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In This Review

Skultety analyses the mistake of oligarchs—and democrats—who have only a partial notion of justice and mistake this partial justice for the whole of justice.

Enduring Empire : Ancient Lessons for Global Politics

Many people, he argues, limit their notion of the good to only one thing, whether that is wealth, security, health, or education, and thus engage in an unlimited pursuit of this one good. Any regime that looks to only a partial notion of the good and of justice will be problematic because it will neglect other, important human goods. The concern that most people have only a partial notion of the good and of justice seems properly Aristotelian and indeed marks all political life in the absence of the pambasileus of Politics III.

The next group of contributors to On Oligarchy are sanguine about the prospects for Western regimes.

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Bagby argues that Thucydides diagnoses ambition and greed as the source of instability of both oligarchic and democratic regimes and so that Thucydides favoured a regime mixed of the high and the low parts of the city. Jeffrey Sikkenga, associate professor of political science at Ashland University, goes so far as to suggest that the American republic may have solved the problem of oligarchy.

For Publius of the Federalist Papers , this solution is unavailable because Publius believes that acquisitiveness is more basic to human nature than ambition.

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Rather than making a solution to the abuse of political power for the sake of wealth impossible, however, the basic quality of acquisitiveness makes possible a modern, republican solution: the creation of a realm of economic activity where wealth can be built up separate from political office.

Most men will be content to channel their energies into acquiring wealth rather than seeking office, so American politics will be relatively free from temptations to abuse office for the sake of wealth—a conclusion diametrically opposite to that of Simpson.

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It would be interesting to know if Sikkenga would claim that his optimistic analysis would apply with equal validity in this age of crony capitalism as it did at the American Founding. Finally, several of the contributors to the volume think that, although Western regimes are not oligarchies, the dangers associated with oligarchy are present today. Toivo Koivukoski, associate professor of political science at Nipissing University, diagnoses the emergence of oligarchy as following from an erosion of the distinction between the public realm, where we should have access to a lofty notion of the public good, and the private realm, where we provide for our base, biological nature in part through the accumulation of wealth.

Koivukoski argues that oligarchy confuses success in the acquisition of wealth in the private realm with qualification to rule in the public realm, with the consequence that wealth acquires a mystique that substitutes for a robust notion of the public good. He offers the examples of Ross Perot, Nicaraguan industrialists and landowners in the s, and contemporary Saudi rulers as recent examples of oligarchs aspiring to rule. Neill is the contributor most sympathetic to oligarchy. He thinks that oligarchic interests often prevail in America, but he argues that this is not necessarily problematic because the economic elite represent established interests.


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Neill argues that American-based companies abroad, unrestrained by American democratic mores, act like oligarchs and undermine the welfare of developing countries. Sign in Subscribe. Subscribe Login Sign up. Foreign Policy. Trending U. In This Review. University of Toronto Press, , pp.

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