An Intellectual Biography
216 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: February 2024
- ISBN: 9780268203269
- Published: September 2022
- ISBN: 9780268203252
- Published: September 2022
- ISBN: 9780268203245
This award-winning biography, now available for the first time in English, presents an illuminating introduction to Alasdair MacIntyre and locates his thinking in the intellectual milieu of twentieth-century philosophy.
Winner of the prestigious 2005 Philippe Habert Prize, the late Émile Perreau-Saussine’s Alasdair MacIntyre: Une biographie intellectuelle stands as a definitive introduction to the life and work of one of today’s leading moral philosophers. With Nathan J. Pinkoski’s translation, this long-awaited, critical examination of MacIntyre’s thought is now available to English readers for the first time, including a foreword by renowned philosopher Pierre Manent.
Amid the confusions and contradictions of our present philosophical landscape, few have provided the clarity of thought and shrewdness of diagnosis like Alasdair MacIntyre. In this study, Perreau-Saussine guides his readers through MacIntyre’s lifelong project by tracking his responses to liberalism’s limitations in light of the human search for what is good and true in politics, philosophy, and theology. The portrait that emerges is one of an intellectual giant who comes to oppose modern liberal individualism’s arguably singular focus on averting evil at the expense of a concerted pursuit of human goods founded upon moral and practical reasoning. Although throughout his career MacIntyre would engage with a number of theoretical and practical standpoints in service of his critique of liberalism, not the least of which was his early and later abandoned dalliance with Marxism, Perreau-Saussine convincingly shows how the Scottish philosopher came to hold that Aristotelian Thomism provides the best resources to counter what he perceives as the failure of the liberal project. Readers of MacIntyre’s works, as well as scholars and students of moral philosophy, the history of philosophy, and theology, will find this translation to be an essential addition to their collection.
Preface by Pierre Manent
“Alasdair MacIntyre is one of the most influential and widely read moral philosophers of the last three or four decades. This remarkably erudite and comprehensive book is an indispensable guide for anyone who has a serious interest in twentieth-century moral and political philosophy.” —Richard Kraut, author of The Quality of Life
“The book is a sympathetic treatment of the ideas that have consistently run through MacIntyre’s complicated career, but it doesn’t hesitate to pose to MacIntyre tough-minded intellectual challenges. It is a genuine philosophical dialogue between two serious thinkers.” —Ronald Beiner, author of Dangerous Minds
"Provides a penetrating overview of the ideas of 20th-century moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. . . . Perreau-Saussine proves a talented historian of ideas, cogently elucidating how such diverse traditions as Marxism, Catholicism, and Aristotelianism come together in MacIntyre’s writings." —Publishers Weekly
"[The book's] treatment of MacIntyre’s religious struggles and his journey to the Catholic Church is perhaps its strongest part and will be a revelation to anyone accustomed to a more narrowly philosophical approach to MacIntyre’s ideas." —Current
"MacIntyre stands in the modern intellectual landscape as one of tradition’s great champions, but he was never a particularly happy warrior, even though he had a great deal to say about what makes men happy. Anyone who is intrigued by these puzzles will find this book of considerable interest." —Law & Liberty
"Alasdair MacIntyre: An Intellectual Biography by Émile Perreau-Saussine seeks to defend the Scottish philosopher’s standing as one of the most profound theorists of capitalist modernity on either side of the Atlantic. . . . [A]long the way we do learn a great deal about MacIntyre’s life and how it informed his unique blend of Marxist-Catholic Scholasticism." —Jacobin
"Alasdair MacIntyre is a moral philosopher of the first rank. . . . May our contemporaries be receptive to the wisdom and moderation that informs this splendid and timely book." —Claremont Review of Books
"On the whole, this is a[n] . . . insightful essay in intellectual history. Or rather, it is three essays, dealing respectively with MacIntyre’s politics, philosophy, and theology. The first covers MacIntyre’s early involvement with the British New Left. . . . A second chapter deals with the philosophy of action and ethics. . . . A last chapter, on theology, sees Perreau-Saussine return to safer ground." —First Things
"Perreau-Saussine makes a valuable contribution for those looking to understand the context and nature of Alasdair MacIntyre’s thought. He strikes a balance by pulling together biographical details, intellectual influences, and a variety of publications to craft a portrait of one of the twentieth century’s most influential philosophers." —The University Bookman
"[F]or those who would like to consider the merits and demerits of liberal democracy in a judicious way, Émile Perreau-Saussine’s critical study of one of antiliberalism’s éminence grise is now available. It is both a specimen and a model of the sort of political philosophizing sorely needed in our trying times." —Law & Liberty
“Alasdair MacIntyre: An Intellectual Biography, by the philosopher Émile Perreau-Saussine, is less an academic study than an essay on MacIntyrean themes. . . It’s engaging and accessible.” —The Nation
"The real value of Perreau-Saussine’s biography lies less in its exposition of MacIntyre’s intellectual development than in its extended clarification of what is at stake in the questions MacIntyre explores. . . . For Perreau-Saussine, political progress will come when we better navigate these tensions within the liberal order, not when we seek to resolve them entirely outside it. Whether his eminent case proves his point is worth our careful reflection." —The Hedgehog Review
