Republic

PlatoRepublic by Plato
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The writings of Plato have been one of the cornerstones of Western thought for two and a half millennia used for both secular and religious purposes, sometimes not as he intended. Republic is one, if not the, most famous piece of Plato’s philosophical/political writings and the translation by Robin Waterfield for Oxford World’s Classics adds to the debate that surrounds it.

During a thorough 60+ page introduction to Plato’s text, Waterfield most significant translation is “morality” instead of “justice” for the Greek word dikaiosune because of the definition provided by Aristotle of the word. With this word decision and with her discussion of Plato’s complete disregard to politics, Republic turns from a work of political theory into one of philosophy concerned about the improvement of an individual’s life and not that of a Greek polis. Using the cultural terms and norms of his time, Plato sets out to express his belief that individuals can improve and better themselves outside the communal structure of Greek life. This was a radical notion given that individualism—especially as we know it today—was not a part of respectable Greek political life, the individual’s life was bound up in the community and if they went off on their own it was dangerous to the civic order and with the relationship with the gods (the charge against Socrates).

While Plato’s overall thesis is thought-provoking, some of his supporting arguments via mathematics and his lack of details about how to improve one’s morality and thus goodness are detriments to Republic’s overall quality. Although later individuals, in particular early Christian fathers, would supplement Plato with their own supporting evidence for those in the 21st Century these elements can be stumbling blocks. Even though Waterfield’s translation provided to be very readable and her notes beyond satisfactory, the constant flipping to the back of the book to read them and provide myself with the context to what she was saying while at the particular place in the text was somewhat unhelpful but footnotes at the bottom of the pages might have been worse.

Republic is one of the most significant pieces of Western literature and whether you approve of Waterfield’s translation or not, it is a very good was to look at a piece of text long-thought to mean one thing and see it as something completely different.

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The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders

The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America's FoundersThe Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders by Forrest Church
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

During my lifetime the so-called “culture war” has seen a debate about if the United States was founded as a Christian nation or not, however it turns out that this debate occurred during the nation’s founding. In The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by America’s Founders the issue of religious liberty and if the United States was a Christian nation was presented in 14 chapters of original writings of Founding Fathers and other Americans of the Revolutionary period, compiled by editor Forrest Church.

Covering a thirty year period, between 1772 and 1802, Forrest Church provided to the reader 14 writings from a variety of authors. The most famous are Presidents George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison with material before, during, and after their times in office. Other writers including not as well-known Revolutionary figures Patrick Henry and Samuel Adams as well as largely forgotten Founding Fathers now George Mason and Oliver Ellsworth. However while the well-known and historically prominent were well represented, Church also included the writings of average citizens Isaac Backus, Caleb Wallace, and John Leland to show that not only the ‘political elite’ were debating issue of religious liberty.

The strength of the entire book is the writings presented in this volume and need not be reviewed or critiqued. Although Church does his best to introduce and give context to the writings he presents, these little introductions are in fact that the only compliant one can really have with it. Given the amount of material available during this time period, Church does an admirable job in complying a number of texts from a variety of individuals to present what America’s founders thought and is a must read for anyone interested in the church-state debate in the United States.

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The Art of War

The Art of WarThe Art of War by Sun Tzu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Within “The Art of War” are three distinct though similar treatise written across over 2000 years and three different cultures that instruct the reader not only how to succeed in war but also politics and business.

The opening treatise is the titular “Art of War”, Sun Tzu gives his readers a concise yet in-depth instruction into the how to achieve victory over one’s enemies. Though less than a hundred pages in length, it has to be read carefully to get the full meaning of what the author intends to convey. Yet when boiled down, the most important lesson is simply to be aware of one’s surroundings and other people’s intentions so as to continually be prepared for all situations.

The middle treatise is Machiavelli’s “The Prince”, a how-to course in how to gain and maintain power. The pragmatic program that councils that everything one does must be solely down to maintain one’s, if in the process you must victimize a small minority of your population, so be it, but if some of your actions improve the lives of the majority of your citizens so much the better. Yet, while Machiavelli’s thoughtful approach to studying power politics is the beginning of political theory, “The Prince” is also cutting satire on the Medici who had taken over Florence ending Machiavelli’s civil career. The astute reader realizes that “The Prince” is more than it appears while also achieving its apparent main aim.

The final treatise is Frederick the Great’s “Instructions to His Generals”, in which the celebrated Prussian monarch and military commander gave guidance to his general staff about how to fight war through his own failures and achievements. Unlike Machiavelli’s call for unity or Sun Tzu’s broad principles, Frederick main goal is for the betterment of Prussia and for detailed instructions on everything connected with a military campaign. This single-mindedness and painstaking approach is a lesson in and of itself to the reader to keep their focus on the here and now so as to achieve bigger things down the road, not dream of the far-off future while sacrificing the present.

While distinct, the three treatise in this book are in fact are three different life experiences on the same thing, achieving success at whatever one attempts.

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