Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Periclean Athens

Superb, high-minded, article by Kagan for the AEI arguing that the Athenian example provides crucial lessons in the qualities needed for the foundation of a successful democracy. The entire piece is so worth reading that I'm going to avoid citing any particular section. However, I would add that its lessons aren't just important to new democracies but essential to continuing the stability of the Western democratic states as well.

The section discussing the Greek understanding of mortality and the imperative that created for glory is very interesting. This sense of glory, enshrined in the story of Tellus, is, perhaps, what I was getting at but failing to define, as Gracchi was right to note in the comments, in my discussion of pre-birth insurance and why I find the Rawlsian position small minded.

Do take a read.


Gracchi said...

Matt just a historical point but I think its important- he is reliant on two things- the first a speech from Pericles which was never given in the text we have, what we have is Thucydides's reconstruction of that speech and he tells us in his history that when he reports speeches he doesn't do it directly but writes what he thought the speaker ought to have said. As for the story in Herodotus about Tellus, again the sourcing for that being true is very difficult. I would have thought that actually what you have there is not Athenian democracy, but the idea of Athenian democracy in two of its citizen historians. There seems to have been to my understanding a much more religious aspect to it- if you go and listen to this In our Time they discuss the way that theatre, religion and democracy intersected in ancient Athens. I do agree that there is a way that democracy interracts with the feelings of its citizens- Machiavelli called it virtu but it might be more complicated than Kagan makes it. Incidentally according to Fergus Millar, Prof at Oxford in Classical studies, he is also wrong to say that only Athens and the United States were democracies that lasted- what about Rome?

Matthew Sinclair said...

I was going to mention that I'm uncertain of his historical accuracy. To a certain extent I think the examples can still have function even if they are close to myth.

Wasn't Rome more of an aristocracy than a democracy?

Matthew Sinclair said...

Oh, the Tellus thing I assumed wasn't true. It's an articulation of the good life and, hence, is useful for what it can tell us about what they want rather than what they actually have.