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From republic to empire: political revolution and the common good in Xenophon's Education of Cyrus.

Recent scholarship has reestablished Xenophon as a theorist of considerable importance and stature for our understanding of the origins of classical political philosophy.(1) At the center of this revival lies a renewed interest in his Education of Cyrus, and in the past five years three book-length studies of this work have been published: The Cyropaedia: Xenophon's Aims and Methods, by Bodil Due; Xenophon's Imperial Fiction, by James Tatum; Xenophon's Cyropaedia: Style, Genre, and Literary Technique, by Deborah Levine Gera. Each makes a persuasive case for the view that Xenophon's works demand a more serious philosophical and literary analysis than previously considered. Yet, to read these three books together is to be struck by the fundamentally contradictory character of their conclusions with respect both to Xenophon's overall intention and his attitude or relation to the "hero" of the work, Cyrus. All three authors agree, however, that the controversial epilogue in which Xenophon describes the swift collapse of Cyrus' empire contains the key to deciphering the meaning of the Education of Cyrus. Each considers the ability to explain its inclusion in the work as a whole to be a test case for the soundness of his or her interpretation. In the introductory section to this article it will be shown how the different and often conflicting evidence they adduce to support their claims forces us to abandon all three interpretations and to reexamine the whole work in the new light cast by their combination,(2) a light which points to an inevitable confrontation with Xenophon's greatest student, admirer, and antagonist, Machiavelli.(3)

Bodil Due (1989) gives the most straightforward account of the Education of Cyrus. Xenophon's "ideal ruler" is intended to provide a paradigm for imitation by Xenophon's own contemporaries (Due 1989, 234, 25). The need for such a model arises from Xenophon's view that "without the highest possible moral standards in the leader - and a leader there must be in a state, as well as in any army or a family - there is no hope of improving the sad and confused conditions of human life" (p. 237). To confirm that Xenophon shares this understanding of political life, Due refers to his descriptions of Cyrus' "kindness, clemency and concern for other people, combined with strength, discipline, and capacity for endurance in both a moral as well as physical sense" (p. 37). Due also makes much of Cyrus' "generosity and natural deportment towards his men" (p. 232). In short, Cyrus is a paragon of human virtue and perfection.

Given this laudatory presentation, Due knows it may come as a shock to some readers that the empire founded by this ideal ruler collapsed immediately upon his death. Is this not a severe reproach to the craft and judgment of its founder, one that either casts doubts on the solidity of Cyrus' virtue or shows his failure to comprehend the sad recalcitrance of political reality to its mastery by human labors?(4) Due, however, claims that Xenophon does not mean to detract from Cyrus' virtue by including an account of his empire's fate. Rather, "by implicit contrast, he succeeds in underlining, for the last time; the exceptional nature of Cyrus. . . . Thus the first and the last chapter form a circle or train of thoughts around the whole work. The only way to avoid such a [miserable] state of affairs is to have a perfect leader" (Due 1989, 19). The strength of Due's argument derives from its simplicity, which in turn leaves the unity of Xenophon's conception perfectly intact.

Due intends his book to provide not only an interpretation of the Education of Cyrus but also a vindication of Xenophon's reputation before a community of scholars that has too much disdained and reviled him (Due 1989, 9, 10). Accordingly, Due writes with the passion of one moved by the sight of injustice, a passion which he freely admits may sometimes get the better of his judgment (p. 230). He also adopts a particular moral standpoint quite foreign to a Socratic like Xenophon and even more so to his Cyrus. In the course of rejecting the view that one possible lesson Xenophon meant to convey with the final chapter of the Education of Cyrus was "the sad lesson that all things pass," Due declares: "All mortal things do, of course, pass, but ideals, morals or beliefs do not" (p. 20; compare Cyropaedia, 7.5.73). Certainly, Due admires Xenophon more as a literary stylist than political philosopher (Due 1989, 230-34). In order to defend the work against a possible slight cast on its high literary character, Due goes so far as to deny that political considerations are in the forefront or even realm of Xenophon's concerns: "The vagueness and ambiguity as regards the nature of Cyrus' power is not, I think, clumsiness on the part of Xenophon, but originates from lack of interest" (p. 25). For Due, vagueness, ambiguity, and clumsiness are flaws much less excusable than a lack of interest in or attention to politics. But this is certainly not Xenophon's view (see Cynegeticus, 13.1-6). One might then wonder whether in attempting to demonstrate what he takes to be the enduring character and importance of Xenophon's work, Due does not go too far in idealizing or purifying Cyrus' virtues, giving us a portrait that lacks the hard political edge and therefore the cutting nuances and subtlety of Xenophon's own presentation. Such, at any rate, is the kind of question James Tatum would likely pose, for by entering more deeply into the political dimensions that Due explicitly dismisses, he finds a Cyrus who possesses both moral and immoral virtues.

The Cyrus presented to us by Tatum (1989) is a fitting model for Xenophon's most well-known admirer, Machiavelli (Tatum 1989, 8). Tatum's Cyrus regards those around him only as useful tools to be manipulated for his own ends and makes so little distinction in his treatment of family, friends, and foes that Tatum can describe his mother and grandfather as among "his first victims" (pp. 66, 97, 71, 115). Furthermore, "he is ruthlessly self-serving and subversive of the status-quo" (p. 98); willing "to bend the laws and customs of the Persians to his own interest" (p. 71), which is to submit the government of the world to his single will (p. 218); and ready "to abandon the norms of one society for another when it suits his purposes" (p. 106). As one might gather from this list, Cyrus cannot be suspected of harboring any "simple piety" (p. 86).

The only thing more shocking than this admittedly accurate if incomplete catalogue of Cyrus' less than reputable qualities is Tatum's firm and repeated insistence that Cyrus is at the same time Xenophon's "paradigm of the ideal ruler" whose "positive example" is to provide a model for imitation (Tatum 1989, xv, 37, 62, 68, 233). The suspicion that Tatum considers Xenophon and his Cyrus to be ruthless Machiavellians some two thousand years avant la lettre and, moreover, that he himself approves of this today is in no way allayed by his placing on one and the same page Xenophon's claim that Cyrus enjoyed the "willing obedience" of his subjects together with a description of them "obeying out of terror" (p. 62). The only comment this juxtaposition elicits from Tatum is that Cyrus is indeed an "ideal ruler" (p. 63). Does neither Xenophon nor Tatum recognize a distinction between consent freely given and that compelled by fear (compare Hobbes's Leviathan, chapters 19 and 14)? Several passages from the Memorabilia (see Xenophon 1904, e.g., Memorabelia, 4.6.12, 3.2.2) reassure us that Xenophon did distinguish between tyranny and kingship, and Tatum himself uncovers evidence within the Education of Cyrus to show that Xenophon disapproved of rule by terror. According to Tatum, it is the "evil Assyrian," Cyrus' adversary and moral opposite, who rules by fear; and in Tatum's view "the Assyrian king provides a nice example of the futility of attempting to rule an empire by terror" (Tatum 1989, 93). Following a syllogism familiar to students of twentieth-century politics, Tatum then infers that Cyrus, who ultimately defeats this incarnation of pure evil, cannot therefore himself be bad (p. 94).

It remains, however, for Tatum to show how the harsher, less principled sides of Cyrus can be reconciled with his standing as an ideal ruler. While admitting that the more questionable details of Cyrus' behavior may be instructive of certain unavoidable if unpleasant political necessities (Tatum 1989, 188), Tatum concludes by denying their essential importance to the narrative. What is important is that in the end Cyrus comes out completely clean. "If there are any sinister aspects to Cyrus' rise to power, they disappear with the death of Panthea and Abradatas. From the moment Babylon falls and the evil Assyrian is slain, the world of the Cyropaedia is a radiant and happy place with not a villain in sight" (p. 189). Yet, this explanation leaves Tatum with the same problem faced by Due: If the mature Cyrus is so good, why does his empire fall so quickly?

Following the strictly philological arguments advanced by Eichler (1880), Tatum accepts the authenticity of the epilogue describing that fall. But, unlike Eichler, who wished to discourage speculation on the chapter's actual meaning, Tatum pushes the issue on to more substantive grounds in order to consider "what this ending reveals about the connections between what Xenophon created and actual political experience" (Tatum 1989, 225). Certain aspects of his interpretation coincide with that of Due. To the extent that Cyrus is an "ideal prince," Tatum recognizes that the swift collapse of his empire could be taken as a reproach. But, like Due, he finds that "the focus here is really more on [the decadence of] Cyrus' descendants and contemporary Persia than on the text of the Cyropaedia." The comparison is meant to work in Cyrus' favor. Tatum, however, also wishes to develop a further and more elaborate point.

