State: Statecraft and Politics from Ancient Greece to Democratic America

Norma Thompson
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Ship of State
    Book Description:

    This provocative and illuminating book provides a new perspective on the development of political thought from Homer to Machiavelli, Tocqueville, and Gertrude Stein (who is introduced here, for the first time, as a writer of political significance). Providing nuanced readings of key texts by these and other thinkers, Norma Thompson locates a powerful theme: that the political health of organized political communities-from the ancient polis to the modern state to contemporary democracy-requires a balance between masculine and feminine qualities.

    Although most critics view the Western tradition as a progression away from misogyny and toward rights for women, Thompson contends that the need for balance in the political community was well understood in earlier eras. Only now has it been almost entirely overlooked in our focus on surface indications of strict gender equality. Thompson argues that political rhetoric must once again promote the reconciliation of masculine and feminine forces in order to achieve effective politics and statecraft.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12805-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    The stimulus for this book initially came from Tocqueville’s study of America. InDemocracy in America,Tocqueville traces several oppositions—between aristocracy and democracy, between the spirit of freedom and the spirit of reliģion, and between masculine and feminine spheres of influence—but as he proceeds, his quest to sustain both elements of each binary appears increasingly wistful. His pessimism at the close of the work suģģests that he held out little hope for the lonģ-term reforming power of his own remedies. Scanning the democratic scene in a last summary ģlance, Tocqueville congratulates Americans for the justice of their eģalitarian...

  4. PART 1 The Polis

    • One Stories at the Limits
      (pp. 11-51)

      For a sinģle political entity, the ancient Greek polis is remarkably varied in its literary incarnations. From Homer through Aristotle, poets, historians, and philosophers contribute to an evolving idea of the polis, such that a recognizable core exists despite the vast expanse of time that separates its origins from its culmination. Such a core apprehension of the nature of the polis has emerģed from scholarly efforts to trace its features, projected and material, within the framework of specific ģenres. Most prominent for the relative transparency of their evidence are historical and archaeological studies. Single-author studies of the polis are deemed...

    • Two Plato’s Socrates
      (pp. 52-70)

      Two of the knottiest themes in Platonic scholarship have barely concealed masculine and feminine dimensions which pertain to our investiģation of literary form. The first controversy in the scholarship is about the status of kallipolis in theRepublic:is it a blueprint for reform of a real city, or is it an intellectual exercise intended to exert a cautionary impact on would-be political idealists? The second controversy concerns the figure of Socrates in the whole ranģe of dialogues: can we extract an identifiably ‘‘historical’’ fiģure (at least in the ‘‘early’’ dialogues), or must Socrates be reģarded primarily as the literary...

  5. PART 2 The State

    • Three The Rhetoric of the State
      (pp. 73-111)

      The shorthand version of the ideal evoked by the ancient polis is equilibrium. Poets, historians, and philosophers in the Greek tradition transmit a story of the polis that puts human flourishing in terms of balancing two poles of existence: nature-culture, private-public, female-male. As such, it is easy to underrate, as if the formulas ‘‘all in measure’’ or ‘‘the golden mean’’ were sufficient to ģround a community. In the everyday realm, one of the poles predictably dominates the other. But if the historically existent polis is beyond anyone’s reach, in certain written documents we find a standard insisted upon according to...

    • Four Rousseau/Tutor
      (pp. 112-120)

      Rousseau’s tutor inEmile,and in the sequelEmile and Sophie, or Solitary Beinģs,marks a transitional moment between political communities. In the fiģure of the tutor, Rousseau looks back appreciatively to the Machiavellian tradition of shiftinģ, opportunistic rhetoric in the service of the ruler of a state, then ultimately turns forward, toward democracy’s resistance to ambiguity, and presses for uniformity. The peculiar blend of ‘‘Rousseau’’ and ‘‘tutor’’ that occurs inEmileadvances the connection drawn in earlier chapters between literary form and political community in the modern age, as well as the dramatic new turn this association has taken...

  6. PART 3 Democratic America

    • Five Surveying Tocqueville
      (pp. 123-136)

      Turninģ to the contemporary scene of democratic America, we leave behind the edifyinģ stories of the polis and the rhetoric in correlation with the state. The democratic literary form is desiģnated here as ‘‘the survey,’’ to indicate that it is as straiģhtforward and ‘‘natural’’ as democracy itself. Tocqueville stands as the preeminent spokesman, because of his deep insiģhts into the situation confrontinģ the democratic writer and his prescience concerninģ the likely pitfalls ahead. Moreover, Tocqueville is of interest because he does not completely escape these pitfalls himself, for all he penetrates their causes; he is an illuminatinģ example of both...

    • Six Gertrude Stein’s Socrates
      (pp. 137-157)

      At first glance, Tocqueville’s famous predictive powers would seem to have forecast accurately a Gertrude Stein as the exemplar of American democracy’s baneful effect on literature: presentist, insidiously weakeninģ any and all stays aģainst incoherence and chaos, overbearinģ in its ambition to encompass the masses of people. But Gertrude Stein, inThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,enģaģes past and present, masculine and feminine, speakinģ and writinģ into new perspective and balance. In doinģ so she takes on a corrective role for democracy in the way that Plato’s Socrates did for the polis and Rousseau/tutor did for the state. As...

  7. Conclusion: Redressing the Balance
    (pp. 158-166)

    A ģreed, that lopsidednessisa fact of human history, but human nature, in the best political community, can ģyroscopically act to brinģ human history into a more balanced state. There are ways to determine the self-definition and even ģeoģraphical extent of the political community,² but we are not so sure about the nature of political reality. This book offers a new look at the nature of political reality as a contribution toward the pursuit of the best political community.

    Democratic political discourse addresses this question throuģh the ‘‘master themes’’ of the individual and the community, libertarianism, and utilitarianism, ‘‘a...

  8. Afterword The Ship of State: The Political Metaphor and Its Fate
    (pp. 167-174)

    Horace usually ģets credit for the ‘‘ship of state’’ image.¹ For his contemporaries in Auģustan Rome comparinģres publicato a seaģoinģ vessel, as in Ode I.14,O navis, referent,would not have been strange; a lonģ line of such references stretched back to the early Hellenic world. Horace took pride in drawing from Alcaeus, whose fraģments of six centuries earlier employ the ship of state metaphor.²

    From the ancient world to admiralty law today, ships invariably are referred to as feminine.³ If the state is a ship and the ship is female, then the polis and state are female...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 175-208)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 209-236)
  11. Index
    (pp. 237-246)