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A New Interpretation



This is the first comprehensive exploration of ancient and modern tyranny in the history of political thought. Waller R. Newell argues that modern tyranny and statecraft differ fundamentally from the classical understanding. Newell demonstrates a historical shift in emphasis from the classical thinkers’ stress on the virtuous character of rulers and the need for civic education to the modern emphasis on impersonal institutions and cold-blooded political method. The turning point is Machiavelli’s call for the conquest of nature. Newell traces the of influence from Machiavelli, new science of politics to the rise of Atlanticist republicanism . England and America, as well as the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century and their effects on the present. By diagnosing the varieties of tyranny from erotic voluptuaries like Nero, the steely determination of reforming conquerors like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar and modernizing despots such as Napoleon and Ataturk to the collectivist revolutions of the Jacobins, Bolsheviks, Nazis, and Khmer Rouge, Newell shows how tyranny is every bit as dangerous to free democratic societies today as it was in the past.

"Learned, searching essays directed toward the recovery of the notion of tyranny from Machiavelli’s almost successful attempt to suppress it. Anyone who wants to understand modern politics will profit from Waller Newell’s eye-opening analysis."

   –  Harvey Mansfield, Professor of Government, Harvard; Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford

"A distinguished scholar of the history of political philosophy here elaborates a study of the mutating conception and practice of tyranny that illuminates in a transformative way our understanding of that dark but recurring phenomenon. By focusing on Machiavelli as the hinge of fate in the theory and meaning of tyranny, Newell reveals the historical dynamic that has brought into being the peculiar combination of the demonic and the prosaic that characterizes tyranny in our late modem epoch." 

   –  Thomas L. Pangle, University of Texas at Austin

"In this extraordinary new book Waller Newell offers the first systematic account of the difference between ancient and modern tyranny… This book should prove an instant classic taking its place alongside other seminal studies of modem totalitarianism by the likes of Hannah Arendt and Raymond Aron.

    –  Steven B. Smith, Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science, Yale University

With great skill and learning, Newell has written a beautiful book that virtually creates a new subject, one of immense importance to everyone who thinks seriously about politics. I recommend it without reservation."

   –  Stanley Rosen, Boston University

"For almost half a century now, scholars have focused their attention on republicanism, both ancient and modern, and tyranny has received short shrift. In this remarkable and subtle work, published on the 500th anniversary of Machiavelli=s drafting of The Prince, Waller R. Newell redresses the balance, examining tyranny as a practical phenomenon… If Newell is correct, as I fear he is, tyranny is apt to be no less profound a threat to human flourishing in our time than it was in the concluding century of the past millennium."

   –  Paul A. Rahe, Hillsdale College

"A masterful account of the fatal evolution of tyranny from ancient to modern and from charm to terror. Tyranny: A New Interpretation offers insightful analyses of political thought from Plato to Hobbes and beyond.       –  Barry Strauss, Cornell University

Waller Newell’s wide-ranging and learned study of both classical and modern conceptions of tyranny constitutes a powerful challenge to recent, more democratic and ethical readings of Machiavelli." 

   –  Catherine H. Zuckert, University of Notre Dame, editor of Political Philosophy in the Twentieth Century

"The term ’tyrant’ sounds antique, but Newell’s Tyranny awakens us to its insidious, all-pervasive modern form, ideologically aimed at nothing less than commandeering human nature. This monumental work is an advance in the history of consciousness, worthy of the closest reading as it takes its place on the shelf of modern classics of political thought."

    –  Norma Thompson, Yale University

"Newell’s provocative arguments will unsettle preexisting categories and prompt readers to explore novel questions. Newell has produced a rich, timely, and imaginative study on a subject of perennial philosophical and political significance. His erudition and imagination shine through on every page."

   –  Ryan Balot, University of Toronto

"This is the lifework of a great scholar; I recommend it heartily to all readers who wish to understand how tyranny has been reinvented in modern times, made more lethal and in certain respects more difficult to recognize than it was before the philosophic and scientific revolution that began around 1600 and has accelerated with every decade, as Henry Adams anticipated it would. Newell not only has a beautiful mind; he writes very clearly in a publicspirited effort to reach a wide audience of concerned citizens."

   –  Robert Eden, Hillsdale College

"Newell provides the means to understand what’s at stake, and, perhaps, the lessons to defeat the rough beast that slouches toward us." 

   –  Robert Sibley, Ottawa Citizen

"Deeply ambitious… Newell’s aim is to make sense of tyrannical regimes… Newell’s book is deeply impressive…" 

    –  Aaron MacLean, The Washington Free Beacon

"Waller Newell has written a very dense and rich work on the “dark side” of politics, namely, the regime which has defined evil in politics since the inception of political theory: tyranny. What immediately strikes the reader is Newell’s attempt to combine a highly theoretical philosophical approach (strongly influenced by Heidegger and Leo Strauss) with an attention to political reality, including contemporary events, concerning the phenomenon of tyranny."

   –  Giovanni Giorgini, The Review of Politics

"Newell’s analysis of tyranny ought to be taken seriously by all theorists concerned with discussions of totalitarianism in its social, political and psychological aspects.”

   –  Jeffrey A. Bernstein, Society

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