An Interview with Nathan J. Pinkoski, Translator of “Alasdair MacIntyre: An Intellectual Biography”

Nathan Pinkoski is a research fellow and director of academic programs at the Zephyr Institute. The University of Notre Dame Press is excited to publish his translation of Émile Perreau-Saussine’s Alasdair MacIntyre: An Intellectual Biography (September 2022). He recently answered some of our questions about his research and writing processes.

When did you first get the idea to write this book? 

Émile Perreau-Saussine was a promising French scholar in political philosophy, also interested in the thought of Alasdair MacIntyre. When his first book, Alasdair MacIntyre: une biographie intellectuelle, was published in France in 2005, it won the prestigious Prix Philippe Habert: a prize given for the best writing on political science by a young researcher. Moving between France and the United Kingdom, Perreau-Saussine was teaching at the University of Cambridge when he passed away unexpectedly in 2010. 

As I discovered when I was a doctoral student at Oxford, he was well-known and admired in English and French intellectual circles. I met friends and colleagues who mourned his loss. But while his second book had been translated into English, no one had taken up the task of translating his first one. I thought it deserved a wider reception. After I completed my doctorate, I decided to take up the task of translating it.

Nathan J. Pinkoski

Certainly these are unprecedented times in the United States and around the world. What can readers find in your book that will resonate with them during this era? 

We are witnessing the loss of faith in liberalism on a mass scale. Since liberalism is the prevailing ideology governing most Western states, this loss of faith in liberalism is to Western states like secularization is to a theocratic regime. It provokes a colossal crisis of legitimacy. Because MacIntyre’s work is characterized by an unrelenting critique of liberalism, it has taken on a prophetic tone. Time has vindicated even its most pessimistic strands. Perhaps in the 1980s and 1990s, since MacIntyre’s critique of liberalism was far more radical than the friendly critiques of liberalism on offer, you could write off MacIntyre as a fringe figure. But you simply cannot play that card anymore. The radicalized, MacIntyrean critique of liberalism, in some form or another, has gone mainstream. So the interest in applying MacIntyre’s ideas to our philosophical and political predicaments will continue to grow. Since the theme of Perreau-Saussine’s book is MacIntyre’s critique of liberalism, the book serves as an excellent guide to grapple with the strengths and weaknesses of MacIntyre’s thought.

What advice would you give to a writer who wants to start a book?

My advice speaks to a writer who wants to start translating a book. Every writer should be interested in translating. It is a lost art. By and large, the academic world does not hold it in high regard. The result is that many excellent texts lose a potentially wider audience. Moreover, the institutions and publishing houses that support translations only do so with an eye to what reinforces the prevailing ideological paradigm or to what would be a commercial success. The result is that high-quality philosophical, historical, and political texts remain unknown and unstudied out of their immediate native context. Young scholars should look at what thinkers are being ignored, pick one of their books that they enjoyed reading, and start translating it. If they do not, no one will.

Who would you like to read Alasdair MacIntyre and why?

A translation of Alasdair MacIntyre: une biographie intellectuelle addresses several audiences. First, it addresses scholars interested in the work of Alasdair MacIntyre. Anglophone scholars of Alasdair MacIntyre will benefit from having access to the only book-length treatment of his work that focuses on his critique of liberalism as well as the developmental character of his thought. Second, this translation assists scholars who are engaging in critical discussions with MacIntyre’s work. The book will interest Anglophone political theorists who are sympathetic to Leo Strauss, as Pierre Manent and Émile Perreau-Saussine criticize MacIntyre from a Straussian standpoint that argues for the primacy of political philosophy. Third, this translation assists philosophers and political theorists interested in the philosophical and political problems of late modernity. As the central theme of Perreau-Saussine’s book is the critique of liberalism, the book’s account of MacIntyre serves as an introduction to some strands of the philosophical and political critiques of liberalism prevalent in the latter half of the 20th century.

What book are you currently reading?

 I am reading Joseph-Barthélemy: La Crise du constitutionalisme libéral sous la IIIe République, by Frédéric Saulnier.

What project are you working on next?

To mention my next translation project: it is an English translation of Francis Bacon’s De Sapientia Veterum (On the Wisdom of the Ancients).

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