“I’m not just an entertainer. I’m an influence, a wielder of opinion, a force . . . a force!”
— Lonesome Roads, A Face in the Crowd
The Gorgias is the third longest Platonic dialogue after the Republic and Laws. This indicates something of the importance Plato attributed to its subject matter. Traditionally, Gorgias has carried the subtitle “On Rhetoric.”[i] The discussion of rhetoric or political speech occupies the greatest part of the dialogue. The dialogue is named after Gorgias, a famous teacher of rhetoric from Sicily, who is visiting Athens and staying at the home of his friend Callicles. Plato’s task is to show that rhetoric – the use of public speech to deliberate upon and evaluate political action – is not a genuine art, but a spurious imitation of knowledge. The problem of rhetoric that the Gorgias seeks to address has been nowhere better stated than by E. R. Dodds, one of the dialogue’s earlier translators. “The Gorgias,” Dodds writes, “is the most ‘modern’ of Plato’s dialogues. The twin problems which it exposes – how to control the power of propaganda in a democracy, how to re-establish moral standards in a world whose traditional standards have disintegrated – these are also the central problems of the twentieth century.”[ii] And – I might add – the problems of the twenty-first as well.
Plato is perhaps the first philosopher to give rhetoric the negative connotation that it still has today. Rhetoric, as was understood by Plato and his contemporaries, meant the art of speaking well. It was a necessary component for participation in public life. It is the art employed by any public speaker – legislator, lawyer, salesman – who is trying to convince an audience to accept or adopt his point of view. To master the art of public speaking was and remains a requirement for being an effective citizen and statesman. Yet Plato is also at the root of our view that rhetoric is not only the art of persuasion, but of deceptive or duplicitous speech. We are accustomed to think of rhetoric as “hot air” and we are prone to ask – what does such speech conceal rather than what it reveals? We are frequently told to look “behind” or “beyond” the rhetoric. The idea is that rhetoric represents an outside layer of deception or, in Marxist language, a rationalization for certain interests that we must penetrate if we are to discover the truth behind the appearance. The truth of politics is ostensibly to be found in the interests that rhetoric serves to conceal.
The argument stated above, namely, that politics is about power and interests – the thesis of traditional realism – has always rested on a simplified and defective view of human psychology. Human beings, whatever Hobbes, Bentham, or the whole school of neo-classical economists may have argued, have never been simply power seekers or utility maximizers, but beings open to speech and persuasion.[iii] From Aristotle to the Federalist authors, it has been claimed that all politics rests not on power, but on opinion. “It is on opinion only that government is founded,” Hume wrote, “and this extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.”[iv] “Our government,” Abraham Lincoln said, “rests in public opinion. Whoever can change public opinion, can change the government, practically just so much.”[v]
Hume’s and Lincoln’s claim that all government rests on opinion seems especially the case for democracies where most of what goes on takes place through the medium of language, whether in constitutional assemblies, juries, courts of law, newspapers, and increasingly the internet. Democratic politics has for this reason rightly been called “logo-centric” or talk-centered. Democratic citizens increasingly identify themselves not just with interests, but with causes. Indeed, it is hard to understand the history of the last two centuries without seeing it as a succession of causes such as human rights, equality, abolitionism, feminism, communism, environmentalism, and the like. These are all movements of moral and political reform that have attracted millions of people, many of whom have no tangible or material interest at all in the movement other than that they think it right. One might justifiably debate the merits of introducing these kinds of causes into politics, but they remain an undisputable fact of modern democracy.
The logo-centric nature of modern democracy is vividly illustrated by the emergence of the so-called values voter. Values voters are typically identified with working class white voters – the Reagan democrats of a generation ago, perhaps the Trump voters of today – who abandoned their long-standing affiliation with the Democratic Party because of the party’s stance on a variety of cultural issues such abortion and gay marriage. In what has become the classic analysis of this phenomenon titled What’s the Matter with Kansas? Frank Thomas ponders why rural populist Kansas voters are prepared in increasing numbers to support the Republican Party whose economic policies appear to run directly counter to their own interests.[vi] Are such voters simply irrational, have they been tricked, or are there issues other than economic interests that govern behavior?
