All three books available on
The Ancient Regime in Classical Greece (Vol. I)
New Modes & Orders in Early Modern Political Thought (Vol. 2)
Inventions of Prudence, Constituting the American Regime (Vol. 3)


[My Christmas] list starts with Republics Ancient and Modern by Paul A. Rahe. This rather daunting title gives an idea of the seriousness and the range of the theme, but no hint of its total fascination. It embraces the whole of European political thought, from the birth of systems, through Sparta and Athens, with their later impacts and rejections, then sweeps on to Machiavelli, Descartes, Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, enlightened despotism and the philosophes, to the American Revolution and the anatomy of modern political notions. It is annotated on a Gibbonian scale and illustrated by the influences of literature, poetry, religious clashes and wars and by a vast throng of absorbing and complex figures. . . . This extraordinary book . . . is a great achievement and will stay as a landmark.

—Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Spectator

Any book of nearly 800 pages of text and more than 400 pages of notes and apparatus requires extraordinary justification for its existence. Yet the learning, the scope, the lucid argument, and the persistent stimulation of Paul A. Rahe’s Republics Ancient and Modern justify both the courage and investment of the author and the publisher and the long hours one must spend in its reading. Though I disagree with a fundamental part of its thesis, there can be no doubt that Rahe has written a seminal work that will for a long time put students of political thought in general, and of the ideas of the American founding in particular, in his debt. In a way that even evokes comparison with such masterworks of philosophy, history, and social science as those of Aristotle, Niccolò Machiavelli, and Baron de Montesquieu, Rahe brings to our contemplation the complex fabric of republican political inquiry from Plato to Thomas Jefferson.

—Ralph Ketcham (Syracuse University), William and Mary Quarterly

Weighing in at 15 pounds, the book brings to mind the reviewer of Gone with the Wind, who commented that he had heard of books you couldn’t put down but had never before seen one you couldn’t pick up. . . . The author is contentious in the good sense of the word; his voice is authoritative, and “awesome” is the only way to characterize his grasp of the conversation about politics that has been running now for close to two-and-a-half millennia. There is scare a speaker who has escaped his notice.

—Joyce Appleby (UCLA), The American Political Science Review

Impressively researched, extensively documented, broadly conceived, and clearly written, Rahe’s study raises the scholarly discourse about the nature of the founding of the American republic to a new level.

—M. L. Dolan (Northern Michigan University), Choice

A fashionable fantasy: America is the New World; America is kitsch. America is the embodiment of all that is banal and superficial; American is a country without a history. . . . Easily worked, this fantasy. But it comes too easily. The truth is that America is loaded with history; and a good part of that load is perfectly familiar to Europeans. This accounts for the bulk of Paul Rahe’s book. Simply to pick it up is to appreciate the substance of American history. An inherited burden, a ponderous past. . . . The founders of America were not whooping Cherokees, errant Vikings or Italian mariners, but rather grave men of the 18th century who had been educated in roughly the same way as Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke and Maximilian Robespierre. That is, they were schooled in the Classics, and they set up the American Constitution within the intellectual precincts of the European Enlightenment. Hence the substance and the dignity of this new study, which if the title were still available might properly be called Roots. For it is an essentially radical enterprise: a retrieval of the mentalities of the Founding Fathers, an excavation of the basis of modern America.

—Nigel Spivey (Emmanuel College, Cambridge), The Spectator

“To comprehend modern times well, it is necessary to comprehend ancient times well; it is necessary to follow each law in the spirit of all the ages.”—Baron de Montesquieu

Taking de Montesquieu’s words to heart, historian Paul A. Rahe examines the modern republic from the perspective of its ancient forebears in a provocative work of comparative politics that challenges standard interpretation.

In Republics Ancient & Modern, Rahe spans the history of Western political thought—from classical antiquity to the 18th century—to determine how ancient republican ideals both influenced and were transformed by early European and American political ideologies.

His conclusions are often startling. Rahe confronts the prevailing view that there is a continuity between Greek republicanism and modern political thought. “I contend that there was a decisive break,” he writes, as he documents the repudiation of the classical tradition by European thinkers from Machiavelli to Locke and asserts that the American Founding Fathers went even further, initiating “a new order of the ages” that signaled the final severance with the ancient past.

