Cycle of Political Revolutions

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Slides on Polybius' Cycle of Political Revolutions for an undergraduate course in Political Thought that I taught between 2003-2005.

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  • Learning Objectives: 1.) To understand Polybius’ conception of the causes of political change as outlined in his Histories 2.) To become familiar with Polybius’ ideas surrounding the mixed constitution 3.) To appreciate the differences between Polybius’ concept of the mixed constitution and Artistotle’s typology of governments. 4.) To become acquainted with Polybius’ ideas on integrity in public affairs 5.) To be able to situate Polybius political thought in the broader context of the development of the Roman Republic/Empire 6.) To engage in a critical examination of Polybius’ ideas, especially in relation to present-day realities
  • Cycle of Political Revolutions

    1. 1. P OLITICAL C HANGE AND THE M IXED C ONSTITUTION ( P OLYBIUS)
    2. 2. Overview <ul><li>Who was Polybius ? </li></ul><ul><li>What were Polybius’ ideas about political change ? </li></ul><ul><li>What was Polybius’ concept of a mixed constitution and why did he argue in their favor ? </li></ul><ul><li>According to Polybius, where do states derive their strength ? </li></ul>
    3. 3. Polybius <ul><li>Greek statesman </li></ul><ul><li>Deported to Rome as a political prisoner </li></ul><ul><li>Had the opportunity to observe Roman politics firsthand </li></ul><ul><li>Historian in the tradition of Thucydides and Herodotus </li></ul>
    4. 4. Causes of Political Change <ul><li>Polybius submits that there are two sources of political change : </li></ul><ul><li>External </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Constitutions change as a result of conflict or conquest </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Internal </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Political change is a natural process </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. The Cycle of Political Revolutions Monarchy kingship Mob rule tyranny democracy oligarchy aristocracy
    6. 6. And So… <ul><li>If political change occurs naturally , there must be a way to slow it down or prevent it </li></ul><ul><li>For Polybius, the mixed constitution could lend political stability to states </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sparta under Lycurgus (800 BC) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Rome </li></ul></ul>
    7. 7. The Mixed Constitution <ul><li>Understood as an arrangement whereby the different “principles” of rule are present </li></ul><ul><li>Polybius submits that a state achieves “ equilibrium ” through a mixed constitution </li></ul><ul><li>A state can also draw strength from such a constitution </li></ul>
    8. 8. Political Ethics <ul><li>A mixed constitution by itself is no guarantee that strength and stability will ensue </li></ul><ul><li>There is need for quality and excellence in those holding office </li></ul><ul><li>Further, there is also a moral dimension to holding public office </li></ul>
    9. 9. Some Questions: <ul><li>Is political change necessarily deterministic and cyclical ? </li></ul><ul><li>Is a system of checks and balances necessarily effective or efficient ? </li></ul><ul><li>At what point should we draw the line on checking and balancing? </li></ul><ul><li>To what extent should religion/beliefs inform politics? </li></ul>

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