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Dr. Joseph Wood speaks about Pierre Manent’s “The Metamorphoses of the City” with Combat & Classics

On June 30, 2020, Dr. Joseph Wood, a professor at The Institute of World Politics, appeared on episode 43 of the Combat & Classics podcast, speaking with Major Brian Wilson and Dr. Jeff Black about politics, philosophy, and the nature of man in particular regards to chapter 2 of Pierre Manent’s The Metamorphoses of the City.

Dr. Wood began with a discussion of Manent and his work, stating that Manent has focused on understanding “political form and the relationship between political form and what it is to be human.” Dr. Wood explained that a political form is a broad way to explain how humans unite and work for the common good, with a city as the first political form. In addition, a main theme introduced in The Metamorphoses of the City is that the primary change in political form is “the leap into the city.”

With this background, Dr. Black led a conversation using the following quote from Manent as a starting point: “Philosophy, in revealing the distance between law and nature, the city and the world, preserves or restores an element of peace, what war brought to light but without understanding it.”

Dr. Wood, Major Wilson, and Dr. Black jumped into a philosophical discussion of the relationship between war and politics, wherein Dr. Wood mentioned that, “Socrates and Plato bring in this notion that the first phenomenon of politics, aside from human want, is warfare.” He also stated that “political and rational really go together.”

The Iliad entered the conversation as it focused in on the presence of philosophy and political action in a city versus in an empire, and that was followed by a renewed discussion of human nature. Major Wilson began the discussion of human nature by stating that “to be a mortal, or at least to be a man, requires that recognition of death,” which led to a discussion of the role of mortality in recognizing human nature. As the podcast shifted back to political form, Dr. Wood said that, “The search then is for a political form that allows you to be fully human. Manent thinks it’s the nation.”

At the end of the podcast, Dr. Wood, Major Wilson, and Dr. Black also discussed the role of war versus commerce in regard to human nature.

As with other podcasts in the series “Combat & Classics,” the conversation covered important topics of leaders and human nature, guided by the reading from The Metamorphoses of the City. “Combat & Classics” is sponsored by St. John’s College and is geared towards members of the U.S. military with a purpose of encouraging reflection.