IR Seminar-Robert Ballingall

Author: CASE
Time: 17:00
Location: CAS 127




THURSDAY- February 23,2017

CAS 127

Name:  Robert Ballingall -University of Toronto

Title: Classical Constitutionalism and the Virtue of Reverence

Date:  February 23,2017 -THURSDAY

Place: CAS 127

Time: 17:00 -18:15

Abstract:  The classical philosopher Plato casts a long and enduring shadow. Every student of political theory learns of his ideas and nearly all of them associate his name with philosophical authoritarianism and a brilliant if chilling argument in its favor. This talk challenges this persistent view, not by proposing a new reading of Plato’s Republic, as others have done, but by turning to the only other dialogue to conceive a “city in speech”—the seldom studied Laws. In the Laws, we read of the inaccessibility of the paradigmatic city, the regime in which a genuine art of politics would enjoy unchallenged authority. Due to the unlikelihood of this regime, the Laws proposes a “second-best choice,” a regime in which political power would serve the interests of all who are subject to it, but only because rulers and citizens alike would be “slaves of the law.” Accordingly, the Laws contains one of the earliest arguments for “constitutionalism,” the idea that political power be subordinate to law. As familiar as this idea is to modern readers, however, I show that the form it takes in Plato differs a great deal from our own, modern notions. I argue in particular that the rule of law for Plato depends less on the subordination of rulers to impersonal rules than on the scrupulous practice of a forgotten virtue. This is “reverence” (aidos), the virtue extolled in classical poetry for keeping men from an insolent conceit, from neglecting the distance that separates the human from the divine. 

Bio: Robert Ballingall is the Allan Bloom Memorial Postdoctoral Fellow for Research in Classical Political Thought at the University of Toronto, where he also took his PhD. His research examines the fraught relationship between classical political philosophy and modern—especially liberal democratic—political thought. Robert’s work has appeared in History of Political Thought, Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought, and The Journal of Intellectual History and Political Thought.