Spotlight on tensions between the law and the people in ancient Greece – University of Copenhagen

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11 December 2014

Spotlight on tensions between the law and the people in ancient Greece

The Carlsberg Foundation has granted 1.2 million DKK to Anders Dahl Sørensen for a postdoctoral project at the Saxo Institute entitled ‘Nomos or Demos? The rule of law and the power of the people in Greek political thought’.

Photo: Craig Mauzy, Agora Excavations, The American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

Stele with a relief showing the goddess Democracy crowning Demos (the people of Athens - the old man), aprox. 337 BC. Photo: Craig Mauzy, Agora Excavations, The American School of Classical Studies at Athens.

The law and the people
Is there a tension between our commitment to a ‘rule of law’, on the one hand, and our commitment to the people’s right to decide for itself, on the other? Does the requirement that the exercise of political power respect certain legal or constitutional restraints imply a potentially anti-democratic limitation of popular sovereignty?

The origins of a democratic tension
The aim of the project is to trace the thought of ancient Greek thinkers, Plato in particular, on the origins of a problem that still haunts our thinking about democracy and democratic values.

Nomos versus demos in Athens
The main hypothesis of the project is that the recurring motif of ‘rule by the laws’ in Plato’s late political thought can fruitfully be understood as an act of social criticism aimed at contemporary Athenian society. It is an innovative attempt to articulate - for the first time - the relation between nomos and demos, the authority of the law and the power of the people, as a problem, and so to highlight an underlying conflict at the heart of the self-image of democratic Athens.

Read more about the Carlsberg Foundation.