Rethinking Democratic Athens and Republican Rome in an Age of Plutocracy and Populism
Two ancient polities, Athenian democracy and the Roman republic, figure prominently in debates over the contemporary crisis of “liberal,” “electoral” or “representative” democracy. Democratic Athens and republican Rome are often invoked as models to be imitated or avoided in efforts to address rising political inequality and rampant political corruption in our plutocratic age. I criticize recent books by Philip Pettit, Nadia Urbinati and Josiah Ober that evaluate majoritarian and populist solutions, inspired by Athenian or Roman politics, to address the contemporary crisis of democracy. In response, I advocate classspecific or randomly distributed political offices, citizen referenda, and popularly judged political trials as ancient-inspired reforms intended to address the problems of unaccountable and unresponsive elites, socio-economic inequality and political corruption that plague contemporary democracies.
Prof. John P. McCormick is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. He is the author of Carl Schmitt’s Critique of Liberalism: Against Politics as Technology (Cambridge University Press, 1997); Weber, Habermas and Transformations of the European State: On Constitutional, Social and Supranational Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2007); Machiavellian Democracy (Cambridge University Press, 2011); and Reading Machiavelli (Princeton 2018)