Greek political thought
Political Dictionary: Greek political thought |
Home > Library > History, Politics & Society > Political Dictionary
Political questions are raised by many of the pre-Classical Greek poets and thinkers, from Homer's thoughts on kingship (probably mid- to late eighth century bc), to the Athenian poet and lawgiver Solon c.600 bc. Nevertheless it is not until the mid-fifth century bc that sophists such as Protagoras and Antiphon introduced systematic political theory, supported by rational argument; their central concern was the relation between ‘nature’ and ‘convention’ and the question of whether obedience to the state's laws and conventions was to the individual's advantage. A keen interest in these and other political questions can also be found around this time in the works of the Athenian tragedians, and the historians Herodotus and Thucydides. Methods of political analysis were greatly developed by Socrates, and Greek political thinking in general reaches its culmination in the fourth century bc with the radical idealism of Plato and the more conservative and pragmatic work of Aristotle.
A number of historical reasons help explain why this relatively brief flourishing of systematic and practical political thought in Greece occurred when it did. By the mid-fifth century the independent city-state or polis (from which our word ‘politics’ derives), was well established as the basic unit of political organization in Greece, and the many different forms that the polis took—from the oligarchical and military regime of Sparta to the radical participatory democracy of Athens—prompted comparisons and the question of which form was best. Increasing travel and the nascent disciplines of history and anthropology provided further data for comparison, and the continuing practice of colonization around the Mediterranean gave real urgency to the question of how the...