Alan Ryan: On Politics A History of Political Thought From Herodotus to the Present



An finishes with Marx at which point the latter nineteenth and twentieth centuries ar A long time ago when I first took a class in political theory we used George Sabine s magnificent history This book is a successor to Sabine although I have heard that the Sabine book is being updated It is a rich and wonderful book that I heartily recommend to anyone interest in classical approaches to political theory The book is organized to chapters that focus on a particular author and all the real classics are represented from Herodotus and Thucydides through Marx There is also a series of ssays raising issues of importance to the 20th and 21st centuries that span the classic authors The chapters were without The Real Witches Kitchen exception well written rich in content and helpful in provided needed context for a thinker and his work For some of the great political theorists such as Plato Aristotle Rousseau or Tocueville I would heartily recommend reading the originals where time and interest permit For a variety of other authors John of Salisbury it might not be as worthwhile orven possible to read the original For these cases and others the book is The Preachers Kid extremely helpful at providing a serious review of the work and the information needed to place the author within a broader context of thinkersThis book is not a casual undertaking and readers need to pay attention For those who wish to invest someffort in learning about political theory this is one of the better possibilities around and superior to Fukuyama s recent volume I found the book very worthwhile however and didn t mind spending the time to work through it After fits and starts I have put this book down for another day although I did complete volume 1 and a good chunk of volume 2 On Politics A History of Political Thought From Herodotus to the Present by Alan Ryan s a magisterial work that brings together some of the great thinkers in We Talk about bad timing Ryan has obviously been writing this book for years now and had it been released in say 2007 it would have seemed perfectly sensible It s important to discuss political ideas to think about how we rule and are ruled and from where we get our assumptions But with the world O Testamento economy in a nevernding tailspin massive unemployment in most developed conomies and faltering investment rates in developing ones a very real resurgence of class warfare and ludicrous ideology on both sides of the political spectrum it s than a bit galling to have a tenured professor xplain to you in patient lucid prose that young people are very well One Con Glory euipped to deal with labor market flexibility or that liberal capitalism works really well because this is not anxaggeration he really uses this as his Defying Shadows (Rising Shadows example contemplative people can become long distance truck drivers and have time to think and venture into their imagination In between presumably ingesting massive amounts of speed and barely sleeping while they try to make impossible deadlines that are demanded by theirmployers So Ryan has a very bad case of ivorytoweritis but then so do I which I will now prove This text is at its most disturbing not when he s skimming over the ancient and medieval theorists not when he s ignoring the historical conditions that give rise to political theories in the first place not when he gives John Locke a free pass for his The Great Orange Leonard Scandal (Tall Tales Series; 4) execrable arguments nor when he fails to understand Hobbes and notven when he purports to write about Marx without writing about you know Capital It s at its worst when it ignores the fact that the vast majority of important political thought since at least Marx probably since Rousseau and possibly since Montesuieu has focused on social cultural and Tangled Webs (The Black Jewels, economic matters instead of procedural and institutional matters This is a contentious claim and maybe Ryan like Straussians and other political science types wants to insist on the continuing importance of the political But he doesn t do that he just ignores politicalconomy cultural criticism and social thought A Fairly Honourable Defeat except when he s complaining that leftist cultural critics arexaggerating viz the aforementioned happiness of the long distance truck driver and the joys of the flexible new conomy It s no surprise that he doesn t understand the Frankfurt School it is a surprise that he seems to like fascists g Schmitt and Gentile than the left liberals who following Toueville point out that a population s s matter sorry about that than the political organization that is set up around those s and that our s today are destroying the planet For Ryan social criticism is a kind of disease that leads Elisabeth Shue 135 Success Facts - Everything You Need to Know about Elisabeth Shue evil people to complain about the greatest systemver set up to deal with human conflict liberal capitalist democracy of the kind under which most of us no longer labor Had he put off publishing this book for a few years I like to think he would have changed his mind about that But then professors who retire from Princeton to Oxford and then to private life probably weathered the great recession pretty wellAn The Man Without a Face extra star for the book design which is crazy sexy. De Toueville or Thomas Jefferson Ryan brings a wisdom to his text that illuminates John Dewey’s belief that the role of philosophy is less to see truth than tonhance xperience With this unparalleled tour de force Ryan merges in his own right as one of the most influential political philosophers of our time.

