Plato's Democratic Entanglements

Plato's Democratic Entanglements: Athenian Politics and the Practice of Philosophy

S. Sara Monoson
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7s3p8
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  • Book Info
    Plato's Democratic Entanglements
    Book Description:

    In this book, Sara Monoson challenges the longstanding and widely held view that Plato is a virulent opponent of all things democratic. She does not, however, offer in its place the equally mistaken idea that he is somehow a partisan of democracy. Instead, she argues that we should attend more closely to Plato's suggestion that democracy is horrifyingandexciting, and she seeks to explain why he found it morally and politically intriguing.

    Monoson focuses on Plato's engagement with democracy as he knew it: a cluster of cultural practices that reach into private and public life, as well as a set of governing institutions. She proposes that while Plato charts tensions between the claims of democratic legitimacy and philosophical truth, he also exhibits a striking attraction to four practices central to Athenian democratic politics: intense antityrantism, frank speaking, public funeral oratory, and theater-going. By juxtaposing detailed examination of these aspects of Athenian democracy with analysis of the figurative language, dramatic structure, and arguments of the dialogues, she shows that Plato systematically links democratic ideals and activities to philosophic labor. Monoson finds that Plato's political thought exposes intimate connections between Athenian democratic politics and the practice of philosophy.

    Situating Plato's political thought in the context of the Athenian democratic imaginary, Monoson develops a new, textured way of thinking of the relationship between Plato's thought and the politics of his city.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2374-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)
    SITING PLATO

    In This Book I argue for a fundamental rethinking of the relationship between Plato’s thought and the practice of democracy. I propose that the canonical view of Plato as a virulent antidemocrat is not sound.¹ Rather, in his work, a searching consideration of the possibilities raised by some democratic ideals and institutions coexists alongside severe criticisms of democratic life and politics. Plato finds the lived experience and ideology of Athenian democracy repulsive and fascinating, troubling and intriguing. He not only assails democratic practice but also weaves hesitations about the reach of that attack into the very presentation of his thought....

  5. Part One: Aspects of the Athenian Civic Self-Image

    • Chapter One THE ALLURE OF HARMODIUS AND ARISTOGEITON: PUBLIC/PRIVATE RELATIONS IN THE ATHENIAN DEMOCRATIC IMAGINARY
      (pp. 21-50)

      Athenians Celebrated Harmodius and Aristogeiton as heroic men who slew a tyrant and, though they perished themselves in the process, founded democracy at Athens. That the legend of the tyrannicide forms part of the iconography of the Athenian democratic order is well known. Precisely what it signifies remains little understood. This is largely because mixed in with sharp attention to its resonance as a symbol of Athenian daring as well as general antityrantism is the assumption that Athenians admired the pair centrally for their spirited self-sacrifice.¹ The story is indeed a parable of public-private relations in the democratic city. But...

    • Chapter Two CITIZEN AS PARRHĒSIASTĒS (FRANK SPEAKER)
      (pp. 51-63)

      The Athenians closely linked the practice of democracy with that of free speech. For example, Assembly meetings opened with the proclamation, “Who wishes to speak?”—a ritual affirmation of the right of all male citizens to address the Assembly (as well as to attend and vote).¹ Much has been written about the formal scope (legal, moral, and artistic) of free speech at Athens as well as about the extent to which the democracy actually tolerated the speech it professed to value.² The focus of this work is often the degree to which it is possible to maintain that, despite the...

    • Chapter Three CITIZEN AS ERASTĒS(LOVER): EROTIC IMAGERY AND THE IDEA OF RECIPROCITY IN THE PERICLEAN FUNERAL ORATION
      (pp. 64-87)

      At a Key Point in Pericles’ famous funeral oration, Thucydides has him urge his fellow citizens “to gaze, day after day, upon the power of the city and become her lovers (erastai)” (2.43.1).¹ In this chapter I investigate the implications and resonances of Pericles’ use of this metaphor. I show that, far from being simply a pleasing turn of phrase, this metaphor does some important, substantive work in the speech. The metaphor suggests a way of thinking about the relationship between citizen and city. In particular, here again we find that the idea of democratic citizenship pivots on a notion...

