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tv   Book Discussion on The Birth of Politics  CSPAN  March 28, 2015 7:47pm-8:01pm EDT

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lly. i think both have a place. >> just about the only way you can get away with using the 1st person in history is quoting from letters and journals. >> right. one of one of the things -- my big dilemma in writing my civil war book was am i just quoting it in the body of the text itself, so two sentences and when am i breaking out? when is it so significant even though it is written in the 19th century language when is it so significant that i break it out which is the thing that i wrestle with every page almost. which quote should come out like this and just let the guy or the woman speak for him or herself. >> i did that in the most recent book. i had this experience that i think all historians fantasize about but has never happened to me before. a distant relative who says, you know i have this truck in my attic. [laughter]
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full of yellowed, all letters. would you please take it off my hands. i take i take it and they proved to be a treasure trove of the personal letters of the widow of the commander of this voyage. i use them a lot from beginning to end, but that is where. usually it is paraphrasing or snippets. >> time for one more. >> this gentleman has been waiting. >> just a minute. i guess i want to get something clarified. he said he did not marshal arguments and try to make a case. i thought if your writing a book telling a story one of the things readers want to know is what did the writer think? don't you draw conclusions about what is right and wrong? was joe mccarthy bad or good? do you just have the facts and expect your reader to draw conclusions?
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>> i think that you -- what i try to do is to draw conclusions through narrative and not your argument. i wrote this book about kit carson. a fairly complicated dude. consider this great indian killer, his 1st wife was indian, his 2nd wife was indian. he indian. he was very) with many tribes, complicated person but i do not want to tell you. i want to show you and let you decide. i do not like to be completely coy and say i have no. i am just a writer but i neither like to have this great summation or conclusion at the end that says ties it all up in a a bow and says this is what he or she was like. i hope that begins to answer your question. i i don't know if you have a follow-on those lines.
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>> i agree completely. not that that is a hard case to make. >> they are actually good. >> when i am done treating that topic i expect you will probably come to a particular opinion, but i we will not not tell you what that opinion should be. i don't -- it is perfectly reasonable to do so but is not something i choose to do >> in some sense i am arguing every paragraph. it depends on what sense you mean, i guess. i am arguing and saying the comanches when they got a hold of the preeminent horse tribe and swept south and eradicated the apaches and changed the entire balance of power in the planes does that sound like argument to you? it is, but i am not. i don't
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know what the difference -- i i am doing that constantly. i do it all the time. i am arguing. but it is maybe the style or the type. i don't quite know how to answer that question. to some extent i want you to understand what i think and i we will try to preparers we do that this is what i think. i we will go out of my way to persuade you that stonewall jackson was secretly a passionate 19th-century romantic with an abrasive nature and beauty. i we will argue that.and make you believe it. [applause] >> every weekend book tv offers programming focused on nonfiction authors and books. keep watching for more here on c-span2, and watch any of our past programs online at after one now.
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>> host: now joining us on book tv's politics professor at princeton melissa lane who has written a new book called "the birth of politics: eight greeks and roman political ideas and why they matter". professor, professor where the greeks and romans successful politicians? >> they managed to develop the 1st democracy in athens producing works of art, literature, and political institutions. voting for example, which will make -- remains fundamental to politics today. the romans a republic for 500 years and and an empire for about another 500 years. depending upon your measure of success they have a lot to offer. >> host: what were some of the similarities?
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>> guest: that is an interesting question. both of them really emphasized this role of election and a fundamental role for the people in setting the terms of legitimacy. so that is true and greek democracy and the roman republic. for example in the roman republic no law can be passed without being passed by a popular assembly. if you think about the influence of the elite in rome, that was significant but the senate could not pass laws. they could make degrees managed business, manage the budget, but if they wanted to pass a law they had to go to the people and that is interesting that even under the empire the idea that the people fundamentally are responsible for setting the terms of legitimacy continued so that the romans thought the people acclaimed
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each knew emperor from a public acclamation that their legitimacy derived. so that idea then gets into medieval and early modern political thoughts and becomes an important underpinning for popular sovereignty after one who the one who are some of the leaders in the greek development? >> guest: for example, if example, if you think about athens, the athenian democracy emerges in stages. one of the most important figures in its prehistory or proto- beginnings is a lawgiver solace. now, one of the 1st people who helped to start athens and what would become a democratic path lived around 594 the beginning of the 6th century bc. he really establish the principles of justice between the rich and the poor. after that there was a time where a family of oligarchs
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got the upper hand and became with the greeks called tyrants. at 1st they were not tyrants necessarily in a bad sense. they might be good to the ordinary people, but by the end of the dynasty they became quite corrupt. and it is in about 510 that 510 that they are overthrown and at that time athens really in 508 starts to 508 starts to take a real turn for becoming a democracy and in the next century under pericles. >> host, who had more authority? was it the greek the roman people? >> guest: let's see. in many ways the athenian people in the sense of the popular ordinary for people.
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they have the greatest authority more than the poor did in rome. and they played key roles, for example, in the court system. all the courts were stalked by huge popular juries come as many as 500 people 500 people on a jury, and there were no professional judges. they did not have the division that we have between law and fact. just a group of 500 or whatever number in a particular case of people would just decide what they thought the law required. so that was an incredibly important source of power. they were responsible for lawmaking also in athens and they stopped a lot of what we think of as a kind of civil service. a lot of ordinary bureaucratic kinds of functions running city harbors, establishing the weights and measures those things were staffed by ordinary people put into positions by lottery. one of the things i argue is
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sometimes modern political theorists exaggerate that too far. sometimes people say they ran everything by lottery and there was no division between rich and poor which is actually, actually, i think, an overstatement. the athenians had certain political roles but either by law or custom were reserved for the rich but the poor can still hold the rich accountable. that fundamental ability to control the rich and hold them accountable really accounts for the great power of the athenian people after 11 of the things you talk about, professor lane, in your book is some of the things that modern politics has derived from both the greeks and romans. one of those things is virtue. what do you mean by that? >> virtue is the idea that -- well in greek it is the
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word for excellence. being good at what you do. it can have a nonmoral meaning. a virtue. and so one of the things that the greeks debated was do we have political virtue? even just virtue as a way of life and a human being. a human being. other certain things that as human beings we need to do well just as a knife needs to cut well. those are the terms in which they thought about politics. in a way that was a long-standing greek agreement going back to the poetry of homer and the great pragmatist what some of those virtues were things like wisdom, courage, parity justice, moderation but in the great time of the classical age in the 1st
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and 4th century when he we had a rotten this, aristotle, the big debate was in particular what about the virtue of justice? is that really a virtue, or is it a kind of illusion? is it really something that is good for us as humans, good humans, good for us in our lives as individuals to be just, or is it simply something that we have been suckered into doing by coming political news. a lot of what i write about in the book is really debating that question. >> what do you teacher at princeton? >> guest: i i teach political theory in the department of politics. ..
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talk about the greeks and their political growth period and the romans and their political growth period. exactly what ages are we talking about here? light-years? just go in athens so when is acting in about 510 b.c. which is the sixth century. it goes the other way when you're going backwards and plato and aristotle are writing in the a 300 so athenian democracy more or less comes to an end after alexander the great fights a


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