Critical Antiquities Workshop: Actualizing Plato’s Laws
André Laks | Universidad Panamericana, Mexico City
Actualizing Plato’s Laws
Plato’s last and longest dialogue is a fascinating, but little frequented work, even if progress has been made among specialists during the last 30 years or so. This is paradoxical. One cannot conceive of Aristotle Politics, of Polybius’ analysis of the Roman constitution or of Cicero’s pair Republic/Laws – not to speak about the Church Fathers and the Founding Fathers – without referring to Plato’s Laws. For it is there that we find, for the first time, four basic concepts and principles systematically articulated in a cluster that proved to be of lasting political value: that all unaccountable power corrupts; that law should rule; that a ‘mixed’ constitution is the best that human beings can achieve; and that laws require a preamble. On the other hand, actual readers of the Laws, at least in the world most of us still live in, are not likely to feel much affinity with Plato’s ultimate political proposals. There is little doubt that Plato’s “second city” accentuates rather than alleviates the most unpleasant tendencies of the Republic, and that it shows a great number of traits that are, at best, questionable, and at worst – using an anachronistic word that is now at home in the political vocabulary – ‘totalitarian’. The question I want to discuss in my talk is how to think about the relationship between importance, influence and distancing in the case of a work that represents a fundamental benchmark in the history of political thought. But the question is of a more general nature, too.
Important note on the workshop times
Sydney events: Friday mornings
US events: Thursday evenings
Image: Fifty Days at Iliam: The Fire that Consumes All before It, Cy Twombly, American, (1928 – 2011)
© Cy Twombly Foundation
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift (by exchange) of Samuel S. White 3rd and Vera White, 1989, 1989-90-5
About the Semester 1 series
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Seminar Series convenors:
Tristan Bradshaw and Ben Brown | Click here to email
The Critical Antiquities Workshop is an initiative of the Critical Antiquities Network (CAN) at the University of Sydney. CAN, co-directed by Ben Brown and Tristan Bradshaw, connects scholars working at the intersection of ancient traditions and contemporary critical theory.