Over the past several months this web log has focused on current events and in particular, the war in Iraq and its harrowing consequences to the American public. The original intent though was to add a bit more perspective within the political sphere through a historical lens.
A day late and a dollar short, but here goes the first back-to-basics post. Personally, I have been reading several political philosophy books in order to learn a bit more on the subject, and to add depth to my own reactions and understandings in current events.
Almost finished is the book, Political Thought: From Plato to the Present, by M. Judd Harmon (1964). In it the author traces some of the more important philosophical figures within the political realm. Many of the names are quite familiar, but it has been quite some time since a connection between their political philosophies and the times in which they were developed crossed before my eyes. I will try to pick up similar books in the future that offer different perspectives yet the read has been quite a good one so far.
What has struck me so far is the progress made in the 16th through 18th centuries for the advancement of democracy. While no one form of government arrived out of whole cloth from the mind of any single person, you can see a shift occur as one era passes to the next. With the connection of organized religion to nation states and the requisite power-sharing, to the eventual independent and powerful monarchical systems of Europe, and the current climate of sovereign peoples electing a representative form of government, the transition is astounding.
It reminds me that questioning the status quo is precisely the trait that has continually served mankind for the better. Where would civilization be without that need to know right from wrong, what is good and what is not; it makes the species evolve politically speaking.
Secondary to this is the extreme difficulty of getting to the point of self-rule. It has never been that a people have cleverly united and divided lands into states, and agreed on which style of confederation they liked best. It is the slowness of the process that allows the individuals to coalesce into a whole, to choose the next best path forward, and stand by the agreement. It can be no small task to match customs, cultures, and belief systems to achieve harmony, let alone prosperity and unity.
It reinforces my own personal belief that a people must want the form of government they have. Whether that be a dictatorship, a monarch, or a republic. No one form is guaranteed to work for all societies and each has its own form of penalties and risks.
And finally, a passing thought tied to a contemporary issue. Within the United States there is an ongoing controversy regarding the display of religious artifacts, most notably the Ten Commandments. When a father leans over to a child and tells the little son or daughter that the commandments are the basis for our own government, they should be immediately pointed to a library and given Book XI of Montesquieu's "The Spirit of the Laws". They may be surprised to find many more similarities between Motesquieu's writings and our own Constitution than exist in commandments about idols and neighbors.
More to come.