The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics

The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics

The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics

The Liberal Temper in Greek Politics

Excerpt

The boundaries of the word liberal, when used in a political context, are perhaps broad enough to justify its use in the title of this book. Its precise application to a given group of political theorists, who flourished in classic Greece, is described and defended in the first chapter.

Nevertheless, a difficulty of nomenclature remains. The doctrines of this group were developed in complete independence of the teachings of Plato and Aristotle. Their foundations were laid before Plato was born; the completed structure must already have been in existence to confront Aristotle when he composed his Ethics and his Politics. In short, what is here styled Greek liberalism grew and flowered in an intellectual climate which lay outside those walls with which Plato's idealism and Aristotle's teleology surrounded the Greek citizen and his city-state. Liberalism is a part of the intellectual history of classic Greece, but it is not part of those political concepts which have hitherto been accepted in the West as classic, as typically Greek, as the expression, definitive and complete, of a unique Greek experience of citizenship in the city-state.

Because the walls of that state, ideologically speaking, collapsed with Alexander's conquests, it has always been remarked that the physical setting of this supposedly classic system of concepts was already becoming antiquated even as it was being written. The history of western political theory from the Stoics to Karl Marx has a perceptible continuity, which disappears when one takes a step backward and in company with Plato and Aristotle enters the gates of the Greek polis. But political theory, just because it is theory, is never just a photograph of the particular institutions with which it may be dealing. In the West it has always used a set of intellectual frameworks, a series of leading concepts dealing with man and society, which have been employed as archetypes of explanation. As these have slowly changed and evolved, they have exhibited their own laws of intellectual progression. The originals were all, or nearly all, seeded in the writings of Plato . . .

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