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On Politics: Aristotle, Cicero and Polybius

[This is a summary of our discussion of chapters 3 and 4 of Alan Ryan’s On Politics. It was written by Jotun Hein]

Aristotle: Politics is not Philosophy [40 pages]

I still find the book a bit hard to discuss as much of it is a narrative so one has to extract concepts. But it was fun to talk about Aristotle more emperical approach, his invocation of what was natural in explanation of who should be a slave, the role women. He hand many considerations on how to avoid Stasis/Gridlock.
Aristotle clearly loves to classify – constututions, animals and causes. From modern perspective some can see naïve but 2 millenea ago, this empiricial curiousity was radical. Bertrand Russell (that Alan Ryan calls one of his role models) called Aristotle overrated, but said it wasn’t Aristotles fault.

Cicero and Polybius [30 Pages]

Again interesting with interesting observations on what was the casue of the success of Rome, the nature of a good constitution, an optimal wealth distribution, checks and balances, the advantages of a mixed constutution. Cicero’ emphasis that an unjust law is not a law.
Given the amount of turmoil/coups/executions in Roman history, I would have had little inclination to study the principles garanteeing an ideal state had I lived then.
Since these two are early in Rome, the could only comment on the first 1/3 or Romes history.

I didn’t know Cicero had hands and head cut off and placed outside the Senate.

Although the book is long, several thinkers are not mentioned: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Plotinus. It would also have been interesting to know more about non-western views to politics. But the book is already a 1000 pages.

The amount of texts that have been lost and where we only have fragmentary knowledge is truly frustrating. Most of Polybius large history of Rome [Rise of the Roman Empire] has been lost. At least 3 works related to politics – On Duties, On the Republic, On the Laws – have survived. If somebody knows a book on the genealogies of such manuscripts it would be fun to read.

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