Foucault and Neoliberalism

So a lot of interesting stuff about Foucault popping up this week.  Last post was support for the idea that late Foucault is sympathetic to liberalism.

This post highlights a Foucault influence scholar of ‘neoliberalism’ who points out that ‘neoliberalalism’ is not the onslaught on welfarism and public services it is often presented as, by Focaukt influenced writers on discliplinarity, governmentality, and neoliberalism.  Foucault wrote on: disciplinarity in Discipline and Punish, with regard to the prison, and the way it provides a model of ‘displinary’ modern power; governmentality in Society Must be Defended, with regard to the emergence of liberalism as an art of government, which limits itself; neoliberalism in The Birth of Bipoloitics,with regard to market liberal ideas in the 20th century.

The relevant link is to ‘An Interview with Stephen J. Collier on Foucault, Assemblages and Topology’ at Theory Culture & Society. This is the most relevant section of the interview.

In a great deal of critical scholarship, the story has been that neoliberalism just displaces the existing norms and forms of the social state. Or, if elements of the social state are understood to persist, it is because they resist neoliberalism, but in any case they are opposed to it. But I have not found that such descriptions are very helpful for understanding neoliberalism and neoliberal reform in the sectors and the countries I have studied. It isn’t so much that neoliberalism displaces the social state. Instead, modifying Foucault, I have found that neoliberalism presents three things: first, a critique of the outcomes of the existing norms and institutions of social welfare, on the grounds of their inefficiencies and their inequities; second, a politico-philosophical critique of how norms such as social justice or public value are formulated and how the proper scope of governmental activity is conceived; third, a new programming that establishes a novel pattern of correlation between choice mechanisms and social welfare.

Well said.  ‘Neoliberalism’ in the USA and the UK did not lead to the dismantling of the welfare state or the politics of the public good.  The major social programs in the US dating from FDR’s New Deal (Medicaid and Social Security) and LBJ’s Great Society (Medicare) were untouched by Reagan.  Some people very seriously believe that George W. Bush was both a neoliberal and a market fundamentalist, but in fact he added a prescription benefit system to Medicare, so expanded on LBJ’s welfarism.  Anyway as the quotation from Collier above shows, a ‘Neoliberal’ and a ‘market fundamentalism’ are very definitely not the same thing.  In the UK, unlike Reagan, Thatcher did get public spending down as a proportion of national wealth,  However, the volume of public spending (even after adjusting for inflation) was much when she left office than when she came in.  Thatcher was only anti-welfare in the sense that the economy as a whole grew more quickly than public spending, and some areas of welfare spending increased strongly, e.g. disability benefits.  Her governments left the main welfare measures in the UK which date back to the 1906 Liberal government and the 1945 Labour government untouched.

Not much time to address the relevant theory here, but in brief Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, the market liberal thinkers most often linked with ‘neoliberalism’ certainly did not think that Thatcher and Reagan had established the kind of limiting of government they favoured.  Even so, they did not propose the end of welfare of or public good as a goal of government.  Both supported forms of universal minimum income.  Friedman produced his own definition of public goods and bads in terms of negative and positive neighbourhood effects.  Hayek favoured public services if they satisfied criteria of universality and serving genuine public goods.

Hat tip to Ayşe Mermutlu (via Facebook).  I don’t think Mermutlu or Collier would agree with the political framework within which I place Foucault, but we could perhaps agree on some analytic issues.

Foucault and Liberalism: Liberal Readings of Foucault Spreading

Looking at Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews through my email subscription this morning (link to site under ‘Philosophy’ on the right of Stockerblog), I noticed Ladelle McWhorter’s review of Foucault and Philosophy (edited by Timothy O’Leary and Christopher Falzon, Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).  Amongst other interesting points, I noticed some comments about Paul Patton’s views on Foucault’s politics.  Much to my surprise, Patton supports the idea that Foucault became more sympathetic to liberalism, and that is how we should read books like Society Must be Defended (in large part s discussion of 18th and 19th century liberalism) and The Birth of Biopolitics (a discussion of ‘Neoliberalism’ in Freiburg School  ‘Orderliberalism’, Austrian School Economics and Liberalism, and Chicago School  free market economics).  I quote at length from McWhorter’s summary (I do hope NDPR and  McWhorter do not mind, do check the whole review, which amounts to a really good survey of Foucault studies at present)

