ANCIENT GREEK RELATIONS OF DEMOCRACY AND VIRTUE: A Contemporary Perspective
John R. Wallach Professor of Political Science Hunter College & The Graduate Center The City University of New York Contact information: [email protected]
Prepared for the Political Philosophy Colloquium University of Wisconsin, Madison March 5, 2010 [NOT FOR QUOTATION OR DUPLICATION]
ANCIENT GREEK RELATIONS OF DEMOCRACY AND VIRTUE: A Contemporary Perspective John R. Wallach March, 2010 Taken together, democracy and virtue exhibit a paradoxical relationship. There are good reasons for this view. Unless democracy is idealized--understood as a way of life or associated with civic virtue--it expresses a political form of powerful rule rooted in the ethically undifferentiated liberty and equality of citizens. Unless virtue simply refers to functional excellence, it connotes socially sanctioned modes of ethical behavior that, in non-ideal circumstances, are likely to conflict with political practice. That is, democracy as a form of power and virtue as an expression of ethics typically fall under different conceptual registers and do not readily complement each other. Indeed, critical discourse from Plato to the present typically regards democracy and virtue as antithetical. But no political order functions without an ethics that legitimates its power, and every meaningful practice of ethics depends on a political order to flourish. This paradox, therefore, is less stark than it immediately appears. For those who believe in the importance of facilitating constructive relationships between democracy and virtue, the question becomes: How can a political rule of democracy that endorses liberty and equality complement practices of virtue that actualize hierarchies of value and achievement? In other words, how does one ethically legitimate democracy? This long-standing question has become an urgent matter of twenty-first century political life. Even though democracy has become the ascendant term for legitimating governmental rule, its association with myriad regimes and practices amid the centrifugal forces of globalization has
weakened its semantic cogency and political force.1 Meanwhile, the political meaning of virtue as a disposition to practice excellence–whether understood in functional or ethical terms--has become clouded by the economic demands of competitive capitalism and the influence of religious institutions in public life. The meaning of virtue as the achievement of “goods internal to practices” is more often a basis for conflict than consensus.2 Modern constitutional democracies may establish the official conditions of successful governance, but they do not ensure that their citizens will understand the ethical conditions of democracy or be motivated to promote these dimensions of political life. Moreover, conflict in political discourse often turns around the question of what ought to command our attention–structures of power or questions of ethical choice. It is not a matter of political parties praising democracy or virtue. These terms of art attract consensus across the political spectrum at sufficient levels of generality--although the “left” tends to emphasize the importance of democracy and the principle of equality while the “right” tends to emphasize the importance of “virtue” and the implicit value of social inequality.3 But it is the case that the agenda of the left emphasizes issues of power and (re)distribution, while the agenda of the right (insofar as it reflects genuine concern about collective life) emphasizes the articulation of choice and responsibility. Thus, the Editorial Board of The New York Times has been content over the past decade to have the position of the left articulated by Paul Krugman, an economist sensitive to the distribution of power, and the position of the right articulated by David Brooks, who constantly emphasizes the importance of character, civility and role-based performative excellence. To believe that politics is a matter of either the distribution of power or the expression of the moral and performative high ground is patently wrong. For both are always and ineradicably
involved–e.g., the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. To think about political ethics is another way of theorizing political legitimacy. That is why “virtue ethics” is no more than a specialized, cottage industry of the academy or thinly veiled ideology, unless it engages questions of power, and why democrats will always express an unreal political posture without knowing how to connect their vision of power to the practicalities of personal choice.4 But that is not to say that the accommodation of democracy and virtue has been, is, or can be simply achieved. The relationship between the conduct of power and the character of ethics has been, is, and will continue to be problematic: the mere exercise of power does not produce justice; one must decide how it is to be used. Correlatively, justice as a virtue that transcends the nominal good of the stronger party is rarely realized by practical agents of power; so its proponents need to attend to the means by which it could be realized. This problem has particularly bedeviled democratic theory and practice. Democracy’s rhetorical penchant for the power of liberty and equality does not entail any notion of the good other than other than what results from the political process–a risky bet, even under favorable circumstances. On the other hand, relying on any criteria to select an individual or class of persons individuals as exponents of virtue requires a leap of faith that caretakers of the political realm make at their peril. And yet every democracy requires a discourse of virtue to which a preponderant portion of the public adheres in order for it to possess legitimacy for all–not just the majority. (Thus, Rawls’s order of justice governed by “reasonable pluralism” still requires adherence to Rawls’s ethic of reasonable pluralism.) And virtue, in order for it to be a meaningful standard for practice, must be understandable and minimally available to a preponderant part of the public if its claim to legitimacy is democratically plausible. Having it
embedded in an exclusive tradition, whether religious or philosophical–e.g., MacIntyre’s or Strauss’s–runs against the grain of any open, democratic society.
This confluence of discursive
and practical phenomena has produced a new problematic for the ethical legitimacy of democracy.5 Taking into account the interdependence of politics and ethics, particularly in a democratic society, how are we to understand, if not promote, the virtue of democracy as a superior method of governance and the meaning of virtue as a practice of democratic citizens? To grasp the manifold dimensions of this ongoing problematic of democratic legitimation, I employ three, overlapping perspectives that focus on distinct periods of history where these discourses are seriously at play. The historical dimension recognizes the presence of the past, in order to highlight principal sources and unique features of our current crisis. The theoretical dimension analytically interprets our historical background, in order to highlight aspects of the crisis that go unappreciated in accounts of current events. The practical dimension focuses on actual intersections of democracy and virtue in various periods and conflicts of the past and present. Societies in which discourses of power and ethics approximate democracy and virtue have resolved their relationship in various ways. And it behooves those of us for whom the problem is still problematic to explore and interpret how such societies resolve their relationship. So we shall turn now to ancient Athens, where the problematic relationship between democracy and virtue first clearly emerged. *** During the classical era of Athenian democracy (let’s say, 508-323 B.C.E.), the first opposition between democracy and virtue clearly emerged on the levels of both practice and critical discourse.6 The Athenian democracy originated in part as a political effort by the demos
and their leaders to sever the link between political power and the ascribed, privileged status of the few who assumed to possess virtue (arete). One could say–it was not literally said–that the demos claimed arete for itself as the politically dominant agent in society. The Athenians coordinated democracy and virtue with political practices that honored the public realm and the powers of citizenship.7 But amid the imperfection and incompleteness of the Athenians’ democratic regime, the complementarity of democracy and virtue became questionable. Plato and Aristotle addressed this question in critical and systematic ways, informing their conceptions of virtue (arete) with judgments about skill (techne), nature (phusis), law and sanctioned morality (nomos), and political order (politeia). The practices of Athenian democracy or the claims of its theorists cannot provide models for our thinking.8 Yet the Athenians’ political regard for ethics and extensive practice of democracy produces especially rich material for considering contemporary issues in democratic ethics.9 How did Athenian democracy establish virtue as a public practice, while ancient Greek political theorists established tensions between democracy and virtue from the perspective of their theories of justice? What do they suggest about possible relationships between democracy and virtue?
