Skip to comments.Constitutional Convention (Ca. 520 B.C.)
Posted on 04/24/2005 4:38:02 PM PDT by mrsmith
"According to a story in Herodotus, the nature of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, and the advantages and inconveniences of each, were as well understood at the time of the neighing of the horse of Darius, as they are at this hour."
John Adams: A DEFENCE OF THE CONSTITUTIONS OF GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
[3.80] ... Otanes recommended that the management of public affairs should be entrusted to the whole nation. [democracy] "To me," he said, "it seems advisable, that we should no longer have a single man to rule over us - the rule of one is neither good nor pleasant. Ye cannot have forgotten to what lengths Cambyses went in his haughty tyranny, and the haughtiness of the Magi ye have yourselves experienced. How indeed is it possible that monarchy should be a well-adjusted thing, when it allows a man to do as he likes without being answerable? Such licence is enough to stir strange and unwonted thoughts in the heart of the worthiest of men. Give a person this power, and straightway his manifold good things puff him up with pride, while envy is so natural to human kind that it cannot but arise in him. But pride and envy together include all wickedness - both of them leading on to deeds of savage violence.
True it is that kings, possessing as they do all that heart can desire, ought to be void of envy; but the contrary is seen in their conduct towards the citizens. They are jealous of the most virtuous among their subjects, and wish their death; while they take delight in the meanest and basest, being ever ready to listen to the tales of slanderers. A king, besides, is beyond all other men inconsistent with himself. Pay him court in moderation, and he is angry because you do not show him more profound respect - show him profound respect, and he is offended again, because (as he says) you fawn on him. But the worst of all is, that he sets aside the laws of the land, puts men to death without trial, and subjects women to violence.
The rule of the many, on the other hand, has, in the first place, the fairest of names, to wit, isonomy; and further it is free from all those outrages which a king is wont to commit. There, places are given by lot, the magistrate is answerable for what he does, and measures rest with the commonalty. I vote, therefore, that we do away with monarchy, and raise the people to power. For the people are all in all."
[3.81] Such were the sentiments of Otanes. Megabyzus spoke next, and advised the setting up of an oligarchy [aristocracy]:- "In all that Otanes has said to persuade you to put down monarchy," he observed, "I fully concur; but his recommendation that we should call the people to power seems to me not the best advice. For there is nothing so void of understanding, nothing so full of wantonness, as the unwieldy rabble. It were folly not to be borne, for men, while seeking to escape the wantonness of a tyrant, to give themselves up to the wantonness of a rude unbridled mob. The tyrant, in all his doings, at least knows what is he about, but a mob is altogether devoid of knowledge; for how should there be any knowledge in a rabble, untaught, and with no natural sense of what is right and fit? It rushes wildly into state affairs with all the fury of a stream swollen in the winter, and confuses everything. Let the enemies of the Persians be ruled by democracies; but let us choose out from the citizens a certain number of the worthiest, and put the government into their hands. For thus both we ourselves shall be among the governors, and power being entrusted to the best men, it is likely that the best counsels will prevail in the state."
[3.82] This was the advice which Megabyzus gave, and after him Darius came forward, and spoke as follows:- "All that Megabyzus said against democracy was well said, I think; but about oligarchy he did not speak advisedly; for take these three forms of government - democracy, oligarchy, and monarchy - and let them each be at their best, I maintain that monarchy far surpasses the other two. What government can possibly be better than that of the very best man in the whole state?
The counsels of such a man are like himself, and so he governs the mass of the people to their heart's content; while at the same time his measures against evil-doers are kept more secret than in other states.
Contrariwise, in oligarchies, where men vie with each other in the service of the commonwealth, fierce enmities are apt to arise between man and man, each wishing to be leader, and to carry his own measures; whence violent quarrels come, which lead to open strife, often ending in bloodshed. Then monarchy is sure to follow; and this too shows how far that rule surpasses all others.
Again, in a democracy, it is impossible but that there will be malpractices: these malpractices, however, do not lead to enmities, but to close friendships, which are formed among those engaged in them, who must hold well together to carry on their villainies. And so things go on until a man stands forth as champion of the commonalty, and puts down the evil-doers. Straightway the author of so great a service is admired by all, and from being admired soon comes to be appointed king; so that here too it is plain that monarchy is the best government.
Lastly, to sum up all in a word, whence, I ask, was it that we got the freedom which we enjoy? - did democracy give it us, or oligarchy, or a monarch? As a single man recovered our freedom for us, my sentence is that we keep to the rule of one. Even apart from this, we ought not to change the laws of our forefathers when they work fairly; for to do so is not well."
The mixed government- like that of the Founders: an executive of kingly nature, a Senate and Judiciary of oligarchal nature, and a House of democratic nature- was a new idea, advocated by that modern upstart Polybius Chapter One of Polybius and the Founding Fathers . Dividing the neccessary powers between separate parts to keep one from attaining all and turning tyrannical.
I hope some here enjoy the thought-provoking comments Herodotus alleged to these men.
A thought this 'provoked' in me is that the Great Compromise was especially fortuitous, resulting in setting one oligarchy (the Senate) to watch another (the Judiciary). Perhaps it's just coincidence that the judicial Branch has grown so "representative" since the Sixteenth Amendment, but it makes sense, structurally, that it would tend to do so to please it's new democratic supervisors.
Guess I've reached the age I'd best "trust but verify" my memory.
The mixed government we currently have - (un)like that of the Founders: an executive of kingly nature that will gladly give his entire kingdom to his southern neighbors, a Senate of ego driven self styled monarchs who desire fame and attention but also to remain unaccountable for their decisions or legislation, a Judiciary of colluding ideological tyrants who actually feel that they are capable of "judging" the masses, and a House of democratic nature which also excludes themselves from the legislation they write.
All of those branches above are supposed to be the 'public SERVANTS' not 'public RULERS'. Once "We the People" remember that little fact, and force these miscreants to remember it as well, life will get better. Until we are willing to play our part in this play, we get what we deserve.
Wisely though (heeding Herodotus' points above), the Founders counted much upon the jealousy of the separated- and incomplete- branches, and federalism, to keep the government in rein.
Love to bump Herodotus!
Everyone loves this.
So I’ll bump it again.
When I in my comment on the other thread said 'mixed', I was not talking of 'mixed' in that context. THAT above is a good mix, but I was referring to 'those who think we are capitalist ... well ... we aren't really.'
As for 'nothing new under the sun' ... agreed entirely there. Men are men and though the good and bad things go by different names over the years and centuries ... the virtues are still the same as are the sins ... both out of the individual and out groups of men (and mobs of men.)
Appreciated reading it, had not looked at the 3 branches that way before.
This topic was posted , thanks mrsmith.
I say, then, that all these six forms of government are pernicious—the three good kinds, from their brief duration the three bad, from their inherent badness. Wise legislators therefore, knowing these defects, and avoiding each of these forms in its simplicity, have made choice of a form which shares in the qualities of all the first three, and which they judge to be more stable and lasting than any of these separately. For where we have a monarchy, an aristocracy, and a democracy existing together in the same city, each of the three serves as a check upon the other.
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