Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Philosophy

First Advisor

Dr. Joshua Parens

Second Advisor

Dr. Richard Dougherty

Third Advisor

Dr. David Sweet

Abstract

Tyranny is a theme that reverberates in politico-philosophical scholarship since the post-war era of the twentieth century and it has been taken up with a renewed interest in recent years. Aside from Leo Strauss, only very few scholars have focused on the link between ancient and modern tyranny, and even fewer on how the concept of tyranny might give insight into the study of political philosophy itself. In this dissertation, I argue that the concept of tyranny can make us aware of the permanent character of the problems that arise between philosophy and politics, and help us distinguish between the core and the peripheral tenets of political philosophy. On this basis, I contend that it is possible to draw a closer connection between Socratic and Machiavellian political philosophy. Through a close reading of select passages of Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle, on the one hand, and of Machiavelli, on the other, I address the main differences that separate the philosophic from the political way of life.

I first analyze the concept of tyranny from the viewpoint of the city and of “real men” (andres), and then contrast it with the perspective of the philosopher. I assert that the praise of kalokagathia is more of a concession than the real essence of the classics’ philosophic teachings. Although I show that there is a close connection between the philosopher and the tyrant, I also explain what sets them apart. The subtle distinction that the classics made between the principles of their philosophic politics as opposed to the principles of philosophy itself, I argue, helps us to understand the classics better and to read Machiavelli in a different, more benevolent and more philosophical light. While I acknowledge that modern forms of tyranny, such as the universal and homogeneous state that Kojève proposes, originate in Machiavelli’s revolution, I hold that the essence of Machiavelli’s teachings, in harmony with the classics, shores up philosophy, not tyranny. The return both to the classics and to the origins of modernity that I put forward aims at keeping philosophy alive against tyranny of thought.

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