Beginning with a quick overview of Rawls, Patton suggests that “Foucault’s approach to the forms of governmental reason are an important supplement” (207) to Rawls’ project. Rawls calls for basic economic and social justice but focuses most of his attention on the state’s constitution; he gives little analytic attention to other aspects of political culture. Foucault, by contrast, is adamant that the state must be understood as an historically shifting apparatus that exists — where it does in fact exist — as a production of governmentality. As modes of governmentality alter, so too will the state form. States are neither monolithic nor logically necessary for government on Foucault’s view. It is a mistake, therefore, for political philosophers to focus their attention exclusively on the state, whether their purpose is simply to describe the political field or to critique an existing state or secure its legitimacy.

In The Birth of Biopolitics (Foucault’s 1979 lectures series and Patton’s primary text), Foucault critiques what he calls “state phobia” (see Patton, 208) and puts it in historical perspective as a quest for ways to limit state power in response to the ascendance of raison d’etat and the belief that the state form has an inherent tendency to expand. “Foucault’s objection to this essentialist conception of the state is, firstly, that it allows its protagonists to deduce a political analysis from first principles and avoid altogether the need for empirical and historical knowledge of contemporary reality” (208-9). This allows conflation of historical specificities to an extreme point where important distinctions are utterly obliterated — where, as Patton puts it, “social security ends up referring to concentration camps” (209). It also tends to perpetuate the idea that the state — no matter which state might be at issue — is a devouring monster. Foucault’s second objection to state phobia on the left is that it can only be maintained in ignorance of the ways in which anti-state liberalism has been engaged in “an effective reduction of the state” (209) since World War II. If leftist thinkers had paid more attention to what liberals and, now, neoliberals have been doing, they would see that the state is not necessarily the central issue or danger anymore. It is imperative to look at the state apparatus in the context of governmental reason and practice — i.e., governmentality.

This is where Foucault begins his analysis of neoliberalism, according to Patton. Whereas welfare state programs used disciplinary techniques to govern, Patton maintains, “neo-liberal governmentality relies much more on the autonomy and responsibility of citizens and, for that reason, may provide a more effective counter to the techniques of disciplinary power” (214). Patton suggests that Foucault pursued his analysis of neoliberalism at such great length in these lectures because he thought it might present a viable alternative to leftist critiques and techniques of resistance.

Another important point here is that Patton brings in Rawls.  It’s interesting to recall that Hayek had a favourable view of Rawls.  That is demonstrated by comments Hayek makes in volumes II and III of Law, Legislation and Liberty.  Hayek is one of the people that Foucault is discussing with some sympathy in his account of ‘Neoliberalism’.  Of course many link Foucault’s account with their own criticisms of ‘Neoliberalism’.  That is their right, but they should not confuse the framework they bring to Foucault with what Foucault is arguing.

I’m particularly interest that it is Paul Patton says so.  I was rather scathing about his own dismissal of liberalism from a ‘Nietzschean’ point of view in a review essay I published in Angelaki in 2006.  I had until now continued to assume that Patton was a leading representative of a ‘post-modern’, ‘post-structuralist’, ‘post-Marxist’ left (a view I adhered to many years ago) who assumed that ‘liberalism’ was the enemy, and would not even consider the possibility of looking at Foucault or Nietzsche, from a liberal point of view.  Either I missed something in his previous arguments, or his position has evolved.  Anyway, I’m happy to now have the chance to give credit to Paul Patton.  I can’t get hold of this book immediately, but I will do so as soon as I can, and I certainly look forward to reading Patton’s contributions with the others.

In fairness to McWhorter, I must point out that he does not endorse that reading of Foucault.  Though it is a very good review, I have to say that his evidence on that particular point is remarkably weak.  He just quotes Foucault as saying that he had not done enough work on ‘Neoliberalism’, which is not evidence at all that he would have become more critical, or was somehow completely critical underneath.

