Trustees | Historical Literacy

Athens and Beyond: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Intellectual

December 1, 2021 by Michael B. Poliakoff Download PDF

In “Athens and Beyond,” an homage to two of his Oxford tutors, Michael B. Poliakoff (New Jersey and Corpus Christi ’73) engages the challenges of contemporary free speech by reminding us of the roots of deliberative democracy in ancient Athens. Poliakoff weaves between the past and the present in countless illuminating ways. And his quotation of Pericles’ famous Funeral Oration reminds us of the connective tissue between political life and everyday relations: “And that spirit of freedom with which we conduct political affairs also holds for our ways with each other, in that we do not meddle angrily in suspicion of the daily affairs of our neighbor if he does as he pleases, nor do we give him the kind of hostile looks which, though harmless, are still hurtful.” That Pericles gave his oration in honor of those fallen in war and from a vicious plague should give us double pause. What has happened to our spirit of freedom—of language and action—that our common life is plagued by anger, suspicion, and hostile looks which are often more hurtful than harmless? What habits of deliberation must we reclaim?

American Oxonian editor Todd R. Breyfogle

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