The Twilight of the City State. The political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle was singularly devoid of immediate influence both of a practical and a theoretical kind. In fact, if it were judged by the part that it played in the two centuries following Aristotle’s death, it could only be described as a magnificent failure. The reason for this is that the two philosophers between them had stated more completely and perfectly than any successor could hope to do the ideals and the principles of the type of political institution with which they dealt, the city-state.
There was in truth no further progress to be made upon that line. This is not to say that what Plato and Aristotle had written had value only as applying to the city-state. The presumption upon which Plato worked-that human relations may be made the object of rational study and may be subjected to intelligent direction-is a sine qua non of any social science whatever.
And the more general ethical principles of Aristotle’s political theory the conviction that a state ought to be a relation between free citizens morally equal, conducting itself according to law and resting upon discussion and consent rather than force-have never vanished from European political philosophy.
These great qualities explain why later, thinkers, even down to the present, have repeatedly gone back to Plato and Aristotle. But though much that they wrote thus had permanent significance, it is a fact that Plato and Aristotle believed it to apply to the city-state and to that alone.
They never conceived of these or of any political ideals as capable of being realized in any other form of civil society. Their assumption was justified by the facts as they then were, for it is hard to imagine political philosophy taking its rise in any society that then existed except the Greek cities.
Plato and Aristotle were quite aware, of course, that no city in Greece had realized the ideals which they believed to be implicit in the city-state. Had the need for criticism and correction not been clearly present to their minds, they would never have tried to analyze the society in which they lived or to distinguish its perversions from its successes.
But while they criticized-and often sharply-they still believed that the conditions of a good life did measurably exist in the city-state. And while they would gladly have changed many of its practices, they never doubted that the city-state was fundamentally sound, and the only ethically sound foundation for the higher forms of civilization. Their criticism was, therefore, basically friendly.
They spoke for the class of Greeks that found life in the city-state substantially satisfying, though by no means perfect. But it is an ominous symptom that both men, certainly without intending to be spokesmen for a Class, were driven to make citizenship more and more explicitly a Privilege and therefore the prerogative of those who had the property and the leisure to enjoy the luxury of political position.
The deeper Plato and Aristotle penetrate into the underlying ethical meaning of the city-state, the more they are forced to the conclusion that this meaning exists only for a few and not for the whole mass of artisans and farmers and wage-earners, as the democracy of the Periclean Age had imagined.
This in itself suggests-what was the fact-that others less vocal or less favorably situated might see in the city-state a form of society that needed not to be improved but to be superseded; at least they might regard it as a thing to be neglected by men in search of a good life.
Such a criticism, of protest or at least of indifference, did exist, somewhat obscurely, in the age of Plato and Aristotle. But the historical circumstances were such that the immediate future lay with it rather than with the more imposing theories of the greater men, and this explains the temporary eclipse of their political philosophy after Aristotle’s death. When the city-state had been relegated to history and it was no longer possible to picture political values as realizable only in it, men could return to exploit the infinite fertility of the Republic, the Laws, and the Politics.
The common form taken by these diverse philosophies of protest or indifference-and their startling significance in the fourth and third centuries-can be grasped only by keeping clearly in mind the ethical presumption which lay behind all that Plato and Aristotle wrote about the state. This is the presumption that a good life implies participation in the life of the state. It was this which enabled Plato to start with the proposition that the state is at bottom a division of labor in which men of differing capacity satisfy their needs by mutual exchange. Plato’s conception was made merely more complete in,Aristotle analysis of the community.
This presumption caused both men to regard participation as a conception ethically more important than either duties or rights, and to see in citizenship a sharing of the common life. From this point of view citizenship stands at the summit of human goods, or at least this would be so if both the city and human nature were developed to the top of their bent. This presumption represents the very genius of the ethics and politics of the city-state.
And for this reason the essence of protest is the denial of it. Assert that a man, in order to live a good life, must live outside the city-state, or being in it should at any rate not be of it, and you have set up a scale of values not only foreign to but essentially opposed to that assumed by Plato and Aristotle.
Say that the wise man will have as little to do with politics as he can, that he will never willingly take the responsibilities or the honors of public office, but will shun both as a useless cause of anxiety, and you have said that Plato and Aristotle have set up a wholly erroneous notion of wisdom and goodness. For such a good is private, something which a man gains or loses in himself and by himself, and not something that requires a common life.