I. The Athenians’ Discursive Realm of “Virtue” and “Power”
Neither “virtue” nor “power” is a Greek word. Nor did the cultural atmosphere that shapes our discussions of ethics and politics shape the contours of what ancient Greeks immediately experienced. They did not witness the omnipresence of monotheistic foundations for ethical practice, capitalism as the engine of economic life, or the state as the principal locus
for politics. These discursive and practical differences are obvious, but they often go unappreciated in our attempts to determined what ancient Greek politicians or philosophers believed. In order for us to “think with” them, as recent political theorists would have us do, we need to make sure we are intellectually dressed for the occasion. This calls for some linguistic and political differentiation of the worlds of “virtue” and “power” inhabited by ancient Greeks in relation to ours. Despite the etymological association of arete with Ares, the God of War, there was never anything particularly masculine about the Greek notion of arete. It could identify the overall courage and skill of those very mortal Greek warrior-men, that of the immortal Athena, or that of the loyal, artful character of that emblematic Greek heroine, Penelope.10 In addition, arete did not necessarily denote ethical behavior. It denoted functional excellence of all kinds–those of animals (e.g. a horse), inanimate objects (e.g., a knife), and the earth (e.g., soil), as well as that of human beings.11 And it could well be translated as “excellence.”12 But it was particularly associated with the excellence of one’s character–a disposition that signified a major aspect of an individual’s identity. Hence, it also is not improper to translate arete into English as virtue. Indeed, “virtue” is the best translation for arete, for it encourages the reader to appreciate the unusual dimensions of ethical knowledge and action in ancient Greek life and thought. As we shall see, arete is used both to describe and to evaluate individual and social practices as well as praise extraordinary human achievement. “Virtue” (arete) exhibited a disposition to achieve excellence in the performance of practical or ethical behavior. It was not reducible to the practical observance of moral rules (cf. Kant) or the attainment of particular, individual outcomes (cf. utilitarianism). As a result, the actual significance of “virtue” for ancient Greeks
operates outside of contemporary philosophical frameworks. There also is no single, serviceable equivalent in ancient Greek for the English word, “power.” 13)
Rather, it has two words that feed our conception of power. They are: dunamis–a
“capacity to act” effectively in certain realms of human activity, and kratos–“force.” 14 But whether the notion of power functioned in ancient Greek discourse as a capacity or force, it did not immediately endorse particular ethical ideas, ideals, standards, or norms. “Democracy,” therefore, as a form and means of the demos having and exercising power related ambiguously to ethics. Still, those who endorsed democracy as the best practicable political formation–one starkly different from anything that goes by the name democracy today–believed that the social practices and standards which belonged to its character–freedom and equality exercised politically and authoritatively by the demos–generated good (in the sense of practically beneficial) outcomes and maintained ethical practices (insofar as they conformed to accepted, praiseworthy, and paradigmatic codes of conduct).15 Because the demos was basically good and just, democracy was likely to be virtuous. When the Athenians chose a democratic order for their constitution, they implicitly held that whatever political virtue required, it could be well-served by democracy. Yet, how they understood the relationship and potential for reconciliation between democracy and virtue was not immediately evident–even as their mutually productive relationship was assumed to facilitate political legitimation. Instead, that relationship was more often than not a subject for contestation. After all, arete had been associated with the activities of a select group of individuals, if not single, extraordinary individuals. The demos was a collection of citizens. Thus, the grumpy “Old Oligarch” might grudgingly praise Athenian democrats for knowing how
to promote their political self-interest, but the demos nonetheless clearly lacked arete.16 No one formation of the relationship was immediately accepted; thus, it was continually addressed and contested by dramatists, rhetors, philosophers, and (presumably) ordinary citizens–then as now. What becomes clear in the context of ancient Athens is the extent to which, first, a complementary relationship between democracy and virtue depended on a fragile balance of ideas and practices that could not be readily encapsulated in coherent, systematic critical discourse, as evidenced in Pericles’ Funeral Oration as rendered by Thucydides and the Great Speech of Protagoras in Plato’s Protagoras. And, secondly, once systematic, critical theory as elucidated by Plato and Aristotle focused on the relationship between democracy and virtu as discrete discourses of power and ethics, the complementarity between democracy and virtue withered away. This suggests that conceptions and practices of democracy and virtue need to dynamically promote each other. That is, they ought not to be collapsed into or isolated from the other–if either is to flourish as a widespread social practice.17 My aim is not to address directly contemporary debates between liberals and republicans, or between Kantians, utilitarians, and virtue-ethicists. I do not believe that we can directly insert into contemporary discourse one or another feature of ancient Greek society, politics, or critical thought–even as relationships or arguments to “think with.” They are irreducibly historical, even if they are not exclusively historical. Thus, the following study also does not presume to portray impersonally or apolitically a relationship that is wholly external to our political and theoretical lives, a feature of a past that lives in another country. Instead, the aim is to illuminate a pivotal political setting that related democracy and virtue in both practical and critical discourse–a relationship that may speak to us because it works and plays amid every society, including our own, that would fashion
itself as both democratic and virtuous.18
II – The Political Complementarity of Democracy and Virtue in Exemplary Athenian Discourse
The two ancient Greek texts that best illustrate rhetorical and sophistic relationships between democracy and virtue appear in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War, specifically “Pericles’ Funeral Oration,” and Protagoras’s “Great Speech” in Plato’s Protagoras. Each is not rendered as a philosophical argument, strictly speaking, but rather praises a complementary relationship between democracy and virtue that each “author” claims inheres in the natural operation of both. Each is subjected to critical reflection in the text in which it appears–the rhetoric of the historically real personage of Pericles by Thucydides the historian; the sophistry of the historically real personage of Protagoras by the character Socrates in a Platonic dialogue written more than a generation after such a dialogue could have taken place. Thus, neither text should be regarded as historical evidence for actual spoken discourse of or arguments by Pericles or Protagoras. Yet each directly links democracy and virtue in discourse that plausibly fits with Athenian democratic ideology that later appeared in the oratory of, for example, Demosthenes and Aeschines, and was also subject to philosophical criticism by the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. So then, insofar as democracy is not automatically virtuous and virtue is not automatically democratic, how do these texts produce complementary relationships between democracy and virtue, ethics and power?
A. Periclean Democracy as a Virtuous Polis
Pericles’ Funeral Oration has been used to exhibit the wonders as well as excoriate the horrors of Athenian democracy, depending on the interpreter’s political intent.19 My intent here is not to evaluate the ideology of the speech or Pericles’ motivations or ethical intelligence as a political leader. Rather, it is to analyze the conceptual relationships and connections he draws between democracy and virtue–which could be said to be the speech’s intellectual aim. Pericles delivers the speech on the occasion of the first major public burial of soldiers who were killed or died in a war that he sanctioned. He chooses to depart from tradition by not concentrating on the courageous exploits of individual soldiers in battle but rather to eulogize the purpose (or telos) that justifies their deaths, the sacrifices of their relatives, and the need to continue to pursue this war with the Peloponnesians. Nonetheless, he pays tribute to their predecessors, for having bestowed freedom on contemporary Athenians by means of their arete (II.36.1). They did so by their exploits in war, acquiring the empire (arche), but also as agents of domestic peace for ordinary Athenian citizens. His speech emphasizes the superiority of Athens–principally in relation to Sparta and its oligarchical political order–and the worthiness of Athens as a dominant power in the Greek world. He does by articulating various practices (i.e., tropoi) of the Athenians’ constitutional order and way of life in the most positive light. Indeed, he speaks as if the Athenians experience no serious conflict–probably in order to overcome the internal conflicts or second-thoughts they are having because of the suffering brought on by the war with others they now are fighting. He regularly employs the term arete to describe one or another feature of Athenian behavior. As a result, he implies that demokratia as a politeia manifests arete, even though he only uses the term arete to describe standards of excellence for individual behavior. Pericles has transformed the erga of the Athenians’ political order into a
logos with which they are to become “lovers” if they are to excel in the erga of the war they are fighting. (II.43.1) Because demokratia is simply a particular order of power and arete manifests a standard of functional and ethical excellence, Pericles must find ways to knit together demokratia and arete.
