James Madison and the Origins of Partisanship in the United States

Critics argue that Congress has become the “broken branch” of government, marked by extreme partisanship and few achievements. They prescribe nostrums ranging from campaign finance regulation to redistricting reform to foster compromise rather than conflict on Capitol Hill. Yet the American founders, especially James Madison, believed “ambition must be made to counteract ambition” as a way[…]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Friends and Influences on and of His ‘Social Contract’

Some of the people he has influenced don’t even realize it. When I was finishing a biography of Jean-Jacques Rousseau some years ago, I was struck by the comment of someone who had known him: “the friends of Rousseau are as though related to each other through his soul, which has joined them across countries,[…]

Ethical Advice for Nobles and Civil Servants in Ancient China

Confucius looked to “the wisdom of the ancients” and a “return to li”. Introduction The teachings and writings of Confucius (551–479 BCE; also called Kung Fu Tzu or Master Kung) not only have endured more than two and a half millennia but have influenced Chinese culture to such a degree that they remain part of[…]

Equaliberty: Notes on the Thought of Étienne Balibar

Balibar’s ‘portmanteau’ invites us to invent a ‘politics against politics’. Introduction It could be asserted that the spectre of Equaliberty (Égaliberté) has haunted Étienne Balibar’s work for decades. Early connotations avant-la-lettre can be found in his concept of citizenship as ‘temporary equilibrium’ (Balibar 1988: 724)—a key structural condition that also underpins ‘equaliberty’. The notion itself[…]

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[…]

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[…]

“Divide et Impera”: A History of “Divide and Rule”

The use of this technique is meant to empower the sovereign to control subjects who collectively might be able to oppose his rule. Introduction Divide and rule (from Latin divide et impera), or divide and conquer, in  politics and sociology is gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the[…]

The Rise of the Ancient Greek Polis (City-State)

Greek city-states developed different forms of governance with very different political structures and strengths. The Emergence of the Polis The territory of Greece is mountainous; as a result, ancient Greece consisted of many smaller regions, each with its own dialect, cultural peculiarities, and identity. Regionalism and regional conflicts were a prominent feature of ancient Greece.[…]

Thomas Jefferson’s Fear of Monarchism (and Hume)

Thomas Jefferson was deeply distrustful of the potential abuses of monarchy. By Dr. M. Andrew Holowchak To Benjamin Hawkins (4 Aug. 1787), Jefferson derides monarchy by relating Aesop’s tale of frogs who wished for a king. Zeus sent them a large block of wood that floated in their pond. At first placated, they grew angry and[…]

From the “National” to the Political Consciousness in 6th Century BCE Athens

Constructing a “national” identity of the Athenian inhabitants during the tyrannical governance of Peisistratos and his sons. This paper addresses the construction of a “national” identity of the Athenian inhabitants during the tyrannical governance of Peisistratos and his sons (561/0-511/0 BCE)[1] mainly through a series of religious practices, such as the transfer of cults from[…]