Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
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Monday, July 6, 2020

Ahab’s Democratic Despotism

Will Morrisey on The political lessons of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick at City Journal.

"In the novel, we see all the characteristic types of persons dominated by a despot. Ahab is indeed a tyrant, effectively a usurper. The rightful owner of the whaling ship Pequod has hired a captain, not a monarch, and charged him with the task of hunting whales for their oil—but a mere contract in a commercial venture has no standing with an absolute ruler. Famously, Ahab has another mission, to which he has sworn himself and his sinister familiar, the mysterious Fedallah: to chase and kill the great white whale, the malevolent being that sheared off his leg during a previous voyage. None of his officers or crew has signed on for such a quest. Ahab will overawe and rule them by means of demagoguery, threats of force, and fraud, invoking, by turns, greed and terror."


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