Without expressly identifying the cardinal virtues with the Athenians, Pericles
associates wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice with their collective character at the outset of his discussion of the Athenian politeia. (II.37-40) The very first attribute he assigns to it is that it is a demokratia. He implicitly praises democracy because it is managed (oikein) by the many rather than the few. Then, he elaborates and qualifies this democracy in various dimensions. It observes the rule of law, treating all equally in public disputes; it recognizes arete when awarding public honors–paying attention to a citizen’s merit rather than whether he is wealthy or poor. It respects the freedom of citizens to express their personal individuality, and citizens themselves do not petulantly judge the diverse lives lived by their fellow citizens. At the same time, these Athenian democrats revere and observe the customs and public laws of their society, offering special concern to those who might be treated unjustly. In addition, he asserts that the Athenians achieve a kind of natural virtue in four respects–further indicating their superiority to the Spartans. First, the Athenians possess a courageous aptitude for defending their country not by surviving harsh discipline and training but by their ordinary maturation and education in Athenian society. Second, they display a well-balanced love of beauty and wisdom. Third, they engage skillfully in politics because of their high level of public concern and capacity for informed, deliberate political judgment. And finally, in their personal relations, they are noteworthy for offering aid and friendship first, rather than benefitting others only because of a
reactive calculation.20 All of these features (tropoi) that express various dimensions of the arete of the Athenians as a collectivity also contribute to its self-sufficiency (autarkeia) and power (dunamis). (II.41.2, II.42.1) Moreover the famous regard (logos) in which they are held by others is matched by the virtue (arete) manifested in the deeds (erga) of its men. (II.42.2) At this point in the speech, Pericles begins to use more emotional language and speak more directly to the relatives of the fallen who stand before him. He exalts the wonders of the empire, how the exploits of the Athenians leave immortal marks on the hearts of human beings, and how they will always succeed, even if many inevitably will die during this polemical struggle. Such death only further manifests arete. (II.43.1) Having linked the past to the present, he now links the present to the future, speaking directly to the relatives who have survived the fallen soldiers. They, too, can exhibit arete, though the brothers of the dead will have a difficult time comparing their lives to the completed arete of their departed loved ones. Pericles declares the arete of women as a feminine version of sophrosune–not allowing their feelings to disturb their personal or social relation while continuing to produce sons for battle, a relatively uncontroversial sentiment for the time (but cf. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata). Finally, Pericles directly links the values of the Athenian polis to the needs of the war, declaring that it will maintain the children of fallen soldiers at public expense until they reach maturity: “for where the prizes (athla) offered for arete are the greatest there are found the best citizens (andres aristoi politeuousin).” (II.46.1) Altogether, Pericles has linked the power (dunamis) of the city with its practices, and he claims that the citizens both individually and collectively are agents of virtue (arete). This claim made in logos is validated in complementary logoi and erga–except for one not insignificant but
silently presupposed caveat and warning. One of the justifications for his funeral oration as an inspirational must have been that the collectivity needed it–which is to say that at some level it was falling short in erga to the claims he was making for them in logoi. Nonetheless, he assumed that the principal levers for upholding the empire was the consolidation of its power as a democracy with the virtuous ethics of its citizenry. Athenians only needed to be what they had been, were, and could be. Its form of leadership–embodied by himself, made possible by their virtuous political judgments, ethical values, and social practices–were all basically sound. All that was needed was the fortitude to maintain them. But here’s the rub. Even as Pericles was quietly criticizing the Athenians while he was educating and inspiring them, his perspective was so comprehensive that it ironically offered no clear-cut space for subsequent criticism and education. To be sure, funeral orations were not designed to catalyze political debate. They were occasions for reflection and rededication. But Thucydides himself suggests that Pericles’ reach extended beyond his grasp when he followed the speech in his History with a wrenching description of the Plague–a disease that resisted rational control, defied ethical norms, and was partly facilitated by Pericles’ policy of calling in to the city all citizens from the countryside as the best means of defeating the Spartans. Pericles’s speech ennobled the Athenians by emphasizing their perfection as a people. But that perfection, their arete, depended upon their continued success of its democratic institutions and political ethics, fostering political unity amid major disparities in wealth, the responsibilities of controlling an empire, and continued practical success amid the uncertainties of war. Despite its fragility and, from our standpoint at least, imperfections, the Periclean ideology carried great force in his day. It certainly provided an influential point of reference for
Thucydides, even as the latter implicitly noted its limitations, and it offered a practical manifestation of the ideology spelled out by Protagoras when he justified his role as an educator for the citizenry of democratic Athens. But important events intervened between Pericles’ delivery and Thucydides’ composition of the Funeral Oration and Protagoras’ Great Speech in Plato’s Protagoras that provided a significant impetus for the latter’s composition. In particular, these were the Athenians’ defeat by the Spartans (and Persians), the turmoil in Athens from 415404 (i.e., the Sicilian expedition, the raids from Decelea, and the two oligarchic coupls–in 411 and 404), and, perhaps most importantly for Plato, the trial and death of Socrates at the hands of an Athenian Court of 501 persons by a 3:2 margin–Socrates, whom Plato described as the most eminent man of virtue (arete) of his time. The Athenian democracy’s military defeat and, one might say, its failure of moral and political judgment by finding Socrates guilty of the crimes of impiety and corrupting the young, compromised the smooth complementarity between democracy and arete that Pericles spelled out in his Funeral Oration.
B. Protagorean Democracy and Virtue The radical challenge posed by Socrates’ death to the accommodation of democracy and virtue in Athenian political life was a principal catalyst for Plato’s political theory–which I have claimed could be said to have been motivated to answer the question raised by the disjunction between the logos of Socratic virtue and the ergon of post-Socratic Athenian political and democratic life.21 That disjunction can be read as a conflict between power and ethics played out most dramatically and poignantly amid the politics of Athenian democracy. But it can also be read as a more pointed conflict between democracy and virtue, and it is in that light that I
shall read Protagoras’ Great Speech, which presents in sophistic terms the ideology of Athenian democracy.