Self-sufficiency, which Plato and Aristotle regarded as an attribute of the state, becomes an attribute of the individual human being. The good becomes something not strictly conceivable within the confines of the city-state-a good of privacy and withdrawal. It is the growth of this kind of ethical theory that marks the twilight of the city-state.
The attitude of Plato and Aristotle toward this ethics of withdrawal is significant. They know its existence but they cannot quite take it seriously. Thus there is perhaps a gibe at the Cynic scheme of life in the “pig-state’’ of the Republic, where living is reduced to the barest and rudest necessaries.
There is almost certainly a sneer behind Aristotle’s remark that the man who can live without the state is either a beast or a god. The moralist who sets up the ideal of individual self sufficiency claims the attributes of a god, but he is likely to live the life of a beast.
Only in the introduction to his ideal state does Aristotle propose to argue the relative merits of the statesman’s and the philosopher’s life, and here he does not really argue. He merely asserts that happiness is activity and that he who does nothing cannot do well.
He almost certainly is thinking of the Cynics, and it is not improbable, as Jaeger suggests, that some of Plato’s students had enlarged upon the ideal of the contemplative life in the spirit of Plato’s own remark that the philosopher might have to be compelled to return to the den.
At all events the Academy certainly had moved in this direction a generation later. But for Aristotle the argument has really hot got beyond the level of epigram. The whole structure of his political thought assumes that the citizen’s activity is the chief good and he never takes any other view seriously.
The Failure of the City-State:-
Beside the theoretical assumption that only the city-state is morally self-sufficient there is also in the reformist political philosophy of Plato and Aristotle a practical assumption of great importance and one which had the misfortune to be not quite true under existing circumstances.
The improvement of the city-state within limits set by that form of government took for granted that its rulers were free agents, able by the choice of wise policies to correct its internal defects. The complete acceptance of it as a moral institution by Plato and Aristotle meant in effect that their political horizon was bounded by it. In consequence neither of them was as keenly aware as he should have been of the part which foreign affairs played even in the internal economy of the city-state.
It is true that Aristotle criticized Plato for this omission, but it cannot be said that he did better himself. If Plato had been as closely associated with Macedonia as Aristotle, he would hardly have failed to perceive the epoch-making importance of the career of Alexander.
It is interesting to conjecture what might have happened if it had occurred to Aristotle to consider the hypothesis that the city-state needed to be absorbed into some still more self-sufficing political unit, as it had itself absorbed the family and the village.
But this was-beyond his power of political imagination. In fact, however, the fate of the city-state depended not upon the wisdom with which it managed its internal affairs but upon its interrelations with the rest of the Greek world and upon the relations of Greece to Asia on the east and to Carthage and Italy on the west.
The supposition that the city state could choose its mode of life regardless of limits fixed by these foreign relations was fundamentally false. Plato and Aristotle might deplore, like many other intelligent Greeks, the contentiousness and belligerency of the relations between the Greek cities, but as the event proved, these vices were ineradicable so long as the cities remained independent.
As Professor W. S. Ferguson has pointed out, the Greek city-state from a date early in its history was confronted by a political dilemma which it never was able to cope with. It could not attain self-sufficiency, either in its economics or its politics, without adopting a policy of isolation, and it could not isolate itself without suffering stagnation in that very culture and civilization which Aristotle regarded as its crown of glory.
On the other hand, if it chose not to isolate itself, it was driven by political necessity to seek alliances with other cities, and these alliances could not be successful without impairing the independence of their members. The dilemma ought to be comprehensible to a modern political observer, for it was substantially similar to that in which a more inclusive economy has placed the nation-state.
The modern nation can neither isolate itself nor, as yet at least, curb its independence enough to form a more viable political unit. All the modern fictions about complete national sovereignty united with international regulation find their parallel in the Greek alliances of allegedly independent cities. By the middle of the fourth century these federations were the prevailing form of government in the Greek world, but they quite failed to make permanent and stable states.
Even as late as the formation of the Panhellenie League by Philip, at Corinth in 338, the cities, had they been able to work together, might have gone far toward influencing and even controlling the policy of Macedonia, but the inherent particularism of the city-state was unable to rise to the opportunity. It is a matter of speculation whether, had the Greek cities been left to themselves, they would ever have succeeded in producing a really effective kind of federal government. It was of the essence of the situation that they could never hope to be left to themselves.
Greek particularism and its dangers to Greek political life were an old story even in Plato’s-day. Especially the orators, from the beginning of the fourth century, had urged the cities to unite against the barbarians either of the east or of the west.
