Garry W. Runciman


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

Cover Interview of June 20, 2010


The significance of the book is proportionate to the significance of its implications for the questions of perennial interest and importance which Republic, Leviathan, and The Communist Manifesto address.

Plato was not wrong in thinking that intellectual reasoning can be applied to the enhancement of human wellbeing.  Hobbes was not wrong in thinking that the protection afforded by the state imposes reciprocal obligations on the part of those it protects.  Marx was not wrong in thinking that arrangements can be devised which will constrain the inequalities of power which arise from unregulated competition. I am at pains to make this much clear in my book.

I also draw particular attention to the work of Elinor Ostrom, who has been awarded a Nobel Prize since I wrote, as one of the outstanding contributions of recent behavioural science to Hobbes’s central preoccupation with the need, as he saw, for binding agreements to be underwritten by the sanction of force.

If my book can persuade readers both to look back at the three deservedly famous texts in the light of my comments—and thereby be prompted to catch up with the best of the recent sociological research which bears on the issues they raise,—it will have achieved its purpose.

© 2010 W. G. Runciman