Which thinker from the past would you resurrect?

The Scholar’s Stage writes:

If I were to resurrect one person to comment on our current dilemmas, that person would be Hannah Arendt. 

What issue of importance today did she not ponder?  How should Western countries understand and respond to authoritarian states? What makes meaningful community possible? Does bureaucracy, technology, and settled life diminish our freedom?  Why do politicians lie—and what consequences should there be for lying in office? How do political institutions decay? Should we forgive our political enemies? When is violence justified, and when is it not? How can it be controlled or avoided? What should the ‘justice’ in phrases like ‘social justice’ actually mean? What role should guilt, rage, and fear play in our political lives? How should we translate abstract political principles into living realities?

Arendt wrote about all of these things and more. She would have the intellectual background needed to say something useful about the biggest political and social challenges we face today: America’s relationship with China, technology’s encroach upon democracy, the unsettled relation between the sexes, the collapse of American social capital and community life, the strengths and foibles of social justice campaigning, partisanship and ‘post-reality’ politics, and of course, the presidency of Donald Trump.

I wish we could hear her opinions on these things. I wish this because I honestly do not know what her opinions would be. I recognize positions she would not adopt, but I can only guess what she would make of Facebook or consider the proper political grounding for impeachment.

A case is made against several other plausible options, including the Founding Fathers.  One approach is simply to ask who would be good on television, or on social media.  Another is to pick a person whose historical reputation is so strong that he or she cannot be ignored — perhaps that would militate in favor of Abraham Lincoln or how about Jane Austen?  Perhaps attention is the true scarcity that needs to be overcome.

I believe I would revive Confucius, at least assuming everyone would accept that it is indeed the real Confucius.  He is perhaps the person most likely to have an influence in China, and there is some chance he would seek to reverse the current course of political events.


Literally anyone could claim they were Confucius already.

I'd like to resurrect two great thinkers named Frederick Engels and Karl Marx of he 19th century.

Only plus is seeing the real Confucius will make Prof Cowen completely disillusioned with him.


Jeffrey Epstein. I bet he has so much dirt on Trump.

I would ask Reagan what the hell happened to his party after he died.

Eat your Jell-o, granddad.

Who is the thinker who accomplished the most with the least support? One could surmise that person would be able to take the wealth of data we have now and provide even greater insights? Aristotle was far-sighted in many areas and perhaps right more often than wrong, but with a solid phalanx of philosophers coming before him he had a great deal of support. Who else created much out of nothing?

Milton Friedman. An economist who can convincingly explain the dangers of big government to a TV audience.

My choice as well.

Yes. I will begin with Milton Friedman. But I will not stop there.

So not Kahless then?

Jesus. To see what he thinks of the Second Coming of Him.

Old bumper sticker: Jesus is coming, and He looks really pissed!

Also: Jesus is coming. Quick, look busy!

Isaac Newton. Given what he accomplished with the tools of his time, I'd love to see what he could do with the tools of the digital age.

Newton or Leibniz? Leibniz wrote a few pages on China, perhaps at about the same time Newton was diving deep into his studies of alchemy, which would not disqualify him, given interim developments in the history of science (his alchemical notions of "attraction" may in fact have played a role in his developing his theory of gravity).

The challenge with bringing Newton back would consist in part in also getting all the mercury out of his system that he ingested during the course of his alchemical studies.

Newton would be brilliant in any age.

Confucius would probably support the existing Chinese regime. He was a big fan of national unity, monarchism, and paternalism, less so of rule of law.

If you want to pick someone from the past who would have influence on people today, the clear answer seems to be Jesus, as Christianity is the world’s largest religion and has significant residual cultural influence even on non-Christians, especially among those who lead the United States and by extension the world.

If you want to pick someone from the past who would have unique insights into today, I’d say no one. Statistically speaking, many of the smartest people ever to have lived are probably still alive today, and we know much more about quantitative and empirical methods of research that let us get closer to the truth today than in the past.

None of the ancients of the era of the Hundred Schools thought in terms of constraining government by law, yes. But Confucius did think in terms of a hierarchical society where rulers were constrained by an imperative to provide virtuous, humane example. He wouldn't get on with the Party. Whether more influence by him is needed of course, as Tyler suggests, another question.