Gorgias of Leontini had made it the subject of an oration at the Olympian Games, as had also Lysias a little later in 388. Isocrates had urged unity and lived to see in Philip of Macedon, as he-believed, the man of destiny who might bring it about.
Yet the treaty of Antalcidas (387-6) had established the suzerainty of Persia over the Greek world in matters of war and peace, and the Persian power persisted until it passed into the hands of Philip by the formation of the League at Corinth. Two centuries later the control of Greece was taken over by the expanding power of Rome. In foreign affairs, therefore, the city-state had failed permanently and more or less obviously from a date quite early in the fourth century.
Even if the confederation had succeeded in stabilizing relations among the cities themselves, they would still have had to deal with the great political forces that surrounded the Greek world on the east, north, and west. And this they were doubly incapable of doing.
The failure of the cities to stabilize their relations with one another was not, however, a failure only in a special branch of administration. Foreign and, domestic affairs were never really separable in the city-states, for the class interests which were oligarchic or democratic in internal politics were similar from city to city and continually made common cause.
No important aspect of local government could avoid making its peace in some fashion or other with the political and economic ties which ran between cities. And this is as true of the Macedonian intervention as of the relations between cities.
The interests of property were in general on the side of Macedonia and this is one important reason why the more prosperous classes tended to look with complaisance upon the rise of Philip’s power. For obvious reasons democratic interests had more local patriotism. The inextricable inter twining of foreign and: domestic policy is admirably illustrated by the treaties between Alexander and the cities of the League of Corinth.
In addition to the control of foreign affairs, Macedonia and the League were given the responsibility of repressing, in the cities of the League, any movement for the abolition of debt, the re division of land, the confiscation of property, or the liberation of slaves. Later leagues included similar provisions. The old issue between wealth and poverty, which Plato and Aristotle regarded as the essential difference between oligarchy and democracy, was in no way diminished as time went on. If anything it grew sharper; foreign intervention might draw the lines anew but the lines were still there.
The truth is that the social and political problems of the Greek world were not soluble by the city-states. It would be false to imply that they were really solved by the confederations and the monarchies that followed the conquests of Alexander. What became ever clearer was that the politics of the city-state did not even state the problems. The rise of Macedonia forced home the recognition of two facts that had existed but that Plato and Aristotle had for the most part overlooked.
The one fact was that the city-state was too small and too contentious to govern even the Greek world and that no perfecting of it would make it commensurable with the economy of the world in which it lived. The other fact was that the assumed political superiority of Greeks over barbarians was not viable in the eastern Mediterranean, in view of the economic and cultural relations which had long existed between the Greek cities and the Asiatic hinterland.
When Alexander deliberately adopted the policy of merging his Greek and his oriental subjects-a policy which must have been flatly contradictory of all that Aristotle had taught him about politics-he was at once accepting a fact whose importance his master had missed and also taking a step which made his master’s political presumptions definitely obsolete.
Withdrawal or Protest:-
It is clear, then, that there was nothing accidental about the existence and the spread of a political philosophy much more negative in its attitude toward the values native to the city-state than that of Plato and Aristotle The city-state of course continued to exist, and most of them continued for a long time to control their local affairs by the old governing bodies.
No general statement can be made that will cover all the degrees and kinds of control over them in the Hellenistic Period. But no intelligent observer who had a sense of humor could take them quite so seriously as to suppose that their offices formed the capstone of a very significant career.
A negative attitude might arise merely from a perception of the fact that the government of the city was not so important as men had imagined, that the life of any city was not for the most part in its own power, and that the most gifted statesman could not hope to accomplish much in that arena.
The result would be a defeatist attitude, a mood of disillusionment, a disposition to withdraw and to create a private life in which public interests had a small or even a negative part a public career would be indifferent or even an actual misfortune. This point of view was perhaps best illustrated by the .
Epicureans or the Skeptics. On the other hand, a much more forthright negation of the city-state and its values might arise in so far as the unfortunate and dispossessed succeeded in making themselves vocal. Here it might be expected that withdrawal would be accompanied by a note of protest or a stress upon the seamy side of the existing social order. Such a protest might well be unable to state an adequate ideal of its own and might therefore run to fantastic or even indecent extremes. This tendency was illustrated best by the Cynic School.
It was characteristic of all these Schools, as has been said, that they did rot follow the lines laid down by Plato and Aristotle. Their significance lies in the fact that they branched out in a new direction and began lines of thought to which the future was to give importance.
