Connecting yesterday’s thinkers


“It is tempting to compare Plato with Marx,” he writes in one early discussion; “indeed, I have done so. Like Plato, Marx looked forward to a future in which the state, law, coercion, and competition for power had vanished and politics been replaced by rational organization. But we must not press the comparison.” Here, we see his method: to look for threads, connections, while at the same time considering each thinker on his or her own. Context, for Ryan, means two things: how his subjects echo one another, and the way they reflect their times. Thus, his take on Plato begins with a portrait of the philosopher as an aristocrat with ties to the oligarchy that “briefly replaced the Athenian democracy at the end of the Peloponnesian War,” a position that influences “The Republic” and its sense of social hierarchy. “He assumes as a premise,” Ryan writes, “that we are naturally suited to different sorts of social roles, and that one of many things wrong with democratic Athens is that the wrong people end up occupying positions of power.”

more from David L. Ulin at the LA Times here.