Imperial Examinations (Keju) for Government Service in Ancient China

The Chinese civil service system later served as a model for the civil-service systems elsewhere. Introduction The Imperial examinations or Keju (Traditional Chinese: 科舉; pinyin: kējǔ), were an essential part of the Chinese government administration from their introduction in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E.) until they were abolished during Qing attempts at[…]

The Limits of Victorian Federalism

English writers found federalism attractive because it seemed a solution to the problems posed by Europe’s emerging nationalities. Abstract In 1863, Edward Augustus Freeman published the first volume of his History of Federal Government, a study of ancient Greek federalism under the Achaean League. Though unknown today, Freeman was the most enthusiastic advocate of the[…]

A History of Federalism in the United States

Federalism was a political solution for the problems with the Articles of Confederation giving little authority to the federal government. Introduction Federalism in the United States is the constitutional division of power between U.S. state governments and the federal government of the United States. Since the founding of the country, and particularly with the end[…]

The Concept of the General Will: Writings of Rousseau, Sièyes, and Robespierre

A comparison of the concept of the “general will” in revolutionary France. Introduction The concept of the General Will – as expressed by the French term volonté générale -was developed in the seventeenth century by writers such as Arnauld, Pascal, Malebranche, Fenélon, Bayle, and Leibniz in a theological context to mean the “general will of[…]

The Evolution of Federalism in the United States

The period between 1819 and the 1860s had the national government and the states in a push and pull working out a design. Introduction The Constitution sketches a federal framework that aims to balance the forces of decentralized and centralized governance in general terms; it does not flesh out standard operating procedures that say precisely[…]

A History of the Notion of the ‘Divine Right of Kings’

Only divine authority can judge unjust monarchs and any attempt to depose, dethrone, or restrict their powers runs contrary to God’s will. Introduction The divine right of kings, divine right, or God’s mandate is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It stems from a specific metaphysical framework in which the king[…]

Dissent and Democracy in American History

What forms has dissent taken in U.S. history? What is the role of dissent in a representative democracy? Introduction What is dissent? What role has dissent played in the development of American democracy? The Oxford English Dictionary helps us begin to answer the first question. The OED defines dissent as “difference of opinion or sentiment;[…]

A History of Oligarchy and Plutocracy since Ancient Greece

When nobles and wealthy members of communities reigned supreme. Introduction Oligarchy is a form of government in which political power effectively rests with a small, elite segment of society. The term was used by Aristotle to refer to despotic power exercised by a small and privileged group for often corrupt or selfish purposes. In most[…]

Anti-Statism in U.S. History

Why have some perceived the State as a threat? How has anti-statist thought changed over time? Introduction The United States came into being through a colonial revolt against the British monarchy and, ever since, Americans have remained uneasy about the power of the State, or centralized, national government. From the eighteenth century on, American intellectual[…]

Civil Service Examinations in Ancient and Medieval Imperial China

The exams were in place for over a thousand years and are the principal reason why education is still particularly revered in Chinese culture today. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction The civil service examinations of Imperial China allowed the state to find the best candidates to staff the vast bureaucracy that governed China from the Han[…]

The Pre-Revolutionary Period and the Roots of the American Political Tradition

It was not new ideas but old ones that led the colonists to revolt and form a new nation. Political Thought in the American Colonies American political ideas regarding liberty and self-government did not suddenly emerge full-blown at the moment the colonists declared their independence from Britain. The varied strands of what became the American[…]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Social Contract Tradition

Rousseau is both one of the greatest advocates and most profound critics of the social contract tradition. By Nicola-Ann Hardwick “Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains” (Rousseau, 20072: 28). This conspicuous paradox between liberty and human oppression is reflected in Rousseau’s entire politico-moral philosophy and so it is no surprise that[…]

Tyranny, Democracy, and the Polity: Aristotle’s Politics

Aristotle argued that there were six general ways in which societies could be organized under political rule. The Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that questions of the state, how it should be organized, and how it should pursue its ends, were fundamental to the achievement of happiness. His text Politics is an exploration of different types of state[…]

Aristotle’s ‘Constitution of the Athenians’

Ancient accounts of Aristotle credit him with 170 Constitutions of various states. Introduction The Constitution of the Athenians is a work by Aristotle or one of his students. The work describes the constitution of Classical Athens, commonly called the Areopagite constitution. It was preserved on two leaves of a papyrus codex discovered at Oxyrhynchus, Egypt[…]

