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Political stability, according to Xenophon, is almost non-existent. The beginning of the Education of Cyrus could be described as a sermon to convince the reader that almost all governments, no matter their structure, eventually are over thrown by the people. That is until Cyrus, the Persian, who has a unique seemingly un-paralleled ability to rule a group of people enters the text. It is at this point that Xenophon’s tone shifts from pessimistic about government rule to optimistic about political stability due to Cyrus’ abilities. I believe the text begins this way to highlight the work of Cyrus, because of the drastic comparison Xenophon lays out in this first chapter.

Xenophon’s claim, I feel, is more about the nature of humans than political stability, or the nature of governments. He describes how any form of government no matter it’s length of power, or the size of its land, can with stand the will of the people who do not want to be ruled. He does not go in depth on how each form of government has inherent flaws that make it susceptible to being overthrown, which I believe if you were making a case for consistent political instability, would be a fundamental chunk of the argument. The commonality for power being overthrown in democracies, monarchies, oligarchies, tyrannies, and even as far as household structures of ruling are the people being ruled not a way in which they are ruled but simply because, as Xenophon says, “human beings unite against none more than against those whom they perceive attempting to rule them” (1.1.2).

The reason that humans unite against being ruled is compared to why animals so willingly are ruled, which I feel gives a good explanation as to the reason humans most commonly unite against people who rule them. The relationship between a ruler and those who they rule is one that limits or eliminates choice. Animals do not know the freedom of choice, which is why we never hear of a heard revolting against its keeper, because when animals are forced to feed on one grain or to live in a certain field they do not know that there is another option. Humans know what choice is and when their ability to choose is limited too far past their comfort zone they go to the source of it and make it stop.

Cyrus was the answer to this problem because he was able to make the people see that there was no other choice but to be ruled under him. Although he governed lands and people who had never seen him or spoke the same language as him his carefully planned actions and reputation is what made him a reputable and unchallenged force. Xenophon explains that due to the implanted desire to gratify Cyrus, the people he ruled “always thought it proper to be governed by his judgment” (1.1.5). This eliminates the issues of people willing to unite against the ruler because it limits their freedom of choice, because in Cyrus’ case, the choice of the people being ruled was that Cyrus’ judgment was better than their own. Therefore Cyrus’ overcomes the largest obstacle facing political stability by not taking away the people’s choice. Instead he convinces the people he rules that the choices he makes are better than their own and they choose to follow what he says rather than being forced into something they do not want to do.

20 Responses to “Does the Choice of the People affect Political Stability?”

  1. khoneycutt says:

    Amber,

    I like how you suggest that the problem of political instability is really one about human nature. Additionally, I like the suggestion that the issue concerning human nature is really one about human freedom / choice.

    It does seem at the beginning that there isn’t a great deal to differentiate political regimes for Xenophon. And since human beings appear to resist rule naturally (?), rule over them, as opposed to animals, seems to be difficult, if not well-nigh impossible (1.1.3). Maybe this indeed has to do with a loss of choice; it is important for humans to believe that we have autonomy, perhaps, whether or not we do. Animals appear not to be burdened by this desire.

    Cyrus somehow stands as a counterexample to this claim about human nature, so much so that Xenophon gains an optimistic tone, as you suggest. Not only does Cyrus show that ruling humans is not impossible; it is not even difficult (1.1.3). The proviso is, of course, that rule is not difficult if one does it with knowledge. But knowledge of what? Knowledge of the nature of human beings?

    Might a ruler be successful if he recognizes that human beings require at least the illusion of choice or freedom? In other words, might Cyrus afford something like this to his soldiers? Paradoxically enough, might a martial life offer the type of freedom that is desired? Something for us to consider as we keep reading.

    KH

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