It is sometimes thought that the values voters belong entirely to the conservative wing of the spectrum. This is false. In his book Why are Jews Liberals? Norman Podhoretz has similarly bemoaned the fact that American Jews who are typically high earners continue to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, even at the expense of their economic interests.[vii] In Milton Himmelfarb’s famous (and now vaguely racist) formulation: “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”[viii] Why? One reason is, again, because economics is not necessarily destiny. It is because the Democratic Party embraces certain values – care for the disadvantaged, refuge for the immigrant – that jibes with the Jewish experience. For all their differences, authors like Thomas and Podhoretz fall prey to the same misunderstanding. They remain like disillusioned Marxists who cannot explain why their preferred groups are not voting in favor of their economic interests except, that they have fallen victim to a form of “false consciousness.”
None of this means that modern voters are irrational or don’t understand their interests. What it means is that the term “interest” is far more complex than is often understood.[ix] Interests are not simply brute facts about human beings that can be deduced from their economic status alone. An interest can mean whatever it is we have an interest in or an interest to do. Interests are as various as the human beings whose interests they are. Consider the following passage from T. B. Macaulay’s withering attack on James Mill’s interest-based theory of utilitarianism:
“When we see the actions of a man, we know with certainty what he thinks his interest to be. But it is impossible to reason with certainty what we take to be his interest to his actions. One man goes without dinner, that he may add a shilling to a hundred thousand pounds; another runs in debt to give balls and masquerades. One man cuts his father’s throat to get possession of his old clothes; another hazards his own life to save that of an enemy. One man volunteers on a forlorn hope; another is drummed out of a regiment for cowardice. Each of these men has, no doubt, acted from self-interest. But we gain nothing by knowing this, except the pleasure, if it be one, of multiplying useless words.”[x]
In other words, human behavior is far more complicated than the simple realist model of self-interest would allow.
This brings us back to Plato. Plato understood democracy as the regime that rests uniquely on the power of public speech or rhetoric. The Socratic critique of rhetoric deals with more than the various misuses of public speech. It is a critique of democracy itself. When Socrates takes rhetoric to task, he is taking to task the regime ruled by speech, namely, the Athenian democracy. A democratic polity is one that requires people to talk to one another, to advance reasons for their actions. It would seem to be the regime where reason rules public life, where policies are ostensibly based not on force or fraud, but are debated and discussed in the open, where speech matters. What is today frequently called deliberative democracy is really a form of rhetorical rule, a regime based on speech.
The American polity, for example, has increasingly become a rhetorical regime. In his book The Rhetorical Presidency, Jeffrey Tulis has argued that since Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the office of the presidency has increasingly become a vehicle for the mobilization of mass opinion.[xi] What was once a limited constitutional office has now become a direct line of communication with the people. Policies once presented to Congress are now addressed to the body of the people through the president’s “bully pulpit.” From Reagan to Clinton to Obama, and now to Trump more and more we expect the president to be a “great communicator” – or tweeter — and we think less of presidents who are not.
The Gorgias is famous for offering Plato’s far-reaching critique of rhetoric. Rhetoric, as Socrates presents it, is not just a technique for convincing others, but is associated with demagoguery and even tyranny. Rhetoric is the art of helping people get what they want. The demagogue is a popular leader who plays to or caters to peoples’ desires. If rhetoric helps us get what we want, should it not be necessary to ask first what kinds of things does it please people to desire? In the Gorgias, we see Socrates valiantly defending the philosophic life against the demagogue or rhetorician. At the core of the dialogue is the question about education: who is the true teacher or educator – the philosopher or the rhetorician?
Socrates and Gorgias
The Gorgias is a play in three acts. The first and shortest takes place between Socrates and Gorgias; the second between Socrates and a young disciple of Gorgias named Polus; and the third and most important between Socrates and Callicles. Callicles is the boldest exponent in any of the Platonic writings of the thesis that might equals right. More than the two visitors, he represents the claims of Athenian imperialism and the right of Athens to extend its empire to the limits of its power. The Gorgias is a text in which the themes of war and empire are never far from the center. The third and final act between Socrates and Callicles is really a discussion over the limits of empire.