According to Tatum, the inconsistencies between the body of Xenophon's text and its unexpected ending are real. This does not necessarily mean the epilogue is an interpolation by some later writer. Rather, the inconsistencies reflect fundamental equivocations that Xenophon experienced in his own attitude toward the text and its hero over the course of writing the Education of Cyrus. Xenophon was a gifted dramatist capable of transforming a few bare scraps of history into an "ideal fiction," a "romantic world" where perfect virtue always triumphs (Tatum 1989, 216, xiv, 189). But he also could be a hard-nosed political thinker and historian who took his bearings from the facts (p. 237). Tatum claims that ultimately "the very pressures from the world that drew Xenophon toward writing fiction, in the end impinge on the perfected world that he creates through Cyrus. . . . The fantasy cannot continue" (p. 238). Thus, "the gap between the political and historical world he lived in and the romantically successful but fictional world of the Cyropaedia, finally outweighed his authorial desire to preserve the integrity of the text he created. Contradictory strategies and mutually exclusive points of view exist side by side at many places in his writings" (Due 1989, 224, emphasis added). Tatum pointedly entitles the section of his book dealing with the epilogue, "Revision." Yet, the "revision" he ascribes to Xenophon is nothing like the kind of thorough rewrite such inconsistencies and equivocations would seem to call for, but rather a hasty postscript recanting much of the previous 200 pages. In this way Tatum saves the authority of the text, though only by sacrificing that of its author.

Deborah Levine Gera's Xenophon's Cyropaedia: Style, Genre, and Literary Technique is above all a study of the literary influences that have left a mark on Xenophon's book. As such, it is a comprehensive and sensitive guide to Xenophon's possible sources and is particularly illuminating on the use he made of Herodotus' Histories.(5) She also provides many useful cross-references to passages in other works of Xenophon. But Gera goes well beyond merely compiling and comparing sources. In the final section of the book she examines "Xenophon's attitude toward his hero" (Gera 1993, vi) and gives her own interpretation of the meaning of the Education of Cyrus. She, too, focuses on the problematic relationship between the epilogue and all that comes before it as the key to understanding Xenophon's intentions.

Like Tatum and Due, Gera takes Xenophon's Cyrus to be "a model to others who wish to cultivate virtue" (Gera 1993, 7; cf. 284). She describes him as an "ideal ruler" who turns out to be "a kind of philosopher king" (p. 122). He is "wise, virtuous, and ever successful in achieving his ambitions" (p. 280), even while remaining "a zealous guardian of the property of others" (p. 222). Yet, like Tatum, Gera detects another side to Cyrus. She notes that "his seemingly kind and thoughtful policies are consistently shown to be motivated by utilitarian, if not selfish, considerations," and he practices a disquieting policy of "divide and conquer" against his friends (Gera 1993, 294). In addition, he confiscates the property of his allies, curries popular opinion with methods typical of tyrants, and in the end resembles no one so much as his grandfather Astyages, the lawless, "self-aggrandizing" despot of Media (pp. 289, 290, 293). Gera even suggests we should take Cyrus' well-known epithet, "Shepherd of the People," in a Thrasymachean rather than a Biblical sense (p. 295). With no small understatement, she notes that "each of the less than ideal features of Cyrus' behavior as a ruler of an empire, taken by itself, is perhaps no more than slightly disquieting; viewed cumulatively, they are disturbing and require some sort of explanation" (p. 296).

Gera's own explanation runs as follows. The overarching lesson Xenophon wishes to teach in the Education of Cyrus is that "both benevolence and despotism are needed to run a large empire successfully" (Gera 1993, 297). The first corollary of this major premise is that one must choose between "the careful and virtuous republic of a small-scale polity and the more extensive, but despotic, empire" (p. 297). From this it follows that "the second consequence of Cyrus' enlightened absolutism is that it must in fact be enlightened" (p. 297). What she means by this apparent tautology is that the institutions and ways of life Cyrus created were not themselves able to sustain the empire without his skillful guidance (p. 298). Subsequent Persian decadence was not the result of abandoning the practices instituted by Cyrus but rather their fruit. It follows, then, that "the despotism he inaugurates is what is left to the following generations of Persians - along with the conquered empire - and it is a poor legacy. The epilogue only serves to confirm this point, if in an extreme and outspoken way" (p. 298). Here, Gera takes us to the point of a real breach between Xenophon and his Cyrus. Her analysis forces us to ask not only whether Xenophon approved or disapproved of how Cyrus founded his empire but also, and more fundamentally, whether he considered Cyrus' choice of empire over republic to be wise.

Yet, Gera fails to raise this question and ultimately equivocates by coming to two separate and contradictory conclusions. First, the collapse brought on by the character of Cyrus' empire shows that he instituted practices "which cannot be considered, either by the author himself or by his readers, ideal. Thus there is a certain distance or tension in this final section of the work between Xenophon and his hero" (Gera 1993, 299). Second, the collapse serves to show "how much better [Cyrus] was than present day Persians," in other words, it is yet another method or technique "to idealize Cyrus" (p. 300). This unsettled conclusion, that Xenophon both loves and does not love his Cyrus, turns out to be another way of expressing Tatum's thesis on the ambiguity of the relation between the artist and his creation. It goes almost without saying that Gera also ends by asserting the essential incoherence of Xenophon's work.

What is perhaps most interesting in the comparison of Gera's and Tatum's interpretations is not the similarity of their conclusions but the different path each takes to arrive there. While Tatum finds several aspects of Cyrus' childhood and rise to power disturbing, he is altogether satisfied with the ideal character of the empire Cyrus founds: It is "a radiant and happy place without a villain in sight" (Tatum 1989, 189). Gera, in contrast, is relatively pleased with Xenophon's Cyrus up until the moment he founds his empire (Gera 1993, 285). The abuses she documents are almost all taken from the final sections of the work (pp. 287-96). Moreover, while Tatum is reassured as to Cyrus' ultimate goodness by his victory over the "evil Assyrian," Gera shows troubling similarities between Cyrus and his enemy (pp. 112, 287). The fact that where Tatum sees good Gera sees bad and vice versa suggests the possibility that Xenophon's presentation of Cyrus is in fact consistent throughout the work, indeed, consistently Machiavellian.

Yet, the career of Cyrus remains perplexing, especially as an object of imitation, in either Xenophon's or Machiavelli's eyes. After all, both knew that Cyrus was the Persian most responsible for transforming a stable if small republic into an expanding and despotic empire, an empire whose subsequent collapse entailed the corruption of a large part of the known world (Cyropaedia, 8.8ff.). To get to the heart of the matter it will be useful to return to Gera's thesis that the Education of Cyrus teaches us the necessity to choose between republican virtue and despotic empire (Gera 1993, 297). Yet, rather than accept this simple, stark polarity as an obvious statement of fact, one must raise the following question: What, in Xenophon's view, makes possible or justifies the choice of one over the other? To formulate an adequate response it is necessary first to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the original Persian republic as described by Xenophon, a part of the Education of Cyrus too much neglected by the three books considered here. In the following two sections I will show how the inadequacies and self-contradictions of the republican conception of the common good made possible, encouraged, and in some sense justified its transformation into empire and also how similar defects in the new regime Cyrus founds caused it to splinter and quickly destruct. By understanding the obstacles that Xenophon thinks hinder the establishment of a genuine common good between citizens or subjects in either political order, I hope to provide a better understanding of the immense difficulties raised by Machiavelli's bold claim to labor himself "for the common benefit of each" (Machiavelli 1983, 127).