Plato wrote the Great Speech of Protagoras in the Protagoras, long after
Protagoras (supposedly a close associate of Pericles, insofar as Pericles gave him the responsibility of drawing up the constitution for the new pan-Hellenic, but Athenian-led, Italian colony of Thurii) and Pericles had died, the Athenians had lost the Peloponnesian War, and Socrates was tried and executed for calling into question the coherence of the ideological project promoted by, among others, Pericles and Protagoras. One of Plato’s points in rendering the Great Speech as he did in the dialogue, I suspect, was to demonstrate the fragility of the Periclean, as well as Protagorean project–a project that did not hold up from his philosophical point of view and could not hold up if accompanied by major, practical failures. There remains great value, nonetheless, in identifying the manner in which Protagoras in the Great Speech sought to justify the virtue and power of the Athenians’ democratic political order as well as the need for him, or someone like him, to educate its citizens in how to become virtuous and powerful. For, in comparison to the rhetorical tour de force of Pericles’s Funeral Oration given at a particular point of historical time (as distilled by Thucydides), Protagoras’s sophistic explanation of the conjunction of democracy and virtue, even as produced by Plato, more directly focuses on the task of generating a coherent relationship between the two. Protagoras’ Great Speech follows the request by Plato’s Socrates to have him explain what effect he has on those who would learn from him. Protagoras claims they will become better, but better in what sense and better at what?, Protagoras claims to be able to teach each one “the proper care of his personal affairs, so that he may best manage (oikein) his own household (oikian dioikoi), and political affairs. This enables a successful student of Protagoras to become
most powerful (dunatotatos) in the polis, as he would be able to both act (prattein) and speak (legein)–recollecting the virtues and skills of Achilles. Paraphrased by Plato’s Socrates, this becomes the ability to teach “the art of politics” (ten politiken technen), through which he will be able to make men into “good citizens” (agathous politas). But how he can teach this art, and what is its virtue (arete) – when Athenians in the Assembly only listen to experts in particular, practical activities and when it comes to a matter of general, political concern, they regard noone as an expert–except for themselves? Moreover, Pericles was unable to teach virtue (arete) to either his son or a ward. At this point, Protagoras provides what he regards as a full explanation, composed of both a mythos and logos that justify Athenian democracy, the practice of virtue, and Sophistic education.22 The mythos begins with a description of the origin of the powers (dunameis) of all living beings. Because of Epimetheus’s neglect, human beings initially were not given powers like other animals. It was left to Prometheus to bestow upon them the skillful knowledge (ten entechnon sophian) that enabled them to use fire and develop the skills of both language and material self-preservation (ton bion sophian)–the arts of Hephaestus and Athena–but they still lacked the political art (ten politiken). This makes possible practical intelligence and craftsmanship (he demiourgike techne), but it does not enable them to cooperate and defend themselves against beasts. They needed the political art (politiken technen), of which the art of war (polemike) was a part. This came from Zeus. He did not distribute it like he did the other arts or skills–with each going to only a few in a socially productive division of labor. Rather, he distributed it “to all.” As a result, practically everyone would be empowered with a sense of reverence and right (aidous kai dikes), capable of making the good, basic political judgments
their democratic order required of them. This explains how Athenians in their Assembly may defer to a few experts who have virtue (arete) in particular, practical arts, but when it comes to matters of political virtue (politike arete) they expect all to contribute with a sense of justice and moderation (dikaiosunes...kai sophrosunes). If anyone does not do so, like one who commits homicide, he disqualifies himself from membership within the society of human beings and citizens.23 According to Protagoras in the Great Speech, human beings are endowed with a political potential or power that inherently evinces a sense of virtue and justice. That is not manifested in every single human being. Why should it? Nature is not perfect, and certain individuals act badly and warrant punishment. But everyone has this god-given power and virtue as well as the capacity to improve. The gap between the possession of this basically good political and ethical potential and its actualization–power realized as virtue–may be filled by Athenians parents, local teachers, Protagorean education, and, if need be, the Athenians’ correctional system. Each one cultivates, supplements, corrects, and complements the power and virtue with which everyone is endowed. In this way, Protagoras could both represent and educate ordinary citizens, just as Pericles represented and exhorted Athenians to fulfill their destiny as a powerful and virtuous people.24 But Protagoras is more explicit about the skill he performs. It is not just enabling the Athenians, as Pericles implied he was doing, to be who they could be. Moreover, it is not reducible to a set of rules or practices that can be passed on from father to son. For he believes there is a skill (techne) in virtue (arete) that Athenians impart to one another and that he can teach to each of them, for a fee–presumably in the case that one does not feel sufficiently educated in virtue by one’s fellow citizens.25 Protagoras’s Great Speech articulates the naturally
human and democratic foundations for his techne of arete. In Plato’s Protagoras, Socrates proceeds to use his elenchic method to dissolve the apparent coherence of Protagoras’s art of virtue, arguing (incompletely) that Protagoras has no notion of how to relate the various virtues to a single conception of virtue or justice and that he could have no knowledge (episteme) of such an art unless it either mimicked that of the people– making his role superfluous–or was disconnected from the power and virtue that his students supposedly had as a natural foundation. Socrates pegs Protagoras as either a tool of citizens or a philosopher who can be of little help for citizens intent on becoming both virtuous and powerful in democratic Athens. Socrates decides that he has approached the question of Protagoras’ skill incorrectly, for one cannot answer the question of whether virtue can be taught without knowing what virtue is in itself.26 But that very effort to produce intellectual clarity isolates “virtue” from myriad social practices in Athenian democracy. The coherence of Protagoras’ Great Speech depends more on faith in his story than belief in its justification–on the conduct of citizens and teachers to match Protagorean rhetoric with the virtue and practical skill he associates with their democratic polis. But this picture, portrayed by Plato as a pre-war speech, seems to have been belied by the Peloponnesian War and Socrates’ ultimate fate. The delicately crafted combination of the parts of Protagorean virtue–like parts of a beautiful face–have become ugly. Perhaps they need stronger foundations. But such foundations will alter the relationship between democracy and virtue.
III. Philosophical Relationships of Democracy and Virtue
Philosophers’ conceptions of the relationship between democracy and virtue obviously reflected many assumptions common in the culture where they lived. But in contrast to politicians, sophists, ordinary or particularly critical citizens, they wrote texts that selfconsciously sought to redefine ordinary ethical and political discourse in ways that were thought to make possible its truer and better understanding and use. Plato and Aristotle both conducted philosophical projects that established clear critical spaces between what they were doing and what was ordinarily said and done. But they did so in different ways. For these and other reasons, they produced distinctively different but not mutually alien discussions of the relationship between democracy and virtue–neither of which effected complementary relationships between democracy and virtue.
