Cover image for Politics and vision : continuity and innovation in Western political thought
Politics and vision : continuity and innovation in Western political thought
Wolin, Sheldon S.
Personal Author:
Expanded edition.
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xxiv, 761 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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JA81 .W6 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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This is a significantly expanded edition of one of the greatest works of modern political theory. Sheldon Wolin's Politics and Vision inspired and instructed two generations of political theorists after its appearance in 1960. This new edition retains intact the original ten chapters about political thinkers from Plato to Mill, and adds seven chapters about theorists from Marx and Nietzsche to Rawls and the postmodernists. The new chapters, which show how thinkers have grappled with the immense possibilities and dangers of modern power, are themselves a major theoretical statement. They culminate in Wolin's remarkable argument that the United States has invented a new political form, "inverted totalitarianism," in which economic rather than political power is dangerously dominant. In this new edition, the book that helped to define political theory in the late twentieth century should energize, enlighten, and provoke generations of scholars to come.

Wolin originally wrote Politics and Vision to challenge the idea that political analysis should consist simply of the neutral observation of objective reality. He argues that political thinkers must also rely on creative vision. Wolin shows that great theorists have been driven to shape politics to some vision of the Good that lies outside the existing political order. As he tells it, the history of theory is thus, in part, the story of changing assumptions about the Good.

In the new chapters, Wolin displays all the energy and flair, the command of detail and of grand historical developments, that he brought to this story forty years ago. This is a work of immense talent and intense thought, an intellectual achievement that will endure.

Author Notes

Sheldon Sanford Wolin was born in Chicago, Illinois on August 4, 1922. During World War II, he served as a bombardier and navigator in the Pacific for the Army Air Forces. He received a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College in 1946 and a doctorate from Harvard University in 1950. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley and Princeton University before retiring in 1987.

He wrote several books during his lifetime including Hobbes and the Epic Tradition of Political Theory, Tocqueville Between Two Worlds: The Making of a Political and Theoretical Life, and Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought was published in 1960, received the Benjamin E. Lippincott Award in recognition of its lasting impact in 1985, and was reissued in expanded form in 2004.

He also wrote frequently for The New York Review of Books on Watergate, Henry Kissinger, the presidency of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and American conservatism. Some of his essays on the Free Speech Movement and campus unrest at Berkeley were included with those written by John H. Schaar in The Berkeley Rebellion and Beyond: Essays on Politics and Education in the Technological Society. He died on October 21, 2015 at the age of 93.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Choice Review

When a political theorist summarizes a lifetime's analysis of an enormous literature, a dilemma arises. A chronological treatment of materials falsely implies an unbroken chain of thinkers leading to the "current state of political theory," while a thematic organization appears to dismiss historical context entirely. Some compromise by conflating the two approaches into a "history of ideas," but this commits a category error. Some are able to break new ground entirely (e.g., Eric Voegelin's Order and History), while others emphasize their analytic perspective, letting the organizational chips fall where they may. Wolin chooses this tack, but his perspective has changed since the 1960 edition, which forms the first part of the current work. There, Wolin used a "liberal" perspective to "interpret the past," while the new material finds him using a more "democratic" lens to "analyze the present." In so doing, Wolin essentially tries to discover whether and how totalitarian powers may be overcome without the victor becoming its own even deadlier enemy in the process. It is nourishing and bracing stuff for the professional, though no doubt daunting for the uninitiated. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. M. Berheide Berea College

Table of Contents

Preface to the Expanded Editionp. xv
Prefacep. xxiii
PArt 1
Chapter 1 Political Philosophy and Philosophyp. 3
I Political Philosophy as a Form of Inquiryp. 3
II Form and Substancep. 4
III Political Thought and Political Institutionsp. 7
IV Political Philosophy and the Politicalp. 9
V The Vocabulary of Political Philosophyp. 12
VI Vision and Political Imaginationp. 17
VII Political Concepts and Political Phenomenap. 20
VIII A Tradition of Discoursep. 21
IX Tradition and Innovationp. 23
Chapter 2 Plato: Political Philosophy versus Politicsp. 27
I The Invention of Political Philosophyp. 27
II Philosophy and Societyp. 32
III Politics and Architectonicsp. 37
IV The Search for a Selfless Instrumentp. 47
V The Question of Powerp. 51
VI Political Knowledge and Political Participationp. 54
VII The Limits of Unityp. 58
VIII The Ambiguities of Platop. 61
Chapter 3 The Age of Empire: Space and Communityp. 63
I The Crisis in the Politicalp. 63
II The New Dimensions of Spacep. 65
III Citizenship and Disengagementp. 70
IV Politics and the Roman Republicp. 75
V The Politics of Interestp. 79
VI From Political Association to Power Organizationp. 82
VII The Decline of Political Philosophyp. 85
Chapter 4 The Early Christian Era: Time and Communityp. 86
I The Political Element in Early Christianity: The New Notion of Communityp. 86
II The Church as a Polity: The Challenge to the Political Orderp. 95
III Politics and Power in a Church-Societyp. 103
IV The Embarrassments of a Politicized Religion and the Task of Augustinep. 108
V The Identity of the Church-Society Reasserted: Time and Destinyp. 111
VI Political Society and Church-Societyp. 115
VII The Language of Religion and the Language of Politics: Footnote on Mediaeval Christian Thoughtp. 118
Chapter 5 Luther: The Theological and the Politicalp. 127
I Political Theologyp. 127
II The Political Element in Luther's Thoughtp. 128
III The Bias against Institutionsp. 136
IV The Status of the Political Orderp. 139
V The Political Order without Counterweightp. 143
VI The Fruits of Simplicityp. 145
Chapter 6 Calvin: The Political Education of Protestantismp. 148
I The Crisis in Order and Civilityp. 148
II The Political Quality of Calvin's Thoughtp. 151
III The Political Theory of Church Governmentp. 158
IV The Restoration of the Political Orderp. 160
V Political Knowledgep. 164
VI Political Officep. 166
VII Power and Communityp. 170
Chapter 7 Machiavelli: Politics and the Economy of Violencep. 175
I The Autonomy of Political Theoryp. 175
II The Commitments of the Political Theoristp. 182
III The Nature of Politics and the Categories of the New Sciencep. 187
IV Political Space and Political Actionp. 195
V The Economy of Violencep. 197
VI Ethics: Political and Privatep. 200
VII The Discovery of the Massp. 205
VIII Politics and Soulsp. 211
Chapter 8 Hobbes: Political Society as a System of Rulesp. 214
I The Revival of Political Creativityp. 214
II Political Philosophy and the Revolution in Sciencep. 218
III The Promise of Political Philosophyp. 222
IV The Language of Politics: The Problem of Constituencyp. 230
V Political Entropy: The State of Naturep. 235
VI The Sovereign Definerp. 238
VII Power without Communityp. 243
VIII Interests and Representationp. 248
IX Politics as a Field of Forcesp. 252
Chapter 9 Liberalism and the Decline of Political Philosophyp. 257
I The Political and the Socialp. 257
II Liberalism and the Sobrieties of Philosophyp. 263
III The Political Claims of Economic Theoryp. 268
IV The Eclipse of Political Authority: The Discovery of Societyp. 273
V Society and Government: Spontaneity versus Coercionp. 277
VI Liberalism and Anxietyp. 282
VII Beyond the Pleasure Principle: The Problem of Painp. 292