For this reason they stand in some respects upon a much lower level of perfection than the work of the great theorists of the city-state. None of their authors possessed the transcendent genius of Plato and none had Aristotle’s incomparable mastery of the history and government of the city-states.
Their importance lies in the fact that they present a different point of view, that they raise questions about first principles, and that they make an opening for the restatement of these principles in a situation very different from that which Plato and Aristotle had envisaged. Considered sympathetically the failure of the city-state must be interpreted as a major moral disaster, at least for those classes that were mainly affected. It meant infinitely more than the closing of a political Career can possibly mean in an age when in any case the whole scheme of values is largely private and personal.
It forced upon men the creation for the first time of ideals of personal character and private happiness such as a Greek, trained in the ideals of the city-state, could scarcely see as other than a makeshift and a renunciation. This may be Perceived in the growth of large numbers of private societies for religious or social purposes, such as the classical age had felt no need for, a tendency characteristic of the Hellenistic age. These are manifestly an effort to compensate for the social interests left unsatisfied by the recession of the city from a place of first-rate importance.
To Plato and Aristotle the values offered by citizenship still seemed fundamentally Satisfying, or at least capable of being made so; to a few of their contemporaries and increasingly to their successors this appeared to be false. It was this profound difference of point cf view that made it necessary for the time being to turn aside from the political philosophy which they had left.
All the schools that taught the idea! of individual self-sufficiency professed to arise directly from the teaching of Socrates. How much truth there may have been in any of these claims is impossible to say, and after the generation had passed that had known him in person, his professed followers probably knew little more about it than is known now. Socrates became and remained almost a myth, the ideal wise man and philosophic hero, whom every school set up as the professed example of its teaching.
In one sense, however, the philosophical problem really did return to the posture in which it had stood before the work of Plato. It was a re canvassing of the old issue about the meaning of nature and its relation to customary and conventional rules of popular morals.
This was of course true for the generation to which Plato belonged, since everyone really did begin where Socrates left off, but it was true at a later date also for those who found themselves unable to accept the elaborate solutions offered by Plato and Aristotle.
The more it became doubtful whether the city-state actually did provide the only conditions upon which a civilized life can be lived, the more it was necessary to re-examine the previous question: What are the essential and permanent factors in human nature from which a theory of the good life can be derived? Theories that Plato considered and rejected get a new hearing.
There were, as has been said, two chief forms of political philosophy to be considered in this connection. The one was most fully developed in the Epicurean School, though the differences between Epicureans and Skeptics were not very important, so far as the negations of their political theories were concerned. The second was the very different political philosophy of the Cynic School. It will be convenient to consider the two forms of theory in this order.
The purpose of Epicureanism was, in general terms, the same as that of all the ethical philosophy of the period after Aristotle, namely, to produce in its students a state of individual self-sufficiency. To this end it taught that a good life consists in the enjoyment of pleasure, but it interpreted this negatively. Happiness consists actually in the avoidance of all pain, worry, and anxiety.
The pleasures of congenial friendship, which Epicurus sought to realize within the circle of his pupils, were those which formed the positive content of his doctrine of happiness, and this involved a withdrawal from the useless cares of public life, The wise man, therefore, will have nothing to do with politics unless circumstances compel him to do so.
The philosophical basis of this teaching is a system of thoroughgoing materialism adopted from earlier philosophies, and apparently chosen less because it was certainly true than because of the consolations which it was believed to hold out.
The secret of its power of consolation lay in the fact that Epicurus counted the anxieties of religion, of divine retribution, and the incomprehensible whims of gods and spirits, as among the most serious to which men are heir. The gods, we may be sure, care nothing about men and do not interfere either for good or ill in the course of their lives. This was in fact the most virile part of the Epicurean teaching.
The School was a caustic critic of all sorts of superstitious practice and belief, such as divination and astrology-a really substantial evil and its record in this respect is in honorable contrast to that of Stoicism, which was only too ready to find adumbration of truth in popular beliefs that were obviously not true.
So far as the world at large is concerned, then, nature means simply physics, the atoms out of which all things are made. So far as human beings are concerned, nature means self-interest, the desire of every man for his own individual happiness. All other regulation of human action belongs to the class of conventions and is therefore meaningless for the wise man, except in so far as a conventional rule may be serviceable in producing more happiness than men would get without it. There are, therefore, no intrinsic moral virtues and no intrinsic value of any sort except happiness.
There never was an absolute justice but only a convention made in mutual intercourse, in whatever region, from time to time, providing against the infliction or suffering of harm.