A. Plato’s Republic and the Relationship Between Democracy and Virtue Plato’s Politeia has been read reasonably and profoundly in a number of ways, and I am not going to engage in debates with other interpreters here about how best to approach and read that dialogue. I have done enough of that in my book on Plato. I simply going to note the manner in which the Republic contrasts democracy and virtue, finding the former (as well as all other unjust constitutions) antithetical to virtue–thereby shattering the potential complementarity between the two presented by Thucydides’ Pericles and Plato’s Protagoras.27 The initial tension appears in Book I, where Socrates faces Thrasymachus’s challenge that justice is nothing other than the interest of the stronger and that the unjust life is the happiest life. Justice is a product of collectively maintained power as force (kratos). In presenting his
challenge, Thrasymachus uses as evidence the operation of extant political orders, including that of democracy, which are marked by conflict between the stronger and weaker parties. Socrates’ initial response to Thrasymachus–that is, the response of Book I–challenges the view that justice simply glosses the endemic political conflict that produces a legal order that benefits the stronger party. Instead, rather than embedding the knowledge and virtue of human arts and skills in a larger social context that he regards as basically just–as did Pericles and Protagoras–he argues the reverse. For he believes that philosophical coherence and political friendship require that one conceptualize justice (dikaiosune) as an art or skill (techne) that ultimately actualizes a productive activity as a function or deed (ergon) of virtue (arete). Plato’s Socrates goes on to argue that Thrasymachus’s view logically entails a tyrant’s way of life but that tyrannical leadership renders one unable to cooperate regularly with others. As a result, he becomes unable to succeed in any political endeavor. He lacks justice and the political art, and his ambition of total power is an illusion; actually, he lacks power–understood as either dunamis or kratos. For Plato’s Socrates, success occurs when the proper work or function (ergon) of an entity– ultimately the soul–is performed with virtue.28 Among human beings, this is typically achieved in competitive social relationships but not ones that produce irreducible conflict in which the winner employs force (kratos) to attain his victory over the loser. In other words, dunamis, techne, and arete not only complement one another; they effectively produce harmony and community–i.e., justice. But Glaucon and Adeimantus ask Socrates explain the meaning and value of justice when abiding by this discursive standard may well be outdone in practice by those who live unjust, and seemingly happy, lives. This leads them to demand that Socrates not only explain justice in
terms of its consequences but also in terms of its intrinsic merits. Socrates responds by generating kallipolis. Kallipolis, need it be said, is not a democracy. Its ethical system condemns the kind of pluralism and diversity that marks democratic life, for they cannot guarantee the harmony and community which characterize ethical and political justice. Moreover, one aspect of Socrats’ conception of justice is “to each his own,” and he believes that its practical corollary is the rule that each person can only skillfully perform one techne. Insofar as politics and its utilization for the production of justice is itself a techne and most citizens are not able to practice it extensively enough to excel at it, a special class of philosophically informed leaders is needed to understand justice in logos and ensure it in ergon. The reservation of politics and authoritative political judgment to a special class violates a fundamental precept of democracy, i.e., as articulated in Pericles’ Funeral Oration, the Great Speech of Protagoras, and Athenian democratic practice–namely the view that all citizens are both able and entitled to contribute to the authoritative, deliberative decision-making and that such politics is more likely to produce just outcomes that any constitutional alternative. (As far as we can reliably tell, the historical Socrates did not directly dispute this view, but he did not directly endorse it either.) As Socrates elaborates the features of kallipolis in Books II-VII of Politeia, he makes clear how difficult it is to establish the authority of such a class–one needs an oxymoronic “noble lie” (gennaion pseudos)–and the complexity and length (fifty years) of the education that special class of citizens needs to acquire the virtue and skill necessary to understand and practice justice. And yet, in Book V, he claims that kallipolis is possible, and–in Books IV, VI, and VII–he claims that ordinary citizens are sufficiently endowed with the virtue of sophrosune that they can be rationally persuaded to legitimate and accept the authority of
philosopher-guardians as their just politicians.29 Plato clearly has theoretically isolated virtue and political power, unless they are united in a ruling class of philosopher-guardians. And in practice, that is, in the world we experience, they are isolated–which disadvantages everyone and results in regimes of injustice. The assumption guiding kallipolis is that its survival depends on practical perfection–the perfect arrangement of classes, conforming to the natural aptitudes of citizens; the perfect mating practices, sustaining the genetic make-up of the ruling class. When he begins to discuss unjust regimes, he begins by noting the role of imperfection in life. Indeed, it is the inability to time “good sex” properly which ultimately produces imperfect rulers who stray from the path of virtue and establish timocratic regimes–the first of four. Timocracies degenerate into oligarchies. The latter are clearly worse because their attraction to money depreciates the virtues of techne and community to such an extent that they produce stasis–the plague of social life–and produce a virtual civil war between the rich and the poor. The next regime in the narrative is democracy. It results from many skillful paupers rebelling against the power of the few and feckless rich, seeking wealth that had been unjustly denied to them. The motivation for their revolt seems to be equality, but the banner under which they organize their regime, according to Socrates, is liberty. In the subsequent description of democracy, Socrates produces an odd narrative–one that takes up more space than his descriptions of the other unjust regimes. Its oddness stems from its unreality–although not necessarily less unreal than that of the other unjust regimes organized around a single principle. But his unreal description of democracy is most telling. For his unjust democracy operates without any regard for the rule of law; its equality does not promote equality of respect, and its
citizens have no particular interest in politics or the well-being of their city. Moreover, there are no social gradations in this democracy. None of these features characterized Athenian democracy nor have they ever been imagined to mark any workable democracy. So why does Plato’s Socrates render democracy in this way? To recall, he is offering a literary narration and typology of unjust regimes–attempting to identify the principal components of each regime’s unique form of injustice. The constitutions of ancient Greek city-states were essentially composed by their citizenry–as both Plato and Aristotle pointed out. So Plato elaborates his politics and psychologies of injustice by taking the core value or values of a particular regime and simply taking it to the extreme, for the purposes of illustration. They were not designed as representations of actual regimes. And yet, despite this relatively obvious qualification, the kind of freedom made possible by democratic political arrangements in the hypothetical democracy of Book VIII provides a peculiarly fertile environment for the practice of philosophy, and when the democracy is eventually overthrown and tyranny established, the revolutionary agents act like arrogant, ambitious individuals–not unlike the sailors in Book VI--who are impatient with the conventions of democratic society and politics.30 Not only in the Statesman, but also in the Republic, democracy is the best of the unjust regimes. It also is arguably the greatest source of material for the second-best state of Magnesia in Plato’s Laws.31 Aristotle simply follows suit. While the Platonic democracy of Book VIII may provide fertile ground for philosophy, it also provides intellectual fuel for those who would style themselves as paragons of philosophical knowledge and/or ethical virtue. And because Plato has analytically isolated democracy and virtue, his text provides theoretical material for anti-democratic political theory and practice. These openings in his theory have been exploited by interpreters of Plato from Popper, to
Strauss, Arendt, and Ober–mainly because of political fears of their own that they believe Plato’s texts can foster. Plato has no doubt that political power untutored by philosophical ethics will produce injustice. From this standpoint, he has generated kallipolis as a discursive counterpoint to democratic Athens, other political orders, and the lives of his readers. He needed to make a philosophical break with political and democratic convention because of their failures to make possible clear-headed, practically authoritative conceptions of justice and because of the tragic deaths and political turmoil of the Athenians’ relatively recent past. Arguably, he fulfilled a genuine political and democratic need. But the result simply produced a different kind of ambiguity about the relationship between democracy and virtue. To begin with, Plato offered no theory of how ethics and power, democracy and virtue, interacted in real historical time. For he was mostly concerned about emphasizing how closely related polis and psyche–or power and ethics–were. Indeed, there was no clear political opposition to the Academy in Athens. Perhaps this was because Plato did not believe that it was democracy as such that caused the harm experienced in the Athenians’ past, the limitations of their present, or the philosophical confusion that marked their conceptions of justice. Perhaps it was because he did not have a determinate theory of the practical relationship between power and ethics or democracy and virtue over time. Nonetheless, his view that philosophy had the potential to be an agent of justice and deserved one’s whole-hearted pursuit illuminated problematic and productive relationships between democracy and virtue that could be used to understand their interrelationships in both discourse and practice.
