Back to the Agora

If Professor Douzinas of Birkbeck College (once the home of Roger Scruton) is to be believed, an ancient dream might just be jerking back to life. Most obviously in the birthplace of classical republicanism where the Greek protest movement of December 2008 gave a 21st century twist to ancient practice by issuing randomly selected tickets to all those wishing to speak and confining each speaker to two minutes or so on an equal basis. But Douzinas finds echoes of the same spirit in other recent protest uprisings from the Arab Spring to France in 2005, to the Occupy movement, or even the English riots of August 2011. In addition to the specific demands and grievances sought by commentators, which of course vary widely between the particular cases, Douzinas cites a sense of freedom among groups of people previously invisible to conventional social and political representation. He says they were temporarily constructing a new political reality, a new public space open to them.

Speaking at Brighton University, Douzinas expressed the hope that such movements could create a new world. Only time will tell, but his hope of a new world seems more like a resurrection of something which had seemed dead and gone in the world of the affluent consumer: romantic republicanism. The features in most of these movements which confuse ordinary commentators, such as absence of leaders or even a clear programme of demands, appear in his eyes as positive aspects of a new (or is it very old?) openness. Traditionalists who worry about the social problems of the welfare state and consumerism usually rely on religion for any spiritual life. But Douzinas draws our attention to another ancient dream of spiritual life, with explicit reference to the Agora of classical Greece. This should serve notice to anyone who imagines that dislike of the modern world necessarily has to be conservative in the usual social or moral sense. But we should also remember that romantic/classical republicanism also produced its heroes, and in family honour the family itself is the republic.

 

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