Political Philosophy and the Republican Future
Are we moving inevitably into an irreversible era of postnationalism and globalism? In Political Philosophy and the Republican Future, Gregory Bruce Smith asks, if participation in self-government is not central to citizens’ vision of the political good, is despotism inevitable? Smith's study evolves around reconciling the early republican tradition in Greece and Rome as set out by authors such as Aristotle and Cicero, and a more recent tradition shaped by thinkers such as Machiavelli, Locke, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, Madison, and Rousseau. Gregory Smith adds a further layer of complexity by analyzing how the republican and the larger philosophical tradition have been called into question by the critiques of Nietzsche, Heidegger, and their various followers.
For Smith, the republican future rests on the future of the tradition of political philosophy. In this book he explores the nature of political philosophy and the assumptions under which that tradition can be an ongoing tradition rather than one that is finished. He concludes that political philosophy must recover its phenomenological roots and attempt to transcend the self-legislating constructivism of modern philosophy. Forgetting our past traditions, he asserts, will only lead to despotism, the true enemy of all permutations of republicanism. Cicero's thought is presented as a classic example of the phenomenological approach to political philosophy. A return to the architectonic understanding of political philosophy exemplified by Cicero is, Smith argues, the key to the republican future.
1. Reflections on the Tradition of Republicanism
2. Initial Reflections on Political Philosophy
3. Who Was Cicero?
4. Cicero on the Nature of Philosophy
5. Cicero on Cosmology and Natural Philosophy
6. Cicero on Natural Theology
7. Cicero on Ethics
8. Cicero on Oratory and the Language Arts
9. Cicero on Politics
10. A Brief Reflection on Nietzsche
11. Conclusion: Political Philosophy and the Republican Future
"The fragmentation of knowledge among competing schools in our time is not unlike the competing schools of philosophy confronting Cicero. This fragmentation—in his time and ours—manifests itself in the loss of public space. Without a public space—rooted in the phenomena of a shared public life—there can be no genuine knowledge and no free and active political life. In penetrating analysis, Gregory Bruce Smith engages Cicero as a master of the phenomenological method presented here and as a republican statesman opening opportunities for citizens—not subjects—to shape their own future." —Christopher A. Colmo, Dominican University
“Gregory Bruce Smith’s book is significant as scholarship because there is no other comprehensive presentation that is more thorough or intelligent. Smith is especially effective in his presentation of Cicero as a kind of phenomenologist who does not forget the source of philosophy in everyday discourse, or ‘public space.’ He usefully argues that for Cicero the combination of rhetoric, public speaking, statesmanship, and philosophy is more worthwhile and significant than merely contemplative philosophy on its own.” —Mark Blitz, Claremont McKenna College
“Gregory Smith presents a thoughtful and expansive study of Cicero the republican. It is also an argument for Cicero’s relevance today that becomes a rescue operation for him from modern neglect and postmodern levity. The book explores Cicero and his surroundings through the lens of political philosophy to illuminate our present situation.” —Harvey Mansfield, Harvard University; senior fellow, Hoover Institution
“Throughout his presentation, Smith makes clear that Cicero always begins with what is given, and seeks to weave strands together, to open the space necessary for a republican future. This book is highly recommended for scholars interested in phenomenology, as well as for undergraduates looking for an introduction to Cicero’s political philosophy.” —Choice
“Smith’s burning care for future generations’ possession of republican liberty makes this an important piece of political writing that reflects on the life well lived and exhorts us toward it.” —The Review of Politics
In the Classical Greek world the two activities that were honored were war and political participation. Thus labor and commerce were not honored as they offered no leisure to pursue martial and political excellence. As women could not participate in war, they could not participate in politics. Hence a distinction was made between the polis and the oikos or household. The polis was the arena of men; the oikos was the arena of women.
Initially the oikos included primarily the function of reproduction and child rearing alone, but as time passed the administration of the economic things moved into the arena of the oikos and hence into the purview of women. Our word “economics” comes from combining the Greek words oikos and nomos (or law). Economics is the law of the household which provides the economic necessities for the polis.
While not political beings, women were not slaves either. The leisure needed for political participation was supported primarily on the basis of real slavery. At its peak, the Athenian polis probably had twenty thousand male citizens. Added to that, by a factor of roughly three or four were free women and children, and then another four hundred thousand slaves and “metics,” or resident aliens needed for commerce and trade. Freedom and inequality were seen as perfectly consistent in the Greek understanding. The idea of the universal equality of human beings as individuals entered the West from a different direction—the Christian belief that we are all the equal creatures of a universal Creator/God.
Because of the sheer necessity posed by external threat, the Greek polisi strove for unity and solidarity. The necessary unity needed for survival required a common religion, common opinions, common tastes and even enforced common dress and patterns of consumption. Ostentatious public displays of wealth were forbidden and opposed by sumptuary laws. A Greek wandering about with the equivalent of a Rolex could be banished from the polis thereby losing any chance for political freedom.
One differentiated oneself from others not by conspicuous displays of consumption, but by great and memorable deeds and speeches. The Greeks were great lovers especially of public speaking and rhetoric. Before the arrival of Philosophy, the teachers of oratory and rhetoric (Sophists or “wise men”) were admired and respected because of the central political importance of what they taught. At a later date the same veneration became true by extension for poets and playwrights and eventually philosophers. This was a civilization of public speech in a way we can now hardly imagine.
Such a civilization was the prerequisite for the birth of Philosophy. Hence Aristotle could codify the Greek understanding when he defined man as both the “political animal” (zoon politkon) and the “animal with speech (logos).” But these were not initially two separate things. They became separate things for Aristotle and thereafter. With Aristotle we get the doctrinal separation of theory and practice, Politics and Philosophy. This was a fateful move. The True and pure logos increasingly became separated from the Public Space of the polis.
Politics for the pre-philosophic Greeks was primarily speech and public decision making about war, justice and the rites of public religion, and not the interest group politics we now know which is primarily based on competing economic interests. In fact, the Greeks abhorred the notion of what we call interest groups, or what James Madison would call “factions.” Politics for them was categorically not the competition of different interests, as in economic interests.
Contrary to Marx, politics so understood could not be reduced to a mere epiphenomenon of economics. This is why the Greeks always saw commerce as corrupting; it always created competing interests where solidarity was needed. If the marketplace was allowed into the Public Space it would always bring with it the corrupting influence of competing interests, destroying the necessary solidarity needed for war and public deliberation. To put it mildly, Greek Republics were homogeneous.
This helps explain the Greek, and until very recently the overall Republican, preference for farming over commerce—not to mention that farmers cannot remove their assets from the nation. Farming does not foster anywhere near as many factions as does commerce. And it does not produce superfluous wealth, luxury and opulence which destroy participatory equality.
With the Greeks emerged a picture that retained vitality right down to the so called Anti-Federalists during the time of the American Founding. A permutation of this vision is given manifestation in the thinking and writing of Thomas Jefferson despite the also evident Lockean language of the Declaration of Independence. In that understanding, the best Republican citizen is a relatively equal participating citizen farmer who is part of an armed militia. This understanding is codified in the Second Amendment to the US Constitution with its “Free State” language.
(excerpted from chapter 1)