Kant on Philosophy as the History of Poetry and Symbols

Going over something I’m working on related to philosophy and literature, I noticed the passage, at the bottom of this post, from Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgment (also known as The Critique of Judgement and The Third Critique) § 59.  As it’s Kant, we an be sure there’s many people who’ve commented on this passage, and a proportion of that who would deny the meaning I find in it.  Nevertheless, I can confidently say that this passage has not been noticed as much as it could have, given what it suggest about how Kant might see the history of philosophy, and I’m confident that the reading I find interesting is plausible given that we emphasise certain other passages.  The passage I particularly like to compare it to is the discussion of poetry in § 53 of the same text.  I find this so interesting in my current work that I plan to deal with it separately.

What is significant about the passage below, for me, is the suggestion that philosophy, or some significant part of it, with John Locke’s concept of substance presented as the main example, is composed of symbol and analogy.  This is a field of the non-schematic and of the lack of a direct intuition.  Now this is close to what Kant says about poetry, which he suggests comes from the play of forms, what nature does not present by itself or determine, and in relation to a schema for the supersensible.  Kant refers to metaphysical terms, and also how we might represent God in the discussion around the passage below.  The use of analogy and symbol over rigid determinacy is also given a political meaning in freedom from despotism.

There is a case for looking at Kant, at least some of the time, as someone who descries the poetic creation of symbols in philosophy, giving is a model for looking at history of philosophy, and suggesting that Kant’s philosophy itself is a work of symbolism and indirect presentation.

Our language is full of such indirect presentations, in accordance with an analogy, where the expression does not contain the actual schema for the concept, but only a symbol for reflection.  Examples are the words ground (support, basis), depend (be held from above), from which flow (instead of follow), substance (as Locke expresses it: the bearer of accidents), and innumerable other nonschematic but symbolic hypotyposes and expressions for  concepts not by means of a direct intuition, but only in accordance with an analogy with it, i.e., the transportation of the reflection of one object of intuition to another, quite different concept, to which perhaps no intuition can ever directly correspond.

Immanuel Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgment, edited by Paul Guyer, translated by Paul Guyer and Eric Matthews, Cambridge University Press, 2000, 226 (Prussian Academy Edition, 5: 352-3)




A Funny Thing about French and British Classicists

I explain here how I came to find that a 1973 work of British classicism is available in a cheaper and more recent edition in France than in Britain, and decided for the first time that I need to read a French translation of an English text.

It all comes from exploring the classicist background, in the 19th and 20th centuries, to Michel Foucault’s work on antique ethics and political thought.

This little story starts in London last Summer when I was looking round the second hand section, of Waterstone’s bookshop in Bloomsbury , for an interesting possibly out of print book presenting some major work of classical scholarship to compare with Foucault.  What I stumbled upon was The Greek City and its Institutions by Gustave Glotz (Routledge 1965).  I read it with increasing interest as a text that seems broadly in line with Foucault’s understanding.

What I noticed then was that Glotz belongs to a great stream of French classicism which is part of Foucault’s context,  Glotz published La cité grecque in 1928; and it can be taken as a ‘democratic’ reading of antiquity in reaction to the work Fustel de Coulange’s Ancient City of 1864, which has a traditionalist, pietist, conformist view of antiquity.  Coulange’s book has a reputation outside classicism as a work of sociology and political thought which drew me to reading it.  Glotz’s book is in print in French, a 1988 edition (Albin Michel).

On looking at Claude Mossé’s preface to that edition, I noticed the importance of Moses Finley for French classicists, particularly his book Democracy Ancient and Modern (a title which refers to Benjamin Constant’s early 19th century essay, ‘On the Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of Moderns’ which has its own considerable interest).  So I checked Amazon UK, and thenAmazon France, because it might be a good idea to get the French edition to understand how Finley was taken up in the classicist tradition preceding Foucault.

What do I find>

English language edition, Princeton University Press, 1985, one year before Finley died.  No edition since with added scholarly apparatus. Price £ 19.90

French language edition. Payot 2003.  Preface by Pierre Vidal-Naquet, himself a great name in classical studies. Price € 8.08 (the pound sterling is worth about 1.15 Euros).

So the French edition is more than half as cheap, is more recent, and has some additional thoughts from a great classical scholar.  I certainly would not have predicted that, I will try to work out what is behind this little but intriguing oddity.