Rahe contrasts the illiberal, martial republics of classical antiquity with the liberal, commercial polities of modern times, finding each to be institutions grounded on the most fundamental beliefs of their era. While the Greek pólis was “a moral community of men,” that subordinated the rights of its citizens to the interests of the state, the modern republic became a place where individual rights were of paramount importance, and life, liberty, and property the responsibility of government to protect.

How did this radical and extreme transformation take place? Largely through drastic shifts in political ideology, Rahe maintains. He analyzes the writings of Bacon, Montesquieu, Hobbes, and Locke from the early modern period; and Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, and Jefferson from the American to give readers a thorough understanding of how intellectual discourse transformed republican politics, paving the way for a fundamental shift in republican government.

Republics Ancient & Modern is an ambitious work of political history that rivals J. G. A. Pocock’s The Machiavellian Moment in its sweep and coverage. It is a comprehensive analysis of republicanism that will fascinate anyone with an interest in Western politics and political ideology.

The History Book Club Review

Rahe’s half-a-million-word leviathan is a formidable . . . achievement, . . . a bibliographical goldmine. . . . [T]he value of his fluent, literate . . . and polemical text outweighs even that of its 400 pages of footnotes. . . . Rahe has at least convinced me that there is less of the ‘ancient’ in early modern political thinking than those who seek to explain its essence on a ‘civic humanist’ model would have us believe.

—Paul Cartledge (Clare College, Cambridge), History Today

In this immense . . . book, which represents as much work as many historians achieve in half a lifetime, Paul A. Rahe argues that between the ancient (principally Greek) and modern republics, the purpose and meaning of the state changed fundamentally, while the concept of virtue, ever elusive and protean, acquired correspondingly changed—and weaker—values. . . . One of Rahe’s sustaining aims is to return the classics to their place in American political self-consciousness. He is never far from a Machiavellian desire to restore the Republic by confronting it with its own first principles. But what principles? The task appears paradoxical, since his argument has demonstrated the crucial discontinuities. The exercise is intellectually justified—and certainly made interesting—by the Renaissance rediscovery of antiquity; and to fulfill his mission, Rahe traces the march of western thought towards the modern idea of the secular, and ultimately utilitarian state—from homo politicus to homo faber—(although there is only one reference to Bentham) across a bridge erected by a long succession of thinkers, notably Machiavelli, Montaigne, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Harrington, Spinoza, Vico, Paolo Sarpi, Locke, Montesquieu, Diderot, Adam Ferguson, Adams Smith and Franklin. There are many more; the book is rich in references, subtle in discourse. . . . Among Rahe’s many encounters with other historians the most important, and what presumably started the whole project, is his dissent from J. G. A. Pocock in The Machiavellian Moment (1975) and in subsequent writings. It becomes difficult to sustain Pocock’s view that the Constitution was ‘a flight from modernity’, a conscious attempt to return to first principles through the revival of homo politicus. The ‘civic humanism’ attributed to seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Commonwealth men and their American successors disappears into the mists as ‘by and large a figment of the scholarly imagination’.

—J. R. Pole (St. Catherine’s College, Oxford), The English Historical Review

The description of Greek politics was for me the most rewarding part of the book. The subject has been done many times, yet the author’s depiction is fresh. Rahe refuses to soft-pedal on those practices considered repugnant today, and interprets Greek life as a seamless whole dedicated to rearing public-spirited warriors. He shows a virile politics that excluded women from public life, and in Sparta, relegated them to the child-bearing role. But women are not excluded from Rahe’s account: he ransacks the sparse sources to convey some sense of their circumstances. Similarly with slavery. This institution freed citizens from unworthy toil, but in Sparta programmed cruelty to slaves was part of the education of young men; Rahe lets the reader feel the human misery that purchased Spartan virtue.

Education to civic virtue was the central concept of Greek democracy. Education was not a training in skills and routines, but a combination of physical culture, musical exercise, and military training meant to instill solidarity, valour and shame. Rahe is especially strong on that embarrassment to classical scholars, homosexual love between youths and their mentors. The homosexual episode in education was believed to enhance warrior solidarity and to lift courage in battle. Another unmodern trait of Greek politics was the low esteem for trade and everything merely mechanical. This was the obverse of devotion to the only activities considered worthy of free men—politics, war, and the celebration of both in poetry and the arts.

