The Problem of Stability in Classical Political Thought
48 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2009
Date Written: December 15, 2009
For most classical political thinkers, a good political regime depends on the existence of virtuous rulers and citizens. Yet virtue is produced in environments that are fragile and unreliable. Thus a good political regime seems to be unstable, because its rulers and citizens are easily subject to corruption. I show here that classical thinkers from Plato to Cicero responded to this problem by developing four different (but not mutually exclusive) diagnoses of the causes of political corruption and proposing four corresponding prescriptions for how to ensure the stability of a regime’s capacity to promote the common good, which crystallized in what came to be called the “theory of the mixed constitution.” I argue that these classical reflections on how good political regimes can be made resilient to expectable but ultimately irremediable moral and epistemic failures of citizens and rulers still provide useful resources for thinking about the stability of a regime’s capacity to promote the common good, one which moreover stands in interesting contrast to many modern traditions of thought about the relationship between virtue and stability.
Keywords: History of Political Thought, States, Stability, Plato, Cicero, Polybius, Aristotle, Virtue
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