The Foundations of Western Political Thought



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The Foundations of Western Political Thought

The Greco-Roman Roots of American Politics

From: Nicole Gilbertson, 2014

History Standards: 10.1.2

Trace the development of the Western political ideas of the rule of law and illegitimacy of tyranny, using selections from Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics.



CCSS Standards: Reading, Grade 9-10

1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Writing, Grade 9-10

2. Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

9. Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Guiding Question:

Why are the concepts of rule of law and the illegitimacy of tyranny significant for our understanding of Western political thought?



Overview of Lesson:
Significance and the Foundations of Western Political Thought
In California, the Modern World History curriculum begins with a study of the intellectual foundations of Western political thought. The standards require students to understand “selections from Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics” and the role that these ideas have on the making of our political system. By starting the academic year with this emphasis on Western liberal thought, the standards set up a narrative that will allow students to explore the development of liberal democracies, the growing inclusion of these political systems, and a comparison between these and other dominant political philosophies of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Teachers often find this standard challenging to integrate into a course that is otherwise very chronological. Given the drive of the standards to privilege the model of Western liberal democracies (and capitalist economies), this lesson allows teachers to begin the course by asking students, “Why are these ideas significant for our understanding of Western political thought?”
The lesson begins with a brief overview and definition of Western political thought and the role of laws in the development of our constitutional system. Teachers may want to provide this information through direct instruction or have students read it independently and follow up questions through whole group discussion. For more information on this topic and secondary source articles aimed at students, teachers may want to visit Constitutional Rights Foundation, Bill of Rights in Action, Fall 2010 (Volume 26, No. 1) found at: http://www.crf-usa.org/bill-of-rights-in-action/ The lesson will then engage students in primary source readings and require them to use this as evidence to respond to the guiding question. Through a written response students will articulate their evidence-based understandings of the significance of the concepts of rule of law and tyranny for Western political thought.
The Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts initiates the exploration into historical thinking with a consideration of significance. Seixas and Morton suggest that, teachers and students should discuss what is important, or significant, when studying history. Part of deciding what is significant highlights how we make choices about what we should study in the history classroom. The authors argue that, “Significance depends upon one’s perspective and purpose. A historical person or event can acquire significance if we, the historians, can link it to larger trends and stories that reveal something important for us today.”1 The consideration of whether something is revealing is largely based on contemporary concerns and priorities. Therefore, focusing on the significance of Plato and Aristotle’s writings allows us to consider how these ideas have been employed by political thinkers in modern political systems. This requires students to examine the sources themselves to consider how the ideas of rule of law and illegitimacy of tyranny have been used by political thinkers in the founding of our nation.
Historical Investigation Questions

  • Why are the concepts of rule of law and the illegitimacy of tyranny significant for our understanding of Western political thought?

Source Set (input)

  • Proposed Seal for the United States

  • Excerpt from Plato’s The Republic

  • Excerpt from Aristotle’s The Politics

Procedures in Brief (process)

  • Students learn about Western political thought.

  • Students analyze the Proposed Seal for the United States to understand the perspective of early American political leaders.

  • Students read excerpts from Plato’s The Republic and Aristotle’s The Politics to understand how these thinkers presented their ideas about tyranny and rule of law.

  • After reading the primary sources, students consider a secondary source interpretation on the topic.


Assessment (output)

  • Students develop their own definition of tyranny based on their readings and explain how this concept and the notion of the rule of law are important for Western political thought. In two paragraphs, students answer the focus question: Why are the concept of rule of law and the illegitimacy of tyranny significant for our understanding of Western political thought?


