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									Political Thought
From the Greek Polis to the Christian Commonwealth

Brief History of Greece
• The first great civilization in Greece and Crete was the Minoan (2000 BCE – 1400 BCE). • Around 1400 BCE, the Mycenaean civilization supplanted the Minoan, and dominated Greece until about 1100 BCE, when barbarians known as Dorians invaded.

Emergence of the Polis, or Greek City-State
• Starting around 800 BCE a new civilization, the Hellenic, became dominant in Greece. • The Hellenic civilization was composed of two strands, the Dorian and the Ionian. • This civilization gave rise to a new form of social/political organization: the polis.

The Polis
• The polis was an independent, selfgoverning city of between 50,000 and 300,000 people. • Several dozen polises (Greek “poleis”) dotted the Greek countryside • In each polis, politics, religion, and social life were closely intertwined.

Types of Government
• Two types of government were used in the Greek Polises. • The Dorians generally had an oligarchic form of government. • The Greek word oligarchy means rule by the few. • The Ionians developed the first democratic form of government. • Democracy means rule by the people.

Sparta and Athens
• Generally speaking, the Dorians depended upon agriculture, while the Ionians were seafarers and merchants. • The two primary polises were Sparta and Athens. • Sparta was Dorian, oligarchic, and had an agriculture-based economy. • Athens was Ionian, democratic, and depended on seafaring and trade.

Foreign Wars
• The greatest challenge to Hellenic civilization came from Persia, to the east. • Greece fought two Persian wars, in 490 BCE, and in 481 BCE. • The Greek polises formed an alliance, led by Sparta and Athens. • The Greeks won both wars, ensuring that the roots of western civilization would include Greek thought.

The Great War
• After the Persian Wars, Greece was divided into two power blocs. • One, the Peloponnesian League, was led by Sparta. • The other was the Delian League, led by Athens. • These power blocs fought a great war, from 431-404 BCE.

• During the war, the soldiers of the Peloponnesian League besieged the cities of the Delian League by land. • The Delian League used its navies to supply itself with food, and to harass the home cities of its enemies. • The Spartans and their allies finally defeated Athens and its allies.

Socrates and The Rise of Political Philosophy
• One of the greatest contributions of Hellenic Civilization was its origination of political philosophy. • Just before and during the Great War, an Athenian citizen, Socrates, began raising questions such as, “What is justice?” • Socrates asked these questions of his fellow citizens, in public places.

The Socratic Method
• Socrates’ mode of inquiry, asking questions and analyzing the answers, became known as the Socratic Method. • Socrates was perceived by many Athenians as a threat to their settled way of life. • He was finally put to death by Athens for impiety and corrupting the young.

Socrates (c. 469- 399 B.C.E.)

Death of Socrates
Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825)

Plato and Aristotle from School of Athens by Raphael

• Socrates’ most famous student was Plato, who wrote the first great works of political philosophy. • Plato’s most famous work is The Republic, • Plato’s books are written as dialogues, or conversations. • These conversations are usually between a character named Socrates, and other Athenian citizens. • In the Republic, Socrates is portrayed as talking to two young men, Adeimantus and Glaucon.

• Plato started a school, called The Academy. • His most famous student was Aristotle. • Aristotle wrote many works of philosophy, and made the first systematic effort to collect and organize information on a wide variety of topics. • Aristotle might be considered the first scientist. • His works are written as treatises, which are more systematic, but much drier than dialogues. • One of these is the Politics, the first systematic treatise on politics.

Origin of Christianity in relation to politics
• Christianity first appeared as a sect (dissident religious group) among the Jews • First message from the Christian church was a separation between political and spiritual matters • “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s; render unto God that which is God’s.” (Luke 20:25)

Christian history (cont.)
• Founding coincided with the Pax Romana era of the Roman Empire, which lasted through the rule of Marcus Aurelius in 180 A.D. • Christian Church grew in number and strength at a time when Rome was threatened by diminishing resources, political divisions, and a growing barbarian threat from northern Europe

• Diocletian (284-305)
– created an autocracy
• No Senate • Divided empire - setting stage for Byzantine Empire

– Emperor as a god
• claimed to be Jupiter in human form

– Last great persecution of Christians, under influence of Galerius


Christianity emancipated
• Constantine (305-337) Son of Constantius I, Caesar of the west under Diocletian
– Legalization of Christianity and founding of Constantinople at Byzantium (now Istanbul) among most significant actions of any European ruler – Constantine, after observing that persecution and martyrdom only nourished the growth of the Christian Church, gave his support to the Christians – issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which allowed for the complete freedom of worship throughout the territories under his control – Constantine was a true Christian, but he certainly used the Church to political advantage

Constantine (cont.)
• 4th century A.D. sees the unity of the Church confirmed and the move from legal toleration of the Church to official state religion • 325: Council of Nicaea
– convoked by Constantine in response to internal Church debate over the nature of Jesus and his relationship to God – declared the veracity of the Trinity, that the Son is one being with the Father and the Holy Spirit (Nicene Creed)

• 381: Council of Constantinople (convoked by Theodosius I)
– affirmed the Nicaean decision


Augustine (354-430 CE)
• St. Augustine
– considered as one of the fathers of Western theology – his influence on Christianity (via his writings) is thought by many to be second only to that of St. Paul – Confessions (c. 400) – autobiography written in the apologetics style – City of God (c. 413) – defense of Christianity against its pagan critics

Pope Gelasius I
• Though he was Pope for only 4 years (492-496), his influence was profound • He is, in many ways, responsible for our separation of Church and State • A strong Pope, he was the first to be known as the “Vicar of Christ”

Machiavelli (1469-1527)
• Two major works, The Discourses and The Prince
– In The Discourses, he extols virtues of selfgovernment – In The Prince, he argues for absolute monarchy – Conflict pragmatic – Italy in a shambles at the time he wrote The Prince

• Religion is an essential tool in the management of a State
– Deception

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