Friday, March 4

Birth of Politics: Eight Greek and Roman Political Ideas and Why They Matter

I'm sure you would now be quite familiar with these concepts and wouldn't want to dwell much on that. But as I was reading this, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a friend of mine yesterday who pointed out that Iraqis are now talking about having a secular form of government, not one which is Shia or Sunni based. I'm afraid I cavilled, son. Not that confident that Iraq can become a liberal secular state anytime soon or even in the next few decades. 
History provides us with proof that ideas have extraordinary power and longevity. Take a look at the concepts mentioned on this book, these Greco Roman concepts have been identified, evolved, adopted and have become self evident truths in vast swathes of the world. But think about it. When these were adopted in so many third world countries and in the OIC countries, they didn't take root. Or find it very difficult. Forget Iraq. Think of Russia. Ostensibly part of Europe and therefore an almost equal inheritor of the Greco Roman philosophical framework is a weirdass basket case. 
Virtue, justice, citizenship, democracy, etc concepts that we take for self evidentiary truths are only self evidentiary if you buy into the corresponding worldview. If your worldview is based on religion like Iraq or on autocracy like Russia, then these concepts are foreign and cannot be implemented easily. The Middle East gives so many historical examples of well meaning rulers who tried to impose liberal ideas and constitutions, socialism and secularism. Heck, the Ba'ath party in Syria and Iraq had secularism as one of its primary tenets. Look how that turned out. 
Anyway, looks like a good book son. Check it out at the bodlian or college library and if you think it's good for us to have in the home library for Diya. 
Also can you bring the hammock inside and place it in the utility room? 

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.08.12
(via Instapaper)

Bryn Mawr Classical Review
BMCR 2015.08.12 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2015.08.12

Melissa Lane, Birth of Politics: Eight Greek and Roman Political Ideas and Why They Matter.   Princeton; Oxford:  Princeton University Press,2015.  Pp. x, 382.  ISBN 9780691166476.  $26.95.   

Reviewed by Joanna Kenty, University of New Hampshire (
The Birth of Politics is the latest of Melissa Lane’s books introducing ancient ideas to modern audiences.1 Each of the book’s eight chapters focuses on a central theme: Justice, Constitution, Democracy, Virtue, Citizenship, Cosmopolitanism, Republic, and Sovereignty. In each case, Lane’s aim is to choose concepts that may or may not have originated in classical antiquity but that took on a form in that period that informs our modern understanding of politics. Lane is the 1943 Professor of Politics at Princeton University and approaches classical antiquity from the perspective of a political theorist and historian. She also sought to choose concepts that would resonate most strongly with modern political life, the ones which would strike general readers as immediately relevant and thought-provoking, although she limits her discussion almost entirely to antiquity. Greek terms are transliterated. She also promises to (and does) present diverse and conflicting ancient perspectives on these ideas, “on the grounds that what makes Greek and Roman ideas such good resources for thinking is the remarkably wide spectrum of possibilities of power they covered. …Rather than confine the value of the Greeks and Romans to just one position on the spectrum of politics –as either proudly committed to popular self-rule or philosophical critics of it, for example – we can learn most by exploring the whole range of ideas that they generated” (p. 4). Throughout the book, her emphasis is on critiques, preoccupations, questions, and problems rather than on answers or solutions, and on the ancient sources themselves. The result is engaging for the general reader, and the chapters might also offer useful introductions for undergraduates to major figures and eras of classical political philosophy.

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