Published Humanitas, Volume VIII, No. 2, 1995
Republics Ancient and Modern: The Ancient Regime in Classical Greece, by Paul A. Rahe. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994. 380 pp. $22.95.
Republics Ancient and Modern, Vol. II: New Modes and Orders in Early
Modern Political Thought, by Paul A. Rahe. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994. 490 pp. $24.95.
Republics Ancient and Modern, Vol. III: Inventions of Prudence: Constituting the American Regime, by Paul A. Rahe. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994. 380 pp. $19.95.
When historians look at political regimes they may focus on a number of variables held significant by the people or by the rulers, or they may focus on the circumstances of the regimes and how they affected the world around them. This is especially common today when historians have adopted a comparative methodology. Political philosophers tend to focus on theorists of regimes, their desire to impart architectonic schemes for modifying or improving organized living-together. Hence the political philosopher will most likely dwell on the ideas of Plato and Aristotle, rather than the practices of Athens or Sparta that reflect certain ideas. Of course these lines are often fuzzy, reflecting the prejudices and limitations of the historian or philosopher. In Paul Rahe we have someone educated in both history and philosophy whose deliberate objective is a melding of these crafts. Although his effort is sometimes uneven (as when he deals with the early modern period, for instance) we are treated to a historical overview of the rise of republican virtue and its adaptation to the major historical epochs of political thought.
Rahe follows Montesquieu’s Spirit Wayne Allen of the Laws in noting that various forms of government are shaped and sustained by their own determinative principle: virtue in a republic, honor in a monarchy, fear in a despotism, and equality in a democracy. Of course Montesquieu was following the typologies given to us by Aristotle. But regardless of the thinker and how he may have adapted it to unique circumstances, virtue has been the defining essence of republicanism.
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