In The Birth of Politics, Melissa Lane introduces the reader to the foundations of Western political thought, from the Greeks, who invented democracy, to the Romans, who created a republic and then transformed it into an empire. Please join us for a conversation between the author and political theorist Danielle Allen.
Tracing the origins of our political concepts from Socrates to Plutarch to Cicero, Lane reminds us that the birth of politics was a story as much of individuals as ideas. Scouring the speeches of lawyers alongside the speculations of philosophers, and the reflections of ex-slaves next to the popular comedies and tragedies of the Greek and Roman stages, this book brings ancient ideas to life in unexpected ways.
Lane shows how the Greeks and Romans defined politics with distinctive concepts, vocabulary, and practices—all of which continue to influence politics and political aspirations around the world today. She focuses on eight political ideas from the Greco-Roman world that are especially influential today: justice, virtue, constitution, democracy, citizenship, cosmopolitanism, republic, and sovereignty. Lane also describes how the ancient formulations of these ideas often challenge widely held modern assumptions—for example, that it is possible to have political equality despite great economic inequality, or that political regimes can be indifferent to the moral character of their citizens.
Melissa Lane is Professor of Politics at Princeton University. Her books include Eco-Republic: What the Ancients Can Teach Us about Ethics,Virtue, and Sustainable Living and Plato’s Progeny: How Plato and Socrates Still Captivate the Modern Mind.
Danielle Allen is Professor in the School of Social Sciences at the Institute for Advanced Study. She is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens, of Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown vs. Board of Education, Why Plato Wrote, and Our Declaration.