- Hardcover: 792 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press; Expanded edition (23 May 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0691119775
- ISBN-13: 978-0691119779
- Product Dimensions: 24.4 x 15.3 x 4.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,480,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought Hardcover – 23 May 2004
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Winner of the 2006 David and Elaine Spitz Prize, Conference for the Study of Political Thought
"[T]he original edition . . . provided the most impressive synoptic interpretation of politics by any recent Western thinker. Measured, assured, and resolutely independent, it was also wonderfully lacking in self-importance. . . . [T]hat first book remains just as illuminating and every bit as imposing; but it is now accompanied by a second and very different book. . . . Its message is chilling: . . . that politics itself, in its generous Western understanding, is well on the way to being eliminated from the experience of human beings. Each of these books is a remarkable achievement."--John Dunn, Times Higher Education Supplement
From the Back Cover
"Sheldon Wolin is our premier contemporary theorist of engaged democracy. This expanded edition of Politics and Vision offers an extraordinarily comprehensive and acute account of the encounter between philosophy and political power, from classical Greece to the postmodern era of Superpower. The new edition demonstrates the power of Wolin's original enterprise by bringing it into constructive relationship with Marx, Nietzsche, and Dewey, and with political philosophy since Rawls. Essential reading for anyone concerned with the possibilities of politics in the twenty-first century."--Josiah Ober, Princeton University, author of The Athenian Revolution and Political Dissent in Democratic Athens
"In his classic work, Sheldon Wolin brings to light the most fascinating meanings of politics in its highest sense. He writes with the passion of the citizen who worries about power, and the rigor of the thinker committed to intellectual sharpness and historical awareness. In this new edition, Wolin explores in depth the most difficult challenges that our democratic ocieties are facing after their victory over totalitarianisms. Like the first edition, this new one will open fresh avenues to political thinking, and will teach us new and valuable lessons in the difficult art of being free citizens."--Maurizio Viroli, Princeton University, author of Niccolò's Smile: A
Biography of Machiavelli
"I am happy to report that the excitement of the great work represented by the first edition still remains, and that this book is, if anything, enhanced by the addition of the chapters on theorists including Marx, Nietzsche, Popper and Dewey, and Rawls. This revised and expanded edition is more somberly reflective than its predecessor, and at the same time more provocative in the overall picture it presents."--Jeremy Waldron, Columbia Law School, author of God, Locke, and Equality
"A great, provocative, intense, brilliant book. Several generations of political theorists were provoked and instructed by the original edition. Here, Sheldon Wolin brings up to date our understanding of politics and shows why earlier understandings are inadequate to contemporary developments."--Tracy B. Strong, University of California, San Diego, author of The Idea of Political Theory
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- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
“For by Art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-WEALTH, or STATE, (in latine CIVITAS) which is but an Artificiall Man; though of greater stature and strength than the Naturall, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which, the Soveraignty is an Artificiall Soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body;”
-Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
If you could create a nation, "by art," how would you constitute the government? What principles would you base it on? Would you promote the common good, or the good of an elite? Which do you think is better, enlightened self government, or dictatorship? How would you promote stability and deal with those who didn't agree and would not be accommodated?
How is our nation constituted? Do you think you know?
I picked up Sheldon Wolin's, "Politics and Vision," on the recommendation of Chris Hedges, that modern Jeremiah, that implacable critic of runaway Capitalism. Hedges called the book a masterpiece. It may be that. I can say without reservation that I was enlightened. What I got from my reading of the book was an appreciation for the sweep of the development of political theory, which did not, like Athena, spring full grown, but advanced in comprehensible steps from the prehistoric, "state of nature," (man in the wild) to civilization (in its various forms of government).
Wolin starts with Plato in ancient Greece and moves through the great theorists and philosophers, from Aristotle, Augustine, Machiavelli, Calvin, Hobbes, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Marx to John Dewey and many others. What Wolin shows us is how the ideas and theories represent novel ways of looking at the management of groups of people as unified political entities, cities, states, nations, and superpowers. In the words of the theorists themselves, Wolin explores how these entities are constituted and governed, and how in each, the benefits and responsibilities of membership play out. In what way are citizens required to participate? In what way are dissident members to be controlled and coerced? How are the powerful to be appeased and the poor managed?