Xenophon's Persia bears little or no resemblance to what is known of historical Persia and, as frequently noted, is in fact an improved version of the republican regime he describes in the Lacedaemonian Constitution (Croiset 1873, 147, 150; Delebecque 1957, 385; Grant n.d., 126-28, 131; Xenophon 1983, viii), that is, a regime that understands the common good to demand both the citizens' equal submission to the law and their public education toward virtue. But whereas Sparta inculcated courage and military prowess in its citizens, an education which Xenophon's satirical analysis shows to use beatings and short rations to teach that undetected theft is good (Proietti 1987, chapter 5; Strauss 1939, 529), the Persians devote themselves to the more comprehensive virtue of justice. Their children actually attend special schools of justice where the instruction is facilitated by the fact that among them, as among grown men, there occur various disputes and conflicts. The children's rulers make the best of this and turn each transgression into an occasion to impress upon their pupils' minds the dictates of justice. One can estimate the frequency of these disputes since Xenophon tells us their rulers spend "most of the day" sitting in judgment while the children listen (Xenophon 1904, 1.2.6).(6)

This education forms the heart of "the regime through the use of which [the Persians] think to produce the best men" (Xenophon 1904, 1.2.15, cf. 1.2.5). Virtue, here, is an entirely public, or political, concern. Yet, Xenophon seems to have some reservations about the Persians' claim and expresses them in his typically understated style. While he relates that the boys were educated to be "the best boys" and the youths to be "the best youths," Xenophon refrains from saying of the mature men that they were educated to be the best men. Rather, he says, they were formed to be "the best executors of the orders and requirements of the highest authority" (1.2.5). Obedience and dispatch may, no doubt, be necessary political virtues, yet by themselves they remain ambiguous. After all, obedience to a mob or dispatch in the execution of unjust orders could hardly be considered acts of true virtue. Whether or not a good and dutiful citizen is at the same time a good man depends upon the regime in which he lives. Unless, or until, the Persian regime can be shown to be unqualifiedly the best regime, Xenophon withholds his judgment on whether the Persians were correct to believe theirs produced the best men.

Xenophon makes clear that an analysis merely of the laws is insufficient for the complete understanding of a regime. While the laws may first appear to be what most of all constitutes the regime, to a large extent they are derivative or follow from it (see Xenophon 1904, Memorabilia, 1.2.40-46; Ways and Means, 1.1). The deepest strand of Xenophon's critique of the Persian republic, therefore, comes only after he has turned away from a discussion of its laws. To mark this new phase of his analysis and to signal his break with the official Persian line, Xenophon writes for the first time in the first person singular: "In order that the whole regime of the Persians be made clear, I will go back a little; for from what has already been said it may now be set forth in a very few words" (1.2.5). Of the 120,000 Persians, none is prevented by law from attaining honors or public office. All Persian children are permitted to attend the common schools of justice where advancement through the ranks is based on merit. The Persian republic is then a democratic republic whose most fundamental and publicly declared principle is equality before the law. But this equality turns out to be limited by the economic conditions of life in Persia. Only those in a position to check totalization and proliferate multiplicitous emancipations. In this sense, what gives life to radical and plural democracy is not simply the reciprocally supportive relation between equality and liberty but, moreover and especially, the tensional juxtaposition, the reciprocally limiting and antagonistic relation between these two social logics (Mouffe 1991, 79-82; Laclau 1992).

The freedom and power of diverse social movements almost always hinge upon their ability to join with other struggles, and Laclau and Mouffe view the principles of radical democracy as precisely the identity-modifying focus around which the chains of equivalence necessary for such hegemony can be established. Yet, given their ontology of difference, antagonism, and contingency, they maintain that "this total equivalence never exists: every equivalence is penetrated by a constitutive precariousness." Since total equivalence is never extant and always horizonal, all hegemonic projects established on totalizing claims will be based on the erroneous idea of an achieved identificational equality which various social groups will find inadequate and transgressive of important aspects of their identity, problems, and aspirations. A movement that explicitly recognizes this ontological and political situation and, at the same time, embraces the ideal of egalitarian liberty will allow and even encourage the logic of autonomy to transfigure and limit the logic of hegemonic equivalence. "To this extent, the precariousness of every equivalence demands that it be complemented/limited by the logic of autonomy. It is for this reason that the demand for equality is not sufficient, but needs to be balanced by the demand for liberty . . . the irreducible moment of the plurality of spaces" (Laclau and Mouffe 1985, 184). This plurality of spaces in which to contest the democratic equivalence makes possible an open-ended renegotiation of the terms at the heart of radical democratic hegemony: equality and liberty. This is partly a strategic move, insofar as Laclau and Mouffe believe that it is precisely such an open and plural ideal which can unite diverse movements in collective action. Yet, it is also an ethical move based on a recognition that the horizonal character of their ideals solicits a deepening and broadening of ethics which requires plural reformulations.

In short, Laclau and Mouffe are seeking to transfigure radically the type of hegemony to be sought: hegemony as a regulative idea - as a horizon - must be reformulated to embrace and embody its essence as horizonal, that is, indeterminate and open. "Radical democracy makes this openness and incompletion the very horizon on which all social identity is constituted" (Laclau 1990, 233). "The fullness of the social . . . manifests itself . . . in the possibility of representing its radical indeterminacy" (Laclau 1990, 79). What this means politically, as the project of radical democracy multiplies spaces, diversifies its struggles, solicits subjugated voices, and gathers them in a growing hegemonic formation, is that "through the irreducible character of this diversity and plurality, society constructs the image and the management of its own impossibility" (Laclau and Mouffe 1985, 191). Workers, blacks, women, ecologists, gays and lesbians, consumers, anti-imperialists, and others are transfigured by the discursive practice of radical democracy and thereby come to participate in a coalition that both draws them toward a new "common sense" and simultaneously (as a part of this sense) guarantees autonomous spaces for contesting, reformulating, marking irreducible specificity, and so forth. In the process, a precarious and renegotiable balancing act between identity and difference is instantiated that offers, Laclau and Mouffe claim, the greatest possibilities for human emancipation.

But does this position push as far and high as it ought to, given their philosophical embrace of contingency, lack of transparency, and agonistic entwinement of differences? And does their construal of equality and liberty provide an ethical standpoint sufficient for the coalition politics they seek to embrace? Laclau and Mouffe envision radical and plural democracy as a transfigurative gathering together of diverse peoples. But precisely how are we to imagine this gathering, this community of impossibility, these relations between selves and others? How are we to characterize ethically the exchanges and movements between people? What ought to animate these exchanges and movements?

As we can see from the above reflections, Laclau and Mouffe offer us two indeterminate logics and, finally, a transfiguring mixture of them. The first is a logic of hegemony, equivalence, equality. Here the dimension of "being with" others is imagined as a movement in the direction of subsumption under a singular identity. Difference is not necessarily to be eradicated but transfiguratively assimilated within a totality. Community, relations that take shape between ourselves and others, are in this instance imagined as movements aimed at seducing and trapping into the whole. The animating principle of these exchanges is the desire to be with the other as a part of the One. The second logic is that of autonomy, plurality, liberty. Here the dimension of "being with" others is imagined as a movement in the direction of absolute difference. Each group (or, more radically, each self, each subself) would tend toward the horizon of "auto-constitutivity," incommensurability, absolutely particular identities that would be "unable to communicate with each other" (Laclau and Mouffe 1985, 182). A retraction and dissolution of exchange is envisioned, a deepening vacuum-like void of impassability. The animating desire is undisturbed, isolated, transparent atomism.

Of course, Laclau and Mouffe dismiss both modes when conceived of as foundations or achievable endpoints. They embrace them only as indeterminate antagonistic horizontal logics, mutually transfiguring, reciprocally limiting. In a precarious middle ground these logics are said to do battle in a manner most conducive to openness and a freedom that escapes the tyranny of identity, whether of the whole or of the part.

Laclau and Mouffe are correct to identify the continued importance of the liberal ideas of equality and liberty for progressive coalition politics. Furthermore, their reconstrual of these principles as horizonal social logics radicalizes them in a manner which both facilitates and articulates the desirability of a proliferation of these ideals. And their tensional juxtaposition illuminates and might help check the dangers that accompany the project of a radicalized liberalism. Yet, what is painfully lacking in their formulation is a promising ethical account of the possibilities, desirabilities, and heights of the dimension of "being with" others as others: striving to engage, move toward, their otherness. Coexistence in this sense constantly disappears into the singularity of the whole or the part.(8) Mutual limitation is to prevent these logics from accomplishing total disappearance, but the opening that forms in what is left of differential coexistence does not come close to an adequate and desirable ethical account of "being with" others - the possible agonizing grandness of plurality. Lacking an ethic that solicits a more receptive and generous effort to engage otherness, might we not simply oscillate between relations of assimilation and indifference? I am not implying that an ethic of generous receptivity could or should simply replace the twin logics offered by Laclau and Mouffe (although it can bestow upon them a status more compelling than "I happen to believe"). Rather, I am arguing that a soliciting description of the desire for the other as other must enter into a constellation with the former two ideals, such that equivalence and autonomy come to be significantly redrawn by an imagining of community animated by a desire for the others' otherness, with all the cooperation and agonism this implies.