J.C. and Conficius are basically the same thing. It's just one only left fan fiction behind.

I'd worry that resurrecting Jesus or Confucius would screw up their largely positive legacies. Bringing them back would actually be bad because of that.

None of them. The whole idea is disgusting.

Abdulla Alishayev, Adam Tepsurkayev, Adlan Khasanov, Akhmednabi
Akhmednabiyev, Alexander Babaikin, Alexander Khodzinsky, Alexander
Petrov, Alexander Pitersky, Alexander Plotnikov, Alexander Yefremov,
Alexei Bakhtin, Alexei Sidorov, Ali Astamirov, Alikhan Guliyev, Anastasia
Baburova, Anatoly Kozulin, Anatoly Voronin, Andrei Pivovarov, Andrei
Sheiko, Anna Politkovskaya, Anton Kretenchuk, Artyom Borovik, Bella
Ksalova, Boris Gashev, Boris Mityurev, Denis Suvorov, Dmitry Okkert,
Dmitry Popkov, Dmitry Shalayev, Dmitry Shvets, Dmitry Tsilikin, Eduard
Burmagin, Eduard Markevich, Elina Ersenoyeva, Elina Voronova, Farit
Urazbayev, Gadji Abashilov, Gadzhimurat Kamalov, Georgy Garibyan, Igor
Domnikov, Igor Salikov, Ilyas Shurpayev, Ilya Zimin, Iskander Khatloni,
Ivan Safronov, Ivan Stepanov, Jan Travinsky, Kazbek Gekkiev, Kira
Lezhneva, Konstantin Borovko, Konstantin Pogodin, Konstantin Popov, Leonid
Etkind, Leonid Grigoryev, Leonid Kuznetsov, Leonid Plotnikov, Leonid
Shevchenko, Ludmila Zamana, Luisa Arzhieva, Magomed Sultanmagomedov,
Magomed Varisov, Magomed Yevloyev, Maksharip Aushev, Maksim Borodin,
Malika Betiyeva, Malik Akhmedilov, Maria Lisichkina, Marina Pisareva,
Martin Kraus, Maxim Maximov, Maxim Zuyev, Natalia Estemirova, Natalya
Skryl, Nikolai Karmanov, Nikolai Razmolodin, Nikolai Vasiliev, Oksana
Teslo, Oleg Barabyshkin, Oleg Belozyorov, Oleg Dolgantsev, Oleg Goryansky,
Oleg Polukeyev, Oleg Sedinko, Oleg Vedenin, Olga Kotovskaya, Paavo
Voutilainen, Pail Peloyan, Paul Klebnikov, Pavel Asaulchenko, Pavel
Makeyev, Pavel Morozov, Pyotr Babenko, Raif Ablyashev, Said Ibragimov,
Sergei Grachyov, Sergei Ivanov, Sergei Kalinovsky, Sergei Loginov, Sergei
Novikov, Sergei Protazanov, Sergei Verbitsky, Sergei Zhabin, Shafig
Amrakhov, Shamil Aliyev, Shangysh Mongush, Stanislav Markelov, Svetlana
Makarenko, Svetlana Shishkina, Tamara Voinova, Tamirlan Kazikhanov, Timur
Kuashev, Vadim Kuznetsov, Vagif Kochetkov, Valery Batuyev, Valery Ivanov,
Valery Kondakov, Victor Popkov, Vitaly Sakhn-Vald, Vladimir Kirsanov,
Vladimir Naumov, Vladimir Pashutin, Vladimir Pritchin, Vladimir Sukhomlin,
Vladimir Yatsina, Vladislav Zakharchuk, Vyacheslav Akatov, Vyacheslav
Ifanov, Vyacheslav Plotnikov, Vyacheslav Yaroshenko, Yefim Sukhanov,
Yegor Orlov, Yelena Popova, Yelena Shestakova, Yevgeny Fedotov, Yevgeny
Gerasimenko, Yevgeny Khamaganov, Yury Bugrov, Yury Shchekochikhin,
Yury Shebalkin, Yury Tishkov, Zoya Ivanova

Not enough Russians in this world?

