Constitutional Principles

Constitutional Principles

Democracy in Athens

Among the estimated 1000 city-states of the ancient Greece, Athens became famous not only because of its prosperous socio-economic status but particularly with the inception of democracy in governance (Ober 3). The city-states of the ancient Greece, although differ in population and economic status, have similar cultural attributes. Most of these city-states were oligarchies while others were ruled by tyrants (Ober 3).

The term “democracy” came from the Greek words “demos” and “kratos” which stand for “people” and “power” respectively (Ober 3). However, these words must not be taken literally to associate democracy with majority dominance.  For it is a fact that the Athens’ democracy is a collective-governance through selective male individuals, thus, much appropriately related to the governance of the “empowered people” for the welfare of the public (Ober 5). Since, “empowered people” then were male individuals and the Ancient Greece has a slaveholding societies, the issue on the real significance of the Greeks democracy to the present conception of democracy is still at hand (Ober 5). Moreover, the means by which “empowered people” carry out their public responsibilities have changed across decades and centuries (Ober 5). Nowadays, these responsibilities are clearly defined by constitutional laws and constitutional rules are basic to the present democratic governance.

According to Fleck and Hanssen, the geographical characteristics of the city-states are key factors in the form of governance that has existed in a particular city-state (Ober 6). For instance, the vast open plains of Sparta made it hardly possible for democratic governance and economic growth is attained through an efficient monitoring and controlling labor. Conversely, broken terrains such as in Attica, caused difficulty in monitoring labor, thus, the government should exert effort and give necessary incentives to propel its constituents for a better economic productivity (Ober 6). Meanwhile, the full development of democratic governance in Athens is attributed to several political events. First, the reforms made by Solon in 594 B.C. resulted to an intensive code of Law (Ober 6). This has abolished the slavery of the lower-class citizens, political abuse of the magistrates, and giving political rights on the basis of nobility. Another event that made institutional reforms occurred in 508 B.C. as a consequence of the victory against Spartan invaders together with their Athenian allies (Ober 6). In addition, the veto power of the Areopagus Council was dissolved in 462 B.C. giving the final decision for every social issue on the hands of the citizen assembly (Ober 6).

The Political Theory of Aristotle

Aristotle believed that the purpose of every human activity is the attainment of the supreme good (Ross 1). Happiness is the “good” that can be attained through human activity (Ross 4). Since political science aims for the general welfare and happiness of the city-states constituents, it is then the highest science (Ross 4). Thus, the crucial role of a statesman or politician is to ensure the realization of the goals of political science. As such, being an enforcer of the law is the most important role of a politician (Miller). He establishes the constitutional framework for the institutional and moral welfare of the constituents. He also ensures the implementation of the constitution and leads for the possible amendments on its provisions. Any treat of political subversion should be cautiously prevented by the statesman (Miller).

Aristotle defined the constitution as a means to systematically put the constituents of the city-states into order (Miller). It is not just a written document, rather, the cause of the state. Thus, any change on it denotes changes on the political structure of the state (Miller). According to Aristotle, the constitution is similar with the soul of a person. The soul gives life to the person in the same way as the constitution frames the structure of the state (Miller). Thus, the constitution is the citizens’ means of political living. Meanwhile, in putting order into the city-state, Aristotle believed in the role of an efficient authority. The functions of the authoritative ruler including the structure, duration, and sovereignty of his office should be clearly defined by the constitution (Miller).

Roman Republicanism

Republicanism nowadays has relative meanings among political parties across cultures. Etymologically, it is derived from the latin, res publica, which means “belonging to the public” (Ferejohn and Rosenbluth 1). Historically, the inception of republicanism is attributed to the republican Rome. In political practice, republicanism is typically described as either a form of state governance that gives priority to the general welfare or the power separation of a government with executive, judicial, and legislative branches (Ferejohn and Rosenbluth 1). Additionally, it is also viewed as the government where the people are the protagonist and the rule of law is a prime principle (Ferejohn and Rosenbluth 1).

The triumph of Brutus over the Tarquin monarchy in 509 B.C. gave birth to the era of Roman Republic (Hooker). This was the summit of the Roman’s civilization wherein the senate, with its assembly, ruled the state. Most ideas of the Roman republicanism were attributed to the great orator Cicero (Mitchell 128). As a statesman in the final decades of the republic, raised and educated under the dominion of the traditional constitution, he extolled the doctrines of traditional republicanism and discredited the ideas of the reformers. He steadfastly fought to preserve the republic until his death, even though his full effort was not able to halt the decline of the system of the state. Also, as was once a student of philosophy, he wrote republicanism documents “De Republica” and “De Legibus” , and “De Officiis” on ethics (Mitchell 128).

At the beginning of their Republicanism, they framed every institution of government through constitution and laid it down to their next generation only through laws and traditions (Hooker). However, these laws and traditions were the products of the past monarchy; thus, political powers were largely vested on the government officials. As a consequence, in the early period of the republic, the monarch political powers were just transferred to the upper-class citizens of the state called patricians (Hooker). The lower-class citizens, plebeians, clamored for political equality leading to the conflict with the patricians termed as “the struggle of the orders”. While the patricians dominated the government offices, the plebeians have control over the labor, economy through food supply, and state defense (Hooker). Thus, the former can not sustain existence without the latter.

