Posted: July 15, 2014
BOOKS IN BRIEF
Aristotle, translated and with an Introduction, Notes, and Glossary by Carnes Lord
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984
284 pp., $35.00
Carnes Lord translates the famous first lines of The Politics as follows:
Since we see that every city is some sort of partnership, and that every partnership is constituted for the sake of some good (for everyone does everything for the sake of what is held to be good), it is clear that all partnerships aim at some good, and that the partnership that is most authoritative of all and embraces all the others does so particularly, and aims at the most authoritative good of all. This is what is called the city or the political partnership.
Already we see the difficulty of Lord's enterprise and our admiration for his fine accomplishment grows. His rendering of the Greek raises numerous questions in our minds: "City" is certainly preferable to "state," but no English word can adequately translate polis. Does "partnership" (for koinonia) not carry with it too much of the world of American business? Later, Lord will render chrematistike by "expertise in business." (However, "community" has been corrupted by sociology; perhaps "association" would have been preferable.) "[I]s constituted" is a particularly felicitous rendering of sunestekuian, but "what is held to be good" brings out too strongly the force of the conventional or what is prescribed, in Aristotle's tou gar einai dokountos agathou. The simpler translation, "what seems to be good" is preferable. "[P]articularly" for malistacan cause confusion, but so can other possibilities-"most of all," "especially," or "emphatically."
One might quarrel as well with Lord's translation of the first lines of Book III; should not Aristotle's question ti pot' estin he polis be left a question: Whatever is the polis?Later in Book III Lord translates ". . .it belongs to one philosophizing in connection with each sort of inquiry and not merely looking toward action not to overlook or omit anything, but to make clear the truth concerning each thing" (1279bl2). This is difficult going, but it is surely faithful to the original. Yet even here, one might object, is not "merely" a poor choice for monon, which is usually translated as "solely"? Thus, as these few examples suggest, one's understanding of Aristotle is constantly refined by reading this translation.
Not insignificant is the readability of the pages, which contain the minimum of notes and interpolations. Endnotes of modest length (making fine use of contemporary German scholarship) are included in the back of the text. The Glossary will be extremely useful for students, though the scholarly Introduction will be too much for most undergraduates. Finally, Lord does not allow his belief that Books 7 and 8 were originally placed between Books 3 and 4 to affect his own ordering of the Books.
A longer review is required for adequate reflection on the relationship between the translation and certain interpretations of Aristotle. But for now suffice if to say that this book should be issued in paperback as soon as possible. Lord's translation is clearly the best available. It will do for the careful study of Aristotle's Politics, especially with undergraduate students, what the Bloom and Pangle translations have done for the Republic and the Laws of Plato.
The Lost Soul of American Politics: Virtue, Self-Interest, and the Foundations of Liberalism
John P. Diggins
New York: Basic Books, 1984
xiii + 409 pp., $23.95
The jacket of this book proclaims it as "a provocative new interpretation of American political thought from the Founding Fathers to the Neo-Conservatives." Yet what John P. Diggins has written can be called "new" only in a marketing sense. Diggins has written an account of certain 20th-century interpretations of American political thought; that is, he has not interpreted the Founders, but rather what historians have said about the Founders. That the two are not the same is, from the point of view of an intellectual historian, of course, irrelevant. Indeed, he is quite candid that this intention guides the book: "This work attempts a new analysis of an old argument." The "old argument" Diggins would revive is that of Louis Hartz and Richard Hofstadter. Unlike more recent writers, who "rejected the idea of a liberal tradition in America, I do not deny that liberalism has dominated this country's political culture" (p. 6). Diggins examines most of the major figures in American political and intellectual life from the Founders through Lincoln. Strangely, however, the book is silent on what is surely today the guiding transformation of American liberalism, that which took place, from the Progressive Era to the New Deal.
Diggins sees all of the American past through the eyes of others and asks why they have understood it as they have. As for the present, which he presumably sees through his own eyes, he reveals himself to be an unabashed partisan of liberalism in its contemporary political form (the book is dedicated to the late San Francisco Mayor George Moscone). It should not be surprising that those whom he regards as authoritative commentators on America have a certain predictable view of the American tradition.
That his sources should mislead him is not surprising, for he limits himself almost exclusively to 20th-century sources, using them as a shield between himself and the texts he examines. The result is a work that is tertiary at best. Diggins thus-perhaps unwittingly-advances the project of modern history to bury the past beneath ever-deeper piles of interpretation. Space permits one example: Diggins throughout the book uses the adjective "classical" in an extremely loose and imprecise way to refer to the thought of such modern philosophers as Machiavelli. He here follows J. G. A. Pocock, who, among others, used the term "classical republicans" to characterize the thought of those modern thinkers who looked to classical antiquity for republican models. That the classical republicans are not necessarily the same as the classics goes without saying, and it is careless, especially in a history of ideas, so casually to confuse them.
Diggins is clearly out of his depth here, and it shows.
The Prick of Noon
Boston: Little, Brown, 1985
233 pp., $14.95
Take the best moments you spent in conversation with a drunken English professor, and you have the experience of reading a Peter DeVries novel. But in addition to the wit, the incomparable punning, DeVries's novels always contain sobering reflections on contemporary morality.
Consider his previous novel, Slouching Towards Kalamazoo, which described the maturation of a precocious boy who impregnates his junior high school teacher. She in turn mocks the locals by wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a large scarlet A+. We need not embrace the morality of Hawthorne's America to criticize our own, and this DeVries encourages us to do. He is clearly a humorist in the tradition of Aristotle, who gave wittiness an honored place in his list of virtues, and his novels exemplify this moral virtue.
The Prick of Noon (see Romeo and Juliet, II. iv. 113) begins: "The trouble with treating people as equals is that the first thing you know they may be doing the same thing to you." In this case Eddie Teeters (a high school drop-out from Arkansas) wants not only to bed but to wed a patrician journal publisher, Cynthia Pickles. The confidence man must, however, conceal the source of his wealth: pseudonymously writing,
narrating, and "acting" in what he maintains are educational erotic films (with titles such as Tool Suite). His way with words persuades the sophisticated Connecticut suburbanites he meets that he is at least their social equal. But would he be happier with waitress Toby Snapper, who mocks his painstakingly acquired sophistication, by speaking in Cockney? Menaced by both a motorcycle gang and the Moral Majority, he escapes most of his problems with bon mots such as "O tempura, O mores!" But human happiness cannot be obtained through quips; more to the point is being someone worthy of being loved.