Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ryan K. Balot's "Courage in the Democratic Polis"

Ryan K. Balot is Professor of Political Science and Classics at the University of Toronto.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Courage in the Democratic Polis: Ideology and Critique in Classical Athens, and reported the following:
Courage in the Democratic Polis explores the ancient Athenians’ ideal of courage – an ideal that displaced heroic conceptions and emphasized the cognitive and democratic elements of courage. Page 99 explains the connection between isêgoria (“free and equal speech”) and courage. Isêgoria, I argue, “enabled the Athenians to think carefully about their expressions of courage, to see just what courage demanded in each situation, and to think beyond traditional norms and practices” (page 99). Athenian courage was characterized by thoughtfulness and informed by democratic deliberation. In these ways, it differed from courage as expressed among Athens’ non-democratic rivals, such as Sparta, Persia, and Macedon. The central idea that courage varied by regime type emerges clearly on page 99.

Page 99 also captures two other prominent themes. First, it describes the emotions that shaped Athenian courage, such as “eagerness” (prothumia) and an appropriate “sense of shame.” While virtually all theorists oppose courage to fear, most contemporary philosophers neglect the emotions that inform and motivate courage. Second, page 99 foreshadows my argument that the Athenian democrats prized courage as intrinsically good and meritorious – indeed, as partly constitutive of human flourishing – even while recognizing the natural superiority of justice and of practical wisdom.

Ancient Athenian discourse and practice challenge us, as democratic citizens, to rethink our own most basic ethical ideas and political aspirations. To see why, however, you will need to read through to page 408.
Learn more about Courage in the Democratic Polis at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue