Polybius’s Take on Rome’s Imperial History and the Modern Incarnations


After searching for a good article to blog about, I stumbled upon the article, History of the Hyperpower by Eliot Cohen. The article is intended to inform the audience of the comparisons between the United States “empire” and the major imperial powers of the times of Alexander. The article also explains how the ancient world used the ideals of imperialism and its tactics and explores how imperial history contrasts with modern United States policies. The primary intended audience include historians who wish to know more about the topic of imperial history and people who intend to learn more about this line of foreign policies, along with people who may be studying political science and foreign affairs. The author does not directly connect the search terms of “Polybius” and “’United States’ Constitution”, but rather uses Polybius as an example to further delve into his paragraph about “The Art of Understatement”, which the author goes into how imperial problems lead to people questioning imperial policy. Cohen goes into how the ancient world “considered Rome’s success both a marvel and a puzzle” because although they conquered a large part of territory across Europe and the Middle East, they lacked a rich culture and political scene. For example, Cohen says, “Polybius and many who followed him sought an explanation in the role of the Senate, a body that, although internally divided, provided a degree of steadiness to otherwise turbulent policy. Underlying the turmoil of Roman politics, these authors claimed, was a consistent imperial style that persisted despite the rise and fall of consuls and dictators.” These quotes more in-depth into how historians like Polybius questioned the ideals of imperialism and its tactics. To further explain this, I looked back into the Readings on the Roman Republic and re-read the fragments from book 6 by Polybius. When reading the paragraph “Conclusion of the Treatise on the Roman Republic”, Polybius says, “But the Romans, though they had met with severe reverses in the war, and had now, roughly speaking, lost all their allies and were in momentary expectation of Rome itself being placed in peril, 8 after listening to this plea, neither disregarded their dignity under the pressure of calamity, nor neglected to take into consideration every proper step (Polybius Book 6, 58 7-8). In the quote by Polybius, it helps provide more clarity for the article as he further explains the causes of Rome’s imperial problems through their aggressive foreign policies and as a result, hinders Rome in the process.
MLA Citation:
Cohen, Eliot A. “History and the Hyperpower;” Foreign Affairs, vol. 83, no. 4, 2004, pp. 49-63, Social Science Premium Collection, https://login.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu/docview/214288403?accountid=7286.
-A.C. Bowman, Team Saturn

What is the Best Government?

When we think of the best or perfect government, many will say something along the lines of, “A democracy, what else is there?”, because of the fact that we live in the United States of America. But in reality, there are a lot of different types of government that have been established. For example an aristocracy is a system of government that is based on hereditary status and connections through royal blood , that allow for that small, wealthy group of nobles, the Aristocrats to have all the power. Similarly, an Oligarchy a system where the rule of the few, small group of people is established, but not necessarily through “royal blood.” In addition there is such a thing as a Monarchy, which is a system that places supreme power of the state in the hands of a single person or family, the Monarch. Albeit there are myriad of deviations that have been established in the past, such as a constitutional monarchy, unitary state, a parliament. But that list is an endless one.

“The constitution should remain for long in a state of equilibrium like a well-trimmed boat, kingship being guarded from arrogance by the fear of the commons, who were given a sufficient share in the government, and the commons on the other hand not venturing to treat the kings with contempt from fear of the elders, who being selected from the best citizens would be sure all of them to be always on the side of justice; so that that part of the state which was weakest owing to its subservience to traditional custom, acquired power and weight by the support and influence of the elders.” 

This quote from the extracts of Polybius illustrate how Polybius believed that there should be a form of checks and balances in government, a separation of powers should be put in place. The piece of writing that I chose to analyze is an essay, The Rise and Fall of the Separation of Powers, by Steven G. Calabresi, Mark E. Berghausen & Skylar Albertson that expands on that belief and praises Polybius and other philosophers who thought alike. This essay talks about the origins of the concept of the separation of powers and, as you can tell by the title, the fall of such a concept. It talks of how modern governments implement the separation of powers, a prime example is the United States of America. In addition, the essay talks of how the concept of the separation of powers originated from the ideal of a “mixed regime”. A mixed regime is the form of government that combines elements of democracy, aristocracy, and monarchy. It states how many philosophers and scholars, such as Polybius, conceived of such an ideal so that the not-so-desired offspring of a mixed regime (anarchy, oligarchy and tyranny) could not be formed. This way, Polybius’ Anacyclosis cannot take its full effect and therefore, the undesirable forms of government found in that cycle could not develop and be bypassed.

My search, from which I got this search return from, was “Polybius ‘United States’ constitution.” The authors of this essay connect these two terms quite a lot, as I might have hinted at above. They talk of Polybius’ mixed regime and they connect him and it to the constitution of the United States. They talk of how our government and our constitution aren’t exactly a fully realized or exact definition of a mixed regime.  which is why, as I said before, they believe that our constitution and government lack the full definition of a separation of powers. “our Constitution has actually
operated in practice over the last 220 years as a democratized version of the Mixed Regime rather than as a functional separation of powers. The idea of
the Mixed Regime is a whole lot older than the idea of the separation of
powers, and it may well be more enduring. The writings of Aristotle,
Polybius, Cicero, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Machiavelli all illustrate this
point. The way a regime works, in practice, may show the the nature of the
regime. It may be the case that the U.S. Constitution inadvertently gave rise
to a democratized version of the Mixed Regime. If so, then that is an error
which our generation of Americans needs to correct.” 
They call the U.S. constitution and government a democratized version of a mixed regime and thereby believe that it is a dysfunctional separation of powers. In addition, they later call the U.S. government more of an oligarchy (which I don’t fully disagree with) and that “[Americans] need to revive the functional separation of powers.” Based on this viewpoint and the fact that it prompts whoever may read it(most likely students) and the citizens of the U.S.  to establish a true mixed regime and “revive the functional separation of powers,” I believe that this essay’s primary intended audience is the wide public who are possibly interested in the affairs of law, politics, government, and scholars or philosophers .

All in all, I found this essay to be extremely enlightening and extremely connected to Polybius and his ideals and values.

Appropriate MLA citation:

Calabresi, Steven G., et al. “The Rise and Fall of the Separation of Powers.” Northwestern University Law Review, vol. 106, no. 2, Apr. 2012, pp. 527-549. EBSCOhost, ez-proxy.brooklyn.cuny.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=82514124&site=ehost-live.

Sean, Team Ares