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The Myth of Democracy? From Pericles’ Athens to Modern Times

Date and Time
Thu, April 5, 2018
7:00 PM – 9:00 PM EDT

Doors open @ 6pm
Come early and meet other Long Now thinkers -- Presentations start @ 7pm

Presenter: Professor Loren J. Samons II, Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University

“It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” — Winston Churchill

Summary: 2500 years ago the people of Athens elected Pericles to lead their city-state. Under his guidance, Athens attained what some have seen as the pinnacle of a democratic society. Greek culture, literature, philosophy and commerce thrived. It was the Peloponnesian War with Sparta that brought it all crashing down. Or so many people think.

In fact, according to Professor Loren J. Samons, this interpretation of Greek history is mistaken. Samons, who draws on Greek antiquity to critique modern democracy, posits that Pericles and democratic practices actually undermined the culture of personal and civic responsibility at the root of Athenian greatness. Democracy was not the determining factor in Athens’ prosperity but rather one product of other, earlier factors. Democracy itself led to profligate government spending and short-term decision-making by Athenian citizens. One could easily say that Athens was great in spite of its democracy.

The United States’ remarkable prosperity and success are often attributed to a democratic style of government that owes something to ancient Athens. What are the implications if this belief, upon which our government is based, misguided? How does this inform the practice of our government today and what does it mean for the future?

Join us, Thursday April 5, as Professor Samons offers his insights from Greek antiquity as a critique of modern democracy. Following the presentation we’ll have an open conversation about the implications for our future and the future of humanity in the long now.

Loren J. Samons II, a Professor of Classical Studies at Boston University since 01993, earned his doctorate at Brown University. Professor Samons specializes in the history of Greece in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C., with particular interests in Athenian politics and imperialism. He is he author, co-author, or editor of six books and numerous articles on ancient Athens.

His current research focuses on the figures of Pericles and Kimon, Athenian foreign policy, the Modern Greek poet Cavafy, and the composition of Herodotus' and Thucydides' histories. His work has often focused on potential lessons about current (and future) government and society derived from the study of ancient Greece and Rome.

We’re proud and excited to welcome him to the Long Now Boston community.