Book Review: Poetic Justice: Rereading Plato’s “Republic,” by Jill Frank

Published date01 February 2020
Date01 February 2020
Subject MatterBook Reviews
/tmp/tmp-17mNzoT6ZNVBPL/input Book Reviews
21. John-Paul Pagano, “The Women’s March Has a Farrakhan Problem,” The
Atlantic, March 8, 2018.
Vinson Cunningham, “The Politics of Race and the
Photo That Might Have Derailed Obama,” The New Yorker, January 28, 2018.
22. Myisha V. Cherry and Owen J. Flanagan, eds., The Moral Psychology of Anger
(London, New York: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2018); Brittney C.
Cooper, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, First ed.
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018).
23. Tamara L. Brown and Baruti N. Kopano, eds., Soul Thieves: The Appropriation
and Misrepresentation of African American Popular Culture, First ed.,
Contemporary Black History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
24. See, for example, Patrisse Cullors, “Abolition and Reparations: Histories of
Resistance, Transformative Justice, and Accountability,” Harvard Law Review
132, no. 6 (April 2019).
25. For one first-person account of the post-Thomas landscape for black femi-
nism, see Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, “Black Women Still in Defense of
Ourselves,” The Nation, October 5, 2011.

Poetic Justice: Rereading Plato’s “Republic,” by Jill Frank. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press, 2018, 288 pp.
Reviewed by: Jonny Thakkar, Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, PA, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0090591718812036
Plato’s Republic is one of those books about which it can seem hard to say
anything new—yet over the course of Poetic Justice, a daring and inge-
nious interpretation that is already proving influential within political the-
ory, Jill Frank says so many new things that it is hard to know where to
begin. The headline news may be that Plato is not the elitist that so many
have taken him to be: far from advocating epistocracy, whereby cultural
and political authority is vested in an educated minority deemed to know
best, the Republic, on Frank’s interpretation, aims to strengthen democ-
racy by teaching ordinary citizens to question established authorities and
take responsibility for self-governance.
This overarching proposition is complemented by a web of striking sug-
gestions: that Plato’s preferred principle of justice might be “giving to each
what is owed,” rather than “doing one’s own work” (215–17, 222–23); that

Political Theory 48(1)
the challenges that Glaucon and Adeimantus pose to Socrates at the start of
Book II might be motivated by their disavowed desire to experience complete
injustice (211); that Kallipolis, the so-called “beautiful city,” might in fact be
an “uglytown” constructed by Socrates in order to fulfil those disavowed
desires (212); that the guardians “never actually speak” in Kallipolis, let alone
engage in the “free and beautiful discussions” that Socrates extols as essential
to philosophy in Book VI (136–37); that they lack any genuine passion for
philosophy, engaging in it only through external compulsion (145–50); that
in true philosophy, which is called forth above all by the experience of imita-
tive poetry rather than the quest for knowledge of forms, aisthēsis and logos
would come together into a discourse that is “irreducibly unstable, contin-
gent, and falsifiable” (66–71, 79–80, 209); that the Republic is itself an
instance of such...

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