—Hiram Caton (Griffith University, Australia), Quadrant

For those who have dared to hope that the obsession with republicanism as a useful category of analysis had run its course, the arrival of this four-and-a-half pound volume is an ominous portent. As intellectually ambitions as J. G. A. Pocock’s The Machiavellian Moment, the work to which it might most obviously be compared, Republics Ancient and Modern is also more accessible and engaging than that celebrated book, and wider ranging. Where Pocock observes the ancient republics through the distant lens of their early modern interpreters, Paul A. Rahe, a classicist, describes what those republics were about; where Pocock treats American republicanism as an epilogue to a story already concluded, Rahe makes the founding of the American “regime” the climax of his account. In these shifts in emphasis lie virtues—and powerful virtues—by which the promises of the so-called republican synthesis may be redeemed and its vices moderated.

—Jack Rakove (Stanford University), The American Historical Review

This is a work vast in scale, soaring in its scholarly ambition, and magnificent, if uneven, in its achievement. The author’s command of the primary sources is staggering in breadth and depth, deftly orchestrated, and rich with insight. Three hundred pages of footnotes provide a thorough and vivaciously critical review of the relevant secondary literature. Guided by a carefully constructed seventy page index, the reader will find this an invaluable reference resource on any number of crucial topics in the history of republicanism. Yet to use the book only as such a resource would be to miss the challenge of its admittedly “long and labyrinthine” argument.

The first, and theoretically most fundamental, of the book’s three parts provides a synoptic account of all that is known about the actual way of life of the polis, juxtaposed with some of the modern theorists and statesmen’s comments on that life, in order to bring vividly to light how radically alien to eighteenth century aspirations was the ancient citizen’s experience of freedom, family, property, “music,” god, and war. The discussion culminates in a marvelously informative account of Sparta, the city which is most revealing because of its “radical fidelity to the principles particular to the polis.” We are left with a lively impression of the fascinating mixture of nobility and inhumanity, reason and fanaticism, that characterized the polis.

[I]n the second part . . . we are treated to an exceptionally lucid and informative ferreting out of the fascinating twists and turns in the development of modern republican doctrines (particularly helpful is the extensive analysis of Harrington, as the key republican mediator between Hobbesian and Lockean constitutionalism). Deploying an avalanche of evidence, . . . Rahe shows how alien the modern project, in all its diverse versions, was to the classics as well as the Bible.

Since the third and last part, dealing with the American founders, covers the most familiar ground, one expects it to be the least interesting. On the contrary: Rahe elaborates a step by step interpretation of the evolution of the great debate between Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians that lends dramatic new significance to their arguments. He shows how each of the great parties to the conflict welded together an uneasy but powerful republican synthesis: predominantly modern, but with subordinate, and mitigating, ancient principles. Here as throughout, Rahe evinces an uncanny gift for reenacting debates in such a gripping fashion as to draw the reader into the most rewarding rethinking and reexamination.

—Thomas L. Pangle (University of Toronto), Political Theory

Paul Rahe’s book has both an immediate and a more remote purpose. In the short term, he aims, once and for all, to settle the scholarly debate over whether America is “republican” or “liberal.” In the longer view, Rahe rehearses a comprehensive backward look for an age that has lost confidence in the political philosophy of modern republicanism. He shows us that America’s Founders’ understanding of political principles is not only intelligible but superior to the views that prevail today. . . . The parade of learning is part of his rhetorical strategy. By sheer weight and exhaustiveness he would intimidate the opposition into agreement or silence. Rahe primarily addresses the scholarly world, especially historians and political scientists. He aims to convince them, on grounds they respect, that the received wisdom on the American founding is mostly wrong.

—Thomas G. West (University of Dallas), Review of Politics

No one can fail to be impressed by Paul Rahe’s magnificent contribution to the history of political theory. With almost 800 pages of text and over 400 of notes and elaborate index, it is an indispensable reference for scholars concerned with classical political philosophy and its ramifications for the West, particularly in America. The volume’s three books—”The Ancien Régime,” “New Modes and Orders” (the longest section), and “Inventions of Prudence”—represent reflective accounts of ancient republicanism, the early modern political philosophers (especially on Locke), and the American novus ordo seclorum, respectively. An historian by training, Rahe displays an impressive command of the scholarship in both political philosophy and political history. It is a rare scholar who would not profit from this book.

—Ken Masugi (Michigan State University), Review of Metaphysics