Additional Literacy Scaffolds: As teachers move English learners and low-literacy students towards independence, they may wish to use some or all of these additional literacy supports with their students:

  • Pared-down primary source excerpts

  • Graphic organizer

  • Paragraph Frames

Introductory Information

One of the turning points of the modern world includes the intellectual and political movements associated with the development of liberal representative government, or Western political thought. During the period of the Enlightenment, men and women in kingdoms and colonies spanning the Atlantic world engaged in discussions about what constituted the ideal state. Many of these people believed that the absolute authority of the Crown in places like France and Spain and their colonies was tyrannical and this institution, along with the Catholic Church, needed to be reformed. Other thinkers, particularly in the American colonies, saw the liberties of the freedom of the press and (very) limited representative government in Britain as something that should be expanded. With these conversations and eventual political action came the development of Western political thought.



Western political thought encompasses an emphasis on liberty of the individual to engage in public life for the improvement of himself (all citizens were male in the eighteenth and nineteenth century) and society. In order for these independent individuals to participate in public life, they needed to be governed by laws that affected everyone equally. This concern with the rule of law, a system of laws that extends to everyone in the state equally regardless of class, is a direct response to the absolute authority of the king. Enlightenment thinkers were very critical of the ability of the Crown to:

  1. create laws for certain groups of people and exclude himself and other aristocrats from obeying the law,

  2. not be responsible to an independent group of judges who made legal decisions based on the law.

This arbitrary use of power was seen as tyranny, an illegitimate form of government, which could only be addressed with the rule of law. Historian Gordon Woods argues that in the 1760’s and 1770’s American colonial leaders imagined the British king as a corrupt tyrant who subverted people’s liberty. He suggests that this led to a flourishing of texts defining examples of tyranny. Americans spread ideas about this illegitimate authority and argued for resistance to the British Crown. These American intellectuals, like other Enlightenment thinkers, referred to texts from philosophers in previous centuries and decades to learn more about tyranny and ways to create a more just government. Two of the most important thinkers on the topic of tyranny and the rule of law were the Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. Like the Enlightenment thinkers and American revolutionaries, we will read excerpts from these two philosophers to better develop our understanding of tyranny and how to best govern. By reading the texts that the Enlightenment thinkers read, we will have a deeper understanding of the ideas that are the foundations of Western political thought.

SOURCE 1: Proposed Seal for the United States

Background: On July 4, 1776, Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams "to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America." Although Franklin and Jefferson both often argued for the separation of religion from the state, they proposed a seal that included imagery from the Bible. This included a description of a scene from the biblical story of Exodus where the Jewish people escaped from the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The image includes the parting of the Red Sea, where the people confronted the tyrant in order to gain their freedom. Jefferson's revision of Franklin's proposal was presented by the committee to Congress on August 20. Although not accepted, these drafts reveal the importance of religion during the Revolutionary period. Artist Benson Lossing used the Founder’s description to create an image of the proposed seal below, published in Harper’s in July, 1956.

Jefferson’s Proposal for the Seal:

Artist’s Interpretation:

http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/f0402bs.jpg

Available at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/f0402bs.jpg



http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/vc006418.jpg

Available at: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/vc006418.jpg



Transcription: "Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity. Motto, Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."

Your Analysis: After reading the background and the text of Jefferson’s proposal for a seal, examine the artist’s interpretation and address the “Four Cs” on the Visual Historical Source Analysis worksheet. In the box for Conclusions, jot down your thoughts and prepare to discuss focus questions:

  • What message the Founders wanted to communicate to Americans and other nations through the proposed seal.

  • How did the Founders present the concept of tyranny?

SOURCE 2: Excerpt from The Republic by Plato



Focus Question: What does Plato’s Republic reveal about justice and tyranny?

Background: Plato was born in Athens to a wealthy family in 427 B.C.E. He was a teacher and wrote his most important work, The Republic, in 260 B.C.E. as a way to envision an ideal society. He concluded that a truly just society was ruled by a philosopher king, who governed using knowledge and truth rather than privileging power or wealth. This excerpt from The Republic is in a dialogue format between two characters who are interested describing justice and tyranny. Teachers may want to read the source aloud with two readers, each one giving voice to one of the speakers.