    • Chapter Four CITIZEN AS THEATĒS (THEATER-GOER): PERFORMING UNITY, RECIPROCITY, AND STRONG-MINDEDNESS AT THE CITY DIONYSIA
      (pp. 88-110)

      Every year in early spring, the Athenians staged an elaborate, days-long festival in honor of the god Dionysus. The City Dionysia was a magnificent, enormous, politically significant undertaking and was recognized as such in its own day.¹ Its celebration included processions, choral competitions, sacrifice, feasting, revelry, and dramatic competitions (for which the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes were produced). Thousands of citizens of all ranks participated. As this was an open event held during sailing season, many foreign visitors attended as well.² Modern scholars estimate that the Theater of Dionysus in Athens held between 14,000 and 17,000 persons—...

  6. Part Two: Plato’s Democratic Entanglements

    • Chapter Five UNSETTLING THE ORTHODOXY
      (pp. 113-153)

      Familiarity with the features of the Athenian political imaginary detailed in the preceding chapters makes it possible to recognize the textured nature of the relationship of Plato’s thought, especially his depiction of philosophic labor, to the Athenian democratic tradition. Plato’s writings unquestionably urge readers to adopt a highly skeptical attitude toward democracy. They counsel us to look beyond the powerful allure of democracy, that is, to be constantly on guard lest we become attached to democracy in a manner reminiscent of a pitifully infatuated lover’s attachment to a beloved. But they also contain hesitations, caveats, and reconsiderations regarding the reach...

    • Chapter Six PHILOSOPHER AS PARRHĒSIASTĒS(FRANK SPEAKER)
      (pp. 154-180)

      Plato folds a subtle affirmation of the celebrated democratic ideal of free and frank speech (parrhesia) into his dialogues—indeed, into arguments repudiating democratic politics. He defends the specifically democratic conceptualization of parrhesia and appropriates it for philosophy. Moreover, he does not simply use the term ornamentally while substantially altering its content. Rather, he appropriates it to depict the difficult relationship between philosophic and democratic practice.

      In this chapter, I examine precisely how Plato draws upon the ideal of parrhesia as the Athenians understood it in his representation of the practice of philosophy, as well as in his account of...

    • Chapter Seven REMEMBERING PERICLES: THE POLITICAL AND THEORETICAL IMPORT OF PLATO’S MENEXENUS
      (pp. 181-205)

      TheMenexenusis a far more interesting dialogue than is usually supposed.¹ In this dialogue, Plato has Socrates recite a funeral oration purportedly composed by Aspasia not only to advance his well-known critique of rhetoric but also to engage the Thucydidean construction of Pericles’ significance for Athens and for us. Plato here considers the enduring meaning of the life of Pericles. At stake is “an act of memory.”² In particular, in theMenexenusPlato attacks his contemporaries’ veneration of Pericles, rejects the model of democratic citizenship based on erotic relations attributed to Pericles in Thucydides’History of the Peloponnesian War...

    • Chapter Eight THEORY AND THEATRICALITY
      (pp. 206-238)

      Plato’s depictions of intellectual labor in his dialogues contain a puzzle. On the one hand, the dialogues voice some of the most aggressive attacks on the intellectual merit of theatrical enterprises in all of Western literature. Most famously, theRepublicbanishes poetry from the ideal city (607a–e). In theLaws, moreover, the Athenian Stranger decries the deterioration of democratic politics into a “wretched theatocracy” (theatrokratia, 701a1). On the other hand, Plato likens serious intellectual toil, including philosophic understanding, to being a theater-goer. Throughout his dialogues he sustains a delicate metaphor: “Intellectual labor is like the activity of being a...

  7. INDEX OF CITATIONS
    (pp. 239-244)
  8. INDEX
    (pp. 245-252)