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Politeia (πολιτεία) is an ancient Greek word used in Greek political thought, especially that of Plato and Aristotle. Derived from the word polis ("city-state"), it has a range of meanings from "the rights of citizens" to a "form of government".

English translations of the Greek word

According to Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon a meaning of politeia is "the conditions and rights of the citizen, or citizenship", analogous to the Latin civitas.[1]

Politeia,[2] in Greek means the community of citizens in a city / state. It should not be confused with "regime" that is meant by politeuma[3] or "Status quo" that is meant by kathestos.[4] Politeuma is the word describing the political situation of the community of citizens in a city/state, and kathestos means also the general situation of an object, an agreement, or something else.

Politeia is derived from both the root word polis meaning "city" or "state",[5] and from the verb politeuomai that means "I am living as an active citizen of the polis."

People living in a Greek city/state were not necessarily citizens. A person that was ostracized from the active matrix of the city was an example of such. Another example was people who lived in the city but were not active citizens who had a say in the political processes of the community. Women, slaves and others who Greek men deemed unworthy were not in the active matrix of the political formations of that city state, making them not-citizens, so not part of politeia.

In the works of ancient Greek philosophers, the principal meaning of politeia appears to be: "how a polis is run; constitution". A politeia differs from modern written constitutions in two respects: first, not all Greek states put their laws in writing; more importantly, the Greeks did not normally distinguish between ordinary and constitutional legislation. If a certain body had the power to change the laws, it had the power to change the laws controlling its own power and membership – even to abolish itself and set up a new governing body.

The phrases system of government, state organisation, form of government, and, more recently, régime have also been used to translate politeia. Régime has drawbacks: it is ambiguous where politeia is not. It has a negative tone in English, which politeia does not in Greek. It is also a loan-word; and in that regard, has no advantage over simply adopting politeia itself.

Some translators thus use a different term for this second meaning of politeia. Most common is the vague term polity. Specific translations of this second meaning as constitutional democracy or republic are at least anachronistic, and in most instances contentious and/or inaccurate. Some translators feel it is incorrect to translate the same word in different ways, arguing that the ambiguity must have been deliberate and that it is impossible to always know which way the word should be rendered.[6]

In the Greek New Testament politeia is translated as "commonwealth" or "freedom" in Ephesians 2:12 and Acts 22:28.

Politeia in the work of the authors of Antiquity

Plato and Cicero

Politeia is the original title of the book by Plato now commonly known in English as Republic. Cicero translated politeia as res publica (see also: De re publica), from which the modern word republic comes. Note that the meanings the ancient Romans attached to res publica were also multiple and only partially overlapping with the Greek politeia, and further that few of the multiple meanings of politeia or res publica are much of an equivalent to republic as it is understood in modern political science.

Aristotle

In the Constitution of the Athenians (Athenaion Politeia), Aristotle uses politeia for eleven states of the Athenian government up to his own time, from the absolute monarchy of Ionia and the tyranny of the Thirty to the democratic Assembly and selection by lot of Pericles's time and his own. He may have added that the absolute monarchy of Ion was "less political"[7] than that of Theseus or the later constitutions, but the text is doubtful.

In his Politics, Aristotle clearly uses politeia both as above and also in a more restricted sense. Exactly what this sense is, and whether Aristotle is using it in a consistent manner, have both been long debated. By careful choice of quotation (a comprehensive list of quotations along with their respective cross-references is found in [8]), all of the following can be defended:

In Book III of his Politics (1279a), Aristotle seems to indicate that, in principle, politeia refers generically to any form of government or constitution, although he uses the word also to call a particular form of government: "When the citizens at large govern for the public good, it is called by the name common to all governments (politeion), government (politeia)."

Why Aristotle uses the same term to refer to at least two distinct ideas has confused readers for millennia. For instance, later Aristotle refers to the ideal politeia as one using a mixed government. But it is uncertain whether he is referring to governments in general or to a specific form.

In the New Testament politeia refers both the Greek World as well as to the nation of Israel. Strong's Concordance defines the term as: Signifies (a) "the relation in which a citizen stands to the state, the condition of a citizen, citizenship," Acts 22:28, "with a great sum obtained I this citizenship" (KJV, "freedom"). While Paul's "citizenship" of Tarsus was not of advantage outside that city, yet his Roman "citizenship" availed throughout the Roman Empire and, besides private rights, included (1) exemption from all degrading punishments; (2) a right of appeal to the emperor after a sentence; (3) a right to be sent to Rome for trial before the emperor if charged with a capital offense. Paul's father might have obtained "citizenship" (1) by manumission; (2) as a reward of merit; (3) by purchase; the contrast implied in Acts 22:28 is perhaps against the last mentioned; (b) "a civil polity, the condition of a state, a commonwealth," said of Israel, Ephesians 2:12.

Notes

  1. ^ πολιτεία. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project.
  2. ^ Fletcher, Lancelot R. "On the title of Plato's Republic (POLITEIA)" (PDF). www.freelance-academy.org.
  3. ^ πολίτευμα in Liddell and Scott.
  4. ^ καθεστώς in Liddell and Scott.
  5. ^ "The ancient Greek city-state and town". Archived from the original on 2014-03-07.
  6. ^ Bates, Clifford Angell. "The problem with POLITEIA as polity in Aristotle's Politics".
  7. ^ According to the Loeb translation.
  8. ^ Aristotle (2017). Reeve, C.D.C. (ed.). Politics A New Translation. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. Note 198. ISBN 9781624665578.

References