… [W]e must not allow ourselves to be panic-stricken at the apparition of the tyrant, who is only a unit and may perhaps have a few retainers about him; but let us go as we ought into every corner of the city and look all about, and then we will give our opinion.

A fair invitation, he replied; and I see, as every one must, that a tyranny is the wretchedest form of government, and the rule of a king the happiest…

I replied, would you say that a city which is governed by a tyrant is free or enslaved?

No city, he said, can be more completely enslaved.


And yet, as you see, there are freemen as well as masters in such a State?

Yes, he said, I see that there are --a few; but the people, speaking generally, and the best of them, are miserably degraded and enslaved…

And the State which is enslaved under a tyrant is utterly incapable of acting voluntarily?

Utterly incapable...

And is the city which is under a tyrant rich or poor?
Poor...

And must not such a State and such a man be always full of fear?


Yes, indeed.

Is there any State in which you will find more of lamentation and sorrow and groaning and pain?


Certainly not.

And is there any man in whom you will find more of this sort of misery than in the tyrannical man, who is in a fury of passions and desires?

Impossible.

Reflecting upon these and similar evils, you held the tyrannical State to be the most miserable of States?

And I was right, he said.
Certainly, I said. And when you see the same evils in the tyrannical man, what do you say of him?

I say that he is by far the most miserable of all men….


Your Analysis: After reading the background and the excerpt from Plato’s Republic, address the “Four Cs” on the Textual Historical Source Analysis worksheet. In the box for Conclusions, jot down your thoughts and prepare to discuss the focus question: What does Plato’s Republic reveal about justice and tyranny?

 


Source 3: Excerpt from Politics by Aristotle

Focus Question: What does Aristotle’s Politics reveal about justice and tyranny?  

Background: Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and scientist born in 384 BCE. He wrote extensively about ethics and the rule of law. Politics is a collection of essays on government, that Aristotle hoped would provide direction for rulers, statesmen, and politicians.


Glossary

Excerpt from Politics by Aristotle

Text-dependent Questions

common interest: the best for all people
perversions: corruptions or turning away from the right

indigent: poor people

magistrate: a person in charge of enforcing the laws


The government, which is the supreme authority in states, must be in the hands of one, or of a few, or of the many. The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one or of the few, or of the many, are perversions. Of forms of government in which one rules, we call that which regards the common interests, monarchy; that in which more than one, but not many, rule, aristocracy (and it is so called, either because the rulers are the best men, or because they have at heart the best interests of the state and of the citizens). But when the citizens at large administer the state for the common interest, the government is called a polity. And there is a reason for this use of language.

Of the above-mentioned forms, the perversions are as follows: of monarchy, tyranny; of aristocracy, oligarchy; of polity, democracy. For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all. Tyranny, as I was saying, is monarchy exercising the rule of a master over the political society; oligarchy is when men of property have the government in their hands; democracy, the opposite, when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers....Then ought the good to rule and have supreme power? But in that case everybody else, being excluded from power, will be dishonored. For the offices of a state are posts of honor; and if one set of men always holds them, the rest must be deprived of them. Then will it be well that the one best man should rule? Nay, that is still more oligarchical, for the number of those who are dishonored is thereby increased....The discussion of the first question shows nothing so clearly as that laws, when good, should be supreme; and that the magistrate or magistrates should regulate those matters only on which the laws are unable to speak with precision owing to the difficulty of any general principle embracing all particulars.

  1. According to Aristotle, what is the true form of government?

  2. What is a perversion of a true form of government?

  3. What can we infer from this statement?

  4. What is an aristocracy?

  5. What is a tyranny?

  6. Why is a tyranny a corrupt type of government?

  7. What do these types of governments have in common?

  8. Why is Aristotle critical of these types of governments?

  9. What is the role of laws in a state according to Aristotle?

  10. How does government step in to rule when laws are not available to guide the citizens?

  11. According to Aristotle, what is the obligation of a government to its people?

Use the graphic organizer below to organize information from your reading and prepare to write.




