02 February 2010

Book: Classical Political Philosophy and the Limits of Democracy

Not anti-democratic, but may be of interest to some: Gerald M. Mara's "The Civic Conversations of Thucydides and Plato: Classical Political Philosophy and the Limits of Democracy" (SUNY Press, 2008):


From the publisher's description: "This book argues that classical political philosophy, represented in the works of Thucydides and Plato, is an important resource for both contemporary democratic political theory and democratic citizens. By placing the Platonic dialogues and Thucydides' History in conversation with four significant forms of modern democratic theory – the rational choice perspective, deliberative democratic theory, the interpretation of democratic culture, and postmodernism – Gerald M. Mara contends that these classical authors are not enemies of democracy."

Review: "He shows that an active reading of Plato and Thucydides can provide a way out of some of the central dilemmas and dead ends that seem to plague various forms of modern and postmodern democratic political theory." (Stephen G. Salkever, Bryn Mawr College)

Excerpts: "Within the more confined realm of political theory, the effects of democratization have been even more decisive. It is now virtually axiomatic that constructive theorizations about politics must take their bearings from an acceptance of the priorities and principles of democratic theory. Whatever departs from these premises is either relegated to the history of political thought or dismissed as antidemocratic. [...] The first broad thesis of this book is that the power and justice of democratic institutions are in need of continued reexamination. [...]

"[W]hile classical political theory's treatment of democracy is generally critical, there are important differences and nuances, both historical and theoretical, within this literature. The antidemocratic criticisms leveled by the author known as the "old oligarch" or by Isocrates [...] are not those of Thucydides, Plato, or Aristotle. [...] Practical criticisms of democratic practice, including those that point to attractive nondemocratic alternatives, may be offered to improve rather than to replace democratic forms of governance, problematizing rather than simply condemning democracy."

The book is fully searchable on Google Book Search (including table of contents):


Gerald M. Mara is Executive Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Professorial Lecturer in Government at Georgetown University.

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