The Kyklos or "The Circle of Government"

All governments are destined to fail. So goes the sentiment first proposed by Plato, identified in his most influential work, The Republic, as The Kyklos or in english "The Circle of Government." This observation was one he drew from the history of Greek city states, which consistently saw the rise and inevitable decline of each government established therein. Plato, in studying this, determined that there are five forms of government which each civilization takes to in some form. Each government, he argued begins with an aristocracy, which devolves in a respective order into a timocracy, then an oligarchy, then a democracy, and ultimately a tyranny. The cycle would then return to aristocracy with at the end of the tyranny. The chief reason for this devolution of government, he would argue, is the decline in rationality and the pursuit of individualistic pleasure. As soon as those in power begin to pursue their passions for their own sake, then the devolution of governments begins. His idea would continue to be built upon first by Aristotle, and then in later years Polybius, Cicero, and eventually Machiavelli. Each would devise their own versions of The Kyklos, some with a similar five forms, other with three, but a common thread among them being that every government is destined to fail.


Plato's message is certainly not lost on today's generation. One does not have to look far to recognize the utter failure of our American culture to beat back the ravenous lion that is the pursuit of individualistic pleasure. The popular culture decries the so called "sins" of the rich, while pursuing their share of the riches they deem so corrupting. It is a fallacy in thought not unlike the message of Rousseau and later Marx, who espoused a certain collectiveness of thought and of wealth. These men sought the dissolution of order for the sake of the pursuit of ones passions. However, as Plato would argue, it is the very pursuit of these passions, whether done by a ruler (tyranny) or by the people (democracy) that ultimately results in the continuation of The Circle of Government.


"The Circle" does not describe in any way the preferred mode of government, rather it highlights the imperfection of any human institution. While Plato surmised that one solution would the establishment of a "Philosopher King," even this too would not be free from the natural degradation of human works. In my own estimation, we cannot rationally hope to establish a perfect system. Rather, we should seek to establish a more perfect mode of being, one which allows individual self correction, resulting in a cultural cycle of evolution, not devolution. It is imperative to distinguish this evolution from the current "progressive" ideology, as it continually searches to destroy rather than conserve values. Instead, individual self correction must seek to avoid the imperfection of human institution by seeking the perfection of divine providence. Meaning, cultural evolution must derive it's foundation from God.


In presupposing God, the cure for The Circle of Government makes itself immediately apparent. While it agrees with Plato's opinion that the best from of government depends on the rationality of it's rulers, the belief in God goes a step further and shows us why. The cure is rationality, for rationality leads one unto virtue. Virtue is rationality in action, for virtue is behavior that does not seek that which is expedient or pleasurable for our own sake, but rather in pursuing what is true and good. It recognizes that the best course of action is more often than not that which is more difficult to take. It prompts the individual to focus on the building up of themselves before focusing on the sins of the other. It recognizes that goodness does not arise out of a jealousy of others sins in the seeking of personal pleasure. Such a nation would not be free from change, but the only change that would occur would be only in improvement of itself. In this way, if people would simply focus on building first a virtuous nation, then, and only then, could the The Kyklos, the dreaded "Circle", be broken.

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