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Introduction to Political Science

3.1 The Classical Origins of Western Political Ideologies

Introduction to Political Science3.1 The Classical Origins of Western Political Ideologies

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Table of contents
  1. Preface
  2. Introduction to Political Science
    1. 1 What Is Politics and What Is Political Science?
      1. Introduction
      2. 1.1 Defining Politics: Who Gets What, When, Where, How, and Why?
      3. 1.2 Public Policy, Public Interest, and Power
      4. 1.3 Political Science: The Systematic Study of Politics
      5. 1.4 Normative Political Science
      6. 1.5 Empirical Political Science
      7. 1.6 Individuals, Groups, Institutions, and International Relations
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  3. Individuals
    1. 2 Political Behavior Is Human Behavior
      1. Introduction
      2. 2.1 What Goals Should We Seek in Politics?
      3. 2.2 Why Do Humans Make the Political Choices That They Do?
      4. 2.3 Human Behavior Is Partially Predictable
      5. 2.4 The Importance of Context for Political Decisions
      6. Summary
      7. Key Terms
      8. Review Questions
      9. Suggested Readings
    2. 3 Political Ideology
      1. Introduction
      2. 3.1 The Classical Origins of Western Political Ideologies
      3. 3.2 The Laws of Nature and the Social Contract
      4. 3.3 The Development of Varieties of Liberalism
      5. 3.4 Nationalism, Communism, Fascism, and Authoritarianism
      6. 3.5 Contemporary Democratic Liberalism
      7. 3.6 Contemporary Ideologies Further to the Political Left
      8. 3.7 Contemporary Ideologies Further to the Political Right
      9. 3.8 Political Ideologies That Reject Political Ideology: Scientific Socialism, Burkeanism, and Religious Extremism
      10. Summary
      11. Key Terms
      12. Review Questions
      13. Suggested Readings
    3. 4 Civil Liberties
      1. Introduction
      2. 4.1 The Freedom of the Individual
      3. 4.2 Constitutions and Individual Liberties
      4. 4.3 The Right to Privacy, Self-Determination, and the Freedom of Ideas
      5. 4.4 Freedom of Movement
      6. 4.5 The Rights of the Accused
      7. 4.6 The Right to a Healthy Environment
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 5 Political Participation and Public Opinion
      1. Introduction
      2. 5.1 What Is Political Participation?
      3. 5.2 What Limits Voter Participation in the United States?
      4. 5.3 How Do Individuals Participate Other Than Voting?
      5. 5.4 What Is Public Opinion and Where Does It Come From?
      6. 5.5 How Do We Measure Public Opinion?
      7. 5.6 Why Is Public Opinion Important?
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  4. Groups
    1. 6 The Fundamentals of Group Political Activity
      1. Introduction
      2. 6.1 Political Socialization: The Ways People Become Political
      3. 6.2 Political Culture: How People Express Their Political Identity
      4. 6.3 Collective Dilemmas: Making Group Decisions
      5. 6.4 Collective Action Problems: The Problem of Incentives
      6. 6.5 Resolving Collective Action Problems
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
    2. 7 Civil Rights
      1. Introduction
      2. 7.1 Civil Rights and Constitutionalism
      3. 7.2 Political Culture and Majority-Minority Relations
      4. 7.3 Civil Rights Abuses
      5. 7.4 Civil Rights Movements
      6. 7.5 How Do Governments Bring About Civil Rights Change?
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
    3. 8 Interest Groups, Political Parties, and Elections
      1. Introduction
      2. 8.1 What Is an Interest Group?
      3. 8.2 What Are the Pros and Cons of Interest Groups?
      4. 8.3 Political Parties
      5. 8.4 What Are the Limits of Parties?
      6. 8.5 What Are Elections and Who Participates?
      7. 8.6 How Do People Participate in Elections?
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  5. Institutions
    1. 9 Legislatures
      1. Introduction
      2. 9.1 What Do Legislatures Do?
      3. 9.2 What Is the Difference between Parliamentary and Presidential Systems?
      4. 9.3 What Is the Difference between Unicameral and Bicameral Systems?
      5. 9.4 The Decline of Legislative Influence
      6. Summary
      7. Key Terms
      8. Review Questions
      9. Suggested Readings
    2. 10 Executives, Cabinets, and Bureaucracies
      1. Introduction
      2. 10.1 Democracies: Parliamentary, Presidential, and Semi-Presidential Regimes
      3. 10.2 The Executive in Presidential Regimes
      4. 10.3 The Executive in Parliamentary Regimes
      5. 10.4 Advantages, Disadvantages, and Challenges of Presidential and Parliamentary Regimes
      6. 10.5 Semi-Presidential Regimes
      7. 10.6 How Do Cabinets Function in Presidential and Parliamentary Regimes?
      8. 10.7 What Are the Purpose and Function of Bureaucracies?
      9. Summary
      10. Key Terms
      11. Review Questions
      12. Suggested Readings
    3. 11 Courts and Law
      1. Introduction
      2. 11.1 What Is the Judiciary?
      3. 11.2 How Does the Judiciary Take Action?
      4. 11.3 Types of Legal Systems around the World
      5. 11.4 Criminal versus Civil Laws
      6. 11.5 Due Process and Judicial Fairness
      7. 11.6 Judicial Review versus Executive Sovereignty
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 12 The Media
      1. Introduction
      2. 12.1 The Media as a Political Institution: Why Does It Matter?
      3. 12.2 Types of Media and the Changing Media Landscape
      4. 12.3 How Do Media and Elections Interact?
      5. 12.4 The Internet and Social Media
      6. 12.5 Declining Global Trust in the Media
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
  6. States and International Relations
    1. 13 Governing Regimes
      1. Introduction
      2. 13.1 Contemporary Government Regimes: Power, Legitimacy, and Authority
      3. 13.2 Categorizing Contemporary Regimes
      4. 13.3 Recent Trends: Illiberal Representative Regimes
      5. Summary
      6. Key Terms
      7. Review Questions
      8. Suggested Readings
    2. 14 International Relations
      1. Introduction
      2. 14.1 What Is Power, and How Do We Measure It?
      3. 14.2 Understanding the Different Types of Actors in the International System
      4. 14.3 Sovereignty and Anarchy
      5. 14.4 Using Levels of Analysis to Understand Conflict
      6. 14.5 The Realist Worldview
      7. 14.6 The Liberal and Social Worldview
      8. 14.7 Critical Worldviews
      9. Summary
      10. Key Terms
      11. Review Questions
      12. Suggested Readings
    3. 15 International Law and International Organizations
      1. Introduction
      2. 15.1 The Problem of Global Governance
      3. 15.2 International Law
      4. 15.3 The United Nations and Global Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)
      5. 15.4 How Do Regional IGOs Contribute to Global Governance?
      6. 15.5 Non-state Actors: Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)
      7. 15.6 Non-state Actors beyond NGOs
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 16 International Political Economy
      1. Introduction
      2. 16.1 The Origins of International Political Economy
      3. 16.2 The Advent of the Liberal Economy
      4. 16.3 The Bretton Woods Institutions
      5. 16.4 The Post–Cold War Period and Modernization Theory
      6. 16.5 From the 1990s to the 2020s: Current Issues in IPE
      7. 16.6 Considering Poverty, Inequality, and the Environmental Crisis
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  7. References
  8. Index

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Discuss the key political concepts developed by Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
  • Identify common themes in the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
  • Illustrate how the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle contribute to contemporary political thought.

How should people organize their lives together in society? What rules should direct individual and collective behavior? This chapter begins in Athens, a city often seen as the apex of the Western classical world.

Socrates and Plato

In the fifth century BCE, Athenian philosopher Socrates maintained that people should seek the answers to the most fundamental of life’s questions through reason, accepting as true only ideas that have withstood criticism and can be stated clearly and precisely.

Socrates’s legacy is preserved mostly through the writings of one of his pupils, Plato (428–348 BCE). In The Republic, Plato develops a detailed, reasoned argument that political power should be vested in individuals of exceptional skill who possess knowledge about the true nature of the world and a genuine love of wisdom. Plato believed that philosophers best fit this bill and should hold unrestricted political power. Such rulers would be free from temptations to corruption and would understand what is best for the communities over which they rule. Such a government, Plato argued, would secure true justice.

A line engraving shows a stone bust of a man. He has curly hair and a curly beard.
Figure 3.2 Plato argued for wise and benevolent rulers who would be guided by reason. (credit: “Plato. Line Engraving by L. Vorsterman after Sir P. P. Rubens,” Wellcome Collection, Public Domain)

Aristotle

Plato’s student Aristotle (384–322 BCE) agreed that either rule by a supremely wise and virtuous ruler who attends to the good of the community, which he called a monarchy, or rule by a group of such virtuous rulers, which he called an aristocracy, would be the ideal political condition. However, both Aristotle and Plato worried that a system in which rule was given to one man might turn into a tyranny, with one person ruling only for their own good. Similarly, if rule was vested in a small group, that group may become an oligarchy, defined as rule by a few in service of their own advantage. Given these possibilities, Aristotle asked if political rule could safely be lodged in the majority of citizens in the form of a democracy. Aristotle suspected that this, again, might result in a form of rule that would neglect the good of the whole in favor of the interests of the majority.8 Even today, monarchs and authoritarian rulers often justify their rule based on skepticism about the ability of the majority to pursue the interests of the whole of society.

Aristotle believed that the best hope that a majority of citizens could hold political power and rule with the goal of securing the public good would be if the majority of citizens were what is now called the middle class. Ideally, for Aristotle, political offices would reflect the wealth disparities that exist, with both those with more wealth and those with less becoming political leaders,9 and the society would have great respect for the rule of law.10 He called such a form of government a Politeia.

In a Politeia, the government would serve the public good, and society would be able to move toward fulfilling the true human potential of its citizens. Aristotle argued that this would be so because only by exercising the distinctly human capacity for rational debate, discussion, and judgment on matters that involve the good of a community can people take advantage of the full human potential. Because political participation can involve these kinds of activities, to reach one’s full potential as a human, one must participate in the exercise of political power that is structured around debate and deliberation concerning the common good of society.11

Inspired by Aristotle, contemporary thinkers such as Stanford University professor James Fishkin have argued that by expanding the number of citizens engaged in political debate and decisions, a society can both assemble perspectives in a way that advances the public good and enable citizens to realize their full potential. Modern technology, Fishkin argues, makes this possible to achieve on a large scale.12

  …Rules on Behalf of…
Self All
Individual Tyranny Monarchy
Few Oligarchy Aristocracy
Majority Democracy Politeia
Table 3.1 A Summary of Aristotle’s Categories of Political Regimes

Other contemporary thinkers agree with Aristotle’s assessment that income inequalities that divide the populace into groups at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum serve to undermine the common good. Traces of Aristotle’s thought appear in frequent political messaging, in the United States and elsewhere, that the middle class is the backbone of the nation and deserves government support and protection.13

Aristotle held that a properly governed regime must encourage its citizens to cultivate certain virtues, such as wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice. In order to achieve these virtues, individuals need the government, Aristotle maintained, because government has the authority to regulate family life, school, media, the arts, and the prevailing behaviors in the broader culture. Inspired in part by Aristotle, a number of contemporary educational reform advocates have argued for a heightened role for character education in public schools to instill what they consider to be the appropriate virtues.14

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