Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Correspondence

MSI writes:
Well, but we already have at least four books modeled on or inspired by the Republic (not to mention all the scifi lit)--Cicero's De Republica, the City of God, Utopia, and Emile. And Aristotle wrote dialogues, though these are lost. Clearly those must have taken a great deal from Plato. Why not skip the derivatives and deal only with the original unless either each derivative is doing something different with the template or you have an interest in historical shifts in the rhetorical presentation of the same ideas?

It's still not yet clear to me what the similarity between Plato and Rousseau was that is distinct from things discussed by other philosophers: human being vs citizen? The best education? The best city? The place of philosophy? All of these things have been discussed by nearly every great thinker and all of them have recognized the tension between the political and the philosophical. It's not even clear to me that Plato and Rousseau agreed on the answers--Plato saw much more hope I think for philosophy to remain within the city even if it would never be harmonious with the city's ends and always pose a serious potential threat. Rousseau saw society as subsuming the politics of the city, celebrating a degraded kind of philosophy, and rendering it less habitable for true philosophy (whatever that is, but presumably whatever Rousseau thought he was doing). The education of Emile creates neither a man for politics nor a man for society, and only very contingently a man for himself. Politics in Rousseau is a mostly lost cause--a preserve of idealistic fools and conniving tyrants (unless you think the Social Contract is intended as a sincere template for political life). In Plato, it's not the highest life, but neither is it the worst, since there remains a possibility for practical wisdom in politics even where perfect philosophical justice can't be instantiated.

First, I'm not saying that any book that is based upon the Republic is the same as the Republic. Or that they have nothing to offer. My point is that they don't truly understand the Republic. FLG'll let Allan Bloom, a real Straussian, defend the pairing:
Finally, in terms of my own experience of these last twenty-five years, after the Republic I translated Rousseau's Emile, the greatest modem book on education. Rousseau was one of the great readers of Plato, and from my time on that work I gained an even greater respect for the Republic. Emile is its natural companion, and Rousseau proved his greatness by entering the lists in worthy combat with it. He shows that Plato articulated first and best all the problems, and he himself differs only with respect to some of
the solutions. If one takes the two books together, one has the basic training necessary for the educational wars.

This is more than Emile is a derivative work. Bloom doesn't go as far as FLG as to say that Rousseau is Plato and the books are the same, but he does call Rousseau one of the greatest readers of Plato.

Moreover, FLG's point is that the Republic is about the soul. Unlike the other works you mention, Emile recognizes that. It's not the creation of some Republic or Utopia in Speech. It's the formation of the soul. Soulcraft as statecraft, if you will.

Second, and a rather minor point in the whole thing you argue above, but FLG associates practical wisdom in politics most with Aristotle, not Plato. Are you sure that you're not conflating them?

PS.  In reality, I've never read either of these books.  I'm gleaning all this shit from Wikipedia and Google.

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