Various aspects of the history of politics can be explored through the study of history. These aspects include historical thought and historiography, political philosophy, and forms of government.
Historical Thought and Historiography: Classical Period (Especially Greece and Rome)
Throughout the Classical Age, Greek philosophers sought to explain human motivations in historical events. Their philosophical approach to politics and history was the first to use primary sources as a basis for interpretation. This tradition continued even after the end of the Classical Age.
Greek political philosophy placed the question of regimes at the center of political thought. Political philosophers argued over the best form of regime for the city. They used arguments about who could participate in politics and why politics were good. They also attempted to provide logical frameworks for battles.
Greek poleis were the most productive intellectually. They produced the most innovative and artistic works. Their knowledge of the world extended from their immediate Mediterranean coasts to Persia and Egypt.
While Greece and Rome had different terrains and terrains of politics, their histories are surprisingly similar. Both cultures produced myths about fantastical lands. They had coinage and mosaics. They also both had agricultural societies. But, while Greece largely focused on agriculture and justice, Rome had an economy that was based on slave labor.
Forms of government
Throughout history, people have formed governments in different ways. There are various types of governments, including monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship, communism, and a confederacy. These government systems have various variations, but the basic concepts are common.
In a democracy, power is divided among the citizens. The people are free to form political parties and hold elections. Governments in democratic societies usually champion freedom of speech and the press. Generally, these societies do not allow unlawful imprisonment.
Monarchy is a form of government in which a king or queen serves as head of state. The monarch is governed by a written constitution or custom. The monarch can be a lifelong ruler, or a sole absolute ruler.
In a parliamentary monarchy, the head of the government is not active in policy formation, but is directly responsible to parliament. A cabinet is a group of cabinet ministers.
Democracies, oligarchies, and autocracies
Throughout history, there have been three different ways to govern a country. These three systems are called democracies, oligarchies, and autocracies. These three systems are very similar, but each has its own unique characteristics.
In a democracy, a majority of the population governs the country. In an oligarchy, a small group of people rule the country. In a hybrid regime, the government is a combination of a democratic system and an authoritarian regime. In an autocracy, the supreme power is concentrated in the hands of a single polity.
An oligarchy is a government that is run by a small, privileged group of people. These people are distinguished by their wealth, family ties, and education. Unlike democracies, oligarchies don’t have regular mechanisms of popular control.
The term oligarchy was coined by Greek philosopher Aristotle. Aristocracies were the dominant governments of most medieval and modern periods across Europe.
During the classical period, ancient political philosophy was an umbrella term for Greek and Roman thought. It includes reflections on the origin of political institutions and concepts used to organize political life. However, it excludes the development of Jewish and Christian ideas about politics.
In ancient Greece, political philosophers were known as “sophists” or “physikoi.” Their work was often a challenge to existing political practices. For example, they questioned whether laws and customs were in accordance with nature.
Political philosophy began with arguments about the nature of politics. These arguments attempted to offer logical frameworks for battles. In the fifth century, the ancient historian Thucydides elucidated the nature of politics through the Peloponnesian War.
The philosophers of the Hellenistic period offered new frameworks for construing politics. For example, Democritus of Abdera defended the virtue of justice. Moreover, Lucretius elaborated the Epicurean school in the mid-first century BCE.
Artistic and critical faculty
Whether you’re interested in a career in art or simply want a deeper understanding of our world, the CalArts MA Aesthetics and Politics Program is a great way to learn about the history of politics and the arts. The program is a one-year, low-residency program that focuses on politics, economics, and culture. In addition to core courses, students have the option of taking courses from the interdisciplinary American Culture Studies Program and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.
Courses are designed to explore how different societies construct their own cultures. Students are also encouraged to test paradigms of Western aesthetic scholarship. This can include studies of Indigenous methodologies, queer theory, theories of the city, and urbanism.
The MA Aesthetics and Politics program is taught in a unique, arts-centered environment at CalArts. The program includes a low-residency year, which allows students to study while working.