The Gorgias opens with Socrates arriving with his friend Charephon at the house of Callicles to meet a visiting professor named Gorgias. Charephon is the person named in the Apology who first approached the oracle at Delphi to ask if there was anyone wiser than Socrates and Gorgias is a famous teacher of rhetoric visiting from Sicily. Gorgias, as legend has it, was head of the embassy sent to Athens to ask for protection against the aggression of the Syracusans in the period just prior to the Sicilian expedition. Charephon has brought Socrates to hear Gorgias, but they arrive too late to hear him give a demonstration of his art. As it turns out, Socrates is not that interested in listening to Gorgias, but in questioning him, to find out if he can give an account of the nature or function of his art. Here is what the dialogue is really about: it is a struggle – even a rhetorical struggle – for the heart and mind of Charephon. Charephon is a young Athenian who is attracted to Socrates, but impressed with Gorgias and his rhetorical skills. Which way will he turn? The struggle is for the heart and mind of Athens.
The question Socrates asks is: what is rhetoric? Gorgias tries to offer a definition by saying that rhetoric is concerned with the greatest goods (451d). This proves a promising beginning, but of course Socrates wants to hear more. What are the greatest goods and Socrates offers a list of plausible candidates – health, beauty, money. All of these are claimed by different sorts of people – the athlete, the supermodel, the millionaire – to represent the best way of life. But Gorgias claims that rhetoric surpasses even these goods. Rhetoric is the means to the supreme end of life, namely, freedom: the ability to get one’s way in all things (452d).
Freedom, as Gorgias understands it, is not just a matter of personal liberty, but a form of mastery, mastery over others in one’s own country. It is power: power over the majority of one’s fellow citizens. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion and the master of rhetoric holds the key to the greatest good: he is the shaper of public opinion. The rhetorician is, above all, the person who can persuade others in a public gathering or a court of law to do what he wants. Gorgias praises two of the greatest Athenian statesmen – Pericles and Themistocles – as supreme practitioners of the art of rhetoric (455e). He envelops his art with an appeal to Athenian patriotism. The teacher of rhetoric, then, is the true teacher of statesmen, the power behind the throne. Rhetoric is the true master art where the city is concerned because it provides the means of getting one’s way in all things.
Socrates professes to be pleased with Gorgias’ definition, but it raises serious problems. A person who teaches others the art of mastery, of control over others, bears awesome responsibilities. Has Gorgias stopped to consider this? Gorgias gives homely examples of how he has used his skills to convince patients to take their medicines or submit to painful operations when the doctor could not convince them to do so. Gorgias assumes that his teachings will be put to benign purposes. But if rhetoric is truly the supreme art, why will it not be used for evil ends, to gain mastery and ultimately domination over others?
Gorgias admits that the misuse of rhetoric is a possibility, but not one for which the teacher should be blamed:
“For the rhetor has power to speak against all men and about everything, so as to be more persuasive in multitudes about, in brief, whatever he wishes; but it nonetheless does not follow that one must on this account deprive the doctors of reputation – for he could do this – nor the other craftsmen, but one must use rhetoric justly too, just as competitive skill. And, I think, if someone has become a rhetorician and then does injustice with this power and art, one must not hate the man who taught him and expel him from the cities. For that man imparted it for just use, and the other used it in the opposite way. It is just, then, to hate, expel, and kill the one who uses it not correctly, but not the one who taught it (457a-c)”.
Gorgias’ point – like that of many modern social scientists — is that rhetoric is a value-neutral technique. He seems to anticipate Harold Laswell’s famous definition of politics as “who gets what, when, how.”[xii] It teaches people how to get what they want; it does not profess to tell them what they should want, nor can it be held responsible if people choose to misuse it. A doctor or a pharmacist can use their skills to kill as well as to heal; an accountant can use his knowledge to embezzle as well as balance the books; and a lawyer or politician can use their skills for justice as well as injustice. But the teacher of the art should in no way be held responsible for how the student may choose to use it. Should the teacher be responsible for the pupil?
