The Ancient Genius of Limited Government

by Glenn Fairman 5/13/14

In fact, it is the political heritage of the classical political philosophers that is the wellspring of limited government. If one looks to Modernity for grounding in constitutional government, one must sift through Machiavelli’s amoral “virtu,” Hobbes’ brutal self-preservation, Marx and Hegel’s stultifying deterministic historicism and Nietzsche and Heidigger’s full blown Post-Modernist overturning of the West’s presuppositions and values.

When we finally come to grips with Socrates’ and Aristotle’s formulations of the city, we realize that in the absence of Philosopher-Kings, the mixed regime, under a rule of law comprised of strict limits and curbs on human power, is fundamental to both nature and happiness. It is imperative for us to understand that no political structures, whether ancient or modern, can eradicate evil and the forms it cunningly manifests: often as a democratic “Angel of Light.” Therefore, self-interest must check self-interest, lest the Utopian Sirens ultimately entice us away from prudent political liberty and moral virtue.
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at

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3 Responses to The Ancient Genius of Limited Government

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I think Leo Strauss would agree with you.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    There is at least one modern equivalent, and one which shows why the Philosopher-Kings of Plato could never exist: Madison’s formulation, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, no external or internal controls on government would be necessary. But when men govern men, one must first allow government to control the people, then force it to control itself.” I’m not sure I got the wording precisely right (particularly the last sentence; I think the first two are right), but I definitely have the essence.

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    Being a Straussian, I concur with Kung .

    In the City and Man, Strauss makes clear that a Utopia is against nature and that the Republic is in itself a critique on “The City of Speech.’ Any society that alienates parents from children is against nature. Strauss holds that Plato reveals his hand in the Middle chapter of the Republic, using the tool of esoteric writing wherein the author couches his true teaching:

    “There will be no end to the troubles of states, or of humanity itself, till philosophers become kings in this world, or till those we now call kings and rulers really and truly become philosophers, and political power and philosophy thus come into the same hands.” In other words, never.

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