How Stoicism influenced modern politics

Cover of 'Philosophic Pride'

A new book by King's Fellow Dr Christopher Brooke looks at how the ancient philosophy of Stoicism has influenced modern political thought.

Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau begins in the Netherlands in the later sixteenth century, and the writings of Justus Lipsius (1547-1606). Lipsius was an influential scholar and a key figure in the revival of interest in Roman Stoicism.

But ‘neo-Stoicism’ divided opinion among Christians. Some argued that ‘Christians may profit by the Stoicks’. They thought that the Stoic themes of constancy and the acceptance of divine providence offered an invaluable supplement to mainstream religion in an era of religious wars.

Others, in particular those who still embraced St Augustine of Hippo’s theology, argued that Stoicism attributed too much power to free will, and so implicitly denied Original Sin.

Interwoven with a narrative of the twists and turns in this argument between those sympathetic to the Stoics and their Christian critics, Philosophic Pride also tells a story about political philosophy in the early modern period.

Then as now, arguments in politics often turned on beliefs about the fundamentals of human nature—are we essentially self-interested animals or not?

Brooke explains how philosophers like the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and the Genevan social critic Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) built their theories of human sociability around Stoic arguments that they found in Cicero and Seneca.

The result is a readable and wide-ranging survey that shows the influence of Greek and Roman Stoicism on modern European intellectual life.

'...a rigorous, original, and flawlessly executed work on a topic of great interest. An utter joy to read.'
Frederick Neuhouser, Barnard College

'An outstanding study of the fortunes of Stoicism in early modern moral and political thought...'
James Moore, Emeritus Professor, Concordia University

Philosophic Pride: Stoicism and Political Thought from Lipsius to Rousseau is published by Princeton University Press (ISBN-10: 069115208X; ISBN-13: 978-0691152080). If you buy the book from Amazon via our Library web page a small percentage will go to the upkeep of the Library.

1 June 2012