Don Dombowsky (Bishops University, Canada) has a new book out: Nietzsche and Napoleon: The Dionysian Conspiracy (University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2014. 9781783160969). He has previous publications in this field, including a chapter in *Nietzsche as Political Philosopher*, which I co-edited for De Gruyter. Probably the world’s leading commentator on Nietzsche’s attitude to Napoleon and Bonpartism. Certainly a recommended book for everyone working on Nietzsche and on Bonaparte’s legacy.
My latest contribution to the group blog Notes On Liberty. Some thoughts on Seneca
Originally posted on Notes On Liberty:
Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger (4-65 CE) was born in the Roman Spanish city of Cordoba. Southern Spain was one of the most Romanised parts of the Roman Empire outside Italy , so it is not surprising that Seneca made his way to Rome where he became a writer and it seems a money lender. He was also tutor to and then adviser to the Emperor Nero. He had previously been in conflict with the Emperor Claudius, for own known reasons, and was exiled to Corsica for a while as a consequence.
Seneca’s writing career covered philosophical essays, tragedies, and letters which amounted to an exploration of his philosophical interests. He followed the Stoic school of philosophy, which goes back to the Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium (334-226BCE), and was influential on the Roman upper classes. So much so that the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180CE) wrote his Meditations with regard…
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The emergence of republicanism as a major stream in political theory and philosophy, as well as history of political ideas, since I suppose the 1980s, but since the late nineties for political philosophy in the normative Rawlsian style, is a highly welcome phenomenon from my point of view. That does not mean I have no criticisms. For example, it seems to me that much of it has gone a bit far in the direction of equating the active liberty of the citizen in republics of the past with a very equality oriented sense of distributive justice. Despite the historical consciousness that republicanism has helped to bring more into theoretical discussions, some areas of historically oriented relevant discussion have not been dealt with adequately so far. This particularly applies to Foucault, and his discussions of antiquity, which is a strange omission in that Quentin Skinner claims to have taken inspiration from Foucault, at least in questions of method.
However, in the present post, I will focus on another issue, which is the narrow range of republics considered. The standard range is ancient Athens (sometimes compared with Sparta), Ancient Rome, Renaissance Florence (maybe compared with Venice), England in the era of the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth, the political awakening of the British colonies in America, incorporating the foundation of the United States, and finally the French Revolution though that tends to be given less attention than the Anglo-American revolutions. Interest in Spinoza’s political theory has not in my experience led to much consideration of the Dutch Revolt and the Dutch Republic, though the republican impulse has probably led to a bit more attention being paid than would otherwise be the case
For the rest click here.
Originally posted on Notes On Liberty:
Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) was a prominent lawyer, politician, and thinker in the last years of the Roman Republic. His death was a murder in revenge for his attacks on Marcus Antonius (known in English as Mark Anthony), in the form of a speech in the Senate against tyranny known as the First Philippic. It is known as the Philippic in tribute to the speeches of Demosthenes (384-322 BC), which attacked the tyranny of Philipp II of Macedon over Athens and the other Greek city states.
The background to this is that the Roman Republic had been falling into the hands of military strong men for some time, who stretched the institutions and laws of the republic in order to exercise supreme power. Gaius Julius Caesar was the last in this sequence. After his conquest of Gaul (France) he taken supreme power in Rome out of a mixture extreme…
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Originally posted on Notes On Liberty:
As I start writing voting is coming to an end in Scotland with regard to a referendum on whether Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom comprises England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. There are those in Cornwall, a peninsula on the extreme south-west of England who argue that is should be represented as an entity on level with those four components of the UK, as it was regarded as distinct from England into the sixteenth century, never having being properly incorporated into Roman Britannia or Anglo-Saxon Wessex (the Old English kingdom in the south west, which became the nucleus of the Medieval English state).
From the 10th century onwards Anglo-Saxon kings asserted supremacy over Scotland with varying degrees of success in obtaining some recognition of overlordship from Scottish kings. Wars between Scotland and England led to victory for Scotland in the fourteenth century when the…
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Originally posted on Notes On Liberty:
This historically based exploration of writing on liberty now reaches the point where the Greek world has fallen under the domination of Rome, but even at this point we can see that the Greek language and heritage will continue to be important in a Roman dominated Mediterranean, particularly in the eastern parts, leaving the legacy of the Christian Gospels in Greek, the fifth and sixth century CE transformation of the eastern Roman Empire into a Greek Empire , still known to itself as Rome, but to us as Byzantium. In Polybius we see the beginning of a history of major writing in Greek within the Roman world, which continued through many areas of thought, producing major classics at least up until the philosophy of Plotinus in the third century CE. The founding figure of the Byzantine system, the Emperor Justinian took Christian teachings to the extreme of closing the Academy…
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Extract from a research proposal expanding on work in progress regarding the philosophy of the novel, lightly edited to make it suitable for posting on a blog
The aim is to set up the account of the novel in Vico and later thinkers about the novel, through a survey of literary aesthetics before Hegel. This will overlap with Vico’s time, though Vico will only be considered later in the project. This slight anomaly is necessary to give a full account of what Hegel was reacting to and is justified by the lack of obvious influence from Vico on literary aesthetics, or thought in general until the eighteenth century. Vico’s thought itself does not draw in any obvious way on literary aesthetics after Horace, and can therefore be treated with some detachment from work in that area after the age of Augustus. The survey will commence with Plato’s thoughts on the role of poetry particularly in the Republic, but also in dialogues such as Phaedrus and Ion where the theme also appears. The aim will be to look at how Plato defines the different parts of poetry, and the reasons he has for moral disapprobation of some parts. This will be followed by a discussion of Aristotle’s Poetics, agains drawing on other texts, such as the Rhetoric when it is appropriate. The focus will be on the account of epic, as the most obvious forerunner of the modern novel, but attention will be paid to all aspects of what he says, where it is relevant to the modern novel, which as will be discussed across chapters, tends to incorporate all aspects of poetics or literature.
