chapter  1
15 Pages

‘Men and citizens’ in international relations

Since Rousseau political theorists have had frequent recourse to a contrast between the fragmented nature of modern social and political life and the allegedly more communitarian character of the Greek polis. At the heart of this opposition was the belief that the polis represented a condition of unsurpassable harmony in which citizens identified freely and spontaneously with political institutions. Compared with their ancient counterparts, modern citizens exhibited a lower level of identification with the public world and a stronger resolution to advance their separate interests and to pursue private conceptions of the good. Nevertheless, the disintegration of the polis was not depicted in the language of unqualified loss. History had not been an entirely unmitigated fall, because the individual’s claim to scrutinize the law of the polis on rational grounds involved a significant advance in human self-consciousness. The positive aspect of its decline was found in the transcendence of a parochial culture in which neither the right of individual freedom nor the principle of human equality had been recognized. The modern world had lost the spontaneous form of community enjoyed by the ancients but it surpassed that world in its understanding and expression of freedom (Hegel 1956: 252-3 and Hegel 1952: paras 260-1, esp. additions; see also Plant 1973: ch. 1 and Taylor 1975: chs 14-15).