A Second Look

Insecure Liberalism

As I was reading my monthly Bible—guess what that is—I came across an enthusiastic review of a book, written by a French political philosopher, Pierre Manent, entitled Metamorphoses of the City.  I rushed to buy a copy.

The book purports to be an account of the evolution of European political systems from the days of Homer to our present time.  An exciting challenge, but the result is rather paradoxical.  The author is basically an historian of philosophy and offers, most of the time, a rather clear though often disputable presentation of a succession of political doctrines in lieu of political systems.  However, they are rather loosely related, and the further one reads, the more nagging the simple question becomes: What does the author want to prove, or even to say?  What issue is he tackling?  What general idea runs through the book?  One feels very much as if one is reading Leo Strauss: The more one understands every word or chapter—even if to disagree—the hazier the rationale for the succession of notions.  The contrast is striking between the fuzziness of the general purpose and the utter precision and almost picky erudition of the comments on each author.  What is interesting when describing an evolution is to understand why one stage leads to another, which is precisely what the reader is hard put to assess in this particular case.  The author...

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