The discussion will then move onto some discussion of Longinus On the Sublime and the Horace’s Art of Poetry to complete the understanding of antique perspectives on literary texts. Given the relative lack of influential texts on literary genres, and other material about the nature of literature, in antiquity and the Middle Ages, the discussion will make a jump from antiquity to the Renaissance. The era of Rabelais and then the era of Cervantes appropriately overlap respectively with the earlier and later parts of the life of Montaigne, the greatest of the Renaissance essayists, and the nearest thing to an inventor of the essay as a major form of writing. It is in Montaigne that the form of the essay, and of the essay collection finds an extreme exemplar, where digression and shifting perspectives take place within essays and across a whole series of essays, which themselves have narrative and fictional aspects. They also mark the decomposition of antique assumptions about the comprehensibility of the world and the self, of a natural alliance of will and reason to control desire, which is part of the emergence of the novel, of the looseness of prose in narrative as opposed to the structure of classical poetic metres. The Renaissance and early modern essay is not only developed in the self-conscious self-referring thoughts of Montaigne but in apparently more strictly political and philosophical writing.
Machiavelli’s thoughts on the politics of princes and republics are an expression of the still relatively new power of prose writing in Italian, or the capture of antiquity in the modern languages, as well as of the importance of imagination, symbolism and narrative in constructing theories of power and of political forms. Like Don Quixote, The Prince and The Discourses expose illusions; like Rabelais and Montaigne, Machiavelli shows that a mixture of antique authority and sceptical imagination is the basis of writing, of any kind of writing which shows the cultural energy and tensions of the age, rather than the kind of formalised discourse, which tries to expel context.
Even the mathematically inclined philosopher Descartes, wrote sometimes in ways which bring narrative and imagination into the exposition of pure philosophical principles. Those are his most widely read writings Discourse on Method and Meditations on the First Principles of Philosophy. The cultural continuity with Cervantes is apparent in references of the Discourse on Method to a mind dominated by thoughts of knights, magic, and the like. Both are concerned with the description of the world both as a set of representations cleared of anomalous representations, which cannot be clearly said to represent real entities or clear thinking processes; and the extreme multiplicity of forms when the criteria of existence is representability, rather than any kind of intelligible and purposive substance. It is the openness and less hierarchical language of the novel compared with epic, which allows for both the rationality of existence and its inexhaustible pluralism.
These themes in Descartes are taken up broadly speaking in a rationalist continental traditions and an empiricist British tradition, which feed into aesthetic thought. The process continues during the seventeenth century into the eighteenth with the continuing exploration of the issues raised by Machiavelli, Montaigne and Descartes in political though, essays and philosophy as in Grotius, Pascal, Spinoza, Leibniz, and Locke. The idea of a covenant or contract at the basis of state and law brings narrative and fiction into political thought, which forms part of the context of the novel, as it will exist in the eighteenth century.
Another focus here will be on the aphorisms of La Rochefoucauld and La Bruyère, which set up a kind of store of perspectives on the passions and their conflicts for the use of novelists, in a form which is not novelistic, but is open to integration into the psychological intimacy and speculation, which is part of the nature of the novel. These moral aphorisms are also a major source for a philosophical ethics of scepticism and subjectivity, which is a challenge to the idea of a world and a human self structured by moral purposes.
The final part of the discussion will look at the aesthetic and literary aesthetic thought of the early modern period that draws on, or parallels, the material above. That will include the ways in Wolff’s aesthetics develop’s Leibniz’ metaphysics and Shaftesbury’s development of Lockean empiricism in ways that lean more towards Platonism than Locke himself, and which incorporates discussion of aesthetics. British ideas about aesthetics and literature will then be traced through Hutcheson, Hume, and Burke. Finally there will be a return to continental philosophy, with regard to the philosophical aesthetics of Kant, which aims to synthesise rationalist and empiricist approaches. For Kant there will be a concentrate on the nature of poetry and the place of ‘common sense’ in aesthetic judgement. The exploration of a diverse range of material over a long period will be unified by a concern for the ways in which various aspects of previous aesthetic thinking, philosophical reflection on literature, literary style in philosophy, and connected themes in philosophy and literature, are taken up within the novel as a form and reflection on the novel from Vico onwards. It can be thought of as a discussion of the deep history or preparation for the philosophy of the novel.