The Rule of People, the Rule of Law and the Role of logos in the Public Sphere
19th Annual Meeting of the Collegium Politicum
University of Pardubice, May 24th and 25th, 2019
From ancient times, democracy has been associated with the rule of law. The ancient Greek word for democracy, isonomia, meant equality under the law, i.e. it described a political system in which the law prevailed over any privilege. However, soon after democracy was established as the most widespread constitution in Greece, this internal relation between the rule of law and democracy eventually came into question. First, it was reinterpreted in a rather radical way: Claiming that the rule of people is actually the rule of the weak over the strong, the Sophists degraded the law to an artificial instrument by which the majority unjustly prevents excellent individuals from ruling. Later on, and also as a reaction to this sophistic interpretation, Plato denied the original relation between the rule of people and the rule of law and set them rather as opposites. Tracing basically the same path, Aristotle made the rule of law the differentiating feature of various types of moderate democracy, indicating that insofar as a democratic constitution is ruled by law, it in fact presents less of a democracy.
Closely connected to both the rule of people and the rule of law is the question of public speech. In a polis with a democratic constitution the actual ruler is the one who, being in a position to make use of the persuasive function of the logos, acquires control over discourse in the public sphere. This ability, as a form of craft, was perceived as a risk for the rule of law. Classical authors such as Plato and Aristotle shared these concerns but recognized a positive potential in persuasive logos. To avoid the strict opposition of rule of law and rule of speech they construed the nomos as a form of public logos. The law qua logos can persuade the majority to live a lawful life and can be thus seen as a direct alternative to the impact of demagogues. At the same time, being subjected to the general rules that philosophy imposes on logos, law cannot be arbitrary or factious. And it is precisely logos that can finally reconcile the rule of people with the rule of law: in a mixed constitution the majority is eligible for responsible political participation since it has been formed by the logos of the law by means of rational or – in case of those who are not able to perceive the reason directly – semi-rational discourse.
In modern times, the connection of the rule of people and the rule of law seems to be the keystone of any legitimate constitution. Contrary to the classical conception however, the notion of law seems to be neutral with regard to public discourse. While politics as such is conceived as an area of discussion, the law itself, understood as pure law should be supposedly separate from any political motivation or dispute. Nevertheless, in times when the rise of populism of various forms seems to put into question the form of democracy we used to know, it might be a proper time to once again consider the political importance of persuasive logos and its connection to the rule of law and democracy.
For the 19th meeting of the Collegium Politicum, papers dealing with the above-mentioned issues are welcome. Invited are all contributions (arranged either historically or systematically) to ancient Greek and Roman political thought or ethics with a special focus on its reception and impact on today’s politics.
Please note that the many University of Pardubice students expected to attend the meeting can only be assumed to have knowledge of English and German. We thus kindly ask you to consider presenting in one of these two languages.
At the conference, presentations will be 30 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of discussion.
Abstracts, between 200 and 500 words, should be submitted by email to Jakub Jinek (email@example.com) by the end of January 2019. All abstracts will be reviewed by the advisory board of the Collegium Politicum. Notifications of acceptance will be delivered in February 2019.
Colleagues who are not planning to present a paper and who are nevertheless willing to participate in the meeting are asked to confirm their attendance by the end of January. The University of Pardubice can cover the accommodation costs for those who will present a paper and for regular members of the Collegium Politicum.
For further practical information and for updates, please consult the new web page of the CP: www.collegiumpoliticum.org.