From Foucault to a Straussian on Athenian Democracy

Reading I’ve been doing on Ancient democracy, in large part (though very certainly not exclusively) because of work on what Foucault says about antique politics, has led me to both some classic works on the antique polis, and to some more recent work.  I was surprised to find that I had unawares picked up a book by a Straussian with the innocuous title Free Speech and Democracy in Ancient Athens, Arlene W. Saxonhouse  (Cambridge University Press, 2006).  For those not already the know, Straussians are followers of Leo Strauss, a political philosopher of German origin who did most of his best known work in the United States.  This isn’t the place to discuss Strauss properly, my best summary right now is that he was a Platonist who saw democracy as threatened by nihilism unless grounded in Platonic natural law and virtue, though he may have seen those more as ways of masking nihilism rather than overcoming it.  He famously influenced some Neo-Conservatives in America, but also influenced some left leaning American political thinkers like William Galston.  In general, he appeals to those who tend to fear moral, political, and cultural decline.

Saxonhouse’s book seems like a scholarly and well written wrok to my non-specialist eyes, nevertheless of intrusion of Straussian orthodoxy is wearying.  Machiavelli ‘s arguments in favour of tension between classes as an incitement of political engagement, and the strength of a republic, are apparently not ‘really’ arguments in favour of democracy, but a form of psychological manipulation by the state.  The argument makes no sense to me as a reading of Machiavelli, and Saxonhouse does nothing to convince me that it makes any sense.  This is typical of Stauss who regarded Machiavelli, along with Nietzsche, as the preacher of moral nihilism.  A tiresomely one sided view resting on cliches which have long interrupted the proper understanding of both.

That was the worse moment for me, there’s a lots of interesting commentary on the role of parrhesia (free speaking) and isegoria (equality of status) in Athenian democracy.  It’s all very reminiscent of Foucault in its points of reference, though if she took inspiration from Foucault she keeps quiet about it.  As far as I can see Foucault’s work is well known amongst classicists and classicists did not refer as much to parrhesia and isegoria before Foucault wrote about them, as they did afterwards.  Maybe Foucault is too ‘nihilistic’ for the Struassians.  He features exactly twice in Saxonhouse’s index, which is even more strange we consider how much attention Saxanhouse pays to tragedy, particularly Euripides, in her discussion of parrhesia.  Foucault had done the same.

Saxonhouse does have some interesting things to say about shame and democratic discourse.  She argues that Socrates was put on trial because he took the element of shamelessness in democratic discourse to the extreme.  She also claims that this element in Plato’s dialogues links him with democracy as well.  The discussion is a good one, but is somewhat conditioned by the Straussian belief that democracy is the regime with which philosophers can best live in practice, engaging in a kind of coded discourse to avoid upsetting popular morality and religiosity.  Strauss comes pretty close to saying that the negative nihilism he attributes to Machiavelli and Nietzsche is true, but philosophers should not say so openly.   The Straussian assumptions are not acknowledged of examined by Saxonhouse, which is a deficiency, but an apparently inevitable one if Straussians.  They like to pronounce rather than explain, examine and defend their assumptions.

Reactivating this blog and Why Digiturk is Evil

I live in Turkey, where I am university teacher in philosophy.  Digiturk, a satellite TV platform, has succeeded in blocking Blogger in Turkey, where I have been posting recently at Barry Stocker Blog, due to some bloggers posting links to online feeds for football matches to which Digiturk has the rights.  This is an absolutely deplorable situation, and while Digiturk can defend its rights, to be a party to such a draconian act of restriction to a major internet service is quite a disgrace.

I’ll be blogging here for the foreseeable future.  If the block on Blogger is not lifted soon, this may become my permanent blogging home.  Firm news when I’m clearer about the situation.  All posts from Barry Stocker Blog now imported below, maintaining continuity.

>New Blog site due to Blogger being Blocked in Turkey

>A Turkish court has blocked Blogger, which is where this blog is based. This is due to action brought by Digiturk against Blogger due to illegal internet feeds being posted, on some blogs, to football matches to which Digiturk has the rights. I live in Istanbul, where I am a university philosophy teacher. I’m posting this through a proxy, but that is very inconvenient and I am not prepared to do this on a regular basis. I am therefore re-activating Stockerblog ( Please go there for further blogging I do not know how long this situation will last. If it lasts for much longer, Stockerblog will probably become my permanent blog.

In the meantime, I suggest Turkish readers should consider how to respond to Digiturk’s role in blocking a major blogging platform, and a major source of online communication. Turkish readers amy also wish to consider expressing their views to elected officials on how easy it is to block a major means of communication in Turkey.

