Here’s a good book for Election Day, however it turns out.
Recent years have seen a small revival of Stoicism, perhaps in response to the hypersensitivity that pervades our culture; witness the amazing popularity of Jordan Peterson, especially among young men. Christians often complain about today’s neo-paganism. If the paganism that revives is the Stoic variety, though, things might not be too bad. Conflicts would exist, surely. For example, Stoicism allows for suicide as a moral choice in some circumstances, and could support the movement to legalize euthanasia. Christianity could not. And the Stoicism of Marcus Aurelius didn’t prevent the Empire from persecuting Christians, though it’s not clear how much Marcus himself was involved. But, today, Christianity and Stoicism could get along reasonably well, it seems to me–better, anyway, than Christianity and the other forms of neo-paganism currently on offer.
Last month, Princeton released a new translation of Epictetus by classicist A.A. Long (Cal-Berkeley). Here’s the description of the book, How to Be Free: An Ancient Guide to the Stoic Life, from Princeton’s website:
A superb new edition of Epictetus’s famed handbook on Stoicism—translated by one of the world’s leading authorities on Stoic philosophy
Born a slave, the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus (c. 55–135 AD) taught that mental freedom is supreme, since it can liberate one anywhere, even in a prison. In How to Be Free, A. A. Long—one of the world’s leading authorities on Stoicism and a pioneer in its remarkable contemporary revival—provides a superb new edition of Epictetus’s celebrated guide to the Stoic philosophy of life (the Encheiridion) along with a selection of related reflections in his Discourses.
Freedom, for Epictetus, is not a human right or a political prerogative but a psychological and ethical achievement, a gift that we alone can bestow on ourselves. We can all be free, but only if we learn to assign paramount value to what we can control (our motivations and reactions), treat what we cannot control with equanimity, and view our circumstances as opportunities to do well and be well, no matter what happens to us through misfortune or the actions of other people.
How to Be Free features splendid new translations and the original Greek on facing pages, a compelling introduction that sets Epictetus in context and describes the importance of Stoic freedom today, and an invaluable glossary of key words and concepts. The result is an unmatched introduction to this powerful method of managing emotions and handling life’s situations, from the most ordinary to the most demanding.