Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Roman Stoic Philosophy

Roman stoics believed defined their religious principles as Logic, Physics, and Ethics.

-Logic says we cannot know anything outside our senses.
-Physics says the world is material and knowledge comes from a sense of material things.
-Ethics says the essentail nature of human beings is reason. Virtue is life according to reason.

There are four virtures; wisdom, justice, courage, and temperance.

Wisdom is the ability to perceive what is real along with its relationships, causes, and consequences. Justice is respect for the property and rights of individuals. Courage is the ability to accept fortune for what it is. Soberness regulates the natural appetites so they are neither in excess or defect.

Stoic sayings:

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing but your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to remove at any moment.

When I have good fortune, I will not make too much of it and I will remain detached from it. If I have bad fortune, the same will apply.

Monday, November 10, 2008

America - Republic or Democracy?

The definition of a republic in the minds of the founding fathers was, "a guarantee of liberty for the people offset by limited power of government". They felt it was essential for these two forces to be kept in balance for the stability of the political system. Too much liberty leads to a corrupt government, while too much government destroys liberty.

The founders were afraid of a pure democracy because giving everyone the right to vote would allow a majority to trample on the rights of the majority. This would occur when evil men incited the people by harnessing their emotions. To avoid this problem, certain controls were removed from the people.

The president and members of the senate were selected by officials of each state and not by the people. In addition, those without property could not vote. The property requirement was relaxed over time so that by 1850, all white male citizens could vote. Popular vote for senators was not established until 1910.

Both of these controls were taken from the Roman republican model.

U.S. Government Modelled after Roman Republic

You many not realize that the United States government was modelled after the Roman republic, which lasted some 450 years. The branches of the Roman republican government included a senate, assembly (House of Representatives), and consul (President). The executive branch had two consuls instead of a single executive. Consuls where elected simultaneously for one year, and were each given veto power over each other to avoid an accumulation of power.

Our founding fathers debated various aspects of the structures of the branches including whether there should be two presidents. Some felt a single president was essentially a king, while others thought that having two presidents would make each of them too weak to balance a strong legislature. In the end, those worried about the president having too much power were mollified by controls placed on the method of electing the president and his term of office.

Polybius - Cycle of Governments

Polybius was a famous Greek historian who developed a theory of the cycle of governments. He believed that all governments change over time in response to the forces of human behavior. The section below describes his view on how democracies turn into dictatorships.

When a new generation arises and the democracy falls into the hands of the grandchildren of its founders, they have become so accustomed to freedom and equality that they no longer value them, and begin to aim at pre-eminence; and it is chiefly those of ample fortune who fall into this error. So when they begin to lust for power and cannot attain it through themselves or their own good qualities, they ruin their estates, tempting and corrupting the people in every possible way. And hence when by their foolish thirst for reputation they have created among the masses an appetite for gifts and the habit of receiving them, democracy in its turn is abolished and changes into a rule of force and violence. For the people, having grown accustomed to feed at the expense of others and to depend for their livelihood on the property of others, as soon as they find a leader who is enterprising but is excluded from the houses of office by his penury, institute the rule of violence; and now uniting their forces massacre, banish, and plunder, until they degenerate again into perfect savages and find once more a master and monarch. (Book 6 Chapter 2)