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Making Republics

by Paul Rahe
Metamorphoses of the City: On the Western Dynamic, by Pierre Manent (Harvard, 376 pp., $39.95)

Pierre Manent is today the leading political philosopher in France. As a young scholar and teacher, while working in Paris as an assistant to Raymond Aron, he read with attention and care the works of Leo Strauss, befriended Allan Bloom (whose book Love and Friendship he would later translate into French), and helped found and for twelve years co-edited the distinguished French journal Commentaire. In time, he became director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, where he still holds court.

Early in his career, during the Cold War, Manent followed Aron’s lead and concerned himself with the totalitarian temptation and with the inability of liberals to recognize the seriousness of the Communist threat. In those years, he took Tocqueville as his guide and liberal democracy as his subject. In 1977, he published Naissances de la politique moderne: Machiavel, Hobbes, Rousseau. In the 1980s, he brought out two additional books, which were subsequently translated into English as Tocqueville and the Nature of Democracy and An Intellectual History of Liberalism, and he published in French a two-volume anthology of liberal tracts penned by figures stretching from John Milton to Bertrand de Jouvenel. No one — apart, perhaps, from Aron and from Manent’s friend and associate François Furet — did more in those years to champion a revival of classical liberalism in France.

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