Political Dissent in Democratic Athens: Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule

Political Dissent in Democratic Athens: Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule

Paperback Martin Classical Lectures

By (author) Josiah Ober

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  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Format: Paperback | 440 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 229mm x 30mm | 771g
  • Publication date: 2 December 2001
  • Publication City/Country: New Jersey
  • ISBN 10: 0691089817
  • ISBN 13: 9780691089812
  • Edition statement: Reprint
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations
  • Sales rank: 1,037,893

Product description

How and why did the Western tradition of political theorizing arise in Athens during the late fifth and fourth centuries B.C.? By interweaving intellectual history with political philosophy and literary analysis, Josiah Ober argues that the tradition originated in a high-stakes debate about democracy. Since elite Greek intellectuals tended to assume that ordinary men were incapable of ruling themselves, the longevity and resilience of Athenian popular rule presented a problem: how to explain the apparent success of a regime "irrationally" based on the inherent wisdom and practical efficacy of decisions made by non-elite citizens? The problem became acute after two oligarchic coups d' tat in the late fifth century B.C.The generosity and statesmanship that democrats showed after regaining political power contrasted starkly with the oligarchs' violence and corruption. Since it was no longer self-evident that "better men" meant "better government," critics of democracy sought new arguments to explain the relationship among politics, ethics, and morality.Ober offers fresh readings of the political works of Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle, among others, by placing them in the context of a competitive community of dissident writers. These thinkers struggled against both democratic ideology and intellectual rivals to articulate the best and most influential criticism of popular rule. The competitive Athenian environment stimulated a century of brilliant literary and conceptual innovation. Through Ober's re-creation of an ancient intellectual milieu, early Western political thought emerges not just as a "footnote to Plato," but as a dissident commentary on the first Western democracy.

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Author information

Josiah Ober is the David Magie Class of 1897 Professor of Classics and a member for the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. His books include The Athenian Revolution, Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens, and Dxmokratia (edited with Charles Hedrick). All three books are available from Princeton.

Review quote

"This book is first-rate: intelligent, judicious, original, a seamless performance, and on a fundamental topic... [A] great achievement."--Robert W. Wallace, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science "[An] impressive new book ... rich in detail and suggestive in interpretation... There is passion in [Ober's] account of democracy and sympathy in his portrayal of individual critics."--Mary Margaret McCabe, Times Literary Supplement "Ober commendably explores texts vital for understanding ancient democracy in a presentation well designed to encourage dialogue."--Thomas J. Figueira, American Historical Review "It would be difficult to overstate the scope and magnitude of Ober's erudition as displayed in this book. It is epic in its sweep."--V. Bradley Lewis, Review of Politics

Table of contents

Preface Ch. 1The Problem of Dissent: Criticism as Contest Ch. 2Public Speech and Brute Fact: Thucydides Ch. 3Essence and Enactment: Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae Ch. 4Justice, Knowledge, Power: Plato Apology, Crito, Gorgias, Republic Ch. 5Eloquence, Leadership, Memory: Isocrates Antidosis and Areopagiticus Ch. 6Political Animals, Actual Citizens, and the Best Possible Polis: Aristotle Politics Ch. 7The Dialectics of Dissent: Criticism as Dialogue Bibliography Index Locorum General Index