Judgment in the Athenian Courts as Anti-Tragedy: Demosthenes’ On the Crown (Review of Politics 2022)
This article grows out of my doctoral research comparing judgment in the courts and theater of democratic Athens. In 330 BCE, the statesman Demosthenes delivered his famous court speech “On the Crown” which commentators have called “tragic” due to the litigant’s unusual appropriation of tropes from Attic tragedy to make his case. In this article, I offer an alternative reading of Demosthenes’ speech that rests on an alternative approach to theorizing democratic judgment. My view is that the rhetorical force and political significance of Demosthenes’ metaphors, linguistic expressions or ideas depend upon the institutional setting in which they were delivered, and that within each institutional site, a specific political practice of judgment is taking place that structures the reception and response to ideas and images. Democratic judgment is shaped by what I call institutional “charge,” i.e. the distinctive dynamics that inform its practice in a given context, including: the political and institutional pressures placed on the judge; the required outcome or telos of a given judgment; the institutional constraints on narrative; and the civic role and relationship between the judges and those judged. Reading Demosthenes’ “On the Crown” as a product of political practice leads me to the conclusion that the speech is in fact “anti-tragic” and reflects the kind of democratic judgment encouraged in the popular courts.
Tocqueville’s Savages (The Tocqueville Review 2019)
My research in democratic political theory has also led me to consider the intersections between democratic thought and the historical experience of empire. My article, “Tocqueville’s Savages” shows how Tocqueville’s representation of indigenous groups facilitated his divergent appraisals of colonial violence in Algeria and America. I situate Tocqueville’s liberal and democratic commitments in relation to his view of history and Realpolitik to explain his unwillingness to extend to indigenous subjects the liberty he is famous for celebrating.
Abstract: A comparative study of Democracy in America and Tocqueville’s writings on Algeria reveals a striking divergence in how Tocqueville responds to the devastation wrought on indigenous peoples by European settlers. In the American case, Tocqueville deplores the “tyrannical” and “atrocious” treatment of Amerindians, whereas in Algeria he describes the ruination of native Algerians as an “unfortunate necessity” and largely refuses to criticize French conduct on moral grounds. As part of a larger attempt to reconcile Tocqueville’s liberalism with his unapologetic defense of colonial domination, this article offers a critical account of Tocqueville’s representations of foreign others. It ends by suggesting that because Tocqueville’s conceptualization of the Algerian “other” is grounded in the implicit identification of the international realm with pure power politics, he is able to utilize a discourse specific to times of war that evades normative considerations. By contrast, insofar as the Amerindians are situated within American domestic space, they elicit normative thinking about their status and treatment.
“To Listen to Both Sides Equally”: Just Judgment in the Athenian Popular Courts (In Progress)
Athens is usually flaunted as a model of deliberative democracy and a reminder of the value of “talking to others.” The Athenians themselves, however, did not think talking to others would serve justice or democratic equality in certain political contexts, and prohibited verbal deliberation among jurors in the popular courts (dikasteria). We may have something to learn from Athens still if we endeavor – against the grain of mainstream contemporary scholarship – to understand why.
This paper offers an account of just judgment in the Athenian popular courts (dikasteria), by way of a comparison with the Assembly (ekklesia). I ask how Athenians sought to generate unbiased, democratic and egalitarian judgment during trials without relying on a notion of impartiality that requires dispassion or disinterestedness. The dikastic oath’s injunction to “listen to both sides equally,” I suggest, is at the heart of the Athenian conception of just judicial judgment and requires political and relational equality between speakers and jurors. I show that judicial procedural rules, particularly the prohibition of verbal deliberation among jurors and aggregate vote-counting, encouraged relational equality and enabled “equal listening.” By contrast, procedure in the ekklesia was geared towards consensus-formation and took for granted that certain individuals would exert inordinate influence on deliberation and judgment, and that citizens would be swayed by seeing how others (particularly elites) were voting. While the dikasteria and ekklesia are often clumped together and referenced as an example of radical democratic judgment, the two institutional sites were governed by strikingly different procedural rules and normative expectations and produced different practices of democratic judgment.
Given that Athenians were clearly aware of various deliberation and voting procedures, why did they think it unwise or unjust to allow jurors to talk to one another? What kind of judgment is possible (and why might it be desirable) when citizens judge alone and silently, albeit gathered in a crowd? This paper is an attempt to grasp the distinctiveness of democratic judgment in the courts and to explain why Athenians thought silent and secret jury deliberation was appropriate to one institutional site but not others. In conversation with recent work by Daniela Cammack, Melissa Schwartzberg and Mirko Canevaro, I advance an account of judgment in the courts that centers on relational equality and takes seriously the workings of power and passion in the court of law.