Friday, November 10, 2017

Conundrum: Can "Democracy" Co-exist with "Imperialism"?

The current state of the concept and the daily practice of democracy in the modern world is a subject of much debate, in some quarters at least. The contentious issues of imposing democracy in nation-building exercises, the appearance of “managed democracies”, and the role of the social media in informing and educating the body politic, among others, are front and center of current debates. Of course, the modern democracy is not, in fact, the same as the ancient Athenian democracy in its purest form. That is the direct rule of all (isonomia) of the people (demos) where each citizen has equal political and legal rights. We have representative democracies. As is well known, Athenians defined citizen as meaning males over 18 born of an Athenian father and mother. Athenian women, adolescents, free resident aliens and slaves had no political rights. The self-interest of the Athenian demos as determined by the assembly (ekklesia) did not grant these democratic rights to other contemporary polities, except the right of power to install sympathetic democratic regimes there.

On Wednesday, November 15th Professor Nanno Marinatos (Professor, Department of Classics and Mediterranean Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago) will give a lecture at our Institute entitled “Thucydides and Pericles: Democracy and Empire”. In this lecture Professor Marinatos will address the conundrum of the practice of imperialism within the context of democracy.

Pericles has been traditionally identified with Athenian democracy but has also received criticism about the imperialism of Athens from modern historians. The issue is indeed complex since democracy contradicts tyranny over others. The problem is solved if one analyses Thucydides' own opinion. He is shown to be a partisan of Pericles and presents him as a political pragmatist who had a deep understanding of human nature, on the one hand, and the benefits of justice, on the other.

The lecture will take place in the Library of the Institute at 7:30 pm. Where do you stand on this thorny contradiction? Come and see if Professor Marinatos can convince you of the validity of her thesis.

David Rupp

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