B. Aristotle’s Natural and Analytical Relationships of Democracy and Virtue
Because of the trend of associating Plato with anti-democratic ideologies of one sort or another over the past seventy years, Aristotle has garnered more serious attention recently than Plato as a useful source for doing contemporary political theory. Although this trend has dissipated somewhat in the last ten years, it remains strong. Indeed, relative to the early modern period, which was bent on running Aristotelianism out of philosophers’ town, there has been over the last half-century a renaissance of interest in Aristotle’s ethical and political theory as a source for rethinking ethics and politics–particularly as an alternative to Kantian or utilitarian ethics and the rights tradition for thinking about politics.32 But our concern is simply that of identifying the manner in which Aristotle relates democracy and virtue. Given his influence, determining what it amounts to will enable us to think more clearly and comprehensively about the ethical conditions for legitimating the exercise of political power in a democratic society. *** Virtue (arete) is a principal factor in Aristotle’s perception of the practical world of ethics and politics. It is very real, and as such plays a role in his characterization of the workings of that world. For Aristotle, virtue is preeminently a force for good. Its presence enables the power–understood as the potential (dunamis)–of an agent or association to achieve actuality (energeia) in a way that realizes its final purpose (telos) or good (agathos). Happiness (eudaimonia) may be the end all of us seek, but no other feature of a human practice deserves more praise than its virtuous exercise.33 In his most paradigmatic rendition of ethical arete,
Aristotle assigns six features to it–namely, (1) a disposition or habit of acting (hexis); (2) involving deliberate choice (prohairesis); (3) concerning a mean (to meson); (4) a mean relative to us; (5) in accord with a rational principle (logos); (6) as determined by a man of practical wisdom (ho phronimos).34
Aristotle gives virtue pride of place in his ethical and political
thought, but its exemplars reflect accepted assumptions and judgments about human action that only can be performed by members of higher economic classes–such as the “great-souled” man– even though membership in that class does not automatically produce such virtuous behavior. In other words, arete may not be simply a social construction, but it also is not sufficiently expressed by our nature (physis); it does not belong to the basis of human activity. And yet, while it is not natural, yet virtue manifests the fulfillment of our natural potential for good.35 Ultimately, such fulfillment is achieved by the practice of politike, the art of political science. Politike enables one to identify and foster virtue in the polis. Its political achievement is manifest in a constitutional order (politeia) that regularly benefits the whole community. Its most exemplary practitioner, in fact, is a man of practical wisdom.36 The two aspects of power that belong to conventional English usage in varying degrees– force and capacity–are neatly differentiated by Plato in the first book of the Republic and then linked to virtue. Aristotle obviously relates them differently, but the Platonic background usefully sets our stage. For Plato, power, understood as human capacity, will be virtuous in logos. There, it does not operate as force. But for the most part and in the near term, it will be resisted by the forces of injustice in the world. Power as dunamis accords with virtue and justice; power as kratos does not. The situation is not fundamentally different in Aristotle’s political theory. For Aristotle, power as dunamis is simply a capacity or potential to effect
action. As such, it defines the character or identity of an agent.37 Such powers may be natural to a creature, but they must be developed in practice to actually reach their greatest potential. And while there may be a telos of a capacity embedded in its potential, the achievement of that telos requires habituation, the cultivation of reason, choice, and practice in hitting the mark. Indeed, recent commentators on Aristotle have been right to point out that Aristotle does not posit a natural substance in human beings that exercises complete authority over what they may do with their lives.38 But his judgments of natural capacity establish the parameters of what counts as human capacity, human good and political virtue. Thus, the polis is the highest and best koinonia “by nature” (phusei); man is “by nature” (phusei) a “political animal” who is “made for political activity.”39 Just as tellingly, Aristotle remarks that “ruling” and “being ruled” are features of animate activity “by nature.”40 Such “natural” parameters stemming from observation, rather than dialectical inquiry, connect Aristotle’s identification to the perceptible world in ways not followed by Plato. But insofar as the human function includes the use of reason, particularly in a deliberative mode that virtuously produces judgments of good and bad, right and wrong among equals in the political realm, there is for Aristotle, as for Plato, a stipulated connection between power as dunamis and virtue as discerned by critical reason. That does not mean Aristotle ignores the exercise of power as forceful domination in the political world. To the contrary, that phenomenon for Aristotle marks the existence of injustice– the source of civic strife (stasis)–as when one seeks more than his due.41 Now, Plato constantly makes his reader aware of the gap between his critical discussion of ethics and politics and the injustice of the practical world. With Aristotle, that gap still exists between his critical understanding of the nature of the polis, citizenship, virtue, and power, but there is difficult
terrain covering that gap, and mapping it is a difficult project. It requires that one evaluate the relationship between his standards of judgment about what counts as virtue, power as potential, and power as force, on the one hand, and, on the other, that which existed in the world he observed–the very world whose nature grounds his authoritative judgments of value. The complexity becomes apparent when he identifies the three lenses he uses to establish the knowledge of politike–that of “the best,” “the best practicable,” and “that which is mostly the case.”42 The phenomena that belong to the third case dominate what Aristotle politically observes; it comprises the operation of democracies and oligarchies, the dominant forms of political life. But his descriptions of them are indelibly informed by his conceptions of the best practicable and the best simpliciter, wherein the power of virtue reigns and power functions virtuously. *** The principal political power in democracies is the power of citizenship, freely and equally distributed among the citizen body. Understood as an activity as well as a status, citizenship is most extensively practiced in a democracy. Notably, Aristotle identifies the virtue or excellence of citizenship in ways that diverge from his depictions of every other virtue. Those virtues are habitual actions of individuals, but the virtue of citizenship is engendered by individuals acting collectively. Moreover, citizenship is unique among forms of ruling because its term and duration are indeterminate.43 Its activity is also not reducible to that of a particular power or capacity (dunamis) in a specialized organization, such as that of different sailors’ tasks on a ship; rather, the virtue of a citizen effects the koinonia to which he belongs; it does so differentially, in accord with the distinctive identity of each citizen.44 While this means that
there cannot be a single arete among all citizens, it does suggest that the politics of citizenship may involve a uniquely shared activity.45 Given the extent to which the activity of citizenship is the central activity for a constitution, and constitutional order is the primary factor in fostering political virtue, citizenship in a democratic society is formally destined to generate political or civic virtue. Democracy actualizes the political. In a similar fashion, Aristotle entertains the possibility that when it comes to political deliberation, the many gathered together and focused on resolving a common issue are more skilled, more virtuous, than one person or a small group addressing the same matter.46 Here we hear echoes of Pericles and Protagoras’s Great Speech in Plato’s Protagoras. The specific powers of free and equal citizenship may be formally virtuous and just. However, in differentiating the roles within the political realm among ruler and ruled, statesman and ordinary citizen, and within the polis more generally, Aristotle finds most citizens who comprise a democracy such as the Athenian unable to perform the powers of citizenship–or at least not well or virtuously. Thus, a virtuous politeia would exclude manual laborers and mechanics, not to mention women and slaves, from the practice of politics.47 In Aristotle’s ideally imagined, best politeia, he notes the value of the democratic principle of rotation in office for generating an egalitarian practice among citizens but immediately notes that it only works if the capacity (dunamis) to carry it out is there–a capacity which he believes is lacking in the majority of citizens in democratic Athens.48 In other words, the virtues of citizenship may be formally and logically associated with the practical structure of a democratic constitution, but they cannot be substantively or practically fulfilled by the powers of democratic citizens. Without the restraint produced by Aristotelian virtue practiced by the few, the power of
democracy does not actualize human potential; it produces force and political domination. The kratos of the demos does not comport with political virtue in a good constitution. That is why democracy is one of the perverted or distorted constitutions and why Aristotle judges the best among the four extant types of democracy the one in which the many are least able to take part in politics. And when they do so, they subordinate the only legitimate political force, law, to their desires.49 In this respect, Aristotle’s rendition of Athenian democracy complements Plato’s typological caricature of democracy in the Republic as an unjust regime. Aristotle perceives the structural potential of democracy as fulfilling the political promise of civic virtue. But the actuality of democracy tends to destroy that promise and leads Aristotle to restrict the democratic powers of (Athenian) citizenship in an oligarchic direction–not to promote the power of wealth but to ensure the power of virtue. Aristotle vindicates the virtue of politics as an activity more fully than Plato but only by marginalizing many members of a democratic polis for lacking the potential to be fully political. That lack may not be generic to man as a political animal, but it befits a political realm in which the constituent members depend on the instrumental work of the majority in the city as a precondition for the virtuous performance of their own citizenship. By directly situating his ideally imagined constitution in contrast to that of Athenian democracy, Aristotle has implicitly recommended altering the Athenian constitution. Such recommendations are not startling, given his high expectations for political virtue. After all, how many Americans engage in the kind of politics that Aristotle describes as potentially illustrative of civic virtue?50 But insofar as Aristotle directly links his observations of what is with what ought to be, reading Aristotle encourages–at least in his time–anti-democratic politics. As was the case with Plato, the extent to which that occurs derives from the extent to which he isolates
virtue from democracy and harbors doubts about the extent to which the demos has the nature (physis) and potential (dunamis) to conform its politics to justice and virtue.51 The effect is to produce an understanding of politics in history that undermines rational and ethical beliefs that justify the general extension and enhancement of virtue on behalf of democracy and the reformation of democracies in virtuous directions. At least that is how Alexander and Antipater understood their Aristotle.
