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Development and Political Theory in Classical Athens

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

The birth of political thought has long been associated with the development of either the polis as a new form of political organization in Greece, or of democracy as a new form of government in Athens. This article suggests that this view ought to be expanded. Between the late 6th and 4th centuries BC, the Greek polis of Athens established large, participatory democratic institutions. But the transformation that the polis underwent did not merely affect political structures: in this period, Athens transitioned from an undeveloped, limited access, ‘natural state’ toward a developed open access society – a society characterized by impersonal, perpetual, and inclusive political, economic, legal and, social institutions. Those who witnessed this transformation first-hand attempted to grapple, often critically, with its implications. We show that Thucydides, Plato, and other Greek political thinkers devoted a considerable part of their work to analyzing the polis’ tendency toward not only political, but also economic, social, and legal inclusion. Without understanding this larger picture, we cannot adequately explain the development of Greek political thought.

Affiliations: 1: Ostrom Workshop, Indiana University 513 N. Park Avenue, Bloomington, in 47408USA; 2: Stanford University 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, ca 94305USA; 3: Stanford University 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, ca 94305USA


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