The Problem of Classical Greatness in Modernity

Date

2023-05-04

Authors

Padley, Nathan

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Worldwide access

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Abstract

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle provides a description of a great-souled man. By analyzing this description and the lives of three of the greatest of the ancients, Sulla, Alexander, and Pericles, I propose an understanding of classical greatness. I then contrast this greatness with the type of political leadership that tends to dominate modern democracies: the middle-manager leader foretold by Tocqueville and described by Weber. To explain the decline of greatness in modernity, I examine the works of Machiavelli, Bacon, and Hobbes to show the ways in which modern political theory has undermined classical greatness. Next, I use the lives of Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Charles de Gaulle to show that greatness is still possible in modernity, but that it differs from the classical model expounded by Aristotle. Finally, I place the three great ancients and the three great moderns that I have chosen as examples into side-by-side comparisons to show the similarities and differences between classical and modern greatness.

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Political Philosophy

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