Review of David Grene: Man in His Pride

Review of Man in His Pride: A Study in the Political Philosophy of Thucydides and Plato, by David Grene, Social Research, Vol. 18, No. 3 (September 1951).  Reprinted in What Is Political Philosophy?


He is more concerned with bringing to light and to life the hidden drama of the souls of Thucydides and Plato, or the human reality of fifth-century Athens as reflected in Thucydides’ and Plato’s minds, than with articulating their political philosophies proper, that is, their reasoned views of the nature of political things and the right social order. He thus makes his readers see many things in Thucydides and Plato which would escape the large majority of those whose profession it is to teach philosophy. With gratifying candor he takes the responsibility for his basic premise by using the terms “political philosophy” and “political opinions” or “political beliefs” synonymously.

The book may be said, if not to prove, at any rate to suggest the following thesis. Political philosophy emerged in fifth-century Athens, in a society that was particularly dose to our own: both then and now “it is man and man alone, without cosmic or supernatural sanction, who is both the source and the resolution of conflict.” In the extreme situation in which man lived in fifth-century Athens, Thucydides and Plato “defined the range within which … all political speculation in the West can be seen to move.” This would seem to mean that the two classics of political philosophy are opposed to each other; Grene uses the word “polarity.” By implication he rejects the accepted view, which may be stated as holding that the Sophists (and riot Thucydides) stand at the opposite pole to Plato; and that modern political philosophy has transcended the limits within which all classic political philosophy remained. One might wish that the author had shown why the political teachings of Thucydides and Plato can be said to mark “the limits within which, in its view of political man, our Western tradition has developed.” But one could say in defense of Grene’s reserve that we are barely beginning to discern the region in which the answer to questions of this kind, nay the proper formulation of questions of this kind, has to be sought.

Grene notes a kinship between Thucydides’ opinions and those that Plato attributed to Thrasymachus and Callicles: he speaks of Thucydides’ “Materialism.” But, he adds, Thucydides “may have seen [in certain phenomena] the transcendence of the materialism in which he believed.”