What We Are Reading Today: The Great Leveler

Updated 17 September 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: The Great Leveler

AUTHOR: Walter Scheidel

Are mass violence and catastrophes the only forces that can seriously decrease economic inequality?

To judge by thousands of years of history, the answer is yes.

Tracing the global history of inequality from the Stone Age to today, Walter Scheidel shows that inequality never dies peacefully, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.

Inequality declines when carnage and disaster strike and increases when peace and stability return.

The Great Leveler is the first book to chart the crucial role of violent shocks in reducing inequality over the full sweep of human history around the world.

Ever since humans began to farm, herd livestock, and pass on their assets to future generations, economic inequality has been a defining feature of civilization.

Over thousands of years, only violent events have significantly lessened inequality.

Today, the violence that reduced inequality in the past seems to have diminished, and that is a good thing. But it casts serious doubt on the prospects for a more equal future.


What We Are Reading Today: Plato’s Fable 

Updated 18 September 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Plato’s Fable 

  • Plato’s Fable is not simply a work of textual exegesis. It is an attempt to move debates within political theory beyond their current location

AUTHOR:  Joshua Mitchell

This book is an exploration of Plato’s Republic that bypasses arcane scholarly debates. Plato’s Fable provides refreshing insight into what, in Plato’s view, is the central problem of life: The mortal propensity to adopt defective ways of answering the question of how to live well.

How, in light of these tendencies, can humankind be saved? Joshua Mitchell discusses the question in unprecedented depth by examining one of the great books of Western civilization.

He draws us beyond the ancients/moderns debate, and beyond the notion that Plato’s Republic is best understood as shedding light on the promise of discursive democracy. Instead, Mitchell argues, the question that ought to preoccupy us today is neither “reason” nor “discourse,” but rather “imitation.” To what extent is man first and foremost an “imitative” being? This, Mitchell asserts, is the subtext of the great political and foreign policy debates of our times.

Plato’s Fable is not simply a work of textual exegesis. It is an attempt to move debates within political theory beyond their current location. Mitchell recovers insights about the depth of the problem of mortal imitation from Plato’s magnificent work, and seeks to explicate the meaning of Plato’s central claim — that “only philosophy can save us.”

Joshua Mitchell is professor of Government at Georgetown University, where he teaches the history of political thought.