"In this book, Perreau-Saussine traces the complex intellectual development of Scottish American philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre (b. 1924) with a view to showing the underlying unity of his life’s work. ...Recommended." —Choice
“Émile Perreau-Saussine has produced an interesting and provocative interpretation of Alasdair MacIntyre and Nathan Pinkoski’s translation has provided the English-speaking world access to the work....Any university library with a serious politics, philosophy, or theology program should procure a copy.” —The American Journal of Jurisprudence
"The scholarship behind the book—the volume of Anglophone philosophy Perreau-Saussine had to absorb, inside and outside MacIntyre’s corpus—is hugely impressive. And we owe Pinkoski a debt for doing the unglamorous kind of work Perreau-Saussine himself did first." —Commonweal
In the twentieth century, liberalism was the target of two successive waves of critique: communism and fascism. In the 1930s, caught in the grip of these two threats, liberal democracies seemed in the short term to be doomed. In the Second World War, the alliance of liberals and communists triumphed over fascism. Then private property’s adversaries lost the Cold War. Today, liberalism is the only one left in the arena. The conflicts of the twentieth century have demonstrated that the regime that was in its beginning denounced as the weakest proved to be the strongest. But the questions raised by fascists and communists remain. "What place does liberalism give to greatness, to beauty? "ask some. "What place is there for justice?" ask others. These questions still resonate. Beneath the apparent consensus, liberalism is undermined. In 1945 and in 1989, might liberalism have won only by default? The bodies are satisfied, because comfort and security reign supreme. The soul is troubled.
Today, in reaction to the Nazi and Soviet infamies, human rights triumph. We answer totalitarianism with a politics of individual rights. We counter modern tyrannies with a theory of freedom as the absence of coercion. Naturally, these solutions have their merits. But throughout these pages I have tried to explain that in the eyes of Alasdair MacIntyre, they cannot be enough. We must protect ourselves from evil and guard against tyranny, but we must also support the desire for the good and the true, nourish it, and make it bear fruit. Pascal concisely summarizes my conclusions: "It is dangerous to make man see too clearly how he equals the beasts without showing him his greatness.” The passion for taking away our innocence has its limits: the desire to open our eyes to the atrocities of which human beings are capable must not lead to denying that man desires the good and that he is capable of the good. By absolutizing individual rights, we run the risk of ruining the very meaning of freedom that we propose to cultivate, of favoring a deleterious moral relativism, and of losing any sense of worthwhile purpose. Liberalism needs the habits, customs, and mores that individualism tends to destroy. The arrangement of the laws and the balance of powers is not enough: representative democracy also demands a sense of what a fulfilled life can look like. For MacIntyre, the political response that the cruelty of the twentieth century requires does not merely involve techniques of government, a sort of constitutional engineering, and a systematic circumventing of a human nature deemed too unreliable and too dangerous. It also involves, no doubt on a deeper level, nature itself and man himself.
After having for a long time explored human nature with a particular intensity, the West has bracketed off human nature, to the point of separating it from freedom. We must return to this separation. We must anchor freedom in human nature and relate existence to the two sources of the West, to the two desires by which the scholastic philosophers had understood humanity, and around which they had articulated practical reason: the desire to live in society and the desire to know the truth about God. If we believe the tradition with which MacIntyre aligns himself, freedom is not only the power to choose what pleases us. It is also the ability to act to achieve what is obviously good, in the pursuit of perfection. Yet the good is not always obvious. Knowledge of the good generally presupposes a moral authority. Liberalism delegates the search for the good to the individual alone; it affirms that it is up to the individual to find for himself his own idea of happiness. But it is possible that the good can only be discovered, lived, and deepened by a collective effort. It is not enough to say that political reasoning starts from the fact that men are capable of the worst and moral reasoning starts from the fact that men are capable of the best. For we cannot separate or even distinguish an essentially individual and private morality from an essentially amoral politics. Morality develops within a collective framework, which includes an important political dimension. As such, the individual could prove to be powerless to find the good. Often, moral authority is not so much the opposite of freedom as its necessary condition. According to MacIntyre, it is not true that the modern "individual", by freeing himself from moral authority, has won his independence and his title to reason. It is not true that it is only the being who is freed from the grip of tradition that is capable of rationality. That individual has in reality lost his reason. It was the moral authority embodied in a tradition that ensured a minimum of practical rationality.