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Courage in the Democratic Polis : ideology…

Courage in the Democratic Polis : ideology and critique in classical…

by Ryan K. Balot

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Ryan Balot’s Courage in the Democratic Polis sets out to reconstruct a distinctly Athenian and democratic form of andreia (“courage” or “manliness”). One feature in particular sets this form of courage apart from other classical instantiations of the virtue. It combines, according to Thucydides’ Pericles (2.40.2-3), the otherwise antithetical forces of passion and reason. Harmony between these two aspects of human action develops via democratic deliberation about the nature of courage and the eudaimonistic goal of personal and communal life. At any rate, this is what the Athenians told themselves. In support of this self-understanding, Balot marshals evidence from across fifth- and fourth-century literature — historiography, drama, oratory, and philosophy — showing that Pericles’ celebration of a unique mode of courage is more than a self-congratulating rationalization for Athenian imperialism and exceptionality. Balot argues that virtues do in fact “vary according to regime type,” and not only in form or context but also in quality. Democratic courage, he claims, is better than the tyrannical, conservative, or coerced forms of courage found among the Athenians’ neighbors and predecessors. It is better in that it conduces more effectively to both extrinsic and intrinsic values. Among these he counts protecting the city, on the one side, and advancing the city’s, and the citizens’, flourishing, on the other. Much of the detail of this rather long book sets out the differences between Athenian democratic courage and other forms of courage:
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199982155, Hardcover)

In this careful and compelling study, Ryan K. Balot brings together political theory, classical history, and ancient philosophy in order to reinterpret courage as a specifically democratic virtue. Ranging from Thucydides and Aristophanes to the Greek tragedians and Plato, Balot shows that the ancient Athenians constructed a novel vision of courage that linked this virtue to fundamental democratic ideals such as freedom, equality, and practical rationality. The Athenian ideology of courage had practical implications for the conduct of war, for gender relations, and for the citizens' self-image as democrats. In revising traditional ideals, Balot argues, the Athenians reimagined the emotional and cognitive motivations for courage in ways that will unsettle and transform our contemporary discourses. Without losing sight of political tensions and practical conflicts, Balot illustrates the merits of the Athenian ideal, provocatively explaining its potential to enlarge our contemporary understandings of politics and ethics. The result is a remarkable interdisciplinary work that has significant implications for the theory and practice of democracy, both ancient and modern.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:29 -0400)

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