From the beginning of time, the stronger man held sway over the weaker and protected them. Original states were extensions of this concept. And, as influence of an individual, or family, extended to wider territories primitive forms of governance, in return for taxation emerged.
As primitive political systems evolved, depending on the extent of their influence, rulers were designated with titles like Emperor, King, Sultan, etc. These rulers made their own laws, were totalitarian in authority, and the rights of the ruled, were minimal.
Rulers gave titles and estates on their will, if not whim, to whoever they wished in return for absolute loyalty. All estate holders collected taxes in cash and/or kind from their locals and paid a designated sum to their superiors, all the way up to the ruler. In return, citizens expected only protection from other neighboring warriors. But, this too was provided when it suited the master.
Basic development of dwellings, many of which later grew to become a metropolis, began according to basic requirements; water, arable land, and proximity to other customers. “Other customers” were to be found in castles. Castles were sited under considerations of defense against warring or marauding neighbors, and/or offensive options, and protection of commercial routes.
In course of time people became increasingly cognizant of their rights and began making demands. Limited by the knowledge of this author, those known to him are discussed here.
The first noteworthy event was the signing of the Magna Carta [Latin for magnificent charter] in 1215 by King John of England, giving certain rights to the people. Interestingly, the word “Preemption” originates from the right of a settler to purchase the land he is settled on; a right recognized in this charter.
This event initiated the debate(s) which led to the evolution of Political Science. Numerous events followed, including the execution of Charles 1 of England and this subject gained recognition as one of significant importance.
While the American Revolution preceded the French and is a landmark event in world history, since a ragtag non-professional army defeated what was touted as the World’s most powerful military machine of its time, merely through determination and perseverance. But, it was the French Revolution that was to add a new dimension of the study of this subject offering a rival economic [political] system—Socialism as opposed to capitalism; but that deserves its own study.
Although a balanced political system, which spelt out the rights and duties of the state and its citizens had been postulated by Rousseau et al before either of these events occurred and, all political philosophers were aware that all political rights and duties were based on economic considerations, the study of politico-economic systems had not emerged; at least not to my knowledge.
From the beginning of time, wealth, or more accurately, the ability to purchase any and everything was and is a measure of power. While the titled gentry were politically [and socially] more empowered but, often tradesmen and traders amassed more wealth than the titled land holders. These nou-veau-riche [French for newly rich] were looked down upon but they too had to, and did, find their own means of becoming politico-socially relevant.
In this era, maintaining permanent militaries was often too expensive. Since ships were the primary source of trade and commerce, these were always available and, they often more than paid for themselves. Laws of the seas being non-existent, piracy was rampant and an easy way to amass wealth. But, maintaining adequate numbers of trained and equipped land forces was a drain on resources.
The law of supply and demand, however, fill every need. Traders and, even some impoverished nobles, raised and trained land forces as mercenaries, sold to the highest bidder to fulfill their needs when required. Many such traders were often rewarded with lands and titles as well, by grateful rulers.
To return to our principal subject today. “Republic” is defined as “a country wherein governance is a public matter and not left to rulers. Greek boasts of the first republic, before Christ and Rome, of the next, after Christ. However, in the republic, the people were represented by the Senate; and, regretfully, Senators were not of the people, they too were elite.
Post its revolution, France formed the first of the modern republics, it didn’t last too long but, it set the pace. Incidentally, France is now governed by the Fifth Republic; they have rebooted and reformed their republic four times since, [perhaps we too need to try a second republic?] Since the lines defining rights and duties were drawn by philosophers, after the French Revolution, thought process accelerated and other philosophers began to complete the mosaic as it suited their peoples.
Modern republics are democratic in nature but, as we are well aware, justice; in search of which, we gave up our inalienable rights, remains elusive, even under the best of circumstances. The sole consolation I can offer here is that, as we continue on this study trip that we are on, you might find yourself in agreement with me that, even if justice remains elusive, the process of political evolution also does not seem to be finite; maybe there is an invisible light at the end of the tunnel.