'Set an example...or else...!'

Leaders should lead by example, namely, governments rule in the interests of their people and the values and that the people wish them to guard as part of their time in power, without flaunting the distinctions of rank; the people (well, a majority at least, however small) thus feel that they have a leader who understands their needs and concerns, is not exploiting them. and who sincerely shows concerns for what matters to them Whether they have perceived this correctly or not, or whether one generation honours their values and the next does not, the people are willingly behind them. The undoing comes when a leader or leading group is perceived as out of touch, exploitative, or concerned with their own luxurious display and aggrandizement to such an extent that their duty to the people and maintenance of the values for which their rule is supported have been not only neglected, but essentially forgotten.


In the wake of recent news items the topic for the Classical Thought for the Day should not come as a surprise. The basic principle outlines above formed an important part of several ancient political theories.. In his Politics, Aristotle voices the following sentiment:

'Kings are protected by their people, tyrants by mercenaries from their people.'


This powerful principle lay behind the evolution of six different terms for different types of government. The most basic division of government was by number: the one, the few, and the many. However, this threefold distinction became six as each basic type split into the good and bad types. The labels varied slightly between authors, but the principle remained the same. The nature of the ruling element's conduct determined whether the government was a good type or bad type. I shall take the terms used by Polybius, the Greek historian, since he uses terms generally familiar to us nowadays:


Basic Type The Good The Bad (and the Ugly)

Number in charge

One Kingship Tyranny


Few Aristocracy Oligarchy

Many/Majority Democracy Ochlocracy


Combination mixed-politeia mixed-politeia

(with traits of the (with traits of the

good types) bad types)



This might look schematic, but that is down to my presentation of Polybius' theory. He is well-aware that determine whether a government was of a good or bad type was not an easy task. A society might look like the 'good' version, but scratch the surface, expose the flaws, and it certainly is not the good type in reality.


The flaws that tip the good types into the bad types take on a slightly different form in each scenario, but fundamentally stem from the same flaws in human nature: greed leading to luxurious indulgence, comfort leading to arrogance, ambition, and even aggression (in pursuit of reckless want). Ultimately, all bad ruling elements, taking their position for granted, exploit their position, forgetful of or caring little for why they or their predecessors earned that position in the process. The angry, exploited people withdrawal their support, seeking an alternative. Most dangerous perhaps for Polybius was the decline of democracy into mob-rule, where the people become riven with faction, interest groups, spurred on by resentment of an ambitious few and whipped up by the populists. Once in motion, it could not be stopped.


I shall end briefly by mentioning the mixed-politeia. In reality, both then and nowadays, most countries' governments are not a straightforward simple type. Human beings are rather too complex. The UK could be more fairly described a mixed-politeia. It is not straightforwardly a democracy, but rather possesses democratic learning in terms of functioning, yes. Which other traits it displays, i shall leave to your own reflection. I close with some food for thought from Polybius on what the decline of a mixed-politeia might look like:


"When a state has weathered many trials and subsequently attains to supremacy or has achieved independence, it is evident that under the influence of long established prosperity, life will become more extravagant and the citizens more fierce in their rivalry regarding office and other objects than they ought to be. As these defects go on increasing, the beginning of the change for the worse will be due to love of office and the disgrace entailed by obscurity, as well as to extravagance and purse-proud display; and for this change the populace will be responsible when on the one hand they think they have a grievance against certain people who have shown themselves grasping, and when, on the other hand, they are puffed up by the flattery of others who aspire to office. For now, stirred to fury and swayed by passion in all their counsels, they will no longer consent to obey or even to be the equals of the ruling caste, but will demand the lion's share for themselves. When this happens, the state will change its name to the finest sounding of all, freedom and democracy, but will change its nature to the worst thing of all, mob-rule."


(https://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Polybius/6*.html Paton's Loeb, now in the public domain).


Does this sound familiar? I open the discussion to you all.






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