Athens on Trial

Athens on Trial : The Antidemocratic Tradition in Western Thought

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The Classical Athenians were the first to articulate and implement the notion that ordinary citizens of no particular affluence or education could make responsible political decisions. For this reason, reactions to Athenian democracy have long provided a prime Rorschach test for political thought. Whether praising Athens's government as the legitimizing ancestor of modern democracies or condemning it as mob rule, commentators throughout history have revealed much about their own notions of politics and society. In this book, Jennifer Roberts charts responses to Athenian democracy from Athens itself through the twentieth century, exploring a debate that touches upon historiography, ethics, political science, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, gender studies, and educational theory.

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Product details

  • Paperback | 426 pages
  • 152.4 x 231.14 x 25.4mm | 498.95g
  • Princeton University Press
  • New Jersey, United States
  • English
  • Revised ed.
  • black & white illustrations
  • 0691029199
  • 9780691029191
  • 1,784,014

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Review quote

"Roberts has given us an excellent study of [the Athenian] legacy...Athens on Trial deserves praise both for its conception and its execution."--Eric W. Robinson, Bryn Mawr Classical Review "A first-rate intellectual and cultural history."--Stephen Goode, The Washington Times "Roberts ... writes with learning, wit, acerbity, profundity, and engagement on the vicissitudes of the idea [of democracy] in its supposedly original Athenian form."--Paul Cartledge, New Statesman & Society

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Back cover copy

The classical Athenians were the first to articulate and implement the notion that ordinary citizens of no particular affluence or education could make responsible political decisions. For this reason, reactions to Athenian democracy have long provided a prime Rorschach test for political thought. Whether praising Athens's government as the legitimizing ancestor of modern democracies or condemning it as mob rule, commentators throughout history have revealed much about their own notions of politics and society. In this book Jennifer Tolbert Roberts charts responses to Athenian democracy from Athens itself through the twentieth century, exploring a debate that touches upon historiography, ethics, political science, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, gender studies, and educational theory. Rooted in the bias of Greek intellectuals, Roberts argues, hostility to Athenian democracy gained strength from the propensity of Western thinkers to read history backward and infer the impotence of Athens's form of government from the Athenians' ultimate defeat by Macedon in 338 B.C. In time, dislike of Athenian government developed into a powerful intellectual construct that stood largely unchallenged until the early nineteenth century. In the epilogue, the author examines the controversies that continue to surround Athens in the present day.

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