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Philosophy Between the Lines


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About the Author

Arthur M. Melzer is professor of political science at Michigan State University, where he is also cofounder and codirector of the Symposium on Science, Reason, and Modern Democracy. He is the author of The Natural Goodness of Man.


Philosophy Between the Lines is a treasure-house of insight and learning. It is that rare thing: an eye-opening book. It is candid about secrets, and there is no book like it. Melzer succeeds in his aim of showing that until the Enlightenment, almost all philosophers wanted to be understood by only a few and were worried that if they spoke all the truth they knew they would suffer persecution or contribute to the demoralization of society. Without an awareness of the esoteric strategy, we would not know how to understand the course of speculation from Plato onward. Melzer lights up every issue he examines. By making the world before Enlightenment appear as strange as it truly was, he makes our world stranger than we think it is.--George Kateb, Princeton University
"Philosophy Between the Lines offers the best statement on this topic that there is. Melzer makes clear that the topic is important and his book is so well-written, cogently argued, and thoroughly researched that it will be of great interest to readers in intellectual history, history of philosophy, and all related disciplines.
--Michael Zuckert, University of Notre Dame
"Brilliant, pellucid, and meticulously researched. . . . To prove the fact of esoteric writing, Melzer compiles a virtual Mount Everest of explicit statements by thinkers about themselves or others that they wrote esoterically. . . . Melzer tells this story with finesse and attention to detail; anticipation of objections and polite but careful responsiveness to them; and powerful examples of esoteric writing techniques. Moreover, he shows in precise detail how contemporary resistance to esotericism is rooted in our contingent historical circumstances. . . . Philosophy Between the Lines is one of the best books I've read in a long time."--Steven B. Smith, Yale University "City Journal" (4/21/2015 12:00:00 AM)
"Do philosophers lie? Do those for whom the investigation of truth is the highest calling ever engage, not just on occasion but as a matter of course, in systematic strategies of concealment and deception? Do philosophers write esoterically? On the evidence provided by Melzer's Philosophy Between the Lines, the resounding answer to all the above is 'yes.' Melzer's book is the best study we have--or are likely to have--on the theme of esoteric writing. . . . The book provides absolutely compelling evidence for the ongoing practice of esoteric writing in the philosophical tradition."--Steven B. Smith, Yale University "Political Theory" (4/6/2015 12:00:00 AM)
"Good prose strives to be clear and direct. Or so we all think now. Melzer's remarkable book shines a floodlight on a topic that has been cloaked in obscurity: esoteric writing. . . . Philosophy Between the Lines is a double achievement, a landmark work in both intellectual history and political theory. For the reader who is in the habit of underlining, be prepared to have a second pen on hand as your ink will run dry by mid-volume.--Tyler Cowen "Wall Street Journal" (10/27/2014 12:00:00 AM)
"In the years since a million ill-informed, fantastical hit pieces on Strauss for his insidious influence on the administration of George W. Bush, a series of Strauss' students and admirers have stepped forward to defend his work. . . . But for my money, the best by far is Melzer's Philosophy Between the Lines. . . . It deserves a wide and appreciative audience. And if it gets one, the consequences could be enormous."--Tyler Cowen "The Week" (11/6/2014 12:00:00 AM)
"Melzer has performed a heroic service, finally making it possible for general readers to understand esoteric writing and why it has become such a controversial issue. . . . Even people who think that they are already experts on secret writing will benefit from reading this book, and not just because of its wealth of historical detail. Melzer has formulated the central issues at stake with unparalleled clarity, and he probes the subject with genuine philosophical depth. . . . [Philosophy Between the Lines] is one of the most important books I've read in years."--Tyler Cowen "Weekly Standard" (12/12/2014 12:00:00 AM)
"Melzer's analysis of esotericism is a great advance on Strauss's analysis: this book is a major contribution."

"Significantly advances our understanding of the theory and practice of esoteric philosophical and political writing."--Adrian Blau, King's College, London "Perspectives on Political Science" (6/30/2015 12:00:00 AM)

"Melzer's book is a masterful treatment of the 'lost' history of esoteric writing from Socrates to the present day. Before reading Philosophy Between the Lines, I myself was not well-disposed toward the practice of esoteric reading. However, this book has convinced me that any attempt to read the history of philosophy without being willing to pry into the author's 'secret intentions' would be a naive and ill-conceived enterprise. . . . [This is] an impressive work of scholarship, and it deserves to be pondered by anyone with a serious interest in philosophical texts."--Adrian Blau, King's College, London "Perspectives on Politics" (9/18/2015 12:00:00 AM)
"The most important book published in political philosophy in years is Melzer's Philosophy Between the Lines."--Tyler Cowen "Library of Law and Liberty" (11/13/2014 12:00:00 AM)
Starting from the seminal work of Leo Strauss, Melzer has given us, in lucid prose, the most comprehensive explanation and defense of the practice of esoteric writing we have. For Melzer, the overall function of esotericism is to make it possible for the reader to release him or herself from unconsciously accepted self-delusions: it is the basis of the 'realm of freedom.' Melzer distinguishes several forms of esotericism--defensive (evading censorship or persecution), protective (of 'dangerous truths'), pedagogical (the need to pass through obscurity in order to see clearly), and political (the production of a harmony of theory and praxis). It is necessarily left to the reader of this excellent work to decide if Melzer has written an exoteric or esoteric book. After all, after the condemnation of his Emile, Rousseau (about whom Melzer has written a fine volume) once wrote in a draft of a letter to the Archbishop Beaumont: 'In truth, there are no more secrets to keep, nor truths to silence.' A book that will call one out.--Tracy B. Strong, University of California, San Diego

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