Don't resurrect Russian poets unless you are able to handle the deeper Pushkins.

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Johnnie Ray, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio, Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Marilyn Monroe, Rosenbergs, Sugar Ray, Brando, Eisenhower, Marciano, Liberace, Santayana, Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser, Prokofiev, Rockefeller, Campanella, Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Einstein, James Dean, Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Bardot, Krushchev, Princess Grace, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac, Chou En-Lai, Charles de Gaulle, Starkweather, Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, Castro, Edsel, Syngman Rhee, Kennedy, Hemingway, Eichmann, Dylan, Lawrence of Arabia, John Glenn, Liston, Patterson, Pope Paul, Malcolm X, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon again, Begin, Reagan, Ayatollah Khomeini, Sally Ride and Bernie Goetz.

Jane Austen was a very pious, straightlaced clergyman's daughter from an England where premarital sex was punished by whipping and gay men were hanged. If she started commenting on public affairs, she'd instantly be placed on the SPLC's Hatewatch.

Would she try to hang the gays?

Only male ones.

Her unique voice would command attention (close to the point Tyler was making) and seemed to come from a place above, rather than of, the culture she described and (sometimes skewered). Once she got the lay of the modern land, I'd certainly be interested in her views.

John Locke, partly just for writing about so many different ideas, and partly for speaking up for Liberty when communicating ideas could have significant consequences for the writer.

Jonathan Swift. We need his combination of satire, cynicism, and general disgust for humanity.

+1, although I wonder if our academic hosts appreciate his satire of the 18th century academy

Oswald Spengler, William Cobbett or Lewis Mumford.

Paul Romer. He isn't dead yet, a bonus. Maybe what we need is another war that will consume a couple of $trillion dollars and knock over some government. Makes the jackasses in Washington feel influential.

Paul Pelosi Jr. who works for a Ukrainian company doing something important no doubt. Another useless son of Washington power. I wonder if this pattern has anything to do with the horrible state of post Soviet Russia?

It isn't a matter of resurrecting someone, or some process of addition. It is simply a process of subtraction. First, turn off the networks, unsubscribe from the print journalists. Find someone, I'm sure there is someone who wrote a book how the US did post Soviet russia, describing the ugliness. There are lots of people who have been talking about China for a long time, who have seen what is now coming. Kyle Bass is interesting. Find someone who has some stake, skin in the game, not someone who is simply in another green zone of their own making.

To ask this question is to say that everyone I've been listening to is wrong, not on the details, but fundamentally wrong. A good start.

François-Marie Arouet. He was well regarded in his time and would be useful today.

Joseph Schumpeter

Epictetus. Both for his opinion on the state if society and the bastardization of his philosophies today.

I take it that saying a thinker (an intellectual, a thought-leader) is "relevant" to the problems we enjoy facing is not the same as citing a thinker (intellectual, thought-leader) who is "representative" of the present age in spite of when his original career flourished.

Arendt's career may well be relevant to our age: but representative of our age?

I vote for a representative poet, Kit Marlowe: his abattoir vision is both relevant and representative, as are his explorations of megalomanias of varying gauges (economic, political, epistemic), his career in espionage, and his treatment of religious disputes and wars of religions.

Kit Marlowe: our man of the year, the decade, the century--relevant and representative both.

The Philosopher, i.e., Aristotle. His writings on politics are second to none.

Confucius, on the other hand, is overrated.

David Hume.

Yes! Not only was he a great thinker, he seems to have been a fun guy in general.

Lenin. So lots of people can see what the apotheosis of a University administrator is really like.

This. Also so that people could disabuse themselves of the notion that he was a serious thinker. His main contribution to political theory is the one-party state, controlled by a vanguard party, and that anybody who even slightly deviates from the party on intellectual or moral grounds should be crushed by the state. Somebody isn't a "thinker" if they do not believe it is possible form themselves to be wrong.

Does anyone else see the flaw in the Scholar's Stage reliance on Hannah Arendt as well as the Post question? Arendt points out that the dividing line is between" those who want to think and therefore have to judge by themselves, and those who do not...." The issue is not who offers advice but how to encourage - in her words- more "doubters and sceptics."

