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Book: Leadership, Social Memory and Judean Discourse in the Fifth - Second Centuries BCE

Chapter: The Three Constitutions in Greek Political Thought

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.26815


Stemming from an interest in constitutionalism in the Greek world dating from the archaic period (ca. 800–500 BCE), this chapter is concerned with the development of the abstraction in Greek political thought of the three constitutions, the rule of the one, the rule of the few, and the rule of the many, which by the fifth century was formalized in terms on monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. It will then consider how this notion of three constitutions was taken forward in the fourth century BCE, in the first instance in terms of positive and negative types, but then in terms of the mixed constitution, in which various combinations of the three basic types were combined in order to create another form of ruling that could ensure social harmony. This chapter will also reflect upon the role of social and political memory to creating these idealized forms of political organization. It will conclude by arguing that the abstraction of constitutions played an important part in the ability (and need) to critique "governance" in the Greek world.

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