An Origin for Political Culture’: Laws 3 as Political Thought and Intellectual History

Polis 37 (3):468-484 (2020)
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Plato’s survey in Laws book 3 of the development of human society from its earliest stages to the complex institutions of democratic Athens and monarchical Persia operates both as a conjectural history of human life and as a critical engagement with Greek political thought. The examples Plato uses to illustrate the stages of his stadial account, such as the society of the Cyclops and the myths of Spartan prehistory, are those used by other political theorists and philosophers, in some cases also drawing on the presence of the same stories in classical Greek epic and tragedy. By incorporating his critique into a timeline Plato is able to suggest that some approaches are limited in scope to specific social conditions, whereas his Athenian Stranger presents his analysis from an external and superior viewpoint, looking down on human society from above.



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Carol Atack
Cambridge University

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