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Dr. E. Christian Kopff on “Classical Greek Philosophy and American Democratic Thought.”

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1 reply to this post
  1. Aristotle and Cicero, got it!

    A very interesting lecture. It is interesting to see Dr Kopff link Jefferson so strongly with those two. Usually, when conservatives want to link the American order to the Western tradition, they tend to take a route through Madison and the Constitution rather than Jefferson and the Declaration.

    At present, I am reading Livy's account of the wars against Philip of Macedon and Antiochus, and this lecture got me to thinking. There are many times when Livy recounts a perfectly plausible account of some event or series of events only to conclude by offering accounts that not only contradict the story he has just told but completely alter the circumstances and details.

    And, this got me to thinking about the CS Lewis post and the mention of 'mere myth'. It seems to me that much of our history is actually mythological. Even in our information age, we see how routinely the narrative is shaped and distorted, but I wonder if the critical thing is not the 'facts' but the myths. Dr Kopff mentions all of the ancient writers who explored the symbol of 'tyrant' and how strongly this resonated in the Declaration. How factual is it to characterize Julius Caesar merely as 'tyrant'? Even accepting the worst characterizations of what he did, I am more inclined to think that the critical thing–or at least one of the critical things–is that he became an archetype of the tyrant and this symbol has been passed down to us.

    I do not mean to say that facts do not matter, nor that they are not worth fighting for, even at the cost of losing cherished traditions and potent symbols, but I wonder if reminding others that the Founding Fathers studied and applied Aristotle and Cicero is effective anymore. People don't really care about the Constitution, so why will they care who the framers were reading?

    What I mean is, in this lecture, the professor, much like Kirk, traces back the genealogy of our political tradition. But, my suspicion is that this is only of interest to people for whom it is already interesting to (e.g., people like me), and people who have a different vision of our order will remain completely indifferent.

    Although I studied under a few conservative professors, some of whom have published on this website, and they had a profound impact on me, the least convincing aspect for me was the importance of our tradition as such. It was only after I had seen how much of the rest of the world lived and behaved and thought (and most importantly, dreamed) that I could see the vitality of our tradition and the importance of absorbing it and communicating it.

    I wonder if our accounts of political science, which seem to routinely begin with Plato and Aristotle should not begin with Herodotus. He not only told the story of the Persian War but explained how the political values embodied by the polis managed to withstand such a formidable world empire. I suspect that Herodotus was the first political scientist (or the first we know of), but perhaps my comments are wandering too far afield.

    Great lecture!

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