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The Athens Dialogues - An International Conference on Culture and Civilization

Academic Events

Democracy & Politeia

ChairProfessor Konstantinos Svolopoulos, Professor of Modern Greek history, President of the Academy of Athens and Professor Anastasios-Ioannis Metaxas (co-chair), Professor Emeritus of Political Science of the University of Athens and Director of the Political Communication Workshop

Main Speakers: Ryan Balot, Angelos Chaniotis, John Dunn, Pierre Delvolvé, John Dunn, Jean-Louis Ferrary, Ljubomir Maksimovic, Anastasios-Ioannis Metaxas (co-chair), Sarah Monoson, Josiah Ober, Claudia Rapp

Respondents: Mary Cunningham, Matthias Haake, Stathis Kalyvas, Matthew Simonton

Athens, where the conference took place, more than any other city-state of ancient Greece made an acknowledged contribution to the notions of democratic governance. This was both idealistic and realistic, emphasizing the importance of the individual but also the collectivity. The notion of human dignity was repeatedly stressed as was that of equality even though the latter was also severely circumscribed by the different social attitudes of the ancient world towards slavery, women and the rights of semi-citizens or immigrants. The understanding of justice and what purpose it should serve also received nuanced and sophisticated treatment that still informs legal thinking. Similarly pioneering was the realization that in a democracy citizens have duties as well as rights, towards the state but also towards ëeternalí laws, touching the sensitive issue of the permissible limits of civil disobedience.

These ideas evolved in the forum and in the gymnasium, during private social gatherings, and through the medium of essays or theatrical dramas and even comedies. The different media used to give them birth themselves became sources of inspiration and imitation as other panels examined. The ideas of good and bad government were thus to figure prominently in the arts of the Renaissance among others. In short, the notions of the ancient world spread and touched not only lawyers and politicians but also thinkers and creators from all disciplines.

To these eternal topics the ancient Greeks did not always provide the final answers. Indeed, most would agree that these “big questions” are incapable of single or conclusive responses. But the ancient Greek world invariably handled them in insightful but also in a contradictory way which makes the richness of the ancient legacy greater and the need to explore its relevance to today’s unstable and highly materialistic times even more urgent.