03/10/06 - the greeks

In today's excerpt - Greeks in the fourth century BCE begin to articulate the modern idea of government which, as exemplified in the US Constitution, is much more about the idea of limiting the power of those that govern than the idea of a democratic vote.  This idea was to lay dormant with limited exceptions for over two thousand years:

"... the evolution of Greek philosophy provided a base on which the concept of a limited and responsible state could develop.  Although their cities may have had virtually unlimited powers over their citizens, the Greeks saw themselves as radically different from the inhabitants east of the Hellespont.  Aristotle was reflecting the accepted Greek view when he wrote, 'Barbarians are more servile by nature than Greeks, and Asians are more servile than Europeans; hence they endure despotic rule without protest.'  Under the analysis of the philosophers, the state came to be seen as based on a compact between citizens.  The pivotal moment came during the Peloponnesian War, when the Sophists ... developed a startling new analysis of the origins and purpose of society:

" 'So, when men do wrong and are wronged by one another and taste of both, those who lack the power to avoid the one and to take the other, determine that it is for their profit to make a compact with one another neither to commit nor to suffer injustice; and this is the beginning of legislation and covenants between men.'

"Here we have the distant ancestor of the Enlightenment theories of the social contract. ..."


James Macdonald


A Free Nation Deep in Debt: The Financial Roots of Democracy


Princeton University Press


Copyright 2003 by James Macdonald


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment