Quotes on Ancient Western Political Thought
"Only in ancient Athens and in the United States so far has democracy lasted for as much as two hundred years. Monarchy and different forms of despotism, on the other hand, have gone on for millennia. A dynasty or tyranny or clique may be deposed, but it is invariably replaced by another or by a chaotic anarchy that ends in the establishment of some kind of command society. Optimists may believe that democracy is the inevitable and final form of human society, but the historical record shows that up to now it has been the rare exception."
"An examination of the few successful democracies in history suggests that they need to meet three conditions if they are to flourish. The first is to have a set of good institutions; the second is to have a body of citizens who possess a good understanding of the principles of democracy, or who at least have developed a character consistent with the democratic way of life; the third is to have a high quality of leadership, at least at critical moments. At times, the third qualification is the most important and can compensate for weaknesses in the other two."
"The new and emerging democracies of our time are very fragile, and they all face serious challenges. Few can rely upon strong democratic traditions, and all suffer economic conditions that range from bad to disastrous. Many are now confronting long-suppressed ethnic divisions that threaten to destroy the needed unity and harmony. The image and example of the prosperous, free nations of the world, conveyed to their people by modern technology, has meanwhile raised material expectations to unrealistic levels. If the newly free nations see democracy chiefly as a quick route to material well-being and equal distribution of wealth, they will be badly disappointed, and democracy will fail. To succeed, they need a vision of the future that is powerful enough to sustain them through bad times as well as good and to inspire the many difficult sacrifices that will be required of them. They must see that democracy alone of all regimes respects the dignity and autonomy of every individual, and understand that its survival requires that each individual see his own well-being as inextricably connected to that of the whole community.
This new faith will be especially hard to instill in societies that have learned to be cynical about the use of political idealism. The new democracies will, therefore, need leaders in the Periclean mold, leaders who know that the aim and character of true democracy should be to elevate their citizens to the highest attainable level, and that cutting down the greatest to assuage the envy of the least is the way of tyranny. They need leaders who understand that individual freedom, self-government, and equality before the law are of the highest value in themselves. And they especially need leaders with the talents to persuade their impatient citizens that these political institutions are the necessary first foundation for a decent regime and a good life for all. Older, better established democracies have the same needs if they are not to become the aimless, selfish, unstable, and doomed perversions of the Periclean vision described by Plato and Aristotle."
"As Lord Acton said, historical thought is far more important than historical knowledge. Historical thought is using the lessons of history to understand the present and to make decisions for the future. In other words, it was by using history as an analytical tool and making use of the lessons of history that our founders brought our Constitution into being."
"For the Romans understood that freedom really is an ideal of three components, which are not all mutually inclusive: national freedom, freedom from foreign domination; then political freedom, the freedom to vote and to choose your magistrates; and finally, individual freedom, the freedom to live as you choose as long as you harm no one else."
More About This Topic...
- Pericles of Athens and The Birth of Democracy
- Ancient Western Political Thought
- The History of the Peloponnesian War
- Pericles' Funeral Oration
- Ancient Greek Democracy and Its Study
- Polity of the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians
- A History of Political Thought: From Ancient Greece to Early Christianity
- Greek Thought: Socrates, Plato and Aristotle
- Greek Ways: How the Greeks Created Western Civilization
- The Athenian Revolution