Light From Elsewhere

In the beginning, the poetic birth of the city becomes visible in the Iliad in the warrior camp of the Achaeans, in what Pierre Manent calls—in one of his most striking formulations—the “republic of quarrelsome persuasion.”  We are not, of course, concerned here with the city as defined by, say, urbanology or archaeology, but with the city “invented by the ancient Greeks,” the very crux of the Western dynamic.  For the purposes of political theory, the city is not an agglomeration of people drawn together—as we moderns would have it—for reasons of commercial exchange; it is, rather, the place where the struggle between the many and the few is enacted and mediated, a struggle in which the many are persuaded to submit to, while at the same time being given a share in, the values of the few—the descendants of Homer’s aristocratic warriors.  In this discovery of the “common thing,” the city was born.  Most importantly, the emergence of the city can be understood as the “domestication” of war through the discovery of political justice—“justice” here meaning the standard of value in the quest for the common good.

In his Introduction, Manent indicates that this, his most ambitious work, is an “interpretation of the political development of the West,” but it is also...

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