Related to the shortcomings of their project in a strictly ethical sense is a question concerning the inadequacies of their ethical stance for supporting the politics they endorse. Leaving aside for now the likely corrosive effects of the explicit status of their project, without a seductive account of the agonizing grandness of plurality, we may well lack the ethico-existential comportment and resources necessary to sustain the kind of political tensions and ambiguity sought by radical and plural democracy and demanded by coalition politics. Bringing to mind again Reagon's account of the dangerous, threatening, disruptive, frightening character of coalition politics, dramatically evoked by "I feel as if I'm going to keel over any minute and die," we must truly wonder whether the difficult engagements with others that she describes could likely be sustained simply by an openness which is to emerge through this juxtaposition of two logics of closure. Coalition politics has little to do with the relative tranquility of a study, and what is conceivable in the latter may collapse in the former. When the immense pressures of coalition politics come to bear, do Laclau and Mouffe finally have a compelling ethical response to these questions (provided that these options are strategically plausible in a given instance): Why not seek to assimilate the other? Why not seek to separate entirely? There is little reason to be hopeful here. On the one hand, they have no ethical account that would draw us toward and animate our engagements with these difficult others; on the other hand, their own project contains the seeds of other-assimilation and other-oblivion.

Reagon powerfully develops ways in which liberty and equality can be incorporated into strategies of assimilation and denial, but she does not critique the principles as such, and they are clearly important to her. Yet, I think their meaning is refigured in her address in relation to an ethic of receptive generosity in such a manner that they take a greater turn toward otherness. At any rate, it is extremely significant that when she explicitly reflects upon the ethical direction which ought to guide our lives and "turn the century," it appears that her highest virtue, the one that keeps drawing her to others as other, is giving: "But most of the things you do, if you do them right, are for people who live long after you are long forgotten. That will only happen if you give it away. Whatever it is that you know, give it away, and don't just give it on the horizontal . . . give it away that way (up and down)" (1983, 365). Without a generosity born in our efforts to receive the other as other, our gifts wither, and equality and liberty will likely take up strategic positions within imperialist identities that assimilate, smother, or explicitly deny otherness. Generosity, as practiced in the efforts to receive and grapple with core-threatening differences in coalition politics, is not sufficient to sustain one's life in this work in an uninterrupted manner. Reagon states: "You don't get fed a lot in a coalition. In a coalition you have to give, and it is different from your home. You can't stay there all the time. You go to coalition for a few hours and then you go back and take your bottle wherever it is, and then you go back and coalesce" (p. 359).

You cannot stay there, in the midst of the most agonistic difference. But generosity is one of the key virtues that keeps one coming back for more. This is so not only because in the absence of giving and receiving we cannot remain beings worthy of this life, as we sink into mindless mediocrity and subjections, but also because when the grandness of giving and receiving a gift occurs, "that's all you pay attention to: when that great day happen. You go wishing everyday was like that" (1983, 368). Every day is not like that, but the experience and the wish illuminate and call us toward future paths of giving and receiving. Nietzsche, too, configured gift-giving as the highest virtue, the highest virtue of post-metaphysical earth.(9) In turning to Nietzsche, I do not wish to imply a point by point identity between his view of generosity and that of Reagon. Rather, Reagon's brief remarks on giving raise a directional question, and Nietzsche can be read as a thoughtful response.


I do not think Nietzsche was secretly a radical and plural democratic, nor do I know anyone who does. I do not even claim that the sum of his epistemological, ontological, and ethical reflections lead, when contemplated politically with more skill than he himself exhibited, toward a democratic community of receptive generosity.(10) There is much in Nietzsche's pondering that runs directly against the grain of the insights I seek to draw from him. Yet, from among his many discrepant expressions I find the following account of the gift-giving virtue to be one of his most compelling ideas and directly relevant to the present discussion. By accenting this voice, I obviously "pick and choose." But all interpretations engage in this vertiginous task (Nietzsche taught us this), especially when the corpus is as manifold as Nietzsche's.(11) Outside the field of intellectual history, the charge that one picks and chooses is interesting only insofar as it is relevant to the truth of the matter at hand.(12) The latter, as it bears upon the question of ethics and coalition politics, is my concern here. Finally, it is the sense of the narrative and argument that should be judged here, not the proper name. As a friend of Nietzsche, he is my "best enemy," and I am "closest to him when resisting him" (Nietzsche 1954, 56). It is thus that I learn from him.

Thus Spoke Zarathustra can be read as a narrative that explores the possibilities and dangers of various ways of formulating the gift-giving virtue, the "highest virtue" (1954, 74).(13) What gift-giving is and how it can be are as much questions as answers. The difficulty is not simply that the "others," the people, "the rabble" are not very receptive these days, as the reclusive saint who has retired from giving reveals early in the "Prologue" when he tells Zarathustra that "they are suspicious of hermits and do not believe that we come with gifts" (p. 11). Although this is a monumental problem, it is enmeshed more profoundly with something of which the old saint "has not yet heard . . . that God is dead" (p. 12).

This poses incredible problems, because God had been the very movement of giving; it was His word, His command; all His creation was His gift. We, of His loving gift, had been given His Son, who exemplified the incarnation of caritas and taught us how to receive and proliferate its movement and thus to belong to Being instead of Nothingness. At least with William of Ockham this begins to come undone. God's radical omnipotence begins to rip free of its essential inscription in the constellation of love and charity; His will becomes potentially deceitful and malevolent, so contingent that He could change the past. Uncharitable in potentia, God and His creation become increasingly difficult to receive. From Descartes forward, a skepticism is radicalized concerning receptivity as the ground of truth, and simultaneously the project of establishing the subject as the pure self-giving ground intensifies in its stead. Thus, in Kant, we "give the law to nature" and "give the moral law." But contingency and power come to be just as disruptive of the effort to make the self the giving-ground of the world, truth, and value as they were of God. History, accident, economy, error, habit, and power relations increasingly appear to invade, in the eyes of so many of Kant's successors, the deepest reaches of Kant's necessity and universality. Radically separated from - unable to receive - things and others in themselves, giving, in its ontological, epistemological, and ethical senses, appears radically arbitrary and draws skeptical glances. It is here, in this relative chaos, well known to Laclau and Mouffe (and certainly to Reagon as well, as she confronts radical contingency and difference practically in the crucible of coalition politics), that Nietzsche explores and seeks to affirm the gift-giving virtue.(14) But what a place!

In part, Zarathustra journeys the harrowing paths of the gift-giving virtue because of his strong sense of the degrading and annihilating relations between selves that come to predominate where it is lacking. This negative motivation is nourished through countless genealogical critiques aimed at exposing the illnesses that spawn and are spawned by various modalities of "sick-selfish" will to power: pity, selfish egoism, the state, equality mongering, neighborliness, last men, the marketplace, material acquisitiveness, ascetic selflessness, the jealous god of monotheism, the spirit of revenge and resentment. In each instance, Zarathustra perceives a weakening associated with the eclipse of generosity. He summarizes: "Tell me my brothers: what do we consider bad and worst of all? Is it not degeneration? And it is degeneration that we always infer where the gift-giving soul is lacking" (1954, 75).(15)

But what summons Zarathustra toward the gift-giving virtue as the condition of possibility of well being? Would it be too facile to mention the sun? The solar summons in the "Prologue" is borne upon a powerful historical wave stemming at least from Plato's solar analogy used to gesture toward Agathon, the Good (transfigured into God by Christian neo-Platonists), that which gives all beings being and perceptibility (Plato 1974, Book VII). Entwined with this is Zarathustra's experience of the sun as that which eternally overflows with a generous luminosity so graciously accepted by its earthy recipients.(16) His experience of this solar generosity gives rise to the seductive exemplary solarity which animates his often stumbling journey toward the gift-giving virtue: "You great star, what would your happiness be had you not those for whom you shine?" (1954, 9-10). Yet, if the solicitous image of self-giving solarity repeatedly misleads as well as leads Zarathustra, as we shall see, nevertheless his initial understanding of solar generosity contains a fissure in the idea of autonomous giving (shared by the Good, and many accounts of God and modern subjectivity) through which Zarathustra's reflections move with widening disruptive effects. For the sun that awakens Zarathustra is not a fundamentally separate condition of possibility; it is rather essentially entwined with those who receive its light. When he exclaims, "what would your happiness be had you not those for whom you shine?" we should recall that in Will to Power Nietzsche defines happiness (pleasure) as the feeling of increasing strength and power (1967, 232, 238). In some sense the power of the sun, its overflowing giving, is connected with others. This intertwining of giving and receiving as a condition of strength, being, and gift is explicitly drawn in the next paragraph, when Zarathustra says: "You would have tired of your light and of the journey had it not been for me and my eagle and my serpent" (1954, 9).

