The students of Western political thought generally, with great interest, study the ancient political thought of ancient Greece and it is believed that there are reasons behind this.
Some reasons may briefly be slated here. In the first place the Greek philosophers in their search for knowledge in general and political philosophy in particular pointed out some basic concepts such as nature of state, its origin, administration, relation between state and individual in their analysis.
Though the contents of these concepts have undergone sea-changes during the past two millennia, we still study them because they evoke our interests.
In the second place, the ancient Greek thinkers, it is said, drew a difference between legitimate use of power and indiscriminate use of power or application of force. The Greek thinkers believed that application of force for the realization of objective is uncalled for.
The persons in authority should avoid the use of force. Again, they also thought that power should be legitimate that’s authority or power. This confirms their support for democracy. Their argument runs as follows:
Since the entire cosmos is governed by law human society cannot be an exception. In today’s world we see that everyone gives importance to the sovereignty of law.
In the third place, it appears from the political ideas of the ancient Greek thinkers that in their analysis there was great importance of the rule of law, that is law, must govern both the rulers and the ruled. This conception of rule of law practically governs a major part of Western political thought. One of the central ideas of American constitutional system is the supremacy of the constitution which is treated as basic law of land.
Even in UK and some other countries the rule of law and equality before law constitutes the central part of state administration. At least J. S. Mcclelland (History of Western Political Thought) thinks in this way .He observes modern constitutional theory is in part based on a particular reading of ancient constitutional thought and practice.
In the fourth place there is a very good reason for studying ancient Greek political thought. We know that there is an importance of dialectics is the political philosophy of Hegel and Marx. But the dialectics was discovered and abundantly applied by Plato and few other Greek philosophers. Later on, Hegel and Marx borrowed the concept from the Greek philosophers.
There is still another reason why we study ancient political thought of Greek. The Greek thinkers and philosophers had great faith on people’s sovereignty and for that reason they made arrangement for periodical open assembly the attendance in which was compulsory—the people will assemble at a particular place in order to frame laws for the administration of the City-state.
This is called direct democracy. The Swiss constitutional system borrowed this and it holds till now. Contract thinker Rousseau in his famous work Social Contract revived it. The Greek city-state was small in size and population and this facilitated the functioning of direct democracy.
Another very important reason for studying Greek political thought is “Greek philosophers were the first to raise the most fundamental problems of state, law and politics. The solutions they offered have foreshadowed in many respects the future development of political thought and their echoes have not yet completely died down in our times” (Political Thought of Ancient Greece, VS. Nersesyants). Today we are seriously thinking about sovereignty, virtue and politics and many other related ideas. But it is not surprising that the Greek thinkers discussed all these though in embryo form.
There is still another reason. We are at the threshold of the twenty first century. Both the rulers and the ruled are seriously thinking about good government, good state and welfare state.
It means that the state is not a helpless spectator in the manifold affairs which occur within the state. It must guide or regulate the affairs for the attainment of general welfare. Plato believed that it is the specific duty of the state to make its citizens good or ideal so that they will be suitable for an ideal state.
His—The Republic deals with the various aspects of an ideal state. Today we do not definitely think in terms of ideal state because we are sure that ideals are unattainable. But we think about welfare state.
Yes, there are lots of difference between ideal state and welfare state. But in ultimate analysis both ideal state and welfare state coincide. Plato thought of an ideal state in the light of general good or welfare of people.
He believed that only in an ideal state people could witness the realization of their general good or well-being. The ancient Greek philosophers repeatedly thought of welfare of people in terms of virtue.
We think that the term welfare cannot be detached from virtue is an ethical or to some moral term or concept.
Naturally a state is never a helpless onlooker of the events that occur. It must interfere if the happenings interfere negatively with the general good of citizens.
Our point is that the concept of virtue, morality etc. were the key concepts of Greek political philosophy. Today they have reappeared in our political ideas in the form of general welfare.
Our conclusion is that there is no basic departure of the present—day politics from the basic ideas of Greek political thought. All these reasons enthuse us to study ancient Greek political thought and these reasons, we firmly believe, will remain valid even in the coming decades.