The Classics and the Moderns

Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, studies and teaches political philosophy. He has written on Edmund Burke and the nature of political parties, on Machiavelli and the invention of indirect government, in defense of a defensible liberalism and in favor of a Constitutional American political science. He has also written on the discovery and development of the theory of executive power, and has translated three books of Machiavelli’s and (with the aid of his wife) Tocqueville's Democracy in America. His book on manliness has just been published. He was Chairman of the Government Department from 1973-1977, has held Guggenheim and NEH Fellowships, and has been a Fellow at the National Humanities Center. He won the Joseph R. Levenson award for his teaching at Harvard, received the Sidney Hook Memorial award from the National Association of Scholars, and in 2004 accepted a National Humanities Medal from the President.  He has hardly left Harvard since his first arrival in 1949, and has been on the faculty since 1962.

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TRANSCRIPT

Question: What inspires you?

Harvey Mansfield: What most inspires me is Plato and Aristotle I have to say, and the notion of the possibility of returning to their thought. They were classical philosophers, classical political philosophers. Classical means “original”. And it also means “best”. Those two somehow go together. The original is best because philosophy and political philosophy after Plato and Aristotle become more academic … more covered over with received opinion, with schools of thought. But if you go back to Plato and Aristotle, you’ll see philosophy as it was getting going. And as it was getting going, it somehow got to be better than it’s ever been since.

Recorded on: 6/13/07

 


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