Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

money and energy in perfecting its means of self‐ defence against possible attacks by man and beast that it has none left for its scientific purpose. One must risk something: Plato would have sacrificed all freedom and variety on the altar of wisdom and virtue; the Athenians deliberately risked security for the sake of the freedom and variety of life and thought which they prized so highly. They succumbed to the attacks of Philip because he was a better statesman and a better general than anyone they could produce. True: but at least it was Athens which succumbed, not an altered city which, in a vain attempt at efficiency for the sake of security, had tried to imitate a system which was her mortal enemy.


NOTES
1.
A paper read before the Hellenic Society in May, 1949.
2.
viii, 72, 1.
3.
20 Sept., 1948.
4.
viii, 66, 3.
5.
Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, 530.
6.
Orestes, 918-921.
7.
Suppliants, 420-442.
8.
Demosthenes, xivii, 82.
9.
Peace, 615-618.
10.
There were ten of these "presiding committees"; so in a year of 365 days, half would serve for 36, half for 37 days. (At other times a lunar calendar was in use, with many resulting complexities.)
11.
See on this Plato, Gorgias, 455 B-C, 514 A-E.
12.
The assembly met in the open, on a somewhat exposed hillside. "Bad omens" might be rain or a gale.
13.
For these see Tod, Greek Historical Inscriptions, ii, Nos. 118, 123, 135, 136, 142, 162.

27
Some Aspects of Oligarchical, Dictatorial, and
Popular Signorie in Florence, 1282-1382 1

Marvin B. Becker

This paper attempts to differentiate the forms of political regime that held sway in the city of Florence over the century following the formation of the Florentine constitution in 1282. It aims to establish certain pragmatic criteria for distinguishing between these Signorie, and to incorporate these into a framework that may be of some value in subsequent comparative study of the politics of the Italian city state in the later Middle Ages. The method employed is inductive. The more conventional deductive approach is rejected because the setting up of definitions at the outset is likely to create the illusion that political forms existed in a pure state. Dictatorship, oligarchy and popular government did not exist in the form of "ideal types" but rather were characterized by frequent changes of form and function. During periods of challenge and struggle their true nature became more clearly discernible than in eras of relative quiescence and this fact in part explains the conflicting interpretations that have arisen. 2 ...

One of the most pronounced tendencies of popular government was its penchant for legal reforms and the impartial administration of justice. Gente nuova and public-spirited patricians joined forces to mitigate certain of the inequities of the prevailing legal system in the interest of protecting "the poor and the weak." These enactments read like a page from the chronicle of the gentle Dino Compagni and one is not surprised to discover that this good burgher and his friend, Giano della Bella, were in the vanguard of those who sponsored these humanitarian reforms. 3 Programs of this type have been variously interpreted and those who served in the Signoria during these intervals have been credited with altruistic and democratic proclivities for which there is little evidence. Modern historians have attempted to demonstrate that these acts were calculated to better the lot of the Florentine working class. 4 While it is unquestionably true that the masses stood to benefit from these measures, their lot, as workers, was actually worsened, at times, under the hegemony of popular Signorie. Not only were important concessions annulled, but the authority of the guild

____________________
From Marvin B. Becker, "Some Aspects of Oligarchical, Dictatorial and Popular Signorie in Florence, 1282-1382," Comparative Studies in Society and History, II (1960), 421, 427-437. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

-211-

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