This selective account of ancient Greek relations between democracy and virtue in both relatively conventional and critical political analysis has yielded a genuine conundrum. For the writings that operate from within the ambit of legitimated ethics and power in classical Athens are unable to produce a coherent and viable understanding of the relationship between virtue and democracy. They too readily allow virtue and democracy to collapse into one another, generating undesirable results for both the virtue of politics and the power of critical reason. Yet Plato and Aristotle, the philosophers who composed intelligible relationships between democracy and virtue tended toward endowing unlikely or prejudiced practices with the medal of virtue–and at the expense of democracy. Ancient Greek political thought, and that associated with democratic Athens in particular, provides a rich source for critically analyzing how democracy can be regarded as virtuous and how virtue can be democratic. Moreover, because Athenian democracy exhibited the human ability to exercise effectively politically authoritative freedom and equality–rather than simply
the ability to legitimize rule over them by others–it provides a useful point of reference for anyone seeking the democratization of contemporary political power and virtue. But it cannot be a direct source of aid for us. When Hobbes sought to bury Aristotle because he believed the natural power of individuals expressed political incompetence rather than political virtue, he did so in part because of the extent to which Aristotelianism had become a misleading tool of entrenched, practically foolish, authorities. But we also know that his alternative to Aristotelianism, based on by legitimizing the modern state on the basis of power without virtue– that is, kratos without arete–has done little to enhance democracy or political virtue. Insofar as we still labor under the power of Hobbesian states legitimated sporadically in dubious elections, this suggests that much work still needs to be done to understand the ways and means for generating a productive dynamic between democracy and virtue. The results of my study of the subject thus far, especially from the ancient Athenian context are modest. First, the persistence of conflict between democracy and virtue as expressions of power and ethics cautions against political ideologies or philosophies that identify institutions of democracy or practices of virtue as reliable agents of justice. Second, accommodations between democracy and virtue are fragile, diverse, products that require favorable conditions of power, critical discourse, and educational practice to flourish.
1. See the work of John Dunn, e.g., Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979, 1993) and Democracy: A History (New York; Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005). 2. The understanding of virtues in this vein is central to the major book by Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1991). 3 See Alain Noel and Jean-Philippe Therien, Left and Right in Global Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). 4 Contemporary philosophical scholarship about “virtue ethics” depends on one bracketing or marginalizing political considerations. But see the work of Ryan Balot, which recognizes the political dimension of ancient Greek virtue without accounting for its connections to power. See, e.g., his Greek Political Thought (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), and his more recent article, “The Virtue Politics of Democratic Athens,” in Stephen Salkever, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Greek Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 271-300. 5. The meaning of “legitimation” employed here closely relates to that defined by Bernard Williams in “Realism and Moralism in Political Theory,” from his posthumously published book, In the Beginning Was the Deed: Realism and Moralism in Political Argument (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 1-17. However, I do not subscribe to his political theory or his argument for the “Basic Legitimation Demand.” 6 For different views of the date at which democracy was established in Athens, see Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece, ed. Kurt A. Raaflaub, Josiah Ober, Robert W. Wallace (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007). 7. The Athenians notably marked virtue in the public realm with inscriptions and monuments, thereby distancing associations of virtue from the social nature of citizens. See D. Whitehead, Cardinal Virtues: The Language of Public Approbation in Classical Athens,” Classica et Mediaevalia 44 (1993), 37-75, and Charles Hedrick, “Democracy and the Athenian Epigraphical Habit,” in Hesperia, Vol. 68, No. 3 (Jul.-Sep., 1999), 387-439.
8. For an example of a reading of ancient Greek political philosophy as a foundation for modern political thought, see Leo Strauss, The City and Man (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964). For an example of the use of Athenian democratic practice as a model or template for us, see Josiah Ober, Athenian Legacies: Essays on the Politics of Going On Together (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005). 9. My publications on the contemporary significance of ancient Greek political thought include The Platonic Political Art: A Study of Critical Reason and Democracy (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001) and “Contemporary Aristotelianism,” in Political Theory, Vol. 20, No. 4 (November, 1992), 613-641. For a brief example of how to relate ancient and modern democratic practice and theory, see the “Introduction” and my chapter, “Two Democracies and Virtue,” in J. Peter Euben, John R. Wallach, and Josiah Ober, eds., Athenian Political Thought and the Reconstruction of Modern Democracy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994). For alternative perspectives that have influenced mine, see Moses I. Finley, Democracy Ancient and Modern, rev. ed. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1985); Bernard Williams, Shame and Necessity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), and Arlene Saxonhouse, Athenian Democracy: Modern Mythmakers and Ancient Theorists (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996). Also see the many fine contributions to the volume, Demokratia: A Conversation on Democracies, Ancient and Modern, edited by Charles Hedrick and Josiah Ober (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996) as well as the long essay by P. J. Rhodes, Athenian Democracy and Modern Ideology (London: Duckworth, 2003). 10 Il. VIII.35, etc., Od., XVIII.251ff . 11 For a horse, see Plato, Apology 25b; for the eyes, see Plato, Republic, 353b; for the soil, see Thucydides, I.2.3. 12 Our word “virtue” derives from the Latin, virtus, the Greek equivalent of which is “manliness” (andreia). Yet we typically and reasonably translate the Greek, arete, as “virtue” or “excellence.” See Paul Cartledge, “Greek Political Thought: the historical context,” in The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Political Thought, ed. C. Rowe and M. Schofield (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 13. 13 Interestingly, neither Plato nor Aristotle figure prominently in contemporary scholarship on the concept of power. Steven Lukes, Power: A Radical View, Second Edition (London: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005 ); Dennis H. Wrong, Power: Its Forms, Bases, and Uses (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988 ); Thomas E. Wartenberg, The Forms of Power: From Domination to Transformationed., Rethinking Power (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990). Wartenberg’s book is the most wide-ranging and inclusive treatment of the various conceptualizations of power in the Western tradition. Looking further back, one finds that Weber roped his conceptualization of power to his definition of the dominating power of the modern state. Arendt invokes a relatively idealized portrait of ancient Greek democratic politics in order to articulate her definition of power as public, discursive action that does not exhibit
force, making its relevance for modern theorizations of power more evocative than practical, while Foucault’s many analyses of the micro-physics of power notably focus on networks of power/knowledge that appear after the emergence of modern science and the modern state. 14 Liddel, Scott, and Jones, Greek-English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968). Notably, when Aeschylus characterizes the brutally forceful and violent exercise of power (in Prometheus Bound), he personifies their identities as Kratos and Bia. 15 See my short piece, “None of us is a democrat today,” Theory and Event (forthcoming, March, 2010). 16 Pseudo-Xenophon or “The Old Oligarch,” The Constitution of the Athenians, I.6-9. 17 The illustration of this phenomenon in chronologically subsequent Western societies appears in other chapters of the book in which the subject of this paper forms a part. It goes against the grains of interpretation of ancient Greek political thought developed in the work of Leo Strauss, Hannah Arendt, and Josiah Ober–as will be noted below. 18 At this level of understanding, other societies could be said to refashion ancient Greek ideas of democracy and virtue, even if the writers about democracy and virtue in those societies are not directly influenced by or do not expressly invoke ancient Greek concepts. This is not because of disregard for the causal significance of historicity in appreciating the meaning of historically produced ideas. Rather, it is because each historical articulation of what comes to be understood as democracy or virtue grapples with features of the relationship initially posed in ancient Greek democracy and critical discourse. 19 For the wonders of Pericles’ speech and the society it depicts, see the interpretations of George Grote. For the imbrication of its affirmative values with those of imperial domination, see Nicole Loraux, The Invention of Athens: The Funeral Oration in the Classical City, trans. Nicole Sheridan (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986). 20 In this respect–that is, because of their initiative and generosity–tthe Athenians (according to Pericles) would please both Aristotle and Nietzsche. MacIntyre should have taken note. 21 I refer to this as “Plato’s Socratic Problem,” initially in History of Political Thought (1997) and later in my book, The Platonic Political Art: A Study of Critical Reason and Democracy (University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001). 22 Plato, Protagoras, 318a-320c. 23 Protagoras, 322a-323c. 24 Protagoras, 323a-326e.