Socrates’ conversation with Gorgias ends up in a kind of moral half-way house. Gorgias believes that it is only fitting that rhetoric be used for just or fair ends. The problem is that he seems to have given little thought – very little thought – as to what those ends might be or how they might be used. He has taken the largely conventional view that what most people want is the ability to increase their power over others. Power is not an end; it is a means to help us get whatever it is we want. Gorgias professes to remain neutral as to whether what people want is good or not. The one thing we know is that Socrates will not rest satisfied with this moral half-way house.
Socrates and Polus
It is at this stage that Polus enters the fray. The exchange with Polus has less the character of a friendly conversation than a battle with sarcasm and ridicule on both sides. Polus is a disciple of Gorgias and, like all disciples, he is a zealot. Why he has accompanied his teacher on this trip to Athens is unstated, but what is clear is that like any disciple, he is bolder and more zealous than his teacher. He steps into the discussion and snaps at Socrates. “What’s this, Socrates?,” he asks, “Do you too actually hold such an opinion of rhetoric as you are now saying?” (461b).
The immediate pretext for Polus’ intervention is Socrates’ assumption that the teacher of rhetoric must have knowledge of justice or else he cannot be a true teacher. Polus asserts that it was only Gorgias’ good-natured modesty that prevented him from admitting to his knowledge of justice. He even accuses Socrates of rudeness for turning the argument to such questions. How dare he!
Polus is clear as to what he believes the art of rhetoric to be. Rhetoric is not just the ability to get others to act in their own best interests as Gorgias’s example of the sick man convinced to take his medicine suggests. Rhetoric, by contrast, is the art that allows its practitioner the freedom to gain ultimate power over others so that they can do what they like. Rhetoric is a form of power, but power that can ultimately be used for the benefit of the one who exercises power. In contemporary language, rhetoric is self-regarding, not other-regarding. It may adopt the language of the common good or the good of others, but it is really about one’s own good. The question is: what is that good?
The man whom Polus most admires – or claims to admire – is the Macedonian tyrant Archelaus. This is clearly an attempt to provoke Socrates. Macedonia is a large country to the north of Greece and to praise a Macedonian prince to a group of Athenians would be like praising the former Soviet Union to a group of young Americans. Archelaus has risen to power by committing the worst acts and has lived to enjoy his ill-gotten gains. Listen to how Polus admiringly describes his rise to power:
“No part of the rule that he now has belongs to him at all, since he was born of a woman who was the slave of Alcetas, Perdiccas’s brother, and in accordance with the just he was Alcetas’s slave; and if he wished to do the just things, he would be a slave to Alcetas and would be happy, according to your argument. But now, how amazingly wretched he has become, since he has done the greatest unjust deeds! First, he sent for this man, his master and uncle, as if he was going to give back the rule that Perdiccas had taken away from him; having entertained him and his son Alexander (his own first cousin, of about the same age) as guests and got them drunk, he threw them into a wagon and dragging them away by night, cut their throats and did away with them both (471a-b).
Polus’ remarks here are clearly dripping with irony. He admires Archelaus for doing what others only dream of doing, but are too cowardly to do so. Archelaus must surely be supremely happy and well-off not in spite, but because of his criminal actions. If Socrates argues otherwise – or if we do – it is simply because we are either being obstreperous or too cowardly to see what it is people really want. The desire to rule over others – to be the tyrant – is the deepest and most powerful of human desires. Rhetoric is the art of helping us achieve that desire.
Polus’ view must be right – so he believes – because the contrary cannot possibly be true. If given the choice, we would all prefer the benefits that come from injustice to being punished or even tortured for acting justly. Would we not prefer to profit from wrong-doing than to act justly and suffer persecution or torture? Isn’t the greatest good complete immunity – a kind of lifetime get-out-of-jail-free card – from injustice? Here is how Polus tells the story:
“What do you mean? If someone is caught doing injustice, plotting to attain tyranny, and having been caught is tortured on the rack and castrated and has his eyes burned out, and having suffered many great mutilations of all kinds himself and having beheld his children and wife suffer them, at the end is impaled or tarred and burned – this man will be happier than if, getting away, he is established in the city, and passes his whole life doing whatever he wishes, being enviable and accounted happy by the citizens and by others who are foreigners(473b-c)?”
