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The Greek Tradition in Republican Thought

The Greek Tradition in Republican Thought


Part of Ideas in Context

  • Date Published: February 2006
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521024280

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About the Authors
  • The Greek Tradition in Republic Thought completely rewrites the standard history of republican political theory. It excavates an identifiably Greek strain of republican thought which attaches little importance to freedom as non-dependence and sees no intrinsic value in political participation. This tradition's central preoccupations are not honour and glory, but happiness (eudaimonia) and justice - defined, in Plato's terms, as the rule of the best men. This set of commitments yields as startling readiness to advocate the corrective redistribution of wealth, and even the outright abolition of private property. The Greek tradition was revived in England during the early sixteenth century and was broadly influential throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Its exponents included Sir Thomas More, James Harrington, Montesquieu and Thomas Jefferson, and it contributed significantly to the ideological underpinnings of the American Founding as well as the English Civil Wars.

    • A major reinterpretation of a crucial moment in western intellectual history
    • Strong translatlantic appeal, with a vital American dimension to the story
    • Profoundly learned and broad-based in its sources and range of argument
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '… a work of enviable accomplishment and great acumen throughout.' John Dunn, King's College, Cambridge

    'Nelson's account of More … is supple and elegant … the writing is clear and engaging, a thesis forcefully presented, and close reading of particular texts outlined and provocative assessments made that build on the author's previous work on Machiavelli … Nelson offers a provocative and original interpretation …' History of European Ideas

    '… the book has much to commend it. Nelson has written a work that provides a fresh perspective on early modern republican political theory was firmly rooted in central texts of Greek moral and political philosophy has great merit, as long as we keep firmly in mind that this tradition seems to reflect early modern republicans; apparent interpretations of ancient Greek texts … Nelson's book also allows us to consider what he would call 'Greek' elements, which may have had a positive impact on the thought of the American founders … His book provides a fine elucidation of the idea of a 'balance of justice' and egalitarian principles in the distribution of wealth and property in society, which we find in the 'Greek tradition' … Nelson's study should prove to be of enduring value for our understanding of the republican tradition.' Polis

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2006
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521024280
    • length: 320 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 18 mm
    • weight: 0.47kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Note on conventions
    1. Greek nonsense in More's Utopia
    2. The Roman agrarian laws and Machiavelli's modi privati
    3. James Harrington and the 'balance of justice'
    4. 'Prolem cum matre creatam': the background to Montesquieu
    5. Montesquieu's Greek republics
    6. The Greek tradition and the American Founding
    Coda: Tocqueville and the Greeks

  • Author

    Eric Nelson, Harvard University, Massachusetts
    Eric Nelson has been a Research Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and is currently a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows, Harvard University. This is his first book.

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