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Plutarch's Politics
Between City and Empire


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  • Date Published: September 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107148789

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About the Authors
  • Plutarch's Lives were once treasured. Today they are studied by classicists, known vaguely, if at all, by the educated public, and are virtually unknown to students of ancient political thought. The central claim of this book is that Plutarch shows how the political form of the city can satisfy an individual's desire for honor, even under the horizon of empire. Plutarch's argument turns on the difference between Sparta and Rome.  Both cities stimulated their citizens' desire for honor, but Sparta remained a city by linking honor to what could be seen first-hand, whereas Rome became an empire by liberating honor from the shackles of the visible. Even under the rule of a distant power, however, allegiances and political actions tied to the visible world of the city remained. By resurrecting statesmen who thrived in autonomous cities, Plutarch hoped to rekindle some sense of the city's enduring appeal.

    • Proposes a new reading of Plutarch's Lives, focused on these texts as works of political philosophy
    • Links Plutarch's concerns to contemporary attempts to balance local, national and global commitments
    • Develops the concept of 'political form' - city, nation, empire - as distinct from the concept of 'political regime'
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    • Winner, 2017 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

    Reviews & endorsements

    'A remarkable study of Plutarch that reminds us of the honor in which he was once held and that seeks to rescue his analysis of honor and honor-lovers from our jaded unconcern. Hugh Liebert offers an elegant introduction to the political thought of Hellenism.' Harvey Mansfield, Harvard University and Stanford University

    'Every once in a while, someone publishes a book that causes everyone familiar with the subject to say, 'That is obvious. Why did no one say it before?' Hugh Liebert's Plutarch's Politics is just such a book, and it will have a major impact on the future study of the biographer. It is the first to examine in a systematic fashion Plutarch's Lives from a regime perspective. It is elegant - written with vigor and verve. Its author has a thorough knowledge of the parallel lives and the Moralia, of the writers to whom Plutarch is responding, and of the pertinent secondary literature. The book that he has written is brief and terse, and it makes a powerful - nay, a compelling - case for Plutarch's importance as a political thinker of the very first rank.' Paul Rahe, Hillsdale College, Michigan

    'This is a marvellous guide for reading the Lives as a genre of political philosophy.' Mark Shiffman, The Review of Politics

    'The associate professor of political science at the US Military Academy aims to reinstate Plutarch, who invented the literary form of the Lives as the instrument of his political teaching, in the canon of political theory relevant for contemporary discussion … Plutarch believed that showing the human being in political action was essential. The Life does even more, providing 'an intimate portrait, replete with candid anecdotes and memorable sayings', so that readers can see into the character of those held in the highest esteem by their peers.' Rebecca Burgess, Liberty and Law (

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2016
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107148789
    • length: 284 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 19 mm
    • weight: 0.59kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I:
    1. Ancients and moderns
    2. Ambition and political form
    Part II:
    3. Lives
    4. Lycurgus's Sparta
    5. Numa's Rome
    6. Parallels
    7. Conclusion

  • Author

    Hugh Liebert, United States Military Academy
    Hugh Liebert is an Associate Professor of Political Science in the Department of Social Sciences at the United States Military Academy.


    • Winner, 2017 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

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