Monday, December 7, 2009

Can the Polis Live Again?

Josh Martin of the Coastal Conservation League shared with me over the weekend a thought-provoking article by Michael Knox Beran, "Can the Polis Live Again?  The Modern World has Withered Public Space and its Virtues."  For some deep thinking about the nature and definition of public space, check out Beran's article in City Journal (Vol. 19, No. 4), or click here for a link to Beran's full text on City Journal's website.  For structural constitutional law and government aficionados, Beran also offers observations related to the debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists in regards to public space.  (NOTE:  Matt Festa posted previously on this topic.  Please click here for a link to his observations.)

A sample is set forth here:

"The American version of the struggle between city-state and nation-state dates back to the 1780s, when the Federalists succeeded in putting the national Constitution in place over the objections of the anti-Federalists. There is little doubt that the Federalists were right. Like Arendt, the anti-Federalists, who sought to preserve the politics of the polis, would have been wiser to point not to the political arrangements of the old public spaces but to their cultural excellence.

It was left to Thomas Jefferson to show that it was possible to preserve the public virtues within a nation-state. To protect civic artistry in a changing America, Jefferson sought to re-create the civic life he had known in his youth. As a college student in colonial Williamsburg, he had been drawn into little communities of sympathetic scholarship that he would always characterize in Athenian terms: “They were truly Attic societies.” It was in communities of this kind, he believed, that men’s civic impulses could flourish as they could not in a larger space."

Special thanks to Josh (and Matt) for sharing this article with us.

Will Cook, Charleston School of Law

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