By Karl Arnold Belser
8 February 2015
I just finished reading Alan Ryan's book titled On Politics: A History of Political Thought. I had previously listened to the Great Courses series Development of European Civilization by
Ken Bartlett of the University of Toronto, but I had difficulty making
a summary about "what happened". I'm going to summarize what I
learned in this effort so that I might guess as to where we are today
and what might happen tomorrow with regard to politics..
Politics describes the way in which people are organized and governed. People in western civilization have evolved from tribes to a compllicated mixed government with a central leader and a group of representatives of the people at large. The main leader and the representatives are elected by the people. The leaders and representatives today have an explicit social contract with the governed to create an environment where even the lowliest person in the society has a tolerable way of living. This evolution happened in several stages.
Aristotle (384 TO 322 BC) studied the constitutions of the many Greek City states and concluded that the mixed form of government was one that worked well. There was no social contract however. The Roman Republic (509 to 27 BC) took on the mixed government from a government Aristotle had described under the guidance of Cicero. However, internal conflicts resulted in Julius Caesar becoming the first emperor. The Roman Empire (27BC to 480 AD) went through many turbulent times. In 324 BC Constantine became emperor and later became a Christian. The church and state were united. Saint Agustine (354 to 430) in his book City of God and Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274) argued that the church is superior to secular kingdoms. Conflict between theological leaders and secular leaders continued after the fall of the empire.
Petrarch (1304 to 1374) of Florence discovered the works of Cicero and Aristotle when the Eastern Orthodox church was taken over by Islam and the library was transfered to Rome. Petrarch was the father of humanism, which in those days meant the study of ancient writings, gaining the ability to write, and the revival of republican virtue. Florence became a city state republic and other city states experimented with other forms of government as the Greeks had done a little less than two thousand years before. This was the beginning of the Renaissance . Central to the Renaissance was the conflict of church and state, the Two Swords Doctrine. It was not clear who would rule.
The Protestant Reformation (1517 to 1648) was the division of the Catholic church into other sects in order to counter the abuses of the church. It was started by Martin Luther and the Calvinists aided by the invention of the printing press. The church tried to reform itself by the council of Trent, but the change had been started. The result was war and an agreement in France to let Catholic and Calvinists participate in government and the military. This gave rise to the first secular state in later to nationalism, which made religious organizations subservient to the state. The 16th century English Reformation started when Henry VIII broke with the Catholic church when he wanted a divorse. There was a Parlament that gave the people som influence on the king.
The Enlightenment (1650 to 1780) centered around England and France. Protestant theologians were making scientific inquiry which caused industry to advance. Aguste Comte (1798 to 1857) was the first philosopher of science with his doctrine of positivism. Philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes (1588 to 1679), John Locke (1632 to 1704), and Jean-Jacques Rouseau (1712 to 1778) developed the idea of the social contract. Jeremy Bentham (1746 to 1832) started Utilitarianism which argued against slavery, for the separation of church and state, for individual and economic freedom, for collective bargaining, and for rights for women. John Stuart Mill (1806 to 1873) continued advocating Bentham's ideas. He advocated Liberty and became the most important English philosopher of the 19th century. There was turmoil until 1689 when the Parliament adopted the English Bill of Rights.
The American constitution (as influenced by James Madison's Federalist paper #40) was written and further developed with England as an example. The American government has evolved to a nation that tries to make every person in the country have a tolerable living standard.
Is this the end of political evolution?
The idea of a social contract is good as long as there are resources to provide the needs of everyone. The secular stagnation that the world is now experiencing, along with work automation that might limit gainful employment, depletion of resources such as food and water, climate change that might make a large part of the earth unlivable, and increasing population may mean that it will not be possible to keep this type of social contract.
One might wonder if some type of fascism might occur which will forcibly allocate resources and limit population that is not needed. The economic hard times in the first half of the 20th century illustrate how quickly society can break down when there is severe stresss. It took almost all of the 20th century to right the wrongs of communism and fascism. There is no guarantee that a similar stress due the the foregoing causes might not result in the same type of societal behavior.
Another possibility is that an apocalyptic nuclear war might push the reset button on civilization. This possibility is currently critical because of the clash between western civilization and Islam.
I am optimistic because human beings have been unexpectedly innovative over the course of history, especially in the last 300 years. I am betting that this trend will continue. In fact, the change might be already underway in which the younger generation apparently like living in cities, sharing resources like cars, and being continuously connected to the Internet. This could mean that people are optimizing the use of resources today. I think that government policy could promote this trend. See my posts.
MINIMUM BASIC INCOME
LIMITING WEALTH ACCUMULATION
SHAPE-SHIFTING EMPLOYMENT - FREE AGENCY
THE INTERNET, A PARADIGM SHIFT IN LEARNING
ZERO MARGINAL COST AND UNEMPLOYMENT
THE SECOND MACHINE AGE AND STAGNATION
GENETIC ENGINEERING 2014
SOYLENT AS A BLACK SWAN FOR FOOD
FUSION POWER AS A BLACK SWAN FOR POTABLE WATER
GLOBAL WARMING AS A BLACK SWAN FOR SURVIVAL
It is clear to me that the evolution of politics is not over.
Last updated February 23, 2015
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