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Title: The road to modern liberty : freedom and democracy Athenian and modern
Author: Edge, M. E.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2006
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Abstract:
This thesis is an attempt to respond to two influential analyses regarding the concept of liberty, those of Benjamin Constant and Isaiah Berlin (and, indeed, those who have followed them), in relation to Classical Athens and participatory democracy. I argue that, contrary to what has, since Constant, often been suggested, far from ‘calling’ liberty the power to invade, and direct, the lives of Athens’ citizens, Athenian democrats construed liberty as a negative concept, as the absence of dependence upon the will of a tyrant or a group of oligarchs, a condition which, it is argued, negates the idea that (to put it in Athenian terms) one can live as one will. I demonstrate this through an excavation of a long forgotten Athenian democratic concept of liberty, found in Classical texts (historical, literary, oratorical and philosophical), which stressed that one could hope to be free as an individual only by living under conditions of political equality found where all participate equally, though equality of voting and equality of free speech, in a direct democracy. Further, I attempt to situate this in the context of recent work on the idea of liberty in the neo-classical tradition, most notably by Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit, and I suggest that, despite important similarities, the two concepts ought to be viewed as distinct. I argue that by construing the idea of liberty as a spectrum of differing conceptions we might gain a useful tool for analysing our contemporary world. In chapter two I lay the groundwork for my discussion through four preliminary investigations. Firstly, I discuss the opinions of those Constant accused of endorsing ‘the liberty of the ancients’ to see how their opinions of Athens and participatory democracy fit into his analysis. Secondly, I discuss the relationship between Berlin and Constant, arguing that the connection between the two is not one of simple conformity as, again, is often suggested or implied. Thirdly, I discuss Constant’s argument in a wider context, and argue that Constant said little new, but elaborated upon an already fairly common distinction between the liberty found in the ancient world and the liberty supposedly cherished by the moderns. Fourthly, I pre-empt my discussion of liberty in Classical Athens by outlining the neo-classical conception of liberty, as excavated by Skinner and Pettit, prior to suggesting, in chapter three, that this idea (with, as I have said, notably differences in its Athenian context) actually began life in ancient Greece, when it is now commonly thought that it began life in Rome. In chapter four I further pursue this investigation by discussing how the equation of participatory democracy with Berlin’s notion of positive freedom is misleading. I argue that, historically, the doctrine Berlin isolated as being at the centre of the positive idea of freedom (which he linked to justifications of tyranny and totalitarianism) has enjoyed a closer relationship with representative, as opposed to participatory, democracy, contrary to what is commonly suggested.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.598753  DOI: Not available
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