Popular Tyranny and Athenian Democracy
DateApril 3, 2014
Time10:00am to 11:50am
Hillel Center, Gindi Dining Room (2nd Floor); 574 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90025
My task in this paper is to consider whether the Athenian democracy of the late fifth century BCE can be described as “popular sovereignty.” Both terms are problematic. The term “popular” when applied to Athenian politics is the more famously fraught in our day, as we are sensitive to some of the limitations on who counted as part of the political people, that is who was included in or excluded from the body of citizenrulers. Applying the term “sovereignty” to the situation of classical Athens troubles a more specialized audience. The problem here is straightforward: sovereignty seems embedded in a later historical period, when the paradigmatic political unit is the nation state and the term – born from an attempt to articulate and reinforce the absolute authority of the king, and then transferred to the people who depose him – refers to the ruling power of a state being unitary, authoritative, and above all supreme.
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