Humans arose from the state of nature, where they were in animalistic competition with each other, to ever more complex levels of organization. Each step was an innovation. The first group to develop cross-familial cooperation and form into tribes had an advantage over those that did not. Questions of governance arose immediately. Who was part of the group? Who ruled? How was labor and how was reward apportioned? How was the common good identified? Wolin has combed through countless texts in search of the ebb and flow of political ideas.
In all of his exegesis, Wolin holds up the yardstick of democracy and searches for the popular will and the common good in each of the theories. For instance, he finds in the rejection of papal rule by the Reformation the seeds for democratic action writ small. Where Catholic diocese had once looked to Rome for guidance, the now scattered protestant communities found themselves no less in need of organizational government, and so introduced popular sovereignty into the management of their churches.
Wolin also wrestles with the issue of power in each of the theories. Machiavelli's innovation in the field was the stripping away of all religious and cultural ambiguities and reducing the problems of governance to a systematic application of power and manipulation by the Prince (and in his later writings a republican elite).
The paradox of a liberal government is that though everyone starts in the same place (in theory, and certainly not in the case of slaves and their descendants) over time inequities emerge and broaden as proven in Thomas Pickety's book, "Capital in the 21st Century." This leads inevitably to the more fortunate preying on the less fortunate. To address this inequity that becomes oppression, government is often cast in the role of redistributor, taking from one group and giving to another. The injustice of this course is atomized in the Libertarian view that any taking is wrong. Since those that have the most are most often those in power, economic rebalancing is declared anathema, the Common Good a myth (or at best a naïve concept).
The true value of "Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought," to me is how it elucidates the methods and modalities of those who would rule. All the theories cast, "the masses," as a problem to be solved, or as unformed clay to be molded, or as sheep to be led, by those in the know, led by the man behind the curtain, so to speak.
In exposing, "the man behind," Wolin has meticulously described the evolution, construction and appearance of, "the curtain." Which was the necessary preparation for our mind to be able to grasp the enormity and horror of his revelation. The curtain is power.
It is clear to me that the evolution of power is just that, evolutionary. The random mutations, which allowed Leviathan to evolve from a crude conglomeration to a smooth corporate entity, to an invisible and potent, "Superpower," were no more crafted than those that engendered the descent of the species. However arduously the political theorists have striven to describe it and to map its past, none could have extrapolated its future.
It is no wonder that the, "imperial CEO," is immune from prosecution. These are the invisible oligarchs, the Mandarins, the, "Super," villains, the men (and they are mostly men) behind the curtain. I ask, what is a man who would benefit from the common wealth but refuse to contribute to it, who would take and not give, who would amass a fortune he could never spend just to wield power over his fellows? I would call him a menace to society. Yet, those who are raised to this ethic are as much victims as the rest. The poison in the oligarchy is invisible and not understandable by either its masters nor its slaves. It moves inexorably as a macrocosmic manifestation and externalization of Human Nature. Leviathan rampant and rampaging is s***ting in his nest.
Politics and Vision is a search for true democracy in the annals of history and political theory up to the present day, but Wolin's conclusions are not heartening.
Democracy is not, as often conceived, a form of government. This is the stunning implication of Sheldon Wolin's seminal work of political theory , To Wolin, Democracy is instead, "...a moment of experience, a crystallized response to deeply felt grievances or needs on the part of those whose main preoccupation - demanding of time and energy - is to scratch out a decent existence." Democracy has never been a form of government where the, "people," ruled. In all of history, not even barring the Athenians, some form of elite has always ruled by divine right, or law, or power. "Democracy is an ephemeral phenomenon rather than a settled system."
This expanded version of the book consists of seventeen somewhat independent chapters devoted to leading political thinkers, such as Plato, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Marx, Nietzsche, and to such concepts as liberalism, community, democracy, and totalitarianism. Given the nature of the subjects the reading is slow going, though quite informative. There does seem to be a certain amount of needless repetition, even within chapters, and the overall affect is more one of fragmentation than of a unifying thread. For most, undoubtedly multiple readings would be required for full assimilation.
There will be no attempt here to offer any sort of critique of the substance of the book - a large project to be sure. There is an interesting chapter that dissects the political writings of John Rawls, the leading political theorist of the late twentieth century. The impact of Superpower and corporate dominance on the possibilities for democratic action in the current era is explored. It is clear that the notion of what is political is ever-changing and is not without its complexities.