A Discussion of Josiah Ober’s The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece
by Josiah Ober, Standford University
Ancient Greece has long exercised a powerful hold on the imagination of modern political science. But until fairly recently, this influence has largely been philosophical, related to the origins of many theoretical concepts—including the concept of politics itself—in the ancient world. In The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, Josiah Ober offers a synoptic and ambitious social theoretical account of the ancient Greek world, the sources of its power, the causes of its decline, and the lessons that can be drawn from this story for contemporary social and political science. We have thus invited a range of political scientists to comment on Ober’s account of classical Greece and its relevance to contemporary political inquiry.
- Federica Carugati, Indiana University, Bloomington
Can we learn something about political and economic development from ants and the ancient Greeks? In The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, Josiah Ober makes the case that we can. Drawing on new data, and applying frameworks and methodologies borrowed from the biological and social sciences, Ober formulates four interrelated arguments. Read the full article.
- S. Sara Monoson, Northwestern University
Joshiah Ober’s new book is the fullest expression yet of the terrific idea that has propelled his ground breaking work for years—the record of Greek antiquity can serve as a robust case study against which we can test big social science theories. He does not treat Greece as a straightforward model for us. And he does not limit Greece to a resource for tweaking our conceptual toolbox (e.g., participation, deliberation, judgment, free speech, democracy, federalism), though it is that for sure and he does some of that work. His work consistently brings the fruits of the latest methodological innovations that keep enlarging and refining our knowledge of Greek antiquity to bear on the empirical puzzles that animate political science. Read the full article.
- Arlene W. Saxonhouse, University of Michigan
The anti-Leviathan looms large in Josiah Ober’s study of the rise of and long-lasting “efflorescence” of the Greek world from the seventh century b.c.e. through the second century c.e., well past the conquest of Greece by Philip of Macedon. For Ober, Hobbes’s Leviathan represents a centralized authority dominating the activities of the members of the community, looking to its own welfare rather than the community’s. In contrast are the decentralized city-states of Greece, which eschewed any such centralized authority, that flourished economically and culturally. Read the full article.
- Melissa Schwartzberg, University Center for Human Values
For over 25 years, Josiah Ober’s remarkable scholarship has helped us to understand the complex relationship between “mass and elite,” and how and why Athens enabled ordinary citizens to participate in political decision-making. In The Rise and Fall of Classical Greece, Ober seeks to explain Greek “efflorescence”—economic growth and cultural achievement—by reference to two explanatory hypotheses, which he synthesizes into one: “Fair rules and competition within a marketlike ecology of states promoted capital investment, innovation, and rational cooperation in a context of low transaction costs.” Read the full article.
- Daron Acemoglu, James A. Robinson, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Barry R. Weingast, Stanford University
Ober’s Rise and Fall of Classical Greece represents a major restatement of our understanding of Classical Greece based on integrating the new social science studies in classics that has flourished over the past quarter of a century. The book tackles many of the major questions in modern social science: Why did an oligarchy decide to share power with the masses? Or was it forced to do so by the masses? Was Athens rich; and if so, what were the sources of its wealth? And can ancient Athens be considered an egalitarian society; and if so how is that connected to its prosperity? Read the full article.