Herodotus and the Origins of Political Philosophy : The Beginnings of Western Thought from the Viewpoint of its Impending End

Abstract: This investigation proposes a historical theory of the origins of political philosophy. It is assumed that political philosophy was made possible by a new form of political thinking commencing with the inauguration of the first direct democracies in Ancient Greece. The pristine turn from elite rule to rule of the people – or to δημοκρατία, a term coined after the event – brought with it the first ever political theory, wherein fundamentally different societal orders, or different principles of societal rule, could be argumentatively compared. The inauguration of this alternative-envisioning “secular” political theory is equaled with the beginnings of classical political theory and explained as the outcome of the conjoining of a new form of constitutionalized political thought (cratistic thinking) and a new emphasis brought to the inner consistency of normative reasoning (‘internal critique’). The original form of political philosophy, Classical Political Philosophy, originated when a political thought launched, wherein non-divinely sanctioned visions of transcendence of the prevailing rule, as well as of the full range of alternatives disclosed by Classical Political Theory, first began to be envisioned. Each of the hypotheses forming the theory – the hypotheses concerning the Ancient Greek beginnings of a “secular”-autonomous political rationale, political theory and political philosophy – is weighed against central evidence provided by the Histories of Herodotus. The passages thus given new interpretations are the Deioces episode in Book I, the Constitutional Debate in Book III and Xerxes’ War Councils in Book VII. Aside from the Herodotean evidence, a range of other relevant Greek literary sources from the archaic and classical ages – e.g. passages from Homer, Hesiod, several pre-Socratic thinkers, Plato and Aristotle – are duly taken into consideration. Included is also a reading of the Mytilenean Debate of Thucydides’ Book III, which shows how the political thought of the classical democracies worked in practice. Finally, the placing of the historical theory against a background of contemporary relevance provides an alternative to all text-oriented approaches not reckoning with the possibility of reaching historically plausible knowledge of real-world events and processes.

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