I know of only one person from history who would cause a few people to question their "mere habit of holding fast to something" and not by offering reasoned reliable comment. Rather by identifying with and praising rulers and activists and politicians events occurring around the world, the real Hitler.

Christopher Hitchens.

Jared Kushner is already here. He just needs to come out of his shell a little bit.

Nietzsche. He had a detailed view of the ills of modernity. How would he view history since his breakdown in 1890? Are the problems he pointed to better or worse? How would he change his analysis based on what has happened in the intervening 130 years?

"I believe I would revive Confucius, at least assuming everyone would accept that it is indeed the real Confucius. He is perhaps the person most likely to have an influence in China, and there is some chance he would seek to reverse the current course of political events."

That is beyond silly. Reviving Kahless the Unforgettable didn't prevent the Klingon Empire from being plagued by scrupleless leaders, becoming increasingly aggressive, invading Cardassian space and abrogating the Khitomer Accords, raising the specter of quadrant-wide war between former Allies, the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets. Reviving a historical figure, no matter how important or revered it may be, can't change the broad trends that shape a society. It is not how politics works in the real world.

The people of the past were not uniquely insightful compared to today. If you revive one, they would be just one more talking head on TV, just one more Twitter feed squawking into a confirmation-bias bubble. There's no shortage of those already.

Why would we treasure the opinions of dead old people anyway? After all, we don't value living old people. They're out-of-touch fogies whose worldview was frozen in a bygone era. Ask any young person who's received unsolicited job-seeking advice from grandpa ("Just march into an office and demand to speak to a manager, they'll admire your gumption and hire you on the spot!").

A resurrected dead person would be like grandpa on steroids to every single living person, young and old. They would soon wear out their welcome.

To comment meaningfully on the modern world, the resurrected dead would first have to learn about it. We might posit that they were magically granted life and modern language skills, but you can't assume that they were magically implanted with knowledge of modern history and current affairs, because then their views would reflect the biases of whoever implanted it.

The alternative – spending years of arduous post-resurrection study – would be a monumental task, and by the time they finished, they would be transformed enough that you'd lose whatever unique perspective they once had.

Most likely, they wouldn't bother. The clever ones would come up with some kind of inscrutable word-games shtick like Slavoj Žižek, an entertainment figure for the lumpen-intelligentsia.

On that basis, I nominate Niccolò Machiavelli. The hero we need and do deserve.

Brutally honest but absolutely true. Thread winner.

I would pay good money to watch Gladstone, Disraeli, and Churchill lead a centrist party against Farage and Corbyn and Johnson. Maybe Eisenhower and Kennedy and Reagan could do the same in the US.

Reagan accused Kennedy of being a communist" "ut as a former Democrat, I can tell you Norman Thomas isn't the only man who has drawn this parallel to socialism with the present administration, because back in 1936, Mr. Democrat himself, Al Smith, the great American, came before the American people and charged that the leadership of his Party was taking the Party of Jefferson, Jackson, and Cleveland down the road under the banners of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. And he walked away from his Party, and he never returned til the day he died—because to this day, the leadership of that Party has been taking that Party, that honorable Party, down the road in the image of the labor Socialist Party of England."

Interesting.. but that is the road that led to Blair. I find it hard to imagine any modern US Democrat or UK Labour politician saying "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country". Stalin probably could say that though.

It makes sense.

They'd be Cancel Culture fodder on an eyeblink.

A genius who died too young, perhaps Frank Ramsey or Alan Turing, for their further contributions. Or one of the great polymathic geniuses: Aristotle, Leibniz, Hume, to see what they would do with the knowledge gained since their times. Would also love to see how Marx would respond to both his successful and failed predictions.

Yes, a good mathematician might actually be useful. Of course, no more useful than many good mathematicians already alive today. But at least some of them could do something useful in their field instead of just being a freak show.

Karl Marx. I would have liked for him to see how wrong he was.

