Tae-Yeoun Keum — 2018 Leo Strauss Award Recipient

The American Political Science Association (APSA) will present the Leo Strauss Award to Dr. Tae-Yeoun Keum at the 2018 APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition, the world’s largest gathering of political scientists and source for emerging scholarship in the discipline. The $750 award recognizes the best dissertation on political philosophy.

Tae-Yeoun Keum studies political myth: narratives about political events or conditions that are taken for granted, and which do not lend themselves easily to critical scrutiny.

Her dissertation “Plato and the Mythic Tradition of Political Thought” explored Plato’s myths and their modern legacy, in particular in the political thought of More, Bacon, Leibniz, the German Romantics, and Cassirer.  In her recent work, she has been researching Hans Blumenberg, the 20th century philosopher of myth.

She received her PhD from Harvard in 2017, and is currently the Christopher Tower Junior Research Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford.

A notoriously grisly twentieth century murder with no readily identifiable culprit and botched forensic evidence, all yielding to seductive juridical prosecutorial narratives built upon tacitly familiar popular fabulist frames. These are the figurations that open Tae-Yeoun Keum’s elegantly written, adroitly constructed, and fully realized investigation of Plato and the meaning, significance, and viability of myths and mythology in political theory and modernity.

Working meticulously across a dazzling array of foundational and secondary and historical and contemporary sources, Keum first crafts an interpretation of Plato that not only complicates the relation between the myths and allegories deployed in the Republic but also entangles the Platonic philosophy of reason with the Platonic rhetoric of mythmaking, thoroughly disrupting the conventional hierarchical opposition between these two modes of understanding. From an interpretive perspective informed by classical reception studies she then proceeds to identify a diversified yet discernible tradition of early and late modern European political thinkers – from Bacon, More, Leibniz, Bayle, and Fontenelle to Schlegel, Schelling, Schleiermacher, Schiller, Cassirer, and Popper – each of whom she illuminates as both indebted to (and struggling with) Plato’s “mythic legacy” and as self-consciously endeavoring to construct new and experimental genres of “philosophical myth,” where mythology operates as a medium of theoretical interest in the service of particular political purposes.

As a work of scholarship in the history of political theory, Keum’s “mythic tradition” thesis maintains an admirable balance between its evidently bold commitment to a grand and sweeping narrative on the one hand and its demonstrable fidelity to the historical, intellectual, and literary contexts of its particular authors and texts on the other. As a work of significance for contemporary political theory, her innovative study generates new possibilities for thinking about how the “genre of myth,” if opened to appreciation, can be grasped as a peculiar kind of power that might well reveal to us aspects, assumptions, and expressions of the human condition otherwise occluded in modernity.