In his newsletter this week, the boss reported that "our friends over at National Review asked several contributors to write brief reflections for their 60th anniversary issue (by the way, congratulations!) about what book influenced us the most." The boss encourages everyone to take a look at the interesting symposium, featuring contributors like Elliott Abrams, Wilfred McClay, Garry Kasparov. And he reproduced his own answer to the question of what book may have influenced him the most. Here it is, for readers who may have missed that issue of National Review:
The Republic of Plato, translated with notes and an interpretive essay by Allan Bloom (Basic, 512 pp., $22).
In the fall of 1970, a freshman at Harvard with "sophomore standing" (easy to get in those days), I showed up for the first meeting of my sophomore tutorial in the Government Department. The teacher was a first-year assistant professor, Mark Blitz, and the six of us in the group were to spend the entire term reading Plato's Republic. Blitz told us to buy the Bloom translation and start reading Book One.
I remember opening the book in my dorm room the night before the next class, beginning to read Plato, making nothing much of it, and then turning to Bloom's interpretive essay--and seeing, really for the first time, what it was to read a text carefully. I went through the first few pages of Bloom's essay with an excitement and amazement I can still recall. One could say that it was the opening of an American mind.
In retrospect, I see that the unobtrusive education of my parents had prepared me for that moment. What's more, Blitz was a terrific teacher, so it may well be that I would have begun to learn to read Plato without the benefit of Bloom's essay. And the next year I took Harvey Mansfield's lecture course on the history of political philosophy; Mansfield dazzled and challenged from the podium in an incomparable way. But of the books I have encountered, I may well owe the most to what we students came to call Bloom's Republic.
Maybe he is the Republican Obama after all. Like the outgoing president, Florida senator Marco Rubio is charismatic, self-assured, and intelligent, as his performance in Tuesday night’s debate displayed. Alas, also like the president, Senator Rubio harbors an anti-intellectual streak, one that is both wrong in its premises, as well as on the facts.
I'm not sure what the great political philosopher Leo Strauss would have thought of the Internet (he was a skeptic about progress, but also a skeptic about reaction). I personally think he would have appreciated aspects of it. Perhaps he would have even written an essay on "Persecution and the Art of Tweeting." Or not.
Whatever one makes of either one of them, the similarities between Sarah Palin and Carly Fiorina (who’s just announced she’s running for president) stop more or less at the chromosomal level. Fiorina is an accomplished (if controversial) businesswoman; Palin, a half-term governor and television star. Fiorina is a graduate of Stanford (with a degree in philosophy and medieval history) and MIT (with a master’s in management); Palin received a degree in, alas, journalism.
John R. Searle, the Slusser professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, is a philosopher in the tradition of Wittgenstein. He wants to clarify things. That is, he thinks there are two big mistakes philosophers have made throughout history, and Descartes popularized both.
An MSNBC reporter asked Rick Perry in an interview that aired this morning whether the Texas governor is "smart enough to be president of the United States." Perry responded that "running for the presidency is not an IQ test."
Anniversaries come thick and fast. But 500-year marks are still rare, reminders of a simpler time, a different world. We look back to Columbus and forward to the Reformation without understanding the epochal revolution in between that made our time, our world.
On board the ms Noordam sailing from Italy to Greece, with a break from both sightseeing and panels, it seemed advisable to me 1) to ignore the goings-on in Washington, and 2) to find time for an article I'd set aside to read, Harvey Mansfield's "Machiavelli's enterprise" in the October New Criterion. Mansfield uses the occasion of the 500th anniversary of The Prince to provide an explanation of the famous first paragraph of its fifteenth chapter. In doing so, Mansfield provides an extraordinarily compressed but accessible account of Machiavelli's significance as the founder of modern philosophy and of the modern world. It's my pick for best article of the year.
Jean Bethke Elshtain may have been the busiest woman many of us had ever met. Shuttling back and forth between her regular teaching appointment at the University of Chicago and her settled home in Tennessee, she wrote and wrote—and wrote and wrote. Essays, talks, books, memos to fellow directors on the almost endless number of boards on which she served. Letters, emailed comments about her friends’ latest work, notes on current theological and political issues: a ceaseless flow of words.
President Barack Obama, speaking today in Berlin, cited German philosopher Immanuel Kant:
"For thousands of years, the people of this land have journeyed from tribe to principality to nation state to reformation and enlightenment. Renowned as the land of poets and thinkers, among them Immanuel Kant, who taught us that freedom is the unoriginated birthright of man and it belongs to him by force of his humanity."