The argument against intrinsic values is the variety of moral rules and Practices which have prevailed in different times and places, an argument, which was originally exploited by certain of the Sophists and Which had been noticed (and in intention refuted) by Plato in the discussion of justice in the Republic. At a later date it was vastly elaborated by the Skeptic Carneades against the Stoics. The vital point in the argument is the view that the good is a feeling privately enjoyed and that social arrangements are justified, if at all, only as devices to secure the largest possible private good.
States, then, are formed solely for the sake of obtaining security, especially against the depredations of other men. All men are essentially selfish and seek only their own good. But in this way the good of everyone is jeopardized by the equally selfish action of all other men, Accordingly men enter into a tacit agreement with each other neither to inflict nor to suffer harm. The doing of injustice is not bad in itself, but suffering its consequences without protection is worse than any advantage to be gained.
Since the state of affairs resulting from a general practice of injustice is intolerable, men adopt as a working compromise the plan of respecting the rights of others for the sake of obtaining an equal forbearance from them. In this: way the state and the law come into existence as a contract to facilitate intercourse between men.
If no such contract exists, there is no such thing as justice, Law and government exist for the sake of mutual security and they are effective solely because the penalties of the law make injustice unprofitable. The wise man will act justly because the fruits cf injustice are not worth the risk of detection and punishment. Morality is identical with expedience.
It follows, of course, that what men regard as 5 right and just conduct will vary with circumstances and with time and place.
Whatever in conventional law is attested to be expedient in the needs arising out of mutual intercourse is by its nature just, whether the same for all or not, and in case any law is made and does not prove suitable to the expediency of mutual intercourse, then this is no longer just. And should the expediency which is expressed by the law vary and only for a time correspond with the notion of justice, nevertheless, for the time being, it was just, so long as we do not trouble ourselves about empty terms but look broadly at facts.
In general, no doubt, justice is largely the same among all peoples, for human nature is much the same everywhere, but still it is easy to see that at least in its applications the principle of expedience will vary more or less according to the kind of lives men lead. Thus what is wrong for some peoples may be right for others.
For similar reasons a law which was perhaps originally just because it facilitated human intercourse may become wrong if the conditions change. In any case the test of law and of political institutions lies solely in expedience; in so far as they meet the need for security and make. mutual intercourse safer and easier they are just in the only intelligible sense of the word.
It was not unnatural therefore that the Epicureans, while caring little about forms of government, should have had a general preference for the monarchy as being the strongest and therefore the securest of governments. They were drawn no doubt mainly from the propertied classes, for whom security is always a major political good.
The social philosophy of the Epicureans was backed up by a really impressive theory of the origin and development of human institutions upon purely materialistic principles. This has been preserved in he fifth book of Lucretius’s poem De rerum natura but it presumably originated with Epicurus.
All the forms of social life, its political and social institutions, the arts and sciences, in short, all human culture, have come about without the intervention of any intelligence other than man’s. Living beings themselves are the result of purely physical causes, and Epicurus borrowed from Empedocles a theory that rather crudely suggests the modern hypothesis of natural selection.
Man has no instinctive leaning toward society and no impulsion other than the restless pursuit of his individual happiness. In the beginning he lived a roving and solitary life, seeking shelter in caves and struggling to maintain himself against wild beasts. The first step toward civilization was the accidental discovery of fire.
Gradually he learned to shelter himself in huts and to clothe himself with skins. Language originated from the cries by which instinctively he expressed his emotions. Experience and the more or less intelligent adaptation of action to the conditions of nature in time produced the various useful arts, as well as the institutions and laws of organized society.
Civilization is wholly the creation of natural human powers acting within the conditions set by the physical environment. Belief in the gods arises from dreams; the beginning of wisdom lies in the realization that the gods take no part in human affairs.
The full possibilities of such a theory of social evolution, and of a political philosophy based upon pure egoism and contract, could not be exploited until modern times. Then it was revived and the political philosophy of Hobbes-in its underlying materialism, its reduction of all human motives to self-interest, and in its construction of the state upon the need for security-is remarkably like Epicureanism.
In the ancient world the drift of thought was against its most vital element its attack upon religion and superstition-for the importance of religion among human interests was pretty steadily on the increase. It is true, however, that Epicureanism was on the whole a philosophy of escape.
The charges of sensualism which gave its very name a bad meaning are mostly groundless, but it probably tended to foster a kind of bloodless aestheticism incapable of influencing, or of wishing to influence, the course of human affairs. For individual men it was a source of peace and consolation, but for the time being it had nothing to do with the progress of political ideas.
