Review of Grundlinien der antiken Rechts- und Staats-philosophie, by Alfred Verdross-Rossberg, Social Research, Vol. 14, No. 1 (March 1947). Reprinted in What is Political Philosophy?
It goes almost without saying that the picture drawn by Verdross of Greek political thought comes nearer the truth than the national- socialist version, which played such a great role in national-socialist indoctrination. This does not mean that Verdross’ presentation is always, or even fundamentally, satisfactory. It is a presentation that must be characterized as conventional, and the convention it follows is the product, or the residue, of the studies made by nineteenth- and twentieth-century classical scholars, as well as of the tradition of classical political philosophy which has never been completely interrupted. Conventions of this kind are necessarily composed of true and false, of profound and superficial, of proved and hypothetical elements. Their greatest danger lies in the fact that they inevitably breed a sense of familiarity with their subject matter- a sense of familiarity that in its turn leads one to underestimate the difficulties obstructing the understanding of the subject matter. The beginning of understanding is wonder or surprise, a sense of the bewildering or strange character of the subject to be understood. Convention- bred familiarity is apt to preclude that crucial experience.