Sunday, May 15, 2016

David Hume, Republicanism, and the Human Scale of Political Order

 Hume 2

Aristotle taught that “To the size of states there is a limit, as there is to other things, plants, animals, implements, for none of these things retain their natural power when they are too large or too small.”1 In this paper I want to explore Hume’s views on the proper size and scale of political order.

Size and scale are not the same thing. The scale of a thing is the size appropriate to its function. Scale for human things is the human body and its capacities. Classical architects have longed explored the relation between the human frame, its sensory capacities, and the proper size of doors, windows, courtyards, gardens, the width of streets, plazas, and so forth.

What is the proper size and scale of political order? The answer depends on what we think the function of political order is. Plato and Aristotle thought the function of political association is to achieve human excellence. Since virtue is acquired through emulation of character, face to face knowledge is required of political participants, and this places a limit on the size of the polity.

Aristotle said it should contain “the largest number which suffices for the conduct of life, and can be taken in at a single view.”2 Another classical measure was that one should be able to walk across the polity in a single day. The ancient Greek republics were of this human size and scale.

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