The Concrete Goods of Political Excellence

Mark Blitz has written a work of high political philosophy that is at once clear and accessible, if difficult and demanding. An insightful and compact book, Reason and Politics is, in the words of its subtitle, dedicated to the searching study of “the nature of political phenomena.” Blitz’s words are carefully chosen: “the ‘nature’ of something is its essence, what is always there that is important, not trivial, and that forms the thing’s other characteristics.” Reason and Politics is dedicated to uncovering reasonably that which “forms and directs” political phenomena, in a word their nature and everything that flows from that. While a product of unforced but altogether impressive erudition, Blitz’s book aims to stay as concrete as possible, eschewing the abstractions that largely inform and deform late modern thought. While contemporary philosophers speak rather theoretically or abstractly about “consciousness,” Blitz speaks more simply and classically about bodies informed by passions, reason, and motives—that is, bodies that are animate or ensouled, human beings such as you and me.

An indirect student of Leo Strauss, Blitz shares the Platonic-Aristotelian view that politics is at the center of human life. The careful and discerning study of political things is the best place to start in order to come to terms with the only “whole” that gives us immediate and concrete access to the ”whole” as such. It is in a political regime that we first learn about goodness and justice and the “contexts that form meaningful action are linked by a political way of life.” The “self-direction” made possible by first civic, and then liberal, education opens us up to the truth of things without leaving the political context of human life behind.  Blitz thus speaks a great deal about wholes and parts, about connecting and separating, but always in the context of freedom, passions, force, prudence, courage, and moderation as well as the political order or regime. In the spirit of the classics, he appreciates that the full range of intellectual and moral virtues are inseparable from well-constituted political orders. At the same time, he illustrates the various ways in which virtues such as courage and moderation can also be observed “somewhat apart from the orders within which we practice them.” Human beings can explore “the complexity of human experience,” the nature of the virtues, and “the relation between what is good and one’s own” in a theoretical or “cosmopolitan” manner, but only up to a point. Facile cosmopolitanism forgets that human beings are political animals who live in concrete political communities that are the home of any meaningful political common good.

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