This essential reception pierces the self-same giving-ground with contingencies of possibility and danger, and it draws Zarathustra down from his cave toward recipients and tremendously difficult questions. For despite his inability to receive the reclusive saint's warning concerning the extreme difficulties of being received (an inability that exemplifies the relative weakness of receptivity in his sense of giving early in the text, and the oblivion that results from such weakness), Zarathustra soon repeatedly discovers the recalcitrance that meets his giving. And at the deepest and highest levels of the text this challenges him to question not only his understanding of the recipients but also what gift-giving means in the face of such recalcitrance. This in turn forces him to radicalize the entwinement of giving and receiving, ultimately pushing him beyond his opening formulations of solarity. A theory of receptive generosity as the wellspring of intelligence and power gradually emerges through the relatively small fissure of receptivity in the "Prologue."(17)

Zarathustra's first encounters with people in the marketplace go exactly as the old saint predicted: His efforts to give are smashed upon the shores of those unwilling to receive him. He in turn receives not receivers but a corpse. But does the herd-like stream of humanity, with its tenacious stupidity, bear sole responsibility for these disastrous encounters? Or is it also the blindness of the solarity that governs Zarathustra's giving? If the latter, then he seems to have little clue. For if he can say, as he closes Part I with his speech on the "gift-giving virtue," that "golden splendor makes peace between moon [emblem of receptivity and passiveness] and sun" (1954, 74), he still resists advancing to the question of the other as other. Zarathustra still locates the origin of gift-giving virtue in being "above praise and blame," where "your will wants to command all things" (p. 76).

Yet, Nietzsche traces Zarathustra's solar wanderings in Part II in parables that "do not define, they merely hint" (1954, 75), and in ways which increasingly bring to the fore the mounting ironies, tragedies, and weaknesses accompanying this position. Significantly, Zarathustra himself, blinded by the sun he seeks to emulate, is incapable of such self-reflection until near the end. As Part II opens he is startled awake by a dream in which a child holds a mirror before him; "it was not myself I saw, but a devil's grimace and scornful laughter" (p. 83). He takes this as a sign that his teaching is endangered, his gifts are giftless, failing. They are. But whereas one might expect him to pause in a moment of self-reflection before such an image and question how he might be implicated in these dangers and failures, the solar blindness which rots the very giving it guides simultaneously blinds him to possible self-reflection, and he instantly externalizes the problem: "My enemies have grown powerful and distorted my teaching till those dearest to me must be ashamed of the gifts I gave them" (p. 83). Secured with this account, he leaps up and "like dawn" proclaims that he will once again go down to his friends and enemies, giving, a plunging river of love: "Mouth have I become through and through" (p. 84). But is this not precisely an "inverse cripple," having developed one organ to the detriment of all else (p. 138)? Mouth he is! But can he see, hear, touch? Can a mouth alone be radiant? Giving?

Bernice Reagon does not think so. I can hear her taunting: "Most people who are up on this stage take themselves too seriously - its true. You think that what you've got to say is special and that somebody needs to hear it. That is arrogance. . . . Most of us think that the space we live in is the most important space there is" (1983, 365). She challenges us (and Zarathustra) to receive others, the future, the past, as we cultivate our giving. "The only way you can take yourself seriously is if you can throw yourself into the next period beyond your little meager human-body-mouth-talking all the time" (p. 365). Those who are all mouth bear giftless gifts; like a "mouth-talking all the time" about "woman identified" in ways which obliterate a priori the specificities of many women; like the "mouth-talking all the time" Virginia Supreme Court which recently separated a child from his lesbian mother, as a gift to the child. And when the recipients are ungrateful, they are defined out of existence.

It is not long before Zarathustra turns his mouth upon "the rabble." Here Nietzsche has him speak about those he finds most nauseating in terms remarkably similar to those he uses to describe the image of himself that he finds in the mirror, and once again he so proclaims without a moment's reflection upon the semblance. Echoing the "devil's grimace and scornful laughter" of his own image, he speaks of the image of the rabble mirrored in the well they poison: "grinning snouts," "revolting smiles" (1954, 96). Is "the rabble" closer than he thinks, peering from out of his own sun? He rages and fumes against the rabble, closing his speech with: "Like a wind I yet want to blow among them one day, and with my spirit take the breath of their spirit" (p. 99). Is it radiance, power, giving we hear here? Or something else?

Again with pointed irony, Nietzsche opens the section that follows Zarathustra's wind fantasy with a parable on storm-provoking tarantulas, whose "poison makes the soul whirl with revenge" (1954, 99). Of course, Zarathustra immediately construes these spiders in a wholly external way; they are the type exemplified by punishing equality police and courts. He lets them close enough to admit that he has been bitten, but he leaves us with a strong sense he has risen above the poison, for "Zarathustra is no cyclone or whirlwind" (p. 102).

But, once again, the question concerning whether he has been bitten is very concealing. For lurking in the nagging ironic background Nietzsche provides for Zarathustra are deeper questions the latter avoids: Is there a tarantula hiding in his sun? Has he bitten himself? Is the rabble poisoning the well partly a manifestation of his own "sun-poisoning" - in addition to all he identifies? And what might it be about solarity that could make it so? The "Night Song" parable that soon follows revolves around these questions.(18)

From the depths of darkness, Zarathustra exclaims: "Light am I; ah, that I were night!" (1954, 105). As a ceaseless self-originating giver of light, he is - unlike darkness - unable to receive anything. "Many suns revolve in the void: to all that is dark they speak with their light - to me they are silent. Oh, the enmity of light against what shines: merciless it moves in its orbit" (p. 106-7). Significantly, he says: "I do not know the happiness of those who receive" (p. 106). Recalling here Nietzsche's understanding of happiness as a feeling of increasing power, his exclamation, "Oh, darkening of my sun!," gestures toward the self-defeating character of solarity. Receiving the other-solely-as-a-receiver seems to be insufficient (and perhaps impossible, as we shall see, for unreceptive generosity seems to be mostly unreceivable and thus fails to engender "receivers"). What is yearned for here, what seems necessary for radiant generosity and power itself, seems to be the capacity to receive partially the other as other, as another light, another voice. In absence of this: "My happiness in giving died in giving; my virtue fired of itself" (p. 106).

But why this weakening, tiring, and darkening? Could it be that the unreceptive giver, no longer either the origin or the recipient of stable ontological ground that sufficiently guides one's relations toward others, but instead drawn together and pulled apart in the context of agonistic incomplete identities, becomes incapable of cultivating a gift, devoid of the wild yet more receptive and discerning dialogical encounters with the often chaotic otherness of the world that are necessary for the birth of intelligence, let alone a "dancing star"?(19) Could it be, in a world wrought with powerful contingencies, haunting indeterminacies, and difficult distances, that isolated oblivious atoms - even big overflowing ones - are simply too small, monotonic, weak, coarse, to offer much in absence of some sort of receptive, interrogative entwinement with the world and others around them? Could it be that the height of the highest virtue is only attainable through agonistic and yet more powerfully receptive relations with others as others? How could Zarathustra hope to give to those of whom he knows nothing, those from whom he has received so little? "They receive from me, but do I touch their souls? There is a cleft between giving and receiving; and the narrowest cleft is the last to be bridged." "The heart and hand of those who always mete out become callous from always meting out" (1954, 106). They lose all sense of the other, all orientation concerning what might be empowering, what might shame the other.

