Looking to the Golden Age of democracy in ancient Athens, one finds self-government exercised as the capacity to dominate others and demonstrate greatness through empire. The Athenian orator and general, Pericles, links the political abilities of Athenian men to a special brand of martial courage. However, after the Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian War, a distinct counter-tradition led by women, philosophers, and tragedians emerges. These thinkers articulate a critique of Pericles’ understanding of freedom, which stresses the hypocrisy of free people dominating others and describes a nascent brand of self-rule without violence. In this context, Aristotle describes a brand of political rule that separates freedom from the rule of slaves and the acquisition of an empire. Yet attempting to resuscitate Pericles’s patriarchal ideal, he argues war and slavery are not good in and of themselves, but necessary in order to sustain a free population capable of political rule.
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