Is Polus wrong to believe this? Isn’t the person who suffers torture worse off than the one who commits injustice and escapes the consequences? Isn’t he correct in the belief that the deepest human desire is the desire to rule over others, to act the tyrant? If we were truly honest with ourselves wouldn’t we agree with Polus? Should we agree with him that the happiest person is the one who does wrong and avoids punishment and the least happy, the one who is caught, imprisoned, or executed? If this really was true, we would admire tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein, at least while they thrived. They clearly achieved the greatest power and to some extent did so – more in case of Hitler than Stalin – through mastery of the art of rhetoric. Spell binding rhetoric and oratory has always been a tool of tyrants and demagogues: Castro, Peron, Khomeni, Chavez. What is it that prevents us from praising these tyrants as the truly happiest of men? Is it moral cowardice on our parts or is it because we have a moral argument against tyranny? Rather than asking or answering these questions directly, Socrates takes an indirect path.
Socrates asks Polus whether it is worse to do wrong or to suffer wrong. He answers clearly: to suffer wrong. But then he asks: which is more shameful, to commit an injustice or suffer from injustice and Polus replies that committing injustice is indeed more shameful (474c). A tyrant’s actions may be beneficial for them, but they may still appear shameful or disgraceful. Socrates here raises the standard of the noble (to kalon), a Greek word that serves the double function of the admirable and the beautiful. Polus believes that evil actions may be beneficial – in the sense of “good for” – the evildoer even if they lack nobility and bring shame upon the agent, whereas Socrates wants to argue that an action that lacks the quality of nobility can never be good for the person. A person who benefits from shameful or disgraceful actions cannot be well off.
What is Socrates doing in introducing the standard of the shameful and the noble? Shame, the anthropologists tell us, is virtually a universal phenomenon. The causes or content of shame may change from culture to culture, but the attitude remains constant. The blush is a continual reminder of the distinction between the permissible and the forbidden. It is related to our need to conceal. While shame is clearly related to the violation of certain social taboos, it also contains a self-regarding element. “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” is a reproach not just about saving face, but about the need for a certain rudimentary self-respect. A person incapable of feeling shame is somehow not fully a person. In the book of Genesis, the first authentic moment of humanity is the feeling of shame felt by Adam and Eve when they first notice their nakedness.[xiii]
Unlike English, Greek recognizes two words for shame: Aischyne concerns the violation of certain man-made or conventional codes of conduct; Aidos is related to a sense of reverence or sacred awe. Aischyne is a cognate of the adjective aischos meaning not only the shameful, but the ugly or the deformed, while Aidos is connected to feelings of veneration and respect. Kurt Riezler explains the distinction with the following example:
“The origin of Aischyne is dishonor, of Aidos, awe. Dishonor puts the emphasis on man-made codes. If you are ashamed of violating or having violated such codes, the Greeks use the verb that corresponds to the noun Aischyne. Aidos is not concerned merely with man-made codes. You feel Aidos when confronted with things nature tells you to revere and not violate. Shame in sexual matters is Aidos, not Aischyne. In the Odyssey Hephaistos catches his wife, Aphrodite, with her lover Ares, in nets he spread around Aphrodite’s bed. He calls all the gods and goddesses to look at the adulterous couple. The gods hurry to the place, but the goddesses stay at home out of shame. Homer calls this shame Aidos.”[xiv]
In raising the theme of shame, Socrates seems to be testing Polus to see how far he is willing to go, to find out whether he has the courage of his convictions. To commit the kinds of deeds that Polus has been praising are invariably regarded – even by Polus himself – as shameful, something subject to social disapproval, even if they bring benefits like wealth and power to the agent. Polus accepts this because he, too, tacitly accepts conventional opinion. A more ruthless interlocutor – we will find one in Callicles – would claim that there is nothing shameful or dishonorable in committing unjust acts. It is merely conventional opinion – the opinion of the fearful and the timid – who will not admit, even to themselves, that by nature the strong are entitled to all that they can take. There is nothing shameful about lions preying on zebras; that is what lions do. The same is true for humans. The weak are the natural prey for the strong. Polus, like so many people, likes to talk tough, but in the end cannot face up to the consequences of his own words.