The Cynics also, perhaps held a philosophy of escape but of a very different kind. More than any other School they formulated a protest against the city-state and the social classifications upon which it rested, and their escape lay in the renunciation of everything that men commonly called the goods of life, in the levelling of all social distinctions, and in abandoning the amenities and sometimes even the decencies of social conventions. Apparently they were recruited from the ranks of the foreigners and exiles, that is, from those who already stood outside the citizenship of the state.
The founder of the School, Antisthenes, had a Thracian mother; its most notorious member, Diogenes of Sinope, was an exile; and its most able representative, Crates, seems to have renounced his fortune to adopt a life of philosophic poverty as a wandering beggar and teacher.
His wife, Hipparchia, was a woman of good family who was first his pupil and then the companion of his wanderings. The Cynics formed a somewhat vague and quite unorganized body of roving teachers and popular philosophers who adopted a life of poverty on principle and who suggested somewhat the mendicant friars of the Middle Ages.
Their teaching was addressed for the most part to the poor; they taught contempt for all the conventionalities; and in their behavior they often affected a shocking rudeness and disregard for decorum. In so far as the ancient world produced such a phenomenon, the Cynic may be described as the earliest example of the proletarian philosopher.
The philosophical basis of their teaching was the doctrine that the wise man ought to be completely self-sufficing. This the Cynics take to mean that only what is within his power, his own thought and character, is necessary to a good life. Everything except moral character is a matter of indifference. Among things indifferent the Cynic includes property and marriage, family and citizenship, learning and good repute, and in short all the pieties and conventions of a civilized life.
All the customary distinctions of Greek social life were thus subjected to an annihilating criticism. Rich and poor, Greek and barbarian, citizen and foreigner, freeman and slave, well-born and base-born are all equal, for they are all reduced to the common level of indifference. The equality of the Cynics, however, was the equality of nihilism. The School never became the medium for a social doctrine either of philanthropy or of amelioration, but leaned always toward the ascetic and puritanical.
For poverty and slavery were literally of no consequence in their eyes; true, the freeman was no better than the slave, but neither the one nor the other had any value in himself, nor would the Cynic admit that slavery was an evil or freedom a good.
They appear to have been actuated by a real hatred of the social discrimination universal in the ancient world, but this hatred led them to turn their backs on inequality and to seek in philosophy the entrance into a spiritual realm where the abominations would not matter. It was hardly less a philosophy of renunciation than Epicureanism, but it was the renunciation of the ascetic and nihilist rather than of the esthete.
The result was that the political theory of the Cynics was utopian. Both Anesthetist and Diogenes are said to have written books on politics and both seem to have sketched a kind of idealized communism, or perhaps anarchy, in which property, marriage, and government disappeared. The problem was not one that, as the Cynic conceived it, touched the lives of the great majority of men. For most men, of whatever social class, are in any case fools, and the good life is only for the wise man.
Equally, a true form of society also is for the wise man only. Philosophy emancipates its votaries from the laws and conventions of the city; the wise man is equally at home everywhere and nowhere. He requires neither home nor country, neither city nor law, because his own virtue is a law to him. All institutions are equally artificial and equally beneath the notice of the philosopher, for between men who have attained moral self-sufficiency these things are all unnecessary.
The only true state is that in which wisdom is the requirement for citizenship and this state has neither place nor law. All wise men everywhere form a single.community, the city of: the world, and the wise man is, as Diogenes said, a “cosmopolitan,” a citizen of the world.
This conception of world-wide citizenship involved important consequences and had a distinguished history in Stoicism, but this was due chiefly to the positive meaning which the Stoics gave it. What the Cynics emphasized was its negative side, primitivism, the abolition of civic and social ties and of all restrictions except those that arise from the wise man’s sense of duty. The protest of the Cynic against social convention was a doctrine of the return to nature in the most nihilist sense of the term.
The chief practical importance of the Cynic School lay in the fact that it was a matrix from which Stoicism emerged. But the Cynics have an interest perhaps out of proportion to their importance. After an interval of more than two thousand years it is not easy to recover the obscurer elements of political thought and those not in accord with the more vocal classes in the state.
The rise and spread of Cynicism shows that, even as far back as the time of Socrates, there were some upon whom the institutions of the city-state bore heavily and who saw in it by no means an object to be idealized. With Plato and Aristotle in opposition these men were bound to be minor prophets. Yet what they saw at the beginning of the fourth century of the declining importance of the city-state was only what all men saw by the end of the century.