The modern word “politics” is derived from the ancient Greek word for city-state, “polis.” The word Politics literally means into “the things concerning the polis” in Ancient Greek.

By definition sovereign, a city state (“polis”) was a unique entity. Every city-state had its own laws that defined the rights and obligations of the inhabitants within its borders. Their social status, place in a social class, and economy was a matter of law.

Every city imposed its own taxes and regulations. Many gave special liberties and honors to its citizens. The Greek city state was present in every part of daily life. Surprisingly, it did not in the manner of a totalitarian faceless state, but instead fostered the sense of a common community, with shared interests and rituals.

Free trade markets was the norm, even in cities under oligarchic rule, with a handful of exemptions. Most notably the state of Sparta. Since Sparta was an almost totalitarian and militaristic state, the Spartans rulers avoided trade lest the Spartans be exposed to new ideas.

The vast majority of the ancient world however was characterized by decentralized economic exchanges made by individual citizens of each polis. That was what made each polis successful financially. And that was what made its citizens create a unique relation with their cities, a form of citizenship that is has gone extinct in our times.

Built by the people and for the people, the city state stands as the historical pillar of our conception of modern Western liberalism.

The city-state was built on three basic pillars, ideas which the citizens and the inhabitants had as an ultimate purpose in their political and social life.

The first pillar was the idea of Liberty. That meant that the city had to be free, and for that freedom, men had the responsibility to be ready to fight for their independence against other cities…

The second pillar was “autonomy.”Autonomy, is originally a Greek word, which consists of the two words “self ” and “law,” meant that the citizens were actively participating in government, and that they were ruled by laws that they had created themselves. Even in cases of tyranny, the tyrant had the public support most of the times.

The third pillar was autarky, in the highest possible extent. Autarky exists whenever an entity can survive or continue its activities without external assistance. Autarky, originally a Greek word too, consists of the two words “self ” and “sufficient”. That meant that the city itself ought.

That of course could not happened in Greece’s small states, so they focused more on creating a surplus of the goods that they produced.

It was the third pillar, autarky, which would prove to be the most valuable when it comes to securing the survival of the polis.

The Ancient Greek understanding of self reliance, also known as autarky, differs from many modern conceptions. The polis sought economic freedom and prosperity so that it wouldn’t have to rely at all on neighbors politically.

Unlike more modern conceptions of national self reliance, this didn’t preclude trade. Historians observe economic specialization very early in the Greek city states. Each city had to offer something different ranging from agriculture to fishing to mining.

Home of Ellopos Blog