Athenian Political Thought and the Reconstitution of American Democracy

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In the contemporary United States the image and experience of Athenian democracy has been appropriated to justify a profoundly conservative political and educational agenda. Such is the conviction expressed in this provocative book, which is certain to arouse widespread comment and discussion.

What does it mean to be a citizen in a democracy? Indeed, how do we educate for democracy? These questions are addressed here by thirteen historians, classicists, and political theorists, who critically examine ancient Greek history and institutions, texts, and ideas in light of today's political practices and values. They do not idealize ancient Greek democracy. Rather, they use it, with all its faults, as a basis for measuring the strengths and shortcomings of American democracy. In the hands of the authors, ancient Greek sources become partners in an educational dialogue about democracy's past, one that goads us to think about the limitations of democracy's present and to imagine enriched possibilities for its future.

The authors are diverse in their opinions and in their political and moral commitments. But they share the view that insulating American democracy from radical criticism encourages a dangerous complacency that Athenian political thought can disrupt.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Over the years, many have perceived the democracy of ancient Athens as the political model for the United States-a perspective often advanced without a great deal of critical insight or reflection. This impressive collection of scholarly essays carefully examines the nature of the Athenian polis and pursues such perennial issues as the citizen's role and the nature of education in a democracy. The degree to which and the manner in which Athenian political thought and practice can inform our understanding of our own political system remains open to debate. However, the nexus between education and democracy is a crucial one, and this finely crafted work challenges the serious reader to confront the current condition of and future prospects for the American polity. Recommended especially for scholars in the field and graduate libraries.-Stephen Shaw, Northwest Nazarene Coll., Nampa, Id.
A collection of essays on Athenian democracy, organized in three sections on situating the Athenian democracy in relation to various regimes, exploring how discourse in democratic Athens displayed awareness of democracy's limitations, and creating direct dialogues between the discourse of Athenian democracy and that of contemporary thought. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801481796
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1994
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 360
  • Sales rank: 1,242,020
  • Product dimensions: 9.10 (w) x 6.10 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Norm and Form: The Constitutionalizing of Democracy 29
2 Democracy: An Idea of Ambiguous Ancestry 59
3 The Creation of a Legacy: A Manufactured Crisis in Eighteenth-Century Thought 81
4 Democracy, Power, and Imperialism in Fifth-Century Athens 103
5 How to Criticize Democracy in Late Fifth- and Fourth-Century Athens 149
6 Frank Speech, Democracy, and Philosophy: Plato's Debt to a Democratic Strategy of Civic Discourse 172
7 Democracy and Political Theory: A Reading of Plato's Gorgias 198
8 The Tragedy of Critical Theory 229
9 The Melting Pot, the Mosaic, and the Agora 252
10 Athenian Political Thought and the Feminist Politics of Poiesis and Praxis 265
11 The Zero Degree of Society: Aristotle and the Athenian Citizen 289
12 Two Democracies and Virtue 319
Selected Bibliography 341
Contributors 347
Index 349
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