. . .
After Plato, Aristotle models the expression of this experience even
more acutely, but he does not reshape it. He discovers nothing new, nor had Plato. And this is what seems strange to me--that
no one has noted how the dominating image in the last years of the ancient world had so humble an origin. After Aristotle
comes his stupendous disciple Dicearchus, a specialist in politics, who, because of that bad fortune which preserves the unreadable
works and destroys the best ones, left us no books. He did, however, give his thoughts a formula, probably the most complete
one, which Polybius received from him and in turn transmitted to Cicero; this represents the consequence of all ancient learning,
because this man, in spite of being a politician, had an incalculable capacity for reflective thought, which you can fin in
his 'Treatise on the Republic.'
This cocept of the whole historic process for a thousand years and more had been
decanted and precipitated bit by bit into Greek and Roman consciousness. It is composed of three great ideas or images. The
first is this: the experience that every government carries within itself its own congenital vice, and therefore it inevitably
degenerates. This degeneration produces an uprising, which overthrows the constitution, topples that form of government, and
in its place substitutes another, which in its turn degenerates, is rebelled against and replaced, and so on. For a short
time there was a discussion of what was the exact line of precedence and subsequence in the inexorable move from one form
of government to another. For example, Aristotle argues this point with Plato but finally arrives at a kind of canonical doctrine
of political thought which comes to this: the oldest and purest institution is the monarchy, but it degenerates into absolute
power which provokes the rebellion of the most powerful men, that is to say, the aristocrats, who overthrow the monarchy and
set up an aristocratic constitution. The aristocracy in turn degenerates into Oligarchy, and this provokes and uprising of
the people who throw out the oligarchs and set up a Democracy. But democracy quickly becomes pure disorder and anarchy, swayed
by demagogues, and ending by being the brutal oppression of the masses which were then called--I am merely translating--the
'Okhlos', and thence Okhlocracy. The prevailing anarchy then reaches such a degree that one of the demagogues, the most successful
or the most powerful, seizes power and establishes a tyranny; if this tyranny lasts, it is converted into monarchy; then the
institution come to bite each other's tails and the cycle of evolution begins all over again.
Taken from: An Interpretation of Universal History. Trans. Mildred Adams. New York: Norton, 1973.