>Reading Max Weber to Understand Foucault and Benjamin

>Recently I’ve been reading some of Weber’s masterwork Economy and Society, edited after his death by his widow Marianne, who appears to have had a big influence on its shape.  What I’ve been looking at is the section on sociology of law, in volume 2 of a rather large work.

One reason was to get some context for Foucault’s comments in his writings on antiquity that ‘juridification’ is a Medieval phenomenon.  Law in antiquity has a different status, we can to some degree grasp through the ‘techne’ of care of the self, of a self-government and regulation which is connected with political rights but is not instituted in law.  Weber provides a synthetic historical overview, which I presume Foucault was aware of, though he does not have much to say directly about Weber.  I can’t say too much about the accuracy of Weber’s overview, but his suggestions about the way that sacred law, secretive aristocratic law, informal popular norms, merchant agreements, and so on, merge in the Medieval growth of a legal state with a unified hierarchy of courts and laws, seems convincing to me.  Weber is sometimes considered very teleological, as imposing a unified goal on history.  Maybe strangely, I feel rather more impressed by the way that Weber shows many diverse phenomena combining in a way that has no obvious preceding logic.  I’m left with the feeling that the modern juridical state is more a patchwork of fragments, that official discourse keeps trying to conceal, rather than withe seamless triumph rational legality and hierarchical norms.  That is I find Weber rather Nietzschean and Foucauldian.

Another reason, for reading that bit of Weber was for some context to Walter Benjamin’s discussion of natural and positive law in ‘Critique of Violence’.  I’m not sure how aware Benjamin was of Weber’s texts but he must have had some awareness.  Anyway, coincidentally or not, I find Weber on law illuminating in reading Benjamin.  Benjamin emphasises the ambiguities of the distinction between natural and positive law, and Weber provides one way of thinking about this, though only one way, which is to think of natural law as becoming positive law when it is codified.  So customary law, the patchwork of laws from the past are the source of the idea of a natural law, a law which precedes state codification in positive laws, starts becoming positive law as soon as it is conceived as Natural Law, as law in itself, and that is confirmed by state attempts to codify natural law.  The American Constitution and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen are obvious examples.

I think I need to look at Carl Schmitt’s comments on law and constitutionalism to complete this contextualisation, but that will be another post.  Maybe Hayek as well, he was interested in Schmitt’s position, though not exactly an enthusiast for Schmitt;’s political philosophy.  Soon I hope.

>A few interesting links: Finance, History, Political Thought

>Some things I saw online today, I think are worth sharing, but  I don’t have much to add.

Hedge Funds moving from London to Malta
Jan Boucek at the Adam Smith Institute on why hedge funds are shifting from London to Malta
Article in the Financial Times referred to by Boucek

As Malta is in the EU, this somewhat undermines Eurosceptic free marketeers who think the EU kills business compared with a the UK as it retains its own currency; and undermines left-wingers who think the coalitions government in the UK is too market and pro-financial sector in the most extreme way.

British Liberals Discuss Giving Shares in Nationalised Banks to Everyone
UK Liberal Democrat oriented political policy foundation CentreForum, publishes pamphlet by Lib Dem MP, inspired by Portman Capital Partners to distribute shares in banks nationalised after the financial crisis to everyone in the country, giving everyone some pay back for bailing out these banks.  Of course in practice most shares would end up with institutional and wealthy individual investors, but it would give some benefit to the whole population, and would probably leave a few people with a taste for share ownership and stock markets.

Italian War to Conquer Libya in 1911-12 from the Ottomans, First to Use Airplane Bombing
Brendan O’Neill at Spiked Online.  Not someone I agree with about everything, much to inclined to take a blame western imperial powers for all problems in post-colonial countries line, but great points about Italian conquest, partition between France and Britain after World War II, Anglo-French manufacture of Libyan state and monarchy in the 1950s.

