June 20, 2022

Updated: Jul 29

Republic. Don't hold your breath? Two figures Polybius (d.118 B.C.) and Aristotle (d.322 B.C.) established a debate still unresolved to this day and constantly voiced by people whether they know it or not. Anti-Establishment and Anti-Corruption are the heart of the debate. I am not an expert on Polybius and Aristotle. Therefore, I could not exactly point out where some of what I am going to say is exactly what came from either of the two only or are based on either of the two influenced by later thinkers with a sprinkle of my own opinion. Important distinctions to make, but now onto the substance of the post.


What is interesting is Polybius and Aristotle do not find themselves on the opposing sides all the time in the debate. Then what is the debate? Aristotle had more hope than Polybius. Yes, hope is a good thing, but what if it is false hope; a hope that never happens. What is the hope? A hope for justice. Polybius did not hold stock in the hope for some lasting justice; it was a pipedream. Do not write off Aristotle just yet, because since he hopes for justice he is acknowledging, or leaving room for, the current existence of injustice, which is what Polybius would also consider to be the current state of affairs. They both considered justice also exists. So, it gets complicated, which has everything to do with life itself - that complicated thing we live.


Both Aristotle and Polybius understood society to be a republic. It is why China is called the People's Republic, or why England is a republic, though U.S. citizens might yelp - no they have still have a queen! A republic consists of one, few, many. There is an individual in a republic: one. There are a few who are more culturally invested. The republic has many people. I understand what I mentioned about "few" may be too ambiguous a definition at this point for some, because the one and many can also be very culturally invested.

A republic has a government. The government mirrors the people unless distorted by corruption. Since the government is an institution that governs a people both Aristotle and Polybius acknowledged the best government is a government that best mirrors the people. Everything about the people: their motives, aspirations, goals, needs, culture, traditions, movements of change, etc. are best achieved under good governance, as opposed to a bad one. Less or more governance on any one thing is either considered good or bad. There are smaller or larger distortions reflecting any degree of problems making the government better or worse at representing the people. To be Anti-Establishment, is to want to rid the corruption caused by the one, few, and/or many. The painting of an lilac flower may be more or less beautiful, may be more or less accurately represented.



Since a one, few, many exist in a population of a governed people, then a government always, according to both Aristotle and Polybius, possesses a representative one, few, many to be a good mirror. It may be earlier understandings, like Aristotle's and Polybius', thought the government would cycle through the ruler being at any one point in time either a government with one ruler, few rulers, many rulers. What I do know is by the time of the founding of the U.S. the thought developed in acknowledging all three: one, few, many, always are ruling at the same time - hence (1) allow for all three to be officially represented in government, so that the (2) checks and balances take place, the thought was more orderly in the government instead of a less orderly, violence in the streets. In other words, the one, few, or many may not hold official governments positions at any one point in time, especially if there is corruption not giving any one of these official recognition in governmental affairs. Yet, whether official or not, the society has leaders.


A republic, according to Aristotle and Polybius, is the only form of government. Even if we are talking about tribes of people or colossal empires, all societies of people have leaders who more or less mirror the general population, which consists of a one, few, many. A hereditary or elected sole leader represents the individual: the one, for example a king, president, or prime minister. The hereditary or elected few are, for example aristocrats or senators. For many, they are, for example a Direct Democracy, House of Commons, or House of Representatives.


There is more I could say, but this post needs to end. It is getting too long. The United States of America's republic is derived from Aristotle, Polybius, developed further in the northern Italian city-state during the Renaissance, and then further in the 17th C. republic movement in England. Hence, Western Civilization. Since the debate centered on the hope of justice remains unresolved today, the tension from the debate remains within society not merely cerebrally but experientially, not just in thought but tasks made with our hands. Aristotle knew to maintain a stable, uncorrupted republic, justice must be dealt. Polybius agreed, but resolved justice is never maintained, thus corruption takes root in society, justice will overcome, but to only fall prey to corruption, once again; it is cyclical. Aristotle held the hope for an orderly society to finally check and balance corruption; not a utopia, because corruption happens but justice will act. Polybius held justice will root out corruption, but society may not remain as orderly as Aristotle hoped as the republic tries to rid the corruption. Officially or unofficially the one, few, or many (or alliances between any two) check and balance the republic. The hope by any Aristotelian republic is justice can be orderly exacted, but Polybius would probably say don't hold your breath. What do you think?


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