The significance of Zarathustra's reflections here are broad and deep. Yet, once again, Reagon's reflections can help us articulate some of their importance for considering an ethical possibility and trajectory for coalition politics. As is Zarathustra, she is concerned about cultivating a generosity that does not "tire of itself." She calls us "to have an old age perspective," such that we can remain vitally engaged with others far into the future. Part of this involves "pulling back" from coalition politics, and part of it involves the way one engages others in such a politics (1983, 361). It is clear that Reagon recognizes the cleft between monological giving and the possibility of receiving. "Watch those mono-issue people. They ain't gonna do you no good" (p. 363). Moreover, this unreceptive effort is not only tiring in an unhelpful manner to the supposed recipients but also tends to tire of itself. In learning nothing from one's encounters, one remains untransfigured and untransfiguring. In this reified void which characterizes the relations of such a self (or group) with others, an overwhelming sense of futility and weakness is most likely to emerge ("Oh, darkening of my sun!"), leading to withdrawal, resentment, or both. Reagon calls us instead to agonistic dialogues with others, in an endless effort to grapple discerningly with what is foreign, to recognize and create the possibilities that the contingencies and indeterminacies infusing our own and others' identity afford. She notes that those who tend not to tire, who remain active across decades, frequently demonstrate a capacity to engage receptively a wide range of difficult issues and perspectives. It is they, she argues, who "hold the key to turning the century," not just because they are more likely to remain vibrant, but because they are most likely to have something to give: perhaps most important, a sense of receptive generosity itself as a way of being. "They can teach you how to cross cultures and not kill yourself" (p. 363).

Yet, if Zarathustra's agony in "Night Song" brilliantly opens onto this wisdom, it soon disappears again in blinding flashes of the solarity by which he is seized. Unable to receive, unable to give, Zarathustra's giving turns unpalatably sour. And a giving whose fundamental structure dooms it to failure leads to resentment. "I should like to hurt those for whom I shine . . . rob those to whom I give. . . . Such revenge my fullness plots: such spite wells out of my loneliness" (1954, 106). But has he not, then, produced himself, become himself, the revengeful tarantula he so despises, this spider who dwells where the sun shines brightest and hottest?

Zarathustra's most suggestive efforts to address the problem of receptivity can be traced in his discussions of the way time pierces the active will with a passivity it must receive despite itself and of the manner in which the latter inextricably entwines all selves with rabblishness. Receptive generosity as a response to this situation emerges in my reading of the doctrine of eternal return.

The section "On Redemption" offers much on the difficulties of embracing receptivity as vital, as life-giving. Zarathustra's concern here is to try somehow to embrace difficult reception, like the kind he suggests that the hunchback who would rather be "cured" ought to embrace: "When one takes away the hump from the hunchback one takes away his spirit" (1954, 137). Yet, Zarathustra recognizes a problem within the solar will that makes reception itself difficult, nay, impossible to embrace. For he realizes that the passive aspect of our relation to time is ineliminable and gives the lie to the will's claims to be self-originary giving. The present moment of the will receives, is carried along by, an intractable past that is more than its will and cannot be changed "at will." "The now and the past on earth - alas, my friends, that is what I find most unendurable" (p. 138). Before the past the self-proclaimed unreceptive will seems impotent and mythical. "The will is still a prisoner. . . . It was - that is the name of the will's gnashing of teeth and most secret melancholy. Powerless against all that has been done, he is an angry spectator of all that is past" (p. 139). Angry at that which the will must unwillingly receive, the will becomes a destructive force and "wreaks revenge," which Zarathustra defines precisely as "the will's ill will against time and its 'it was.'" Unless the will can receive otherness in the fundamental form of temporality, "cloud upon cloud rolls over the spirit," the sun extinguishes itself (p. 140).

But how to receive time, through which the other and otherness have come and always are already coming? Somehow the will must receive time, gather together the "fragment, riddle, dreadful accident" that temporality appears to be, and say "thus I will it." But how to do this when what has come and is coming is permeated by so much rabblishness (and also the highest profundities of others that one "girt with light" finds difficult to perceive/receive)?

Nietzsche seeks a sort of redemption in the face of recalcitrant time and rabblishness through the doctrine of the "eternal return." Whether or not he really thought this doctrine had literal ontological merit, clearly he viewed it as a practical regulative idea (an idea he called "the greatest weight") (1974, 273-74).(20) I will only sketch a possible sense of the latter as it emerges in the context of and engages the questions we have been pressing and the directions we have been pursuing.

Zarathustra's animals capture the most important core of the idea: "All things recur eternally, and we ourselves too. . . . You teach that there is a great year of becoming, a monster of a year, which must like an hour glass turn over again and again . . . all these years are alike in what is greatest and what is smallest; and we ourselves are alike in every great year, in what is greatest as in what is smallest . . . the knot of causes in which I am entangled recurs and will create me again" (1954, 228). Much of Zarathustra's effort focuses upon coming to terms with the implications of this thought: "the eternal recurrence even of the smallest . . . that was my disgust with all existence" (p. 219).

One cannot escape the smallest in others and oneself; one cannot simply will it away anymore than one can will away the past. The question then, which is pressed into being and opened under the weight of this highly pressurized thought of passive receptivity, is how to receive this smallness (and grandness) in such a way that radiance and giving do not darken but, instead are, made possible in part precisely through this reception. There is no singularly triumphant answer to this question, despite moments in the text when joyful triumph seems absolute. For the distance, opacity, difference, and rabblishness which are in part the space of giving's possibility, simultaneously permeate it with tragic dimensions of erring. Instead, eternal recurrence, this thought of unending closed time, hangs over Zarathustra in an essentially interrogative hue, as a question through which the opening of time as a site of possibility for the creation/coming of the higher emerges. The interrogative overture (a word capturing the essential connection between opening and height) is endlessly renewed in the question of how one might receive the rabblishness (and grandness) within and without in order that it might be gathered together into a giving and a gift high enough to redeem it, high enough to say "yes" to the eternal return of this moment. This question involves the partly agonistic, partly cooperative, always transfiguring dialogical effort with others to discern what is lower and what is higher; to discern how these differences and distances might be brought together and held apart such that we might become more receptive of their gifts, more capable of giving, less resentful and revenge seeking. Finally, the possibility of radiance seems to hinge precisely upon the agonistic dialogue between others, the entwinement of giving and receiving which, although never free of all doubt in the manner Descartes yearned for, is nevertheless the precarious elaborating foundation of well-being and sense. (For discussions of agonistic dialogical ethics, see Coles 1992a, 1992b, and 1995.)

The gift-giving virtue is what is highest, but it is incapable of manifesting itself as that which comes from on high. Rather, its greatest possibility for emergence "arises," Nietzsche thinks, paradoxically, underneath "the greatest weight" - the thought of eternal return (which is hence the greatest gift?). The greatest weight presses us generously into the depths of our surroundings as the oblique path of ascension. Zarathustra says to himself that, in contrast to those who are "obtrusive with [their] eyes" and are stuck in the "foreground" surface of things, "you, O Zarathustra, wanted to see the ground and background of all things," wanted to plunge into the depths of beings, those aspects and possibilities that are concealed beneath immediate appearances. He exclaims that "hence you must climb over yourself," but, again, this climb is not direct; rather, it is a journey through depth toward height, as is implied when he says that "one must look away from oneself [and one's foreground] in order to see much" (1954, 153). One looks up to the highest virtue and is pressed into the pregnant depths by its midwife. Ironically, one of Zarathustra's clearest articulations of this relation is given early in the text: "It is with man as it is with the tree. The more he aspires to the height and light, the more strongly do his roots strive earthward, downward, into the dark, the deep - into evil" (p. 42); into evil because the background depth of beings is barred from generous approach by the taboos of evil (races, sexualities, classes, practices, desires, thoughts, bodily expressions, and so forth). Yet, in the stream of Nietzsche's thinking that I am tracing here, the striving into evil is to be animated and circumscribed by the generous respect for otherness solicited by the highest virtue. It is through this agonistic giving and receiving in depth that one can best affirm life and might rise toward a joy capable of dancing in the face of the eternal question of the eternal return.

These are pregnant thoughts; a dimension of their significance can be further clarified by returning to Reagon's reflections on coalition politics. Reagon describes the engagement in such politics in terms of overwhelming pressures which threaten to the core. Under these pressures generous receptive agonism can easily dissolve into strategies of assimilation, withdrawal, or outright subjugation. I have argued that the radical democratic liberalism of Laclau and Mouffe offers little to resist such pressures. Nietzsche, having graphically portrayed these dangers in the narrative of Zarathustra, responds in two ways. On the one hand, he evokes the seductive possibility of buoyant empowerment and joyful wisdom that might accompany receptive and generous engagements. On the other hand, and more important because he recognizes the fleeting character of the first moment, he offers us "the greatest weight" of the eternal return as a kind of interrogative counterpressure to those Reagon describes, in order to keep us returning to those most difficult and dangerous spaces with others, checking assimilation and indifference, questioning the possible and desirable.