In 494 B.C. the plebeians pulled themselves out from the empire and declared an autonomous government in the Sacred Mount (Hooker). The established tribal assembly was composed of the heads of the respective tribes. All decisions of the tribal assembly were of course binding only for all plebeians. The fruition of the struggle of the orders was the creation of the “Law of the Twelve Tables” in 450 B.C. that formalized constitution and laws (Hooker). Also, in 445 B.C. and 367 B.C. plebeians-patricians marriage was allowed and a plebeian was elected as a consul respectively (Hooker). Nonetheless, the Licinian-Sextian laws mandated the election of at least one plebeian as consul (Hooker). Since, after consular office, the consul serves the senate, the plebeians had the chance to be part of it. Then, in 300 B.C., plebeians were equated with patricians in religion as they were given the right to be priests in all levels (Hooker). Ultimately, in 287 B.C., the plebeian assembly legislations were not only binding for plebeians but for all Romans (Hooker). As the need arises, the Romans make reforms to their government that were aimed not only to prevent civil war, chaos, and blood shedding among its citizens but also to ensure the stability of the state against attacks of neighboring territories.

Although Roman republicanism in practice was not impeccable, as a product of political process over the centuries, it paved for the development of constitutional order (Mitchell 127). This was possible due to the political bargaining between the demanding mob and the political authorities. In this rigorous process, the Roman state resolved crucial issues of governance including personal and social or political rights for the attainment of constitutional balance (Mitchell 127). For every successful settlement of issues over those centuries in the gradual process, the empire has learned the arts and trade of the political governance. However, a slump on this trend happened in 49 B.C. that resulted to strains in all aspects of the state, unity, and to the march of Caesar across the Rubicon (Mitchell 128).

English Constitutionalism

In the death of, self-proclaimed ever virgin, Queen Elizabeth I, James I occupied her throne on the basis of divine-right monarchy (Mines). As a cousin of the late queen, he claimed himself as God’s righteous representative. However, he was opposed by the Puritan members of the House of Commons on the ground of impatience and extraneous expenditures (Mines). On the other hand, the vehemence of King Charles I to rule in absolute monarchy resulted to civil war led by New Model Army under the command of the Puritan parliament member Oliver Cromwell (Mines). The Cromwell forces succeeded in overthrowing and beheading the King. Then, during the Interregnum, Cromwell ruled under military dictatorship. After his death in 1660 and as Stuart kings won-back the throne, Charles II and James II assumed kingship sequentially. In 1673, the parliament passed the Test Act requiring all government officers to be member of the Church of England (Mines). However, when James II occupied the throne in 1685, he married a Catholic woman and appointed Catholic bishops to higher government positions. His reign then was pestered with political problems that led to another revolution. At the end of the revolution, the British leaders persuaded William of Orange and the protestant daughter of James II, Mary, after signing the Bill of Rights to assume the throne. The Bill of Rights is a legal assurance of the English men for property, life, liberty against absolute monarchy. Also, the English Bill of Rights favored more the Parliament legislations rather than the divine-right monarchy. Hence, after sixty long years of turbulence, constitutionalism was formally established in Britain in both theory and practice. The England became a Protestant state reigned by noble lords and gentry burghers by the end of seventeenth century and the ideas of John Locke pervaded over the state.

Analysis and Conclusion

The establishment and implementation of a formal constitution among the above-mentioned states resulted from the political powers clamored either by the legal constituents or in the case of England, a group of aristocrats aiming for the general welfare of the state. The active participation of the male Athenians of defined age in the public assembly, the revolutionary move of the plebeians for political rights equal to the patricians, and the active role of the England parliament against absolute monarchy paved for formal constitutionalism. In the establishment of the constitution, the duties, responsibilities, and term of duration for all government officers were specified and delineated. Thus, the bases for the limitation and quality of service for every government officials were framed. As such, each officer is legally bounded by and liable for every provision in the constitution. The failure to perform duties and responsibilities of an official as provided by the constitution would lead to office termination. Moreover, the political ideas of Aristotle, Cicero, and John Locke have influenced and triggered the minds of the constituents of their respective state to aspire for a more humane leadership that propelled them to collaborative efforts for the attainment of such system of government.

Works Cited

Ferejohn, John and Rosenbluth, Frances. June 2005. “Republicanism.” Yale University. 17 Decemeber 2008 <>.

Hooker, Richard. 6 June 1999. “The Roman Republic.” World Civilizations, Washington Sate University. 17 December 2008 <>.

Miller, Fred. 19 July 2002. “Aristotle’s Political Theory.” Stanford University. 17 December 2008 <>.

Mines, Linda Moss. n.d. “The Paths Separate:  The Rise of Constitutionalism in England and the Netherlands, The Age of Absolutism, and the Era of Enlightened Despotism.” Advanced Placement Modern European History. 17 December 2008 <>.

Mitchell, Thomas N. “Roman Republicanism: The Underrated Legacy.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145, 2 (2001): 127-137.

Ober, Josiah. n.d. “What the Ancient Greeks Can Tell Us About Democracy.” Princeton University. 17 December 2008 <>.

Ross, W.D. Nicomachaen Ethics of Aristotle. Montana: Kessinger, 2004.