On hold This book is being read by the Good Reads History Book Club for over a year and they are finishing shortly I became interested in checking out the book club upon reading that Neal Stephenson has been a member of a history only book club for twenty plus years Perhaps this Book One Two is available at the Nashua Public Library I am giving Book One a shot which is 399 pages and covers the ideas of Herodotus to Machiavelli The book jacket calls it a comprehensive ambitious and accessible history of political theory Af The thing I liked about most of the book is that it was Gone (Gone, easy to read and comprehensive It obviously does have flaws though orlse I wouldn t have given it such a low rating The author often gets lost in his thoughts and views the theories and societies of the past through the modern liberal lens which means that the book comes down to being about the development of democratic thought in the West which is not what the book is supposed to be about Since that is the topic of the book he often interprets thinkers and political systems in a way that Threads Of The Shroud emphasises their liberal democratic aspects too much orven just spreads myths and half truths It can go the other way too he can misinterpret a thinker to discredit him and be biased all the way through an All Seated on the Ground example of this that particularly frustrated me was Plato Further Ryan tries to justify his way of writing by saying that if the populous isn t actively involved in government the state isn t political there may be ruling or management he says but not politics This is frustrating not just because it s not true and is a lamexcuse for his bias but also because he openly uses it to discredit any political thought outside of the West as not really political and not developed Untitled. enough save from maybe somexceptions I understand that the book is long Wiring enough as it is and that covering the traditions ideas and political systems of all the cultures on the world is practically impossible but thexcuse he uses is so derogative and lazy that it is kind of disgusting It also comes to bite him in the ass once he needs to write about the middle ages an age when Europe came to be ruled by feudal monarchies the Church had great influence through both its spiritual and material strength and political systems were active in the East This makes him limited in the second part of Book One and his hypocrisy comes closer to the surface However the part that immediately follows the first part of Book Two is when he shines since concerning that period following the development of democratic thought only makes sense the political systems discussed there are closer to home and therefore Against All Odds easier to discuss regardless of which way in the current a particular thinker prefers If I was to rate only that uarter of the book I would have given it four stars It s too bad that the last uarter completely ruins Book Two as well as it is reserved for general topics which then develops into incoherent rambling with no restraint on bias I ve been struggling with this book for some time and simply gave up the other night It was around about the time I was reading about Hegel so about 700 pages into the bookI got much the same feeling I did as when I tried reading Bertrand Russell s History of Western Philosophy in college while this is well written I uestioned how seriously I could take his viewpoint when hevaluated all the material himself and never gave the reader any access to the texts themselves In some subjects like math for instance humans can come to some agreement about what is right and wrong Politics is not like those subjects and suffers from having human actors manipulate the ideas for power and control It is not for me a good way of thinking about life so I try to look instead to narratives in a larger sense for my individual life and daily thinking Politics is in the grand scheme the games played at the top by the lite and beyond most of my control Like another reviewer said he seems to believe deeply in liberal democratic societies I would uestion the degree to which the USA is truly different from a place like China While we might fool ourselves by thinking we have unuestionable human rights and freedom of speech business goes on as usual at the top people die we do the bidding of those with money and power and we might be lucky to have some access to the wealth and power of our society s lite which shuts us up from doing anything about the abuses of power we see on a daily basis However the author is not like this He would seem to believe like a lot of people I know that capitalistic industrial societies are the best way of addressing people s self interest and The DOS etc while keeping us from hurtingach other too much I m not sure that s true but Against All Odds enough about that tangent for nowNonetheless I would say this book had value in directing me to the sources of ideas that we have come to value in the Western political world and will serve as a good base point forxploring some of their ideas in a much less filtered less Sleep, Circadian Rhythms, and Metabolism evaluate. Both a history and anxamination of human thought and behavior spanning three thousand years On Politics thrillingly traces the origins of political philosophy from the ancient Greeks to Machiavelli in Book I and from Hobbes to the present age in Book II Whether xamining Lord Acton’s dictum that “absolute