My claim here is not that the idea of the eternal return is the only interrogative counterpressure which might be cultivated with an eye toward a more desirable form of coalition politics and ethics of receptive generosity more generally, simply that it is one very potent articulation of such a pressure. Reagon cultivates another very potent articulation in her distinctive relation to the tradition of gospel music. Not only the group of themes she emphasizes (although these are often powerful) but also the rhythms, harmonies, and textures of voices singing, writhing, bubbling, and wailing at once lift one up and press one down into explorations of violence and possibility. One might say that a key task of coalition politics would be the cultivation of diverse philosophies, narratives, musics, and practices that tend to engender such questioning, being questioned, and action.

Questions of the "greatest weight" often seem to solicit Zarathustra in Book IV, and his encounters there frequently distinguish themselves from many others in the text insofar as he often seems to listen more, ask more questions, experience more joy in his relations with others, offer something of receivable worth to his interlocutors, and receive something of value from them even as he yearns for much more; he tames his nausea, pity, revenge. Yet, these encounters manifest a rather pale and discontinuous image of the more radiant possibilities of entwined giving and receiving that the text at times seems to conjure as a soliciting ideal. Perhaps this is to some degree a weakness, partly due to continued interference of Nietzsche's devitalized sense of the transfigurative possibilities of politics and his unending attraction to the monological solar idea.(21) In these respects Zarathustra's encounters might be judged at least to some degree to be a weakness.

But perhaps it is also a strength that giving and receiving should appear pale and fragile in Zarathustra's closing pages: a powerful and necessary warning to the "beautiful soul" that might emerge from such an ethic unless thus chastened. Political life is difficult! As Bernice Reagon says, "We've got to do it with some folk we don't care too much about. And we got to vomit over that a little while" (1983, 368). Receptive generosity calls us to these difficult relations of giving and receiving in a manner most likely to avoid the dynamic of darkening suns and revenge seeking; most likely to redeem the rabblishness that keeps on coming through us and from others. But insofar as it throws us into wrenching situations, it risks and provokes its own weakening. "We cannot stay there," in these most agonistic spaces, for too long before we must leave, a bit broken and exhausted, for places where our passions, ideals, and visions can relax a bit, reform, revitalize in a different way. The ideal always partly suffers in its incarnation. Finally, therefore, receptive generosity remains a soliciting ideal whose realization is "not yet." It is a direction toward which we bring forth children, a direction from which they are coming - like Zarathustra's, who shall be "taciturn even when [they] speak, and yielding so that in giving [they] receive" - capable of friendship (1954, 161). These children are still coming on the final page, near, but not yet here.


My elaboration of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra gestures toward a narrative argument - fallible but quite compelling - concerning why and how receptive generosity is desirable as an ideal animating our relations with others. By illuminating the poisoning and life-denying decadence that proliferates in its absence, and by gesturing toward the possibilities of vitalization, empowerment, and intelligence that can more likely emerge in relations animated by a more dialogical rendering of the gift-giving virtue, my argument seeks to move beyond Laclau and Mouffe's "I just happen to believe" response to the thought of contingency, indeterminacy, and finitude. It attempts to draw an ethics precisely from this thought, to wrestle with it, to give an account of how we are and ought to be called, by the erring finitude of all monological accounts, beyond ourselves to others' otherness. Contingency need not lead us simply to the ethical silence of "I just happen," it is rather (or in addition and more powerfully) a central and compelling dimension of a reformulated ethic.

If we now reposition Laclau and Mouffe's, and more generally liberalism's, favored ideals of equality and liberty in a constellation where receptive generosity is the slightly brighter star,(22) they might acquire a meaning more colored by the solicitation to give to and receive from others as others. They become preconditions of postsecular caritas as well as ends in themselves that protect more private and autonomous sites of identity formation. Perhaps in this context they will be less likely to engender the diverse imperialisms of identity they have sometimes fostered.

To sketch very briefly a direction in which such formulations might move, we could begin by rooting the ideal of equality of liberty in the indeterminacy of giving and receiving. For such indeterminacy is radically disruptive of all efforts to legitimize coercive impositions of inequality on the basis of claims to be more "gifted." Others are simply too opaque to us and too protean to be excluded or demoted in the politics of giving and receiving. Moreover, equality of liberty is a precondition for protecting the indeterminate dialogical relations through which the gift-giving virtue is most likely to thrive. In a very powerful passage in Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes: "Could it be that in the realm of the spirit Raphael without hands, taking this phrase in the widest sense, is perhaps not the exception but the rule? Genius is perhaps not so rare after all - but the five hundred hands it requires to tyrannize the kairos, "the right time," seizing chance by its forelock" (1966, 222-23). If genius, a brilliance of what might be received and given, indeterminately lurks as a possibility that is "perhaps not so rare after all," even if usually hidden like a brilliant painter without hands is usually concealed (and, if we were to think this through "in the widest sense," perhaps even the absence of hands becomes part of the gift, as is the case with a famous Chinese artist who holds the brush in her mouth, analogous in certain respects to the gift of the hunchback that might emerge precisely through the hump itself), then the task solicited by the gift-giving virtue is receptively to search the depths of others and oneself for such pregnant possibilities, needing only to be gathered, redrawn, seized by the "forelock." And it is necessary to allow, indeed encourage, others to search oneself thus. This task, even and especially if often agonistic, requires an equality of liberty to protect the indeterminacies of dialogue (between and among selves and groups) through which it might manifest its highest possibility.(23) (It is far too wild to be likely to emerge from the relatively monological work of philosopher-kings.) Moreover, such equality of liberty, to be more than substanceless formalism, calls us to proliferate radical and plural democratic spaces for generous and receptive participation. It is precisely this sensibility, I believe, which animates Sheldon Wolin's eloquent statement concerning political power: "True political power involves not only acting so as to effect decisive changes; it also means the capacity to receive power, to be acted upon, to change, and be changed. From a democratic perspective, power is not simply force that is generated; it is experience, sensibility, wisdom, even melancholy distilled from the diverse relations and circles we move within" (1992, 252-53).

Perhaps here we might be able to begin partially to refigure the meaning of liberty in a significant manner, for it now seems to have as both its condition of possibility and its desire an essential relation to generous receptivity. If freedom is substantially an opening, exploration, articulation, and intelligence with respect to higher possibilities, then we have seen that such events are most probable in the differential relations engendered by the gift-giving virtue. Similarly, freedom is initially solicited and borne by generous desire.

Relations animated by these ideals are, as Reagon and Nietzsche illustrate in different ways, likely a precondition for the coalition politics sought (albeit in a problematic way) by Laclau and Mouffe. In absence of an ethic of receptive generosity, it is easy to imagine the politics of democratization continuing to oscillate between totalizing impulses that are solidly rejected, on the one hand, and disintegrative social movements that are equally impotent, on the other, as radical right-wing movements coalesce and grow stronger around numerous essentialist foundations. Postsecular caritas offers a very broad vision of a soliciting height that might rise above this - politically, economically, and, just as important, ethically.(24)

1 Xenophon (c. 429-c.357 BC), with Alcibiades and Plato, was among the most famous and influential students of Socrates. Like the former, he led an active political life, formed ties with Sparta and Persia, and ultimately was exiled by the Athenians. Like the latter, he wrote Socratic dialogues but also works on more historical and practical subjects. In antiquity the Education of Cyrus seems to have been frequently paired with Plato's Republic, either as its complement or rival; the two contain many common themes. The Education of Cyrus, Memorabilia, and Anabasis are considered Xenophon's three greatest works and roughly correspond to his preoccupation with politics, philosophy, and the relation between the two (see Bruell 1987).

2 The fact that these works were conceived and written at approximately the same time appears to have prevented their authors from stating these contrasts themselves, although Gera does include a few passing references to Tatum and Due.

3 The importance Machiavelli placed on Xenophon is indicated in several ways. First, Machiavelli mentions Xenophon more often in his major works than Plato or Aristotle combined. Second, in the Prince, itself written in a compressed style for the busy executive with little time for study, Xenophon's Education of Cyrus is the only book cited by name and is even recommended for further reading. Third, Xenophon's Cyrus is one of the four great founders held up by Machiavelli for admiration in the Prince and again serves as a model for imitation in the Discourses. Fourth, one of the grand themes of the Education of Cyrus, the place of an outstanding ruler in both republican and imperial politics, holds an equally prominent place in Machiavelli's works (Machiavelli 1983, 59, 71, 93, 259). For several passages in the Prince and Discourses that can be traced directly to the Education of Cyrus, see Tatum 1989, 8, 106.

