The Methods of Voegelin, Strauss, and Arendt –Part 2
by Barry Cooper
Professor Cooper has edited three volumes of the Collected Works. He has authored numerous essays and books relating to Voegelin, most recently, Beginning the Quest:Law and Politics in the Early Work of Eric Voegelin. This essay is taken from his Eric Voegelin and the Foundations of Modern Political Science (University of Missouri Press) and appears with permission. It is presented in six parts. Part 1 may be read HERE.
Leo Strauss and Eric Voegelin (continued)
Understanding The Prince
Pushing this line of interpretation [tyrant vs. ruler] further, Voegelin then argued that the opposition Strauss maintained as existing between Xenophon’s mirror of the prince, Cyropaedia, and the mirror of the tyrant, Hiero, was not the whole story.
In one respect, the two dialogues were on the same side, namely, both texts explored the question of establishing a new rulership “that will make an end to the dreary overturning of democracies and tyrannies in the Hellenic polis.”
By this interpretation, the apparent opposition of the perfect king and the improved tyrant may be nothing more than an artifact of Xenophon’s inadequate conceptual vocabulary. The comparison with Machiavelli, which was stressed by Strauss, sharpened the issue.
By Strauss’s interpretation, the tendency of both Hiero and The Prince to neglect the distinction between king and tyrant was the closest and most important point of contact between ancient and modern political thought.
For Strauss, Machiavelli’s indifference to the distinction between king and tyrant was one of the deepest roots of modern political thought.11 Voegelin did not disagree with Strauss’s observation and provided the following explanation for it: the parallel between Xenophon and Machiavelli existed, he said, because both
are in the position of “moderns” in their respective civilizations; the parallel between the two thinkers is due to the parallel between their historical situations.
The distinction between king and tyrant is obliterated in The Prince, because Machiavelli, like Xenophon, was faced with the problem of a stabilizing and regenerating rulership after the breakdown of constitutional forms in the city-state; it is obliterated because Machiavelli, too, was in search of a type of ruler beyond the distinction of king and tyrant that is politically significant only before the final breakdown of the republican constitutional order.