Political Theory 35 (3):354 - 363 (2007)

Thornton Lockwood
Quinnipiac University
In 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote that the discovery of “representative democracy has rendered useless almost everything written before on the structure of government; and in great measure, relieves our regret, if the political writing of Aristotle, or of any other ancient, have been lost, or are unfaithfully rendered or explained to us” (quoted in Saxonhouse, p. 13). No doubt there are historical reasons to study classical Greece, but between us and them lies not only the discovery of representative democracy, but also the discoveries of Christianity, economics, national and trans-national political institutions, universal human rights, and modern science. What can modern political theory learn from the lessons of old books? Three recent volumes wrestle with this question. Confronting Tyranny asks what we can learn about modern oppressive institutions from their ancient ancestors. In Plato’s Fable, Joshua Mitchell claims that Plato’s Republic offers an account of ethical “imitation” superior to those offered by modern liberalism. In Free Speech and Democracy in Ancient Athens, Arlene Saxonhouse argues that free speech in antiquity differs from our rights-based understanding of the practice, and yet it shed light on the presuppositions of modern freedoms.
Keywords tyranny  Plato  Free speech
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DOI 10.1177/0090591707299826
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