Thinker

Definition of Tyranny

Concept of rule of law

Argument and Evidence Presented

Impact on Western Political Thought

Plato













Aristotle













Writing Task: Answer the focus question -- Why are the concept of rule of law and the illegitimacy of tyranny significant for our understanding of Western political thought? -- in two paragraphs.

  • In the first, define the concept of tyranny using quotes and examples from the Greek thinkers.

  • In paragraph two, explain how the founders of the U.S. used the concept of tyranny as a basis for revolution and as a frame of reference for the establishment of a new political structure, using evidence from our sources.



SOURCE 2: Excerpt from The Republic by Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett, available at http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.10.ix.html



Focus Question: What does Plato’s Republic reveal about justice and tyranny?

Background: Plato was born in Athens to a wealthy family in 427 B.C.E. He was a teacher and wrote his most important work, The Republic, in 260 B.C.E. as a way to envision an ideal society. He concluded that a truly just society was ruled by a philosopher king. This excerpt from The Republic is in a dialogue format between two characters who are interested describing justice and tyranny.


Glossary

Excerpt from Politics by Aristotle





Wretchedest: very unlucky, miserable

enslaved: made a slave
degraded: worsen, weaken in character
incapable: not able to do something
voluntarily: to do something by one’s own choice

tyrannical: exercising power in a cruel or arbitrary way.

I see, as every one must, that a tyranny is the wretchedest form of government, and the rule of a king the happiest…

I replied, would you say that a city which is governed by a tyrant is free or enslaved?

No city, he said, can be more completely enslaved.
And yet, as you see, there are freemen as well as masters in such a State?


Yes, he said, I see that there are -- a few; but the people, speaking generally, and the best of them, are miserably degraded and enslaved…

And the State which is enslaved under a tyrant is utterly incapable of acting voluntarily?

Utterly incapable...

And is the city which is under a tyrant rich or poor?
Poor...


And must not such a State and such a man be always full of fear?
Yes, indeed…


[Y]ou held the tyrannical State to be the most miserable of States?
And I was right, he said.


Certainly, I said. And when you see the same evils in the tyrannical man, what do you say of him?
I say that he is by far the most miserable of all men….






Source 3: Excerpt from Politics by Aristotle

Focus Question: What does Aristotle’s Politics reveal about justice and tyranny?  

Background: Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and scientist born in 384 BCE. He wrote extensively about ethics and the rule of law. Politics is a collection of essays on government that Aristotle hoped would provide direction for rulers, statesmen, and politicians.


Glossary

Excerpt from Politics by Aristotle

Text-dependent Questions


common interest: the best for all people
perversions: corruptions or turning away from the right


indigent: poor people


The government, which is the supreme authority in states, must be in the hands of one, or of a few, or of the many. The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, or the few, or the many, govern with a view to the common interest; but governments which rule with a view to the private interest, whether of the one or of the few, or of the many, are perversions. Of forms of government in which one rules, we call that which regards the common interests, monarchy; that in which more than one, but not many, rule, aristocracy (and it is so called, either because the rulers are the best men, or because they have at heart the best interests of the state and of the citizens). But when the citizens at large administer the state for the common interest, the government is called a polity. And there is a reason for this use of language.

Of the above-mentioned forms, the perversions are as follows: of monarchy, tyranny; of aristocracy, oligarchy; of polity, democracy. For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only; oligarchy has in view the interest of the wealthy; democracy, of the needy: none of them the common good of all. Tyranny, as I was saying, is monarchy exercising the rule of a master over the political society; oligarchy is when men of property have the government in their hands; democracy, the opposite, when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers....