25 Protagoras, 326e-328c. 26 Protagoras, 357b-361d. 27 I do not discuss the views of Socrates as a separate position here, because whatever the historical Socrates might have thought and did, their critical and political value as represented by Plato or Xenophon did not provide a coherent relationship of democracy and virtue. 28 Plato., Rep. 352c-353e. 29 I have in mind his statements in Book IV that ordinary citizens will pay the salaries of the guardians; in Book V, about the possiblilty but unlikelihood of philosophy and political power joining forces; Book VI, that were the corrupting influence of political rhetoricians to be overcome that citizens would come to believe in the existence of a virtuous political art exercised by philosophers, and Book VII, the implicit claim that the philosophers’ task of returning to “the cave” to educate citizens ultimately would be successful. 30 Republic, 573a-575e. 31 See Glenn Morrow, Plato’s Cretan City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990). 32 See Charles Taylor’s 1979 essay, “Atomism,” in his Philosophical Papers, Vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988) and Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981). One could go back fifty years and find Aristotle used in new critiques in professional ethics, namely Elizabeth Anscombe’s landmark essay, “Modern moral philosophy,” in which Aristotle’s work helped her critique duty-oriented, rule-governed moral philosophy on behalf of a more virtue and agentoriented view of ethics. See Philosophy, Vol. 33 (1958), 1-19. For a nice survey of the myriad usages of Aristotle in recent work of political philosophy, Greek history, and philosophy, see Malcolm Schofield, “Equality and Hierarchy in Aristotle’s Political Thought,” in his Saving the City: Philosopher-Kings and other classical paradigms (London: Routledge, 1999). For an early survey of the landscape, see my “Contemporary Aristotelianism,” Political Theory, Vol. 20, No. 4 (1992), 613-41. Initially, political theorists such as MacIntyre appropriated Aristotle for condemning individualism and renewing conservative ethics and politics. But in the last twenty years, Aristotle’s political theory has been tapped for its legitimation of active citizenship as well as its perceived endorsement of egalitarian democracy, despite Aristotle’s explicit denunciation of democracy as a crooked, distorted, and unjust regime in which the many who are poor dominate the political order. For a useful compendium of citations of interpreters’ views of democracy, noting the pejorative adjectives as well as favorable comments, see Barry S. Strauss, “On Aristotle’s Critique of Athenian Democracy,” Essays on the Foundations of Aristotelian Political Science, ed. Carnes Lord and David K. O’Connor (Berkeley: University of California
Press, 1991), 212-233 and esp. 213 n. 2. 33 Aristotle, NE, I.xii, 1101b10-21, 1101b31-32 . 34 NE, II.vi, 1106b36-1107a2. 35 NE, II.i, passim; cf. I.i. For a general definition of arete as the completion of the good of one’s physis, see Metaphysics 1021b20-23. 36 NE, VI.v. 37 Pol, I.ii.1253a23. 38 Stephen Salkever, Finding the Mean: Aristotelian Social Science; Bernard Yack, The Problems of a Political Animal: Community, Justice, and Conflict in Aristotelian Political Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993); Jill Frank, A Democracy of Distinction: Aristotle and the Work of Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). 39 Pol. I.ii.1252b27-1253a4; NE I.vii.1097b11. 40 Pol. I.v. 1254a17-1254b1 41 Pol. V.i.13301b26ff., cf. III.xii. 42 Pol. IV.i. 43 Pol. III.i; IV.xv. 44 Pol. III.iv. 45 Pol. III.ix.1281a2-8. 46 Pol. III.xi. 47 Pol. III.v; cf. VI.iv. 48 Pol. VII.i, iii. 49 Pol. VI.iv-v; cf. IV.iv, vi. 50 Pol. IV.xi-xii; V.i., vii
51 Indeed, the two most recent attempts to find democratic moments in Aristotle highlight the distance between Aristotle’s theoretical conceptions of power as dunamis and power as kratos and associate the former as more indicative of Aristotle’s notion of nature–including the natural potential of politics–than have other readings. See Frank’s A Democracy of Distinction and much of Ober’s oeuvre. Frank highlights the role of “activity” in Aristotelian political theory, as a focus of dynamic interaction between individuals and institutions that always harbors the potential for virtue. Because such “activity’ is the vehicle through the which “nature” is determined, she rejects Aristotle’s naturalism as an a priori constraint on political equality. For Frank, both “nature” and “virtue” make possible the kind of “self-regulating” activity which, in her words, is “distinctively democratic” and productive of “self-regulating politics.” Frank, A Democracy of Distinction, 15 and 1-16, 38-53. Josiah Ober’s attempt to reconcile virtue and democracy by referring to Aristotle does not, like Frank, develop his view by democratizing the Aristotelian idea of virtue. Rather, his argument develops by finding virtue itself in the powers or capacities of democracy. This view has been sketched out in a recent set of articles, but it has roots in previous books analyzing the ideological assumptions of Greek orators and offering an intellectual history of “critics of democracy.” See his Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989); Political Dissent in Democratic Athens: Intellectual Critics of Popular Rule (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998); “Aristotle’s Natural Democracy,” in Richard Kraut and Steven Skultety, eds. Aristotle’s Politics: Critical Essays (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005); “Natural capacities and democracy as a good-in-itself,” Philosophical Studies, Vol. 132 (2007), 59-73. Also noted is, “The original meaning of ‘democracy’: Capacity to do things, not majority rule,” unpublished paper (2007).