John Wallach

Position: Professor of Political Science at Hunter College & The Graduate Center, and Director of the Hunter Human Rights Program
Campus Affiliation: Graduate Center|Hunter College
Degrees/Diplomas: Ph.D. in Politics (Program in Political Philosophy) from Princeton University in 1981
Research Interests: political ethics, democratic theory, ancient Greek political thought; political interpretation

John Wallach is a classically trained political theorist attuned to historical, contemporary, and practical issues in political thought. Having been trained in the philosophy of the social sciences, he also addresses issues concerning political understanding. He mostly teaches courses in ancient and contemporary political theory, focusing on political ethics, democratic theory, and the political theory of human rights. Before coming to Hunter in 1991, Wallach was a Visiting Assistant Professor at Yale University and Vassar College. His publications include The Platonic Political Art: A Study of Critical Reason and Democracy (Penn State Press, 2001); a co-edited volume (with J. Peter Euben and Josiah Ober), Athenian Political Thought and the Reconstruction of American Democracy (Cornell, 1994); and many articles reflecting his diverse interests. Currently, he is finishing a book of historical and theoretical studies on democracy and the good. Wallach has been a Liberal Arts Fellow in Political Science at Harvard Law School (1998-1999), recipient of a NEH Fellowship for College and University Teachers (2003-2004), and Director of a NEH Institute for College & University Teachers at The Graduate Center (Summer, 2006), on the subject of “Human Rights in Conflict: Interdisciplinary Perspectives.”

Books

platonic political artJohn R. Wallach, The Platonic Political Art (Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001).

In this first comprehensive treatment of Plato’s political thought in a long time, John Wallach offers a “critical historicist” interpretation of Plato. Wallach shows how Plato’s theory, while a radical critique of the conventional ethical and political practice of his own era, can be seen as having the potential for contributing to democratic discourse about ethics and politics today.

The author argues that Plato articulates and “solves” his Socratic Problem in his various dialogues in different but potentially complementary ways. The book effectively extracts Plato from the straightjacket of Platonism and from the interpretive perspectives of the past fifty years—principally those of Karl Popper, Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, M. I. Finley, Jacques Derrida, and Gregory Vlastos.

The author’s distinctive approach for understanding Plato—and, he argues, for the history of political theory in general—can inform contemporary theorizing about democracy, opening pathways for criticizing democracy on behalf of virtue, justice, and democracy itself.

athenian political thoughtJohn Wallach, co-editor, Athenian Political Thought and the Reconstruction of American Democracy (Cornell University Press, 1994).

In the contemporary United States the image and experience of Athenian democracy has been appropriated to justify a profoundly conservative political and educational agenda. Such is the conviction expressed in this provocative book, which is certain to arouse widespread comment and discussion.

What does it mean to be a citizen in a democracy? Indeed, how do we educate for democracy? These questions are addressed here by thirteen historians, classicists, and political theorists, who critically examine ancient Greek history and institutions, texts, and ideas in light of today’s political practices and values. They do not idealize ancient Greek democracy. Rather, they use it, with all its faults, as a basis for measuring the strengths and shortcomings of American democracy. In the hands of the authors, ancient Greek sources become partners in an educational dialogue about democracy’s past, one that goads us to think about the limitations of democracy’s present and to imagine enriched possibilities for its future.

The authors are diverse in their opinions and in their political and moral commitments. But they share the view that insulating American democracy from radical criticism encourages a dangerous complacency that Athenian political thought can disrupt.

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