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Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy


published on March 15, 2017

Travis Holloway
DOI: 10.5840/epoche20173180

How to Perform a Democracy
A Genealogy of Bare Voices

This paper explores a type of poetry, music, and theater that is said to be responsible for the birth of participatory democracy. While Aristotle and Nietzsche briefly mention a similar genealogy of democracy in their work, Book III of Plato’s Laws archives a remarkable history of how participatory democracy emerged in Athens’s theater. After connecting Plato's account to a participatory style of music and poetry that is associated initially with the term polyphonia, I consider a line of philosophical commentary on this type of music from Plato to Rousseau to Derrida. For these philosophers, I claim, polyphonia disrupts the political hierarchy of those with and those with bare voices and encourages equal participation. If the phenomenon of polyphonia is indeed behind Plato’s historical account of democracy in the Laws, then it may tell us how democracy was first performed in the theater and how it was initially critiqued by philosophers.