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Melissa Lane's "Of Rule and Office: Plato's Ideas of the Political"

Fri, September 1, 4:00 to 5:30pm, TBA

Session Submission Type: Author meet critics

Session Description

This Author Meets Critics panel brings together leading scholars of political theory and ancient Greek politics to discuss Melissa Lane’s Of Rule and Office: Plato’s Ideas of the Political (Princeton University Press, 2023, scheduled for publication on July 11, 2023).

This major work of 225,000 words will be of keen interest to political theorists and legal theorists broadly as well as to scholars of ancient Greek political thought in particular and those of the history of political thought more generally. It begins from the point that Plato defends the rule of knowledge. Knowledge is of the good: that much is clear. But what is rule? By identifying patterns of Greek vocabulary which both connected and distinguished between rule in general and office as a constitutionally limited kind of rule in particular, this study reveals Plato to have been deeply concerned with the roles and relationships between rulers and ruled. Adopting a longstanding Greek expectation that a ruler should serve the good of the ruled, Plato's major political dialogues explore how different kinds of rule might best serve that good. Whereas Plato's interest in offices in the Laws has long been recognized, this book is the first to call attention to the clearly marked vocabulary of offices at the heart of the Republic and the Statesman, and to explain how such offices fit within the broader organization and theorizing of rule in each of these three dialogues.

Taking Plato's interest in rule and office seriously, Lane argues, reveals tyranny as ultimately a kind of anarchy, lacking the order as well as the purpose of rule. That diagnosis of tyranny also points to how Plato invokes rule and office as underpinning freedom and friendship as political values, while reckoning with how Greek slavery shaped his Plato's account of freedom. Reading Plato both in Greek context and in dialogue with contemporary thinkers, this book argues that rule and office belong at the center of Platonic, Greek, and contemporary political thought.

The critics include leading scholars of political theory more broadly, among them one classicist (Matthew Simonton, who was a commentator at the 2022 APSA Annual Meeting) and three political theorists who are simultaneously scholars of classical Greek thought (Danielle Allen, Kinch Hoekstra, Melissa Schwartzberg). It will be chaired by another leading scholar of Greek political theory and political theory more generally, Jill Frank. Melissa Lane will respond to the critics. While this is a large panel, we will make sure to leave time for attendees’ questions and discussion.

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