This book is about an epochal shift in ideas that changed the nature and meaning of coercion in modern political thought. It begins with a review of Foucault, Arendt, and Habermas, and points out a discrepancy in the way each thinker understood coercion in modern politics. From here, Varma examines Plato’s Republic, Laws, and Gorgias to provide a framework and context for thinking about this. As the author shows, each work demonstrates a particular style of Platonic statecraft that corresponds to the amount of power the philosopher holds in a city. The Republic demonstrates the philosopher’s rule as a monarch; the Laws demonstrates his rule when he must share power with a few spirited statesmen; and the Gorgias demonstrates his rule in a democracy where power belongs to the people. Ultimately, Varma argues that the philosopher used coercion as a supplementary tool to help harmonize man’s soul with the heavens. When Hobbes recast the cosmos as matter in motion, however, power became the highest ordering principle for political life.
Robin Varma is communications officer at Health Canada. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Carleton University.
Introduction: Why We Should Inquire
Chapter 1: The Republic
Chapter 2: The Laws
Chapter 3: The Gorgias
Conclusion: Coercion in the Statecraft of Hobbes
A thought-provoking and exceptionally original exploration of the role of punishment and coercion in Platonic political theory and the limitations of rhetoric and education in shaping the characters of good citizens. Especially noteworthy is his interpretation of the Laws where he demonstrates that, contrary to the long-standing assumption that Plato had "come to his senses" in that work about the prospects of a perfect society where philosophy would rule, there is a very strong philosophic presence in the Athenian Stranger’s statecraft. By way of conclusion, he contrasts the Platonic approach to the role of coercion in political life with that of Hobbes, throwing the classical paradigm into sharp relief against a major exemplar of modern political thought. A must-read for everyone interested in Platonic political theory.
What is the proper role of coercion and punishment in statecraft? This work illuminates the question afresh by orchestrating a titanic debate: Plato’s account of penal legislation, in his political philosophy of statecraft as soulcraft, vs the accounts elaborated by three recent major political theorists—Arendt, Habermas, and Foucault, with an inquiry back into their shared roots in Hobbes. The result is a deeply provocative perspective on the philosophy of crime and punishment.
[A] breathtaking analysis…. Varma’s reflection is deeply insightful and prescient.