4 This latter view is argued by W. E. Higgins (1977, 57ff).

5 See also Tatum 1989, 147-57, for what he calls the "intertextuality" of the Education of Cyrus and Herodotus' Histories.

6 Citations of the Education of Cyrus are from the edition edited by E.C. Marchant, 1904, Xenophontis Opera Omnia. Translations are my own.

8 Dallmayr expresses some of these reservations concerning radical equivalence and war in his review of Laclau and Mouffe, although he emphasizes the undeveloped ethical potential in their understanding of relational identities. His gestures toward a greater degree of "ethical permeation" than they offer, an ethics soliciting "a struggle for mutual recognition [of differences]" (1987, 294), are largely consonant with my effort to articulate such an ethic in the section on Nietzsche below.

9 The following analysis of the gift-giving virtue has some significant parallels with Corlett's (1989) insights. Yet, my account places far more emphasis on the difficulties, distances, and recalcitrances that frequently permeate the terrain of gift-giving. This situation leads to a continual interrogative relationship between determinacy and indeterminacy in receptive generosity. My emphasis on recalcitrance is due not only to ontological considerations but also to numerous political experiences in which the extravagant gift of one person or group is interpreted as so much imperialism, irrelevance, and so forth, by the intended recipients. An encounter between my analysis and the gift as it figures in Derrida (1992) and Levinas (1969) would be highly illuminating; a project that is under way.

10 Warren (1988), while recognizing the diversity of insights within Nietzsche's work, tends to view Nietzsche's philosophical positions as largely consonant with a democratic politics at once pluralist and egalitarian. This consonance is concealed from Nietzsche due to the "narrowness" of his political assumptions. Much of Warren's analysis is helpful and provocative, but I see far more diversity and (sometimes nonilluminating and apparently unintended?) contradictions among Nietzsche's philosophical reflections. Honig (1993) also fails to acknowledge sufficiently the multiple ethical voices in Nietzsche at odds with her project (which has substantial affinities with my own).

11 Almost all the secondary works claim, to "get Nietzsche right," a claim made dubious when reading each in light of the others. Each illuminates aspects of Nietzsche that other interpretations attempt to conceal. Derrida (1979) illuminates the problematic assumptions that would reduce Nietzsche's writings to a totalizing context of meaning. It does not follow, however, that we must read Nietzsche in as indeterminate and potentially disintegrative a manner as one might draw from (and thereby reduce?) Derrida's text. The degrees of unity and multiplicity must be substantively argued.

12 That is, only if what I did not "pick" is compelling, necessarily entwined with what I did choose, and entwined in such a way as to undermine fundamentally the initial plausibility of the latter. Thus, for example, I do not bring out the voice in Nietzsche that Heidegger identifies as the culmination of metaphysical forgetfulness of being, which leads to homelessness, and an endless technological mastery imperative, which reduces others and the earth to "standing reserve" for exploitation (see Heidegger 1977a, 1977b, 1982). Unlike most who seek to draw out something more admirable in Nietzsche, I do not accuse Heidegger of giving us a "lame reading" (Lampert 1986). He perceptively criticizes an important strand of Nietzsche's writing. Yet, that strand is not compelling (as Heidegger shows) and is not necessarily entwined with the strand I develop, as I show below.

13 Many commentators miss the centrality of this theme in Nietzsche's work (see Higgins 1987; Nehamas 1985). Lampert's (1986) frequently insightful commentary makes questions concerning gift-giving central. The theme of generosity is present in Honig (1993) and Kaufmann (1950), but it is insufficiently developed in the former and poorly developed (through too close an association with Aristotle, pp. 382-83) in the latter. While Beatty focuses his analysis (1970) on giving, he misses most of the profundity of the text by concentrating on the themes of radicalized independence and innocence. He tries to be more solar than Zarathustra. My development of the gift-giving virtue takes seriously Gadamer's (1988) emphasis on the importance of the narrative for interpreting the text.

14 Many commentators contend that Nietzsche responds to this situation by embracing a thorough-going perspectivism (see Danto 1965) or a project of difference affirming deconstruction without construction (see Deleuze 1983). These readings fail to account for the many affirmative-constructive moments in Nietzsche's works. In the case of Deleuze, his brilliant but very one-sided reading (1983) is entwined with an excessively disintegrative politics and ethics in Deleuze and Guattari (1983), a problem acknowledged, although insufficiently transcended, in discussions of "re-territorialization" in Deleuze and Guattari (1987).

15 Love and gift-giving distinguish his own teachings from those of his impostures. See "Zarathustra's Ape" (1954, 175-78).

16 On the theme of solarity, metaphysics of presence, and Zarathustra, see Derrida (1981). A significant stream in Thus Spoke Zarathustra struggles with the problems Derrida identifies.

17 Thiele (1990) seems to read Zarathustra as embracing a thorough-going solarity from beginning to end. This, as I argue below, is to miss some of Nietzsche's most provocative insights, especially concerning relations with others, which Thiele's work does not adequately explore. Strong (1975) is absolutely right when he writes, in contrast to the dominant bent of Thiele and Nehamas (1985), of "the great weight Nietzsche lays on the interaction between individuals and their world." Yet, his individualistic figurations of skiing and biking in the conclusion do not go very far toward helping us consider relations between selves.

18 On the one hand, Higgins obscures the importance of "Night Song" when she reduces it to a "lament about the emotional strain" of appearing as a "bottomless well of insight and generosity" (1987, 136). On the other hand, her fascinating analysis (1985) of Dionysus, Apollo, and Ariadne with regard to the themes of unity, difference, transfiguration, and love suggests a very fruitful path that might be explored both to illuminate Nietzsche's sense of Dionysus and to deepen an analysis of receptive generosity. Lampert correctly reads the section as pivotal, the location of "a great shift" (1986, 102-5), but the shift involves not only a move toward the problem of receiving the gift of the doctrine of eternal return but also, entwined with the former, toward the problem of receiving others. Lampert's focus on the growing distance between the philosopher-ruler and other people in Zarathustra obscures the numerous, diverse, and important relations Zarathustra both seeks and discovers. See also Nietzsche (1979, 108-10).

19 The centrality of receptivity to giving is insufficiently developed by some of those mentioned above for whom gift-giving is important (Honig 1993; Kaufmann 1950). For Lampert (1986), receptivity is central, but he ends up conceptualizing it as "letting be," which overlooks the very important reciprocally transfigurative and agonistic characteristics of giving and receiving between people in Zarathustra's thinking, developed below.

20 There are endless debates on the ontological status of the eternal return in Nietzsche's thought. Danto (1965), Kaufmann (1968), and Zuboff (1973), among others, provide an ontological reading. Lampert (1986) views it primarily as a practical regulative idea, as does Nehamas (1985), who provides a compelling discussion of the issue in chapter 5. Nehamas, however, interprets eternal return solely as "a view of the self" (p. 150), a view I wish to decenter through a discussion of receiving otherness "within" and "without," recognizing the real limits of these categories.

21 For one of the most provocative historical discussions of Nietzsche's life and thought concerning his relation to politics, see Bergmann (1987).

22 Warren (1988, 69-74, 247-48) offers some very suggestive comments on a theory of equality that can be drawn out of passages from Nietzsche's middle period. His remarks on "agonistic" equality have some affinity with my discussion below.

23 I enjoy a proximate distance with Kateb's (1992) discussion of Whitman's understanding of the infinite potentialities of the soul. But my claim that equality of liberty is a precondition for protecting the radical indeterminacies of giving and receiving through which these potentialities develop should not be confused with what I consider to be an implausible claim, namely, in terms of the "reservoir of potentialities," "in all persons the given is the same: the same desires, inclinations, and passions as well as aptitudes and incipient talents" (Kateb 1992, 245).

24 I further explore this theme in Coles (forthcoming).


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Christopher Nadon is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Trinity College, Hartford, CT 06106.

This research was generously supported by the Bradley Foundation and La Fondation Saint-Simon. The author thanks Steve Kautz, David Bolotin, Alice Behnegar, Richard Ruderman, and Paul Ulrich for their comments and suggestions.
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Date:Jun 1, 1996
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