Political Philosophy and Poetry

Allan Bloom, The American Political Science Review Vol. 54, No. 2 (June 1960).


Sigurd Burckhardt has rendered a service in providing the occasion for a thematic presentation of the principles underlying the interpretations of Shakespearean drama by Jaffa and me, to which he has taken such exception. The issue does not primarily concern literary criticism but rather has to do with the relation of art to political philosophy and, in turn, with their relation to life. Burckhardt, however, has not joined the debate on the level of the issues. He does not argue against the substance of our interpretations, and does not say wherein and why they are in error. Characteristic of his method is his offer of three statements “admittedly out of context” from my article for which he then proposes the following test: “Choose,” he says, “a jury of widely read, intelligent men, show them these statements (with the information that they are meant to describe two main characters in a play known to all of them), and then make them guess who is being talked about.” Burckhardt thinks he is “safe in claiming that there will not be a single correct identification.” The moment seems somewhat inappropriately chosen for suggesting the method of a quiz program for deciding a matter of validity. But seriously, does any scholar, however he may wish for public acceptance, make this his standard? Agreement may produce peace, but it can never by itself be a criterion of truth. In presenting my conclusions, I have a right to ask that they be tested in the light of my evidence and my arguments. In the court of scholarly judgment it is a weak argument that rests on the number of witnesses who can be summoned to support an opinion.

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