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Ancient Conceptions

The idea of controlling political power goes back to ancient Athens, where all state officials were accountable to the citizens who sat on the jury court. This jury-court system is the hallmark of the Athenian constitutionalism based on popular participation, yet it was never conceptualized by the leading Greek philosophers, including Plato (c. 428–348 or 347B.C.E.) and Aristotle (384–322 B.C.E.). For Plato, democracy—rule by the ignorant masses—was fundamentally flawed. His vision of the ideal state, therefore, allows no space for an assembly or a court: a counterview to the contemporary practice of Athenian politics. Aristotle's tripartite conception of the just political structure—monarchy, aristocracy, and politeia—resulted in the idea of the mixed constitution combining the virtues of three. This idea, ill defined by Aristotle, was often confused with the idea of the ideal constitution. The political practice of Republican Rome was described and celebrated by Cicero (106–43 B.C.E.) as the "mixed constitution," which was, however, a pure aristocracy according to his own description. The nature of Republican Rome's political institutions remains elusive: in contrast with Cicero, Polybius (c. 200–c. 118 B.C.E.) depicted them as part of a constitutionalist system, with the popular assembly controlling legislation and the election of magistrates.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Condensation to CoshConstitutionalism - Ancient Conceptions, Medieval Conceptions, Early Modern Conceptions, Modern Conceptions, Islamic Conceptions, Chinese Conception