D form It s a good road map for future reading on the subjectFrankly aside from issues of authorial bias and lack of textual access to the ideas the book tries to do much and cover too many thinkers in the space it has to do all of that in So many things were discussed to the point I couldn t retain information very well I would pass ont his book unless you want a liberal political professor s take on the history of politics in the West If you just want some direction about where to read for the ideas it might be good to look at the table of contents and skim the chapters for a few ideas3 stars This is a major work and a welcome one Once upon a time I thought that Sabine s history of political philosophy was the apogee in this arena But I think that the author Alan Ryan has actually surpassed Sabine He does a nice job of introducing us to the variety of political thinkers over time But his analysis of the works going beyond just description is the real contribution of this two volume set Ryan notes that page xxiii This is a book about the answers that historians philosophers theologians practicing politician and would be revolutionaries have given to one uestion How can human beings best govern themselves For the record he considers the following subjectsthinkers among others Herodotus Plato Aristotle Cicero Polybius Augustine Auinas Machiavelli Hobbes Locke Rousseau Hegel Bentham Mill Tocueville and Marx There are also chapters on general subjects such as republicanism after Hobbes and Locke or the American founding or democracy in the modern worldIt is intriguing that he began the work with Herodotus and Thucydides Ryan dissects Plato and Aristotle nicely xploring some of their major works and making sense of their arguments while sometimes raising uestions about those arguments There is a lengthy and insightful analysis of Augustine s political thinking A key uestion that this thinker addressed page 149 how seriously should a Christian with his Payment Due eyes onternity take the politics of his Vampireville (Vampire Kisses, earthly life Machiavelli A diplomat who lost his job as a result of internal politics Some of his works werefforts to get back in the good graces of the rulers of Florence such as the Borgias Much of the chapter Pirate of the Pacific (Doc Savage, explores The Prince and Machiavelli s interesting analysis of what it takes to be successful There is also lucid discussion of Discourses a follow up to hisarlier volume with some interesting twistsThere is relevance for the United States in uite a number of chapters For The Rich and the Profane (Lovejoy, example a I reallynjoyed this book Turbulence even when I didn t understand some of the political theories because Alan Ryan s writing is wonderful Yes I have read some of the chapters several times before I decided that I need to just forge ahead and finish it Ancient Greece which is known as the cradle of western democracy what a pity was not democratic Neither Plato nor Aristotle were democrats Those who had the right to carry out politics were free male property owner citizens Slaves foreigners and Children did not have the right to take part in the rule of the city states Plato had always wanted the ruler to be king philosopher In his mind there was an aristocratic state which was hierarchical Rational thinking rulers would be at the top of the hierarchy which he believed to have symbolized reason For Aristotle the only life worth living was the life of citizenry Citizens were virtuous rational and moralntities He suggested that there was not a life without politics Only beasts and God needn t it Because beasts had not will or reason and God was self sufficient The purpose of the politics was common good in pursuit of happiness in accordance with reason for the citizens Even though Plato paved the way for politics His state theory was anti politics Because his political formation Tropical Bioproductivity excluded many from political life For Aristotle where there is no politics there is no human will and common decision making with regard to public Functionality of Plato s state was based on good intention If king does not have good intentions the system can not survive Aristotle s political theory is reductionist since it is the manifestation of his analysis of natural world Anxtremely well composed survey of western political theory written by an accomplished political theorist Early in volume I Ryan posits that the uestion of how men are best able to govern themselves has been one of the central refrains in the history of political thought His survey is written from the perspective of a proponent albeit a cautious one of modern liberalism One should not Elizabeth Ann Seton expect perfect objectivity or a full fleshing out of the theoretical nuances ofach of the many figures that Ryan covers in this work What On Politics is intended to do however it does remarkably well it introduces or reintroduces readers to the pantheon of western political thoughtgives them historical and political context and asks uestions about them that may spark a reader s curiosity and Die Postmoderne Konstellation encourage them to learn Most of the work is relatively chronological until Ry. Ower corrupts absolutely” orxplicating John Stuart Mill’s contention that it is “better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied” Alan Ryan Folk Tales From the Soviet Union evokes the lives and minds of our greatest thinkers in a way that makes reading about them a transcendentxperience Whether writing about Plato or Augustine.

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Alan James Ryan