The Theory of the Mixed Constititution in Antiquity: A Critical Analysis of Polybius' Political Ideas

The Theory of the Mixed Constititution in Antiquity: A Critical Analysis of Polybius' Political Ideas

The Theory of the Mixed Constititution in Antiquity: A Critical Analysis of Polybius' Political Ideas

The Theory of the Mixed Constititution in Antiquity: A Critical Analysis of Polybius' Political Ideas

Excerpt

No part of ancient political theory has had a greater influence on political theory and practice in modern times than the theory of the mixed constitution.

This theory is for the first time found in Plato Laws. It appears first in the story told in the third book of that work: The three Peloponnesian kingdoms of Argos, Lacedaemon, and Messene entered into a compact providing that, if ever in any one of them the king should try to exceed the limits of his power under the law, or the people should try to deprive the king of his legitimate powers, the two other nations would come to the help of the party that had been wronged. The theory appears for the second time, and in a more elaborate form, in the same book in an analysis of the Spartan constitution.

This second analysis, which follows closely upon the first one, is preceded by the statement that the soul of a mortal is not able to wield sovereign power, the greatest among men, without being filled with unreasonableness, the greatest disease, and so incurring hatred. A god who saw this, so Plato continues, gave the Spartans a double kingship in order to bring the power of each of the kings nearer to the right measure. Then a man who had within him the divine spark, when he saw that the sovereign power was still "boiling over," mixed it with the power of a council of elders, and finally, when even after this the royal power was still not without insolence, the ephors were added as an additional fetter.

It is clear that in both cases Plato is concerned with the danger inherent in absolute political power, and that he is of the opinion that there must be a check to all political power, and that this must be done by distributing power over several governmental agencies which counterbalance one another. On the other hand, he speaks of a mixture of these various agencies and devices. So in a way what he says includes the notions of a mixed political order and of a system of checks and balances, though these two terms am not used explicitly.

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