Garry W. Runciman

 

On his book Great Books, Bad Arguments: Republic, Leviathan, and The Communist Manifesto

Cover Interview of June 21, 2010

A close-up

I would hope that potential readers who come across the book in their local or campus bookstore will either, having glanced at the opening pages, be sufficiently intrigued to glance at the concluding ones, or vice versa.  Even a casual glance at either should be enough to make the potential reader aware that the book is deliberately intended to be provocative.

I have little doubt that there will be specialists in Platonic, Hobbesian, and Marxian studies who will regard some of my criticisms as exaggerated, misconceived, or fallacious.  But I believe that the attempts to rebut my criticisms, whether successful or not, will in themselves contribute to the understanding of how and why the three texts have sustained their enduring reputation.

If, accordingly, there is a single aspect of the book on which I would like prospective readers to focus it is its combination of provocative questioning with underlying seriousness of purpose.

Republic, Leviathan, and The Communist Manifesto are great books.  Their themes are as relevant in the 21st century world as they were in the worlds of Plato, Hobbes, or Marx.  But that should not lead them to be exempted from criticism with the benefit of hindsight from a perspective inevitably different from their own.