A Short History of Western Political Thought by W. M. Spellman

By W. M. Spellman

This short narrative survey of political idea during the last millennia explores key principles that experience formed Western political traditions.

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This enormous undertaking resulted in a body of civil law known as the Corpus iuris civilis. The final work heavily reflected the more authoritarian tone of the later Roman Empire, and when it was reintroduced into Western Europe during the course of the twelfth century it served as a counterweight to Germanic customary law. All temporal authority is of divine origin, and all imperial laws are sacred and everlasting: This was the overarching message of the Corpus iuris, and church authorities were ill-prepared to contest the formulation.

23 This generic observation, cutting across rich and poor, oligarchs and democrats, further strengthened the defense of mixed constitutions where abuse of power is controlled by the fact that no one class (or individual) can act without the approval of the others. The social contract state, where government serves to defend the rights of citizens against one another, and against the state, was anathema to both Plato and Aristotle. Theirs was vision of the state as the agent of the good life, where the definition of what constitutes such a life is informed by rightly constituted laws, an educated citizenry, and community-minded legislators.

In answer to the question why one should obey the state, Augustine answered that obedience makes possible a focus on the really important business of life, the abandonment of distractions within the world, and compliance with the will of God. Here was a perspective very much removed from the common assumptions of the classical Greek mind, a perspective that would come to dominate the political consciousness of Western Europe for the next millennium. The advent of natural law theory The Greek polis had both encouraged and celebrated particularism.

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