Classical Liberal/Libertarian Attack on Neo-Conservatives and Leo Strauss
An important issue since libertarianism and neo-conservatism have evidently merged in some people’s minds.  C Bradley Thompson posts ‘Neoconservatism Unmasked’ at Cato Unbound.  Particularly an attack on Leo Strauss, the German-American political theorist who influenced some notable neocons.  Rather sweeping and intemperate, but certainly correct in emphasising the authoritarian anti-individualist Platonist element in Straussian thought.  Thompson accuses the Strauss and the Neocons of Fascism, going too far to my mind.  However, there is no doubt that Strauss started of as a supporter of the more moderate forms of Fascism, and he ended up influencing thinkers on left (Mark Lilla and William Galston) and right (Peter Berkowitz and Allan Bloom) with communitarian, traditionalist and anti-individualist tendencies.  In the end Strauss can be described even by his contemporary American apologists as no more than a friend of democracy and modern liberalism, and certainly not a a democrat or modern liberal by deep conviction, only in the sense of supporting them in an ‘occasional’ way, like the Catholic based parties in early 20th century Spain and Germany, which paved the way for Franco and Hitler with their lack of deep commitment to liberal democracy.  Of course current American Straussians are no creating a similar situation, but their influence is certainly not to the benefit of liberty or a vigorous democracy of strong open antagonisms and challenges.  Straussians tend to attack Nietzsche as an immoralist and nihilist, I learned a lot more about liberty and virtue from Nietzsche than from Strauss.

>Reading about Liberty and Democracy in Ancient Greece

>I’ve been reading about ancient history to put philosophical ideas, about liberty and democracy, of the time into context.  I’ve read some 19th century work which itself has become part of the history of thought about liberty (Jakob Burckhardt and Numa-Denis Fustel de Coulanges); and now I’m onto some recent scholarship.  Recently I’ve read through the edited volume Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece, by Kurt A. Raaflaub, Josiah Ober and Robert W. Wallace with contributions from Paul Cartledge and Cynthia Farrar (University of California Press).

I don’t have a very systematic view of the book, I read it more to get views informed by recent scholarship influencing my thinking at a basic level.  Anyway, it was very interesting reading and here are some of the points I picked up as relevant to my interests.

1.  Role of the military in the development of democracy.  Something I was aware of already, but the volume deepened my understanding of debates about how hoplites and sailors influenced Athenian democracy.  The rise of the hoplites, heavy infantry armed with spears in a large rigid and deep formation, as central to Greek war, has often been linked with a political move from the aristocracy who were cavalry to the lower classes.  However, as hoplites were heavy infantry with armour, they were not the poorest at all.  Sailors, and oarsmen, on naval boats represented a lower class.  This would explain why Athens became the famous example of democracy, it was the trading city with the most important navy in the Greek world.
2.  Comparisons of Athens and Rome in the evolution of democracy, including the military history.  This reinforces the Athens versus Rome element of republican political theory in the present century, and in the last.  Hannah Arendt’s republicanism was ‘Athenian’ and Philip Pettit’s is Roman.
3.  The uncertainty of the stages in which Athens reached its most democratic stage.  Athenians read democracy back into the legendary law maker Solon, and even the legendary Theseus, when democrac may have largely arisen recently from Cleisthenes.
4.  The democracy of Cleisthenes presumed the erosion of the power of the Aeropagus, the law court linked withe the aristocracy.  The aeopagus survived for centuries more, but it was deprived of a large part of its power in the democratic period, in comparison with bodies selected by lottery or by rotation.  That might be one reason Athenian democracy seemed demagogic and irresponsible to some of the best minds of the time (e.g. Plato and Xenophon).
5.  Aeschylus tragedy the Eumenides ( Kindly Ones), the last part of the Oresteia, which gives a mythical origin to the Aeropagus, should be seen in the context of the transformation mentioned in point 4 above.
6.  Differing points of view about the relation between social struggles and emergence of democracy.  How far can we see the emergence of democracy as coming from the struggles of the poorer classes for power and economic benefits?
7.  How far can we see Sparta as a democracy for that small part of the population who were full citizens?  Probably less of a democracy than the laws in themselves suggest.
8.  When does oligarchy or a mixed constitution become a democracy?  The ambiguity comes from the defining the point at which it can be said that enough of the people have political rights, for there to be a democracy.
9.  How far can see democracy as present, in some way, in the voice sometimes given the soldier-peasants in Homer?  If we can, then in some way democracy was always present in the Ancient Greek world, or at least as far as we have written culture.  This links with issues of how far democratic institutions later on emerge from already existing equality of political rights and liberties.