Aren't the achievements of great thinkers context specific i.e. dependent on the era and circumstances in which they grew up? Who is to say that a great thinker from the past in today's world wouldn't use their brains for something rather less important like chess or coding?

Tyler's game requires players who know something about great thinkers of the past. Apparently there many of those around.

Correction: NOT many of those around.

Cowen: "One approach is simply to ask who would be good on television, or on social media." What? Demagogues would be good on television or on social media. I've been impressed by Trump and his uncanny ability to turn treason into an act of patriotism by exploiting television and social media. Is that what Cowen has in mind? Many if not most of the greatest thinkers were the least charismatic. Has Cowen decided that the greatest thinkers are those with the greatest following on twitter?

From that angle, I think Socrates is a good choice. The only question is how much the real Socrates differs from the dramatized versions of his contemporaries.

Are you not looking for someone who engaged with his own time, but seemed to have a view a little further than other men, beyond - in either direction - their here and now? Someone like Heine, say. Or my fave, Ford Madox Ford. And then the question becomes, not - what to do about Facebook? China? social justice? - but: tell us about human nature. And that's what books are for, and why there's no need to re-animate anybody. Unless you've read everything, I guess. That's the cool thing about having little education. Every day it's a Reading Rainbow!



Carl Friedrich Gauss, and then tell him to go work on interesting things and ignore current events.

I thought Gauss worked on current events. Magnetism, electromagnetic and Kirchhoff's circuit laws.

Stephen Hawking. He died recently enough that he'd catch up quickly, his young new body would afford him plenty of time, and the long term impact of physicist labor is immense.

Oh and if we assume all of these thinkers are cured of whatever killed them, then we'd get even more Hawking the second time.

For physicists there are brighter men who'd get up to speed quicker - Von Neumann for example. And Hawking's politics were terrible back when he was alive.

Robin Hanson in 2069 when I (might) turn 100. I've never seen a human unthawing before so that would be half of the fun. Then I'd ask him about his 2069 views on cryonics - did he experienced any downside, etc. and if he's excited about turning into an EM in an hour.

I meant "defrosting," of course.

A footnote to the parlor game: Hannah Arendt said of the popular, but ultimately forsaken, Berlin salon hostess Rahel Varnhagen that she was “my very closest woman friend, unfortunately dead a hundred years now.”

China's heading into Cultural Revolution 2.0 so Confucius may not want to pay a visit.

Confuncianism is the ideological justification for Chinese fascism now they had to drop the Maoist economic tenets.

Max Stirner

For America, I'd go for John F Kennedy. It would be fun to watch him excoriate the current Democrat Party and wind up supporting Trump.

For Europe, maybe someone like Charles DeGaulle - again, let Europeans know what he thinks of a Germany-dominated European 'Union'.

If you just want incisive commentary and don't care if anyone listens, was there anyone more insightful than Tocqueville?

JFK was a liberal internationalist and technocrat New Dealer.

On the other hand, he was a philanderer, a believer in nepotism and a strong proponent of moon missions, so they'd have a few things in common.

Eric Blair (George Orwell), I just can't imagine what sort of mind would think of Hannah Arendt.

The same sort of mind that would think of George Orwell. We're talking about two of the best, and best-known, thinkers about the politics and struggles of the 20th century.

Agree a bit but Orwell could and did write about almost everything, Arendt seems very limited in comparison.

Confucius I totally disagree with. He's the thinker most responsible for Chinese culture's obedience mindset, and most paved the way for Emperors, and eventually, Mao.
I would want Aristotle. A genius of the ages, who could make use of updated information, and could help reinvigorate interest in reason and ethical egoism in philosophy, the lack of which is destroying the world.

The writer of On Revolution might have something important to say to the protestors in Hong Kong, to be honest

Am thinking Lincoln, if only to watch him dunk on the modern Republican party.

It would be funny to see Lincoln go kick Romney's ass.

Marx, so I could have the pleasure of strangling him.

I doubt T Greer would actually bring Arendt back of course - this is a rhetorical appeal to his audience to read her (they won't!)

Patrice O'Neal

Isaac Newton. Tell him to work on alchemy with Elon Musk.

Tesla, and get him to work on making nuclear power safe and cheap.

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