Runciman Award Interview with Paul Cartledge

What suggested that you write this book? Was it your knowledge of the ancient world and Greece's political systems, or concerns about the modern world?


paul cart  A combination. I think I'm a kind of 'natural' democrat in the sense of being (an) anti-elitist egalitarian, but it wasn't until I was a student first at the University of California and then Oxford that I got a chance to show my true democratic colours, e.g. by picketing All Souls College in 1969 bearing a placard inviting the Fellows to democratise themselves (I've blogged about this on the Oxford Today alumni website). It was at the same time that I started to learn about the world's first democracy, Athens, in a 'scientific', scholarly sort of way - through studying at New College with Geoffrey de Ste. Croix e.g. the reforms attributed to Cleisthenes (was he a genuinely disinterested proto-democratic reformer, or was he just in it for what he and his aristocratic family could get out of the new system? Discuss) and Aristophanes's comic satires of crooked democratic populists and gullible democratic masses. I 'got the vote' in 1968 - the voting age was then 21. But I spent half the 'seventies teaching at Trinity College Dublin where I was disfranchised between my ages of 26 and 31. My book is based directly on four years of 24-lecture courses given to final-year Cambridge undergraduates reading for both the Classical and the History triposes. It thus represents the mature fruit of three to four more decades of reflection and analysis combined with practical democratic participation. It appeared in March/April 2016 in the middle of the extended campaign leading up to the June 23 Brexit referendum and in the same year as the Trump USA presidential election: as I regularly tell audiences of all ages and kinds from age 14/15 upwards, 2016 was the most extraordinary year for Democracy in my entire adult life so far. And 'extraordinary' not necessarily in a good way. I wish - sadly - that more of my fellow-citizens were more aware of and led lives more informed by proper awareness of democracy's historical roots; political philosophers have interpreted the world, in their various ways, but the point is - somehow - to change it. For the better.

Read the full interview by visiting here.

Further elaboration of the views given above may be found in the following podcast: