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Review

Author(s): Mark Wegierski


Review by: Mark Wegierski
Source: The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 47, No. 1 (Sep., 1993), pp. 134-136
Published by: Philosophy Education Society Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20129457
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The Review of Metaphysics

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134 IAN BELL AND STAFF

the enigmatic ?bermensch, who, by sheer dint of a strength of will un


rivaled in late modernity, will forcibly transform the sagging political
institutions of Western Europe. This political teaching of violence and
force stands in direct opposition, Ansell-Pearson claims, to the nonvio
lent ethical teaching developed in Thus Spoke Zarathustra: "In the story
of Zarathustra's downgoing the emphasis is on the ethics of courage and
commitment; in the conception of great politics, however, the emphasis
is on force and belief (p. 224). Ansell-Pearson concludes that Nietz
sche's ethical vision of a polity beyond nihilism and resentment would
be best ensured by something like Rousseau's concern with justice?
hence the fundamental irony of Nietzsche's critique of Rousseau.
Ansell-Pearson's thesis is both provocative and promising, for Nietz
sche's critique of modernity would certainly seem to disallow any of the
recuperative schemes that are popularly attributed to him, including
those rehearsed by Ansell-Pearson. Yet the "ethical" and "political"
Nietzsches juxtaposed in this book?as well as the constitutive tension
that binds them?remain somewhat elusive. The "deluded" champion
of the will, who reactively turns to "great politics," is certainly not the
Nietzsche who wrote, for example, Twilight of the Idols, which advances
his most trenchant critique of the political institutions of modernity as
well as his classic debunking of voluntarism. Nor is the Nietzsche who
preaches an ethic of tolerance and commitment immediately discernible
in the dark pages of Zarathustra. These critical observations are not
intended, however, to detract from the formidable accomplishments of
Ansell-Pearson's book. Nietzsche contra Rousseau represents an im
portant contribution to political theory, for it sheds considerable light
on Nietzsche's oft-misunderstood critique of modernity. Ansell-Pearson
admirably demonstrates the bounties to be harvested from a serious
consideration of Nietzsche as a political theorist.?Daniel W. Conway,
The Pennsylvania State University.

Beiner, Ronald. What's the Matter With Liberalism? Berkeley: University


of California Press, 1992. viii + 197 pp. $28.00?Despite its nonschol
arly sounding title, this work is a trenchant reinterpretation of certain
crucial aspects of Aristotle's thought for the contemporary age, and an
excellent survey of the "liberal-communitarian" debate today. The au
thor seeks to restore the philosophical language and concerns of clas
sical moral theory, which he sees as having perennial importance, as
against the "thinness" of contemporary liberal theorizing. The work has
a prefatory note, including Vaclav Havel's warning about Western smug
ness, and a short Index. Footnotes, often substantial, are placed at the
bottom of the page. The author's consciously chosen strategy is to raise
problematic issues, and questions for further study, rather than to try to
establish an unassailable theoretical structure.
In the Prologue Beiner advances the idea of "the theorist as story
teller," to restore and extend the possible purview of political philoso
phy. Just as great literature is meant ultimately to offer some basis on

