By W. M. Spellman

This short narrative survey of political notion during the last millennia explores key rules that experience formed Western political traditions.

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By the late fourth century BCE, a new move toward disengagement from public life was led by thinkers known as Cynics. Diogenes of Sinope (c. 28 Diogenes insisted that a simple life and the satisfaction of basic physical desires, not the Socratic pursuit of abstract knowledge, was the most elevated of callings. A highly individualized form of freedom was to be achieved outside of society, in what the Greeks called autarky or self-sufficiency. So-called eternal truths, and the laws and institutions that buttressed them, were no more than social conventions to be ignored in the interest of seeking a personally defined life of virtue.

He funded the building of churches and supported liturgical reform, encouraged monastic scholars and their schools, and protected missionaries as they carried out their work of proselytizing among pagan tribes. Charlemagne spent most of his reign engaged in expansive military operations that were designed with the dual purpose of land aggrandizement and Christian crusade.

38 Augustine’s neo-Platonic distinction between the eternal city and the corruptible life of the flesh, together with his insistence that reason without faith resulted in the futile pursuit of wisdom, would shape the outlook of the Church throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. The classical centering of humans to shape their own destiny, the bedrock of ancient city-states and republics, was replaced with a quest to fulfill God’s will on earth in preparation for the real life after death. By the close of the fifth century the admonition seemed to make sense, at least in the Western Roman Empire, where barbarian tribesmen had made a shambles of a once proud civilization.

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