Politics in Minutes (2016)

Ancient Greek ideas of justice and liberty

At the heart of Ancient Greek political thought was the concept of eudaemonia, the ‘good life’. People live together in societies for their mutual benefit, in order to live good and happy lives; these societies need to be organized and have rules and therefore it is the purpose of the state and its government to ensure it. Whatever the constitution of the government, it should protect its citizens from harm and prevent injustice and infringements of their freedom.

Philosophers, such as Socrates and Plato, argued that justice was a virtue, and as such was closely linked to the notion of what is good. On a personal level, a citizen is just if he acts virtuously and does what is good, so for a government to be just it too must act with an understanding of what is good. However, the concept of ‘virtue’, and therefore justice, is open to interpretation, and even a just government was somewhat at odds with the Greek idea of liberty – the freedom to lead one’s life as one likes, independent of any master.

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Site of the Areopagus, the high court of Athens.