Did Anything Really Change?

A Distant Elite: How Meritocracy Went Wrong

Wilfred M. McClay


McClay, Wilfred M. “A distant elite: how meritocracy went wrong.” The Hedgehog Review, vol. 18, no. 2, 2016, p. 36+. Academic OneFile, go.galegroup.com.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu:2048/ps/i.do?


The primary audience of this publication can be historians. People who study the constitution, Thomas Jefferson, or even the effects of how America tired to make an aristocracy and it didn’t work out the way it was supposed to.


Adams, on the other hand, regarded the emergence of an aristocracy as something both inevitable and inherently dangerous. He feared the influence of any such aristoi, and sought to restrain their influence by means of the classical constitutional model, as articulated by Polybius, of a “mixed government,” in which aristocracy’s distinctive political voice would be recognized as such and then confined to a senate-like body.

Paragraph 3, lines 8- 13


Consequently this peculiar form of constitution possesses an irresistible power of attaining every object upon which it is resolved. 5 When again they are freed from external menace, and reap the harvest of good fortune and affluence which is the result of their success, and in the enjoyment of this prosperity are corrupted by flattery and idleness and wax insolent and overbearing, as indeed happens often enough, 6 it is then especially that we see the state providing itself a remedy for the evil from which it suffers.

Polybius, Fragments of Book 6


The writer makes a mention of Polybius when he talks about Adams’s fear of a rising aristocracy. Jefferson believed in a natural aristocracy with the idea idea that they should be separated from the general public and groomed for public office. Adams on the other hand thought that though it is inevitable it can be contained because they fought a revolution against a King who didn’t rule them well and they are trying to avoid another monarchy. With a new government one has to let go of everything that they fought against. He wanted what Polybius suggested as a government. One that took one certain aspects of other governments while still making it something new. Looking at the success of the Roman Republic one could agree that something similar to Rome could easily work.

How to Create A Strong Country In Only Fifty-Three Years: A Guide

“II: Political Thinkers and Ideas/Penseurs et Idées Politiques.” International Political Science Abstracts, 10 May 2012, Vol.62(2), pp.160-164.

This article gives abstracts of political science articles, including:

Eidujiene, Dalia. “Polibijus: apie valstybes kilme ir dinami ka jos formu morfologija (Polybius on the origin of the state and the dynamic morphology of its forms).” Filosofija. Sociologija 22(3), 2011 : 272-277.

Light, Paul C. “Federalist No. 1: How Would Publius Define Good Government Today?” Public Administration Review 71, Suppl. 1, Dec. 2011 : 7-14.

The article that came up when I searched for the terms “Polybius” and “Thomas Jefferson” was intended to help political-science students find the appropriate article, but the Eidujiene article explains Polybius’ attempt to explain the political circumstances that allowed Rome to grow so strong so quickly, and the Light article is about the Federalist Papers (written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, under the pseudonym Publius, to defend the new United States Constitution) and how the Founding Fathers (including Hamilton and Jefferson) built the framework for the country we live in today.

Since this article was meant to aid with location of sources, it doesn’t really draw connections between these other articles, but their relation is clear. Polybius spoke about how the Roman empire grew in power, and the founders of America wanted to build a country that could become its own independent power. Both of these articles therefore discuss how best to set up and strengthen a political entity like a country or empire.

Light’s abstract demonstrates the desire to make a strong country by saying:

 [The first of the Federalist Papers] contains an implied definition of “good government” that occupied the founders as they built a stronger national government.

The class reading by Polybius says in the very beginning,

…the best and most valuable result I aim at is that readers of my work may gain a knowledge how it was […] that in less than fifty-three years nearly the whole world was overcome and fell under the single dominion of Rome…

Polybius wanted to teach people how Rome became so powerful in such a relatively short time. The Founding Fathers likely drew upon sources like this when deciding how to draw up the United States constitution, since they relied heavily on European philosophy and history to guide them.

-Chaya Ovits, team Venus

Polybius: A Man of Action?

  • MLA Citation:

Herold, David. “Morison, Samuel Eliot 1887-1976.” 1979, pp. 479–500.http://go.galegroup.com.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu:2048/ps/i.do?p=GVRL&u=cuny_broo39667&id=GALE|CX1381600032&v=2.1&it=r&sid=exlibris

  • The search word i searched was “Polybius ‘Thomas Jefferson'” and the full text I decided to select was written on a American Historian named Samuel Eliot Morison. The full text is based on the life of Samuel Eliot Morison including stories about his background and his works.
  •  The primary audience this full text seem to be intended for is mainly for teens and adults since it’s a lengthy text that speaks on Morison’s life. Adding on, this can be directed for students in college since this text is a scholarly article that can be found at Brooklyn college library onesearch.

The author is able to connect with the words searched by connecting the life of Samuel Eliot Morison with Polybius as historians. During the text Herold stated:

“Morison’s history of the U.S. Navy, a labor of twenty years, gave him the opportunity to realize the injunction of Polybius, that a historian should be a man of action. Of all his works it drew the greatest comment and criticism. It confounds the categories into which the separate varieties of history have been divided within the professionalized history writing of the twentieth century. It is an official history that escaped committee authorship and the imprimatur of a review board, and came to command professional respect and have a wide audience. It is contemporary history that draws together official, scholarly, and popular history.” (Herold, 492)

This is implying that during the time when Morison was serving in the
U.S Navy, he was able to understand what Polybius was trying to implement. Polybius was a man of action. Therefore by saying a historian should be a man of action, it’s indicating that Morison has learned from Polybius to not sit around and speak on something rather he should be taking action and keep his word about something.

In the Extracts of Polybius, fragments from book 6 it stated:

“For it is evident that we must regard as the best constitution a combination of all these three varieties, since we have had proof of this not only theoretically but by actual experience, Lycurgus having been the first to draw up a constitution — that of Sparta — on this principle.”

Indicating that Polybius was a man of action. He doesn’t only speak on the three varieties of the constitution Kingship, Aristocracy, and Democracy. He takes action by suggesting it would be best to combine all three constitution together for the ideal constitution. He supports his claim by implying how successful the actual experience of combining all three constitution was, therefore this shows that Polybius was a man of action since there was proof provided in order to back up his statement.

Empire Without End?

c4wJ0mFThe clear purpose of this article is to serve the audience whose intentions are to enrich their knowledge on Empires in World History. The article portrays an ironic ambition, hence the title, to prove the rule of empires– they always fall in the end. Though the author, Charles S. Maier, doesn’t draw a direct connection between Polybius and Thomas Jefferson, she shows the similarity in their political outlooks. For instance, Polybius is referred to as the Greek living in Rome who made himself to be a preeminent political interpreter. Comparably, Thomas Jefferson envisioned an empire of liberty securing the Mississippi and Missouri regions. The idea of imperial power facing a short-life can also be joined by the quote in the reading, “That all existing things are subject to decay and change is a truth that scarcely needs proof; for the course of nature is sufficient to force this conviction on us.” Maier supports the belief of ‘all existing things are subject to decay’ by following empires chronologically from their rise to their fall. The most familiar empires to us would be the Aztecs, Incans, and the Mayans, which at the time were considered powerful empires amongst the western hemisphere. Yet again, another imperial powers facing their expected outcome.

Maier, Charles S. “Empire without End.” Foreign Affairs, vol. 89, no. 4, 2010, pp. 153-159, Social Science Premium Collection, https://login.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu/docview/577070717?accountid=7286.

-Amir, Team Juno.