First installment in my new college essays series: This is one of the essays I wrote during the political theory general exam for my PhD. The exam was an approximately 15-hour marathon session, involving 6 out of 12 essay questions, for a final total of 33 double-spaced pages written without access to any notes or sources.
In Thoughts on Machiavelli, Leo Strauss wrote that “Machiavelli does not bring to light a single phenomenon of any fundamental importance which was not fully known to the classics.” I have not yet read Strauss’s book, so I cannot speak for him regarding what precisely he meant by this statement but I suspect that what he meant bears some similarity to a growing sense within me that the ancient Greeks developed, at least in essence and prototypical form, every or most major philosophical positions that have been advocated at one time or another in modernity. If anything is fundamentally new about modern political philosophy, I think that it lies in the sheer predominance and popular acceptance of certain of these philosophical positions: namely, those related to the positivist-empiricist-historicist paradigm of our age. Modernity is plagued by a host of artificial dichotomies, reified abstractions such as realism-idealism, rationalism-empiricism, mind-body, Self-Other, subjective-objective, science vs. philosophy and foundationless value-judgments, and so forth. Classical or premodern political philosophy might be characterized by the search for right order, modern political philosophy by the search for order simplicitor, and postmodern political philosophy by giving up on the search for order altogether (moral, immoral, or amoral) (but perhaps this last is starting to change?). I find that these are dominant trends only, however; exceptions abound.