....The discussion of the first question shows nothing so clearly as that laws, when good, should be supreme…

  1. According to Aristotle, what is the true form of government?

  2. What is a perversion of a true form of government?

  3. What can we infer from this statement?

  4. What is an aristocracy?

  5. What is a tyranny?

  6. Why is a tyranny a corrupt type of government?

  7. What do these types of governments have in common?

  8. Why is Aristotle critical of these types of governments?

  9. What is the role of laws in a state according to Aristotle?






Plato Says

Aristotle Says

I Say

What is tyranny?










What does a state/city look like under the rule of a tyrant?











What makes a good ruler?









Writing Task: Answer the focus question -- Why are the concept of rule of law and the illegitimacy of tyranny significant for our understanding of Western political thought? -- in two paragraphs.

  • In the first, define the concept of tyranny using quotes and examples from the Greek thinkers.

  • In paragraph two, explain how the founders of the U.S. used the concept of tyranny as a basis for revolution and as a frame of reference for the establishment of a new political structure, using evidence from our sources.


Writing Task: Answer the focus question -- Why are the concept of rule of law and the illegitimacy of tyranny significant for our understanding of Western political thought? -- in two paragraphs, using the frames below.
Tyranny is significant for Western political thought because _____________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

An example of the founders of the United States using the idea of tyranny to justify revolution is ___________________________________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

These men were inspired by Plato and Aristotle’s writings on tyranny. Plato argued that tyranny was ______________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________In addition, Aristotle thought that tyranny was ____________________________

___________________________________________________________________and that tyranny could be controlled by a state that was made up of ___________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________These ideas of tyranny and ____________________________________________ inspired the founders of the U.S. as seen by _______________________________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________



Standards Alignment

California History-Science Content Standards

10.1 Students relate the moral and ethical principles in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, in Judaism, and in Christianity to the development of Western political thought.

2. Trace the development of the Western political ideas of the rule of law and illegitimacy of tyranny, using selections from Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics.

Common Core State Standards

RH 9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

RH 9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

RH 9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.

RH 9-10.6 Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

RH 9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

WHST 9-10.2 - Write informative/explanatory texts, including the narration of historical events, scientific procedures/ experiments, or technical processes.

a. Introduce a topic and organize ideas, concepts, and information to make important connections and distinctions; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., figures, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

b. Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.

c. Use varied transitions and sentence structures to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.

d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic and convey a style appropriate to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.

e. Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.



f. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the information or explanation presented (e.g., articulating implications or the significance of the topic).

WHST 9-10.9 - Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

ELD Standards for Grades 9-10

  1. Collaborative

1: Exchanging information and ideas with others through collaborative discussions on a range of social and academic topics.

  1. Interprative

6: Reading closely literary and informational texts and viewing multimedia to determine how meaning is conveyed explicitly and implicitly through language.

  1. Productive

10: Writing literary and informational texts to present, describe, and explain ideas and information using appropriate technology.
Source Citations
Historical Thinking Concept

Historical Significance, Guidepost 2: Events, people, or developments have historical significance if they are revealing. That is, they shed light on enduring or emerging issues in history or contemporary life. Seixas, Peter and Morton, Tom. The Big Six Historical Thinking Concepts. Toronto: Nelson, 2013.
Introduction: Wood, Gordon, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Source 1: Text adapted from the “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic Exhibition” at the Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel04.html#obj104, accessed August 8, 2014.
Jefferson, Thomas. Legend for the Seal of the United States, August 1776. Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/f0402bs.jp.
Lossing, Benson. Proposed Great Seal of the United States: "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God." Harper's New Monthly Magazine. July 1856. General Collections, Library of Congress.
Source 2: Plato, The Republic, Trans. Jowlett, Benjamin, http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.10.ix.html, accessed August 8, 2014.
Source 3: Aristotle, Politics, Trans. Jowlett, Benjamin. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/aristotle-politics1.asp, accessed August 8, 2014.



1 Historical Thinking Project, “Historical Significance,” http://historicalthinking.ca/historical-significance




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