DEMOCRACY BEFORE LIBERALISM IN THEORY AND PRACTICE

Josiah Ober, Stanford University

Tue 6 November 2018

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra

Abstract

What did democracy mean before it was hybridized as "liberal democracy"?  Is democracy without liberalism necessarily illiberal, an oppressive tyranny of the majority?  Combining history with political theory, this talk aims to restore the basic meaning of democracy as collective and limited self-government by citizens. That, rather than majority tyranny, is what democracy meant in ancient Athens, long before the development of modern liberalism. Participatory self-government is the basis of political practice in “Demopolis,” a hypothetical modern state sketched as a thought experiment.  Demopolis’ residents aim to establish a reasonably secure, moderately prosperous, and non-tyrannical community, where citizens govern as a collective, both directly and through representatives. They willingly assume the costs of self-government because doing so benefits them, both as a group and individually. Basic democracy, as exemplified in real Athens and imagined Demopolis, can provide a stable political foundation for a liberal society. It may also offer a possible way forward for religious societies seeking a realistic alternative to autocracy.


About the speaker

Josiah Ober, Mitsotakis Professor in the School of Humanities and Science at Stanford, works on historical institutionalism and political theory, focusing on the political thought and practice of the ancient Greek world and its contemporary relevance. He is the author of a number of books mostly published by Princeton University Press, including Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens (1989), Political Dissent in Democratic Athens (2008), Democracy and Knowledge (2008). He has also published about 75 articles and chapters, including recent articles in American Political Science Review, Philosophical Studies, Hesperia, Polis, and Transactions of the American Philological Association.