LGPT Research Workshop 2012

The second network research workshop, which we all hope will be established as an annual event – Carol Atack and Helen Roche have agreed to explore the possibility of hosting it in Cambridge next year – took place in Bristol on 7th and 8th December. A total of 30 or so scholars and postgraduates (23-4 on each day) discussed a series of papers on different themes, as well as a closing discussion of a pair of precirculated articles. as ever, we could have done with more time for discussion (every time I organise a research event I increase the time for this, and it never seems to be enough), and even more we could have done without my misreading the programme, assuming that I had plenty of time to photocopy some missing handouts while everyone else drank coffee and chatted, so that we were short of half an hour on the second day when the deadline to vacate the building was absolute…

You’ll have to take my word for it that there were some clear connecting themes and issues between the different papers, as I don’t have time at the moment to do more than summarise each paper briefly – I may return to offer more considered thoughts, either here or over on the Sphinx blog, at some point after Christmas…

Christian Wendt (Freie Universitaet Berlin) considered Herodotus as an alternative to Thucydides as the founder of ‘realism’ in the analysis of international relations; he may seem to lack a theoretical perspective, but he offers an incisive and critical view of the role of personal, instrumental motives (and hence of pretexts) in decisions about war and peace. Ben Earley (Bristol) picked up the Thucydidean theme by exploring how the historian was evoked in C18 British discussions of colonialism, specifically in relation to the American colonies; he was invoked both in support of supposedly universal laws of colonisation, and to offer an alternative model to present policy – which emphasises the perennial problem with the use of Thucydides, that his narrative can be interpreted to support entirely different analyses. Paul Rahe (Hillsdale College) focused on the debate that culminated in the decisions of the American Founders (you can see how we moved from one paper to the next…) concerning whether a republic could ever be successful if it was too large to operate as a traditional face-to-face society. He focused on the vital contribution of Montesquieu, who set the ancient ideals against the reality of England as a modern republic in which, because of institutions, virtue was no longer a necessity for social cohesion, and explored how the Founders adopted principles both of federation and of the separation of powers as a means of addressing their own fears.

The next two papers shifted from republics to democracy. Carol Atack (Cambridge) focused on the place of ‘technocracy’, a live issue in the contemporary Mediterranean, but also a concern for historians and political theorists like Finley, Ranciere and Castoriadis – especially in reaction against the ideas of Plato about the need for expertise in government. Ryan Balot (Toronto) meanwhile focused on civic trust, especially as it relates to the leadership, focusing on the way that the issue is depicted and analysed in Thucydides. Both Pericles and Alcibiades, for example, persuade the demos to support their proposals – but they don’t trust the latter (arguably – I didn’t get a chance to raise this in discussion – rightly, but with damaging consequences). The stasis at Corcyra shows the breakdown of trust and the paradox that anti-social behaviour then becomes trustworthy; the plague at Athens (and this is of course a controversial reading) shows how resilient the Athenian democracy was in comparison, with undeniable personal suffering but no social breakdown.

On Saturday morning the focus switched firmly to different forms of classical influence and reception. Chris Brooke (Bristol) looked at a key moment in modern political thought where economics and politics were taken as equally important, rather than one being prioritised over the other; this can be seen above all in debates around the comparison of France and Rome, Britain and Carthage, and the implied consequences for those states in the eyes of writers such as Montesquieu, Voltaire and Adam Smith. Helen Roche (Cambridge) focused on Greece as a paradigm for education – the citizen warrior, the highly integrated community – in Nazi pedagogy; above all, the tendency to argue for direct genetic links between the modern Germans and the ancient Greeks as a basis for adopting and appropriating their traditions.  Finally, we discussed two papers by Steve Hodkinson (Nottingham) on the reception of Sparta in the twentieth century, in British liberal-left comments on Nazi Germany and in American foreign policy and intelligence discussions of the Soviet Union, with the author introducing his papers (and the wider project of which they form part) and Helen Roche and Neville Morley offering prepared responses.

I should note our particular gratitude to the following bodies for supporting the event: the Bristol Institute for Greece, Rome and the Classical Tradition (which then hosted a public lecture by Paul Rahe on ‘Constitutionalism: ancient, modern and American’ on Saturday evening; the Bristol Institute for Research in the Humanities and Arts; the Bristol Institute for Advanced Study, which supported Ryan Balot’s stay in the UK through an IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Fellowship; and the AHRC, through its funding of the Thucydides: reception, reinterpretation and influence project at Bristol.

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About Abahachi

In my spare time, Professor of Ancient History at the University of Bristol.
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