2020, MIT Press. Audio book available here.

A “richly informed if dour guide to the subject.” — Daniel Akst

“this book offers a call to Cynic action as well as a thoughtful introduction to Cynicism that would be suitable for readers at all levels.” — Hugh Roberts

“One gets the sense that Allen’s grasp of philosophy and history is like that of a veteran gun fighter; loose but confident. That way, every shot he takes, he is not running the risk of firing into the air–or blowing off a toe.” — R.C. Roberts

“highly recommended for students of cynicism, but also for future educators. The variety of contemporary readings collected and the reflections on them represent an outstanding contribution to the current panorama.” — Santiago Vargas Oliva


Daniel Akst, The Wall Street Journal, 2 September 2020; Hugh Roberts, International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 21 September 2020; Marco Gervason, il Giornale, 4 October 2020; Gregory B. Sadler, YouTube, 8 March 2021; Ed Simon LA Review of Books, 5 May 2021; Santiago Vargas Oliva, Daimon: Revista Internacional de Filosofia, 2022; R.C. Roberts, Ferocia Animi, 14 November 2022.


Interviewed on  ‘Start the Week: Classics and class’, BBC Radio 4, 25 May 2020; interviewed for ‘Is this the end of American optimism?’ Vox, 29 Oct 2020; and ‘Americans’ distrust in institutions and one another is fueling cynicism. Is it all bad?USA Today, 27 July 2022; cited in this analysis of President Jokowi’s cynicism, ‘Wajar Jokowi Klaim Pandemi Terkendali?’, 28 January 2021.


Interviewed from about 15 min 10 seconds on:


Cynicism is out in Japanese translation (シニシズム) published by Newton Press (Tokyo, Japan) in 2021 (tr. Masamichi Ueno) and in Chinese translation (犬儒主义) published by The Commercial Press in 2023 (tr. Ni Jianqing) and from which there are edited excerpts published here , here, and here.



A short history of cynicism, from the cultural derision of the ancients to the jaded negativity of the present.

“Everyone’s a cynic, yet few will admit it. Today’s cynics excuse themselves half-heartedly—“I hate to be a cynic, but…”—before making their pronouncements. Narrowly opportunistic, always on the take, contemporary cynicism has nothing positive to contribute. The Cynicism of the ancient Greeks, however, was very different. This Cynicism was a marginal philosophy practiced by a small band of eccentrics. Bold and shameless, it was committed to transforming the values upon which civilization depends. In this volume of the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series, Ansgar Allen charts the long history of cynicism, from the “fearless speech” of Greek Cynics in the fourth century BCE to the contemporary cynic’s lack of social and political convictions.

Allen describes ancient Cynicism as an improvised philosophy and a way of life disposed to scandalize contemporaries, subjecting their cultural commitments to derision. He chronicles the subsequent “purification” of Cynicism by the Stoics; Renaissance and Enlightenment appropriations of Cynicism, drawing on the writings of Shakespeare, Rabelais, Rousseau, de Sade, and others; and the transition from Cynicism (the philosophy) to cynicism (the modern attitude), exploring contemporary cynicism from the perspectives of its leftist, liberal, and conservative critics. Finally, he considers the possibility of a radical cynicism that admits and affirms the danger it poses to contemporary society.”




dog ashmolean museum

The cover of Cynicism is inspired by a piece of 5th century B.C.E. pottery in the Ashmolean Museum of a dog scratching its ear, attributed to the painter Euergides.

SEE ALSO: Dictionary of cynicisms