Gorgias and Polus are both ashamed to praise unreservedly those who practice tyranny or who use rhetoric to manipulate others for their own ends. Why? Are they inconsistent to do so? Gorgias argues that it is not the teacher’s fault if the student misuses his teaching. Polus claims to praise the tyrannical life, but in the end cannot bring himself to call such a life noble or honorable. People may profit from wrong doing, but not even he can call such profiteering honorable. In the end, Polus is ashamed to be seen praising the life of tyranny and crime before men like Socrates and Charephon who are citizens of a free city. This realization on the part of Polus is almost identical to the scene in Plato’s Republic where Thrasymachus is seen to blush (350d). He is shamed by Socrates into seeing where his praise of the tyrannical life has led. Has Polus’s argument, then, in favor of tyranny been refuted or is he simply a coward, afraid to see where the logic of his argument is taking him? Has Polus been refuted too easily or has he even been refuted at all?
Polus holds to the common sense view that an action may be good for the doer or the agent even if such an action lacks nobility. At the same time actions can be noble, but not necessarily good for the agent. A person who throws himself on a hand grenade to protect his comrades performs a noble deed, but no one would claim that deed is good for the one who performs it. How could it be, unless we associate the good with posthumous glory? To take another example: a person who donates a kidney to a critically ill friend or relative could be said to act nobly, but then how is the act of benefit or good for the donor? Socrates wants to say that an action that lacks nobility cannot be good and therefore that what is good for us must also qualify as noble. This is why he can maintain that a person who suffers for the cause of justice is not only nobler, but better off than a person who profits from injustice. This is a very high bar to pass over and one has to wonder whether Socrates has made his case or even believes it.
This article is continued here.
[i] I have used James H. Nichols’ translation of Plato’s Gorgias (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998); there has been some excellent recent work on the Gorgias among which see, Seth Benardete, The Rhetoric of Philosophy and Morality: Plato’s Gorgias and Phaedrus (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991); Devin Stauffer, The Unity of Plato’s Gorgias: Rhetoric, Justice, and the Philosophic Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Nalin Ranasinghe, Socrates in the Underworld: On Plato’s Gorgias (South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 2009); Christina Tarnopolsky, Prudes, Perverts, and Tyrants: Plato’s Gorgias and the Politics of Shame (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010).
[ii] E. R. Dodds, “Socrates, Callicles, and Nietzsche” in Plato; Gorgias (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1959), 387.
[iii] For a discussion of the recent “rhetorical turn” in the study of politics, see Bryan Garsten, Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006).
[iv] David Hume, “On the First Principles of Government,” Essays Moral, Political, and Literary, ed. Eugene F. Miller (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1987), 32.
[v] Abraham Lincoln, “Portion of a Speech at Republican Banquet,” The Writings of Abraham Lincoln, ed. Steven B. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), 107.
[vi] Frank Thomas, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: Metropolitan, 2004).
[vii] Norman Podhoretz, Why are Jews Liberals? (New York: Doubleday, 2009).
[viii] Milton Himmelfarb, “The Jewish Vote (Again),” Commentary, June 1, 1973.
[ix] For a useful overview, see Jane M. Mansbridge, ed., Beyond Self-Interest (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990).
[x] Jack Lively and John Rees, eds. Utilitarian Logic and Politics: James Mill’s “Essay on Government,” Macaulay’s Critique and the Ensuing Debate (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 125.
[xi] Jeffrey Tulis, The Rhetorical Presidency (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987).
[xii] Harold Lasswell, Politics: Who Gets What, When How (New York: Meridian, 1958).
[xiii] For the role of biblical shame, see Leon Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis (New York: Free Press, 2003), 105-11.
[xiv] Kurt Riezler, “Comment on the Social Psychology of Shame,” American Journal of Sociology 48 (1943): 463.
Steven Smith is the Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science and Professor of Philosophy, Yale University. His best known publications include Hegel’s Critique of Liberalism (1989), Spinoza, Liberalism, and Jewish Identity (1997), Spinoza’s Book of Life (2003), Reading Leo Strauss (2006), and The Cambridge Companion to Leo Strauss (2009) and Political Philosophy (2012). His latest book Modernity and its Discontents (2016) examines the concept of modernity, not as the end product of historical developments but as a state of mind.
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