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Republicanism, Monarchy, and the Human Scale of Politics

The Founding Fathers had to face hard and unprecedented questions about the size and scale of a political order.  They occupied a vast region, and conventional wisdom said that such could only be governed by monarchy.  They were determined to be republicans, however, and the conventional wisdom was that republics had to be small.  The problem, then, was how to be republican in a territory whose size and scale demanded monarchy.

Since size is relative, we must ask, what standard measures the proper size of a republic?  The republican tradition grew out of ancient Greek civilization, which was composed of hundreds of small city-states, few of which had populations over 10,000.  The point of political order, according to Aristotle, is to achieve human excellence, which is not possible without social corporation and the face-to-face knowledge that only small size can provide.  The proper size is that number needed to achieve human flourishing—namely, economic prosperity, internal and external security, justice, and institutions enabling the development of a high culture.  Plato put it at around 5,000 citizens.  When one adds women, children, servants, slaves, and foreigners, we reach a polity of around 40,000.  This was about the size of Athens, which produced such a high level of culture that we still take our bearings from it.  As Aristotle said, a great state is not necessarily...

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