Ella Street, Taming the Tyrant

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Taming the Tyrant

This talk considers the figure of the tyrant in 5th and 4th century Athenian politics and culture and the surprising similarity between the tyrant and the demos (the people) in terms of their political unaccountability. Despite Athenian democracy’s impressive “culture of accountability,” the demos ruled supreme precisely because it was accountable to no one: in a democracy, the people – like a tyrant— is not subject to any higher institutional check or power that might constrain its rule.

Scholars of Athens have used the tyrant-demos identification to clarify the nature of democratic rule. While illuminating, I argue that the identification ultimately fails to capture the character of the demos and its distinctive form of political power. I introduce the concept of “reflexive accountability” to describe a distinctive accountability practice in Athenian democracy that relies on (and indicates) the plural and individuated nature of the demos. The talk will consider the promise and pitfalls of democratic (un)accountability in Athens and today.

► this event is in person at the Centre for Ethics (Larkin building, room 200).


Ella Street
Centre for Ethics
University of Toronto


Mon, Mar 4, 2024
04:00 PM - 06:00 PM
Centre for Ethics, University of Toronto
200 Larkin