By W. M. Spellman
This short narrative survey of political inspiration during the last millennia explores key principles that experience formed Western political traditions.
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Additional resources for A Short History of Western Political Thought
Unfairly identified as a self-indulgent hedonist by later generations, Epicurus doubted that humans could obtain real knowledge of the world of atoms around them and instead counseled the pursuit of insights that would advance both individual happiness and mutual friendships. His followers defended themselves as principled proponents of physical and emotional well-being and a quiet life within political communities they could no longer influence. The pursuit of fame, power, and wealth, they believed, was insatiable and always ended in frustration and misery.
The formation of this body of legal precedent testified to the need for common regulations to govern relations between faraway strangers, and Roman magistrates became key figures in implementing these laws in the provinces. Under Augustus the provinces 24 A Short History of Western Political Thought were organized for the first time with some regard to the welfare of the inhabitants, further legitimizing the adoption of comprehensive law codes. And while it may be fair to say that there were few exceptional or systematic thinkers during the long centuries of the Roman Republic and Empire, there were numerous important contributors in jurisprudence, ethics, and administration.
So too the fear of angry, interventionist gods did nothing but sap humankind’s strength to live healthy, balanced lives. 29 The leading Roman Epicurean was Lucretius (c. 96–c. 55 BCE), an atheist who pursued the goal of philosophical tranquility in his work On the Nature of Things. In a world of near constant political and military strife, the highest good, not to mention freedom from anxiety, could be realized only by living a simple “unnoticed” life, one that excluded political activity. Epicureans paired a minimum commitment to the state in the interest of maintaining peace and civil order with a heightened sense of individual autonomy and self-interest.
A Short History of Western Political Thought by W. M. Spellman