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Aristotle and the Constitution of the Athenians

John David Lewis

Presented at: SRB 2002 Vienna

Date: Jun 29, 2002

The constitutional history of Greece is a story of independent men freeing themselves from tyranny. The city of Athens was a leader in this struggle, developing the world’s first democracy but also confronting the problems of unrestrained mob rule.  How can lawful government be preserved while the people are sovereign?  What is the relationship between the decrees of the citizen assembly and the fundamental laws of the city-state?  Our most important source for the classical Athenian government is the Constitution of the Athenians, one of 150 constitutional studies produced by Aristotle’s school. This course will focus on the constitutional history of Athens, the theme and structure of Aristotle's Constitution, the crisis of the late fifth-century, and the solution that the Athenians developed to prevent their government from becoming a tyranny. The Greek distinction between fundamental law and legislative decree is an important precursor to the American Constitutional innovations. Reading: Aristotle The Athenian Constitution, trans. P. J. Rhodes (Penguin edn.).



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