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SUMMARIES AND COMMENTS 135

which to meditate on the way to live, so genuine philosophy cannot


remain (or pretend to remain) strictly neutral as to what constitutes "the
good life". The second chapter, "Liberalism," points out some inade
quacies of the liberal theories, and of the common communitarian cri
tiques. Beiner criticizes "the liberal dispensation" of an "ethosless
ethos," but also eschews the label of "communitarian," embracing in
stead the "republican" ideal of a rational-discursive public realm. The
third chapter, "Moral Vocabularies," boldly lays out the contrast between
the "thinness" of the central liberal concepts of values, rights, and in
dividual autonomy vis-?-vis the Aristotelian summum bonum, unity of
the virtues, and prudence. Beiner extolls the Aristotelian idea of prac
ticed virtue accessible through phronesis as one which is readily avail
able to common human understanding and experience. The "neutrality
principle" of liberalism is exposed as a sham. Neither liberal theory
nor liberal practice can be neutral?the idea of neutrality itself presup
poses a conception of the good life.
In the fourth chapter Beiner argues that "rights talk" is a worse guide
to conduct than is "goods talk," and that the former actually leads to
intemperance and fanaticism in the polity. According to Beiner, every
thing meaningful in the debate over rights can be subsumed into the
language of the good, while rescuing society from the atomizing effects
of rights talk. The fifth chapter, "Citizenship," assails liberal theory for
neglecting the problem of citizenship in society. Beiner stresses the
importance for human beings of participation in a public realm, pointing
out the dangers of the remoteness of governmental decision-making pro
cesses today, particularly in military nuclear policy. He hopes that so
ciety's seeing political citizenship as an urgent issue will itself be a pos
itive step. The sixth chapter, "Socialism?" suggests that socialism is the
only real alternative to liberalism today. The concrete, if distinctly Uto
pian, goals of full employment, decent employment, and "the Plato prin
ciple" (no person's income in society shall exceed any other person's by
a ratio of more than five to one) are suggested as measures to be worked
toward which could begin to restore citizenship in contemporary society.
The epilogue discusses, in a generous spirit, the limits of theory. It
suggests again, following the author's interpretation of Aristotle, that
phronesis, not theoria, is the key to a good life. It calls on present-day
theory to be more critical of present-day society, especially by taking
into account different models of human existence than those preva
lent today.
The following questions are some that may be addressed to the book.
First, the disingenuously made political suggestions would realistically
require massive revolutionary changes in society (and its ruling elites)
to be accomplished. They also seem virtually impracticable economi
cally, as well as largely tangential to solving what Beiner himself calls
the "spiritual impasse." Second, there is the problem of various con
flicting ideological definitions of what is moral and immoral, good or
evil, if we accept with Beiner that human persons should strive for "the
good" to become fully human. Third, a philosophically judgmental per
spective would seem theoretically to imply the distribution of goods
based roughly on the degree of one's approach to moral virtue?if prac
ticed virtue is to be meaningfully enhanced?rather than on very

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136 IAN BELL AND STAFF

generous workfare for everyone. Fourth, Beiner's reluctance to con


sider traditional religion, nationalism, or ethnic identity?which, like so
cialism, tend toward an equalitarian ideal (albeit within one's own com
munity)?as possible answers to the problem of community, seems
programmatically to leave most human societies?possibly excepting
America?devoid of their essential definitional contents.?Mark Wegier
ski, Canadian-Polish Research Institute.

Bourke, Vernon J. Augustine's Love of Wisdom: An Introspective Philoso


phy. Purdue University Series in the History of Philosophy. West La
fayette: Purdue University Press, 1992. 234 pp. Cloth $27.00; paper
$13.75?The series of which Bourke's study is a part has two professed
aims: to engage students with the history of philosophy by way of text
and commentary, and to offer teachers of philosophy a summary account
of scholarly perspectives on important historical figures. In principle
these somewhat disparate aims can both be served if the text selected
touches upon the central concerns of the philosopher under discussion,
and if the commentary develops the appropriate connections. Naturally
this task will be more difficult for less systematic thinkers, and for think
ers less easily assimilated to the concerns of contemporary philosophers.
Having to find Augustine his place within this series, Bourke clearly had
his work cut out for him.
Part 1 of Bourke's commentary consists of a brief review of Augus
tine's life and writings, followed by an encapsulation of his sensibilities
and predilections as a philosopher. To his credit, Bourke resists the
temptation to impose a retrospective coherence on the "variety of inner
discoveries" (p. 21) which animated Augustine's lifelong quest for wis
dom. In place of edifice or architectonic, he sets forth themes and
variations in Augustine, some of method, some of substance. The prin
cipal theme, which enters into other themes as a leitmotif, is what
Bourke refers to as Augustine's introspective method, or his interiorism.
In the section of Part 1 devoted specifically to this topic, Bourke follows
the lead of Anton C. Pegis and argues that Augustinian philosophy bears
a close affinity to the interiorism of Plotinus and other Neoplatonists, in
that "Augustine's way of doing philosophy involves a turning away (av
ersio) from distractions of sense experience to the inner actions and
data of one's own consciousness" (p. 22). Like Plotinus, Augustine be
lieved that the most important realities to be comprehended?the soul
and God?had to be distinguished from physical bodies before they
could be comprehended. But Augustine's interiorism is unique in at
least two respects. He does not on the whole denigrate the body, and
he envisions the return of the soul to God in intimately personal terms.
In other words, Augustine reunites mind and body by wedding philoso
phy to confession. In his version of the quest for wisdom, the manner
of seeking, however tortuous, is ultimately incorporated within the wis
dom sought, and flesh is thereby reconciled to spirit.

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