Eros and Polis: Desire and Community in Greek Political Theory
Paul W. Ludwig
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Paul Ludwig examines how and why Greek theorists treated political passions as erotic. Because of the tiny size of ancient Greek cities, contemporary theory and ideology could conceive of entire communities based on desire. A recurrent aspiration was to transform the polity into one great household that would bind the citizens together through ties of mutual affection. In this study, Ludwig evaluates sexuality, love, and civic friendship as sources of political attachment and as bonds of political association.
This response begs not only the philosophical question of whether it is the initial causes or the completed results that are more descriptive of a phenomenon, but also the question of naturalness as opposed to the social construction of eros, that is, whether such a result as politicized eros should ever be considered natural. Can a given society construct eros for its citizens out of whole cloth or does all civilization ultimately come at the cost of natural eros? Although the Greek thinkers under consideration seem to have believed that political eros was in some measure a natural outcome of polis life, they at the same time doubted whether politics would ultimately be able to contain eros.
The fundamental question about eros is often the degree of delusion in its perception of the beauty or goodness in the erotic object. Studying the relative goodness of the erotic objects thus comprises a part of the subject matter of the classical theories of political eros. 19 At the same time, the classical theories of political eros were not purely normative in the sense of allowing moral aspirations to override empirical grounding. Under certain conditions, moral aspirations are themselves 19 The opposite, value-indifferent approach to sexual eros has been attempted by R.
For a view, see L. Strauss, Socrates and Aristophanes, pp. 191–94, 279–82. 82 Knights; Peace, 520–1015; Lysistrata, 1112–1188. 83 Knights, 878. See note 2 of this chapter. 61 Eros and Polis earlier, as well as geographically away from the urban center, into the Attic countryside. Knights provides the clearest example as it involves both a return to the past and a return to the countryside. The politically hyperactive demos (ﬁgured as the “old” man Demos) needs to be rejuvenated or renewed, restored to its former, youthful character by bringing back the ancient Athens of Aristides and Miltiades (1323–5).
The fully civilized polis, by contrast, comports to homosexuality. Furthermore, because the nonsexual or presexual eros, that is, the Ur-eros or vertical eros, for apotheosis can return at the peak of civilization, each civilizational end point also comports to the dangerous desire for self-aggrandizement. Homo domesticus with the petty tyranny in which the eldest or strongest male rules as a god “divinely decreeing”63 his will is ﬁgured in the circle-people’s revolt against 63 Themisteuon; see note 49 of this chapter.
Likewise, in the Protagoras myth, the creation of humankind and the operations performed on humans by the gods prove to be inadequate, and humans again begin dying off, as they did in the Symposium. The other animals have been given tough hides and the means to defend themselves, but the humans are left naked and defenseless. Even after Prometheus’ philanthropic intervention (the gift of technical wisdom), Zeus fears for the survival of the human race; he ﬁnally gives humans the political virtues of shame and justice to enable them to bond together successfully.