Ahistorical Admonitions

"One age cannot be completely understood if all others are not understood. The song of history can only be sung as a whole."
—Ortega y Gasset

In The Politics of Human Nature, Thomas Fleming has boldly undertaken to delineate a system of natural politics. A classicist by training, Fleming believes that "the collapse of Roman authority in the West created a crisis from which political thinking has never quite recovered." Since that collapse, the vision of the lost unity of Rome's dominion has haunted political thinking, much as the vision of a lost Eden has haunted Christianity. In our own time, the destructive forces of modern technology have transformed that unrealizable, universalist dream into a nightmare that threatens our very survival. Yet the dream persists, according to Fleming, largely because of the natural—and not inherently evil—human propensity to seek simple solutions to complex questions. Evoking Aristotle, his main intellectual hero, Fleming reminds us that we are by nature eager to know. The trouble arises when our eagerness to know—to create some comprehensible order out of the apparent disorder of life—leads us into abstractions that ride roughshod over the reality of our nature and relations.

Beginning with Thomas Hobbes (one of Fleming's leading villains), political theorists have increasingly...

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