Ancient Roman Censors: Moral Monitors, Population Counters, Tax Collectors

Censors were elected every four or five years by the comitia centuriata, the assembly of Rome with a wealth qualification for members. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction A censor was one of two senior magistrates in the city of ancient Rome who supervised public morals, maintained the list of citizens and their tax obligations known as[…]

A Message Too Far: The House Reprimand of Theodore Roosevelt in 1909

Only four representatives dared to speak up in his defense. The Speech Laughter flooded the House Chamber, rising from both sides of the floor and cascading down from the crowded galleries. Atop the marble rostrum Speaker Joseph G. Cannon of Illinois, looking to regain order, banged his gavel so hard that he cracked the top[…]

National Politics and the Populist Party at the End of the Nineteenth Century

From the perspective of farmers, the legal system was being commandeered by attorneys representing railroads and trusts. Rise of the Populist Party During the 1880s, farmer’s collective organizations known as the Grange declined, as did the Greenback Party. However, the twin ideals of monetary reform and legislation beneficial to farmers were carried on by a[…]

Losing Sight of Jefferson and Falling into Plato

Thomas Jefferson was aware of the pitfalls of democracy and never believed in the “pure democracy” scorned by Plato. Many professors at higher-level academic institutions profess to be practitioners of a Socratic method of teaching, which is a method of students arriving at understanding by a teacher “pestering” them with probing questions that lead to self-searching. Many, if not[…]

Administrative and Government Buildings of the Roman Forum

A highly important function of the Forum Romanum was as a center of administration and politics. The Roman Forum (Forum Romanum) was the main and central forum of the city of Rome. It became the economic, political, and religious center of the city in early Republican times, around the seventh century BCE. It continued to be[…]

Rule of Law as the Measure of Political Legitimacy in the Ancient Greek City-States

The ideal was formulated in the Archaic period and became a feature of Greek identity. Abstract This paper explores how a conception of the rule of law (embodied in a variety of legal and political institutions) came to affirm itself in the world of the ancient Greek city states. It argues that such a conception,[…]

Elections in the Ancient Roman Republic

During the Roman Republic the citizens would elect almost all officeholders annually. Introduction Elections in the Roman Republic were an essential part to its governance, with participation only being afforded to Roman citizens. Upper class interests, centered in the urban political environment of cities, often trumped the concerns of the diverse and disunified lower class;[…]

The Oligarchic Coup in Athens, 411 BCE

The movement toward oligarchy was led by a number of prominent and wealthy Athenians. Introduction The Athenian coup of 411 BC was the result of a revolution that took place during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. The coup overthrew the democratic government of ancient Athens and replaced it with a short-lived oligarchy known[…]

Demos and Kratos: People and Power in Ancient Athens

Athenian democracy was indeed a direct democracy, but not for everybody. By Georgios Mavropalias A sequence of events allowed the birth of democracy in ancient Athens; the reforms of Solon which weakened the aristocracy and redefined citizenship, their reinstatement by Cleisthenes after the oligarchy reemerged, and the shrinkage of the power of Areopagus by Ephialtes,[…]

A History of Political Parties in the United States

The winning supporters of ratification of the Constitution were called Federalists and the opponents were called Anti-Federalists. The First Political Parties: Federalists and Anti-Federalists Overview The winning supporters of ratification of the Constitution were called Federalists, the opponents were called Anti-Federalists. The Federalist Era was a period in American history from roughly 1789-1801 when the[…]

The First Party System in the Early American Republic

By 1796 politics in every state was nearly monopolized by two parties, with party newspapers and caucuses becoming especially effective tools to mobilize voters. Introduction The First Party System is a model of American politics used in history and political science to periodize the political party system that existed in the United States between roughly[…]

A (Very) Brief History of Government since the Graeco-Roman World

One of the reasons humans prefer an organized government is that we’ve had them for thousands of years. Introduction For much of human history, people seem to prefer to live in organized groups. These groups took different forms in different times and places, but generally there seems always to have been a process by which[…]

Ancient Persian Governors

Persian governors and the satrapy system established the paradigm recognizable in the present day of a central government. Introduction The Achaemenid Persian Empire functioned as well as it did because of the efficient bureaucracy established by its founder Cyrus the Great (r. c. 550-530 BCE) which was administered through the satrapy system. A Persian governor of[…]