Leonardo da Vinci
Throughout history, people have recognized the need for a system for exercising authority, or a government. For the most part, they have lived under absolute rulers, such as chieftains, kings, or pharachs, who have had total power. The idea that people can govern themselves-- that is, the idea of democracy-- evolved very slowly. It grew out of the contributions of many peopie over the course of thousands of years.
The Contributions of Hammurabi:
Hammurabi, the greatest king of ancient Babylonia, was one of the first rulers to organize and issue a single code of laws for everyone in his empire to observe. To ensure that his code would remain the law after his reign ~he inscribed the laws on a stele (stone slab).
Greece set lasting standards in politics and philosophy. The Greeks did not rely on superstition or traditional explanations of the world. Instead they used reason and intelligence to discover predictable patterns that they called natural laws. The Greeks did not wish to be subject to authoritarian rulers. So they developed direct democracy in order that citizens could actively participate in political decisions. The Greeks also were the first to think of three branches of government- a legislative branch to pass laws, an executive branch to carry out the laws, and a judicial branch to settle disputes about laws.
Rome gave the world the idea of a republic. Legal and political terms that are common today, such as senate and dictator, originated in Rome. Rome also adopted from the Greeks the notion that an individual is a citizen in a state rather than the subject of a ruler. Perhaps Rome's greatest and most lasting legacy was its written legal code and the idea that this code should be applied equally and impartially to all citizens. Rome preserved and added to Greece's idea of democracy and passed on the early democratic tradition to civilizations that followed.
Contributions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam:
Several ideals crucial to the shaping of a democratic outlook emerged from the early monotheistic (believing in one god) religions of southwest Asia. They included the following:
Ellis, Elisabeth Gaynor et. al. World History: Connections to Today. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999. (pp. 2-16).
The Glorious Revolution:
England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands provide a picture of constitutionalism triumphing over absolutism. For England, the seventeenth century was a long period of political conflict, complete with a bitter civil war and a radical experiment with republicanism. The causes of this era of conflict were varied, but it is clear that by 1689 the English army and Parliament had destroyed the Stuart quest for divine-right absolutism. The period that followed witnessed some important changes in the way the state is managed. The French and American revolutions were the most important political events of the eighteenth century. They were also a dramatic conclusion to the Enlightenment, and both revolutions, taken together, form a major turning point in human history.
The American Revolution:
Classical liberalism is the fundamental ideology of the revolution in politics. Liberalism, which had deep roots, called for freedom and equality at a cause of the American Revolution, the British effort to solve the problem of war debts, was turned into a political struggle by the American colonists, who already had achieved considerable economic and personal freedom. The American Revolution stimulated reform efforts throughout Europe.
The French Revolution:
It was in France that the ideas of the Enlightenment and liberalism were put to their fullest test. The bankruptcy of the state gave the French aristocracy the chance to grab power from a weak king. This move backfired, however, because the middle class grabbed even harder. It is significant that the revolutionary desires of the middle class depended on the firm support and violent action of aroused peasants and poor urban workers. It was this action of the common people that gave the revolution its driving force.
Schmiechen, James. Study Guide: A History of Western Society II. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2003. (pp. 373-374; 494).
HISTORY-SOCIAL SCIENCE CONTENT STANDARDS
10.1 Students relate the moral and ethical principles in ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, in Judaism, and in Christianity to the development of Western political thought.
10.2 Students compare and contrast the Glorious Revolution of England, the American Revolution, and the French Revolution and their enduring effects worldwide on the political expectations for self-government and individual liberty.
For additional information see the California Department of Education web site at: http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/histsocscistnd.pdf
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