András Lánczi Reviews Tyrants: A History of Power, Injustice and Terror

April 18, 2018

The Conquest of Eros: Tyranny Revisited as the Quarrel Between the Ancients and the Moderns

 

In recent years whenever I am obliged to teach the history of European political philosophy and development of political knowledge, I keep repeating to my students that not a single idea has come down to our age without serious debate among major political thinkers, who regarded those ideas as fundamentally important for their respective times. Aristotle criticized Plato, Saint Augustine quarreled with Pelagius, Locke vehemently attacked Filmer, Burke had to defend himself against Paine – the lines of debate are almost endless. But it is more difficult to draw lines of such debate over individual questions. Perhaps the Marxists developed several systems of intellectual clashes; Machiavelli too generated almost a labyrinth of literature; and Nietzsche’s impact has become a cultural phenomenon in itself. But European intellectual life, apart from religious movements, created one overarching, general debate about its identity in various fields and genres and on different levels that finally acquired the name of the quarrel between the ancients and moderns. Was there really a break in European intellectual history? If yes, we must take it as a vantage point in our analysis of European development of political and philosophical ideas. If not, then we must consider the peculiarities of European modernity compared to other cultures.

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