Politics: It’s all Greek to me

And a little Latin too.

Politics comes from the Greek Politikos – affairs of the city, or of the people (Poloi)- giving rise to the words: population, police & policy.

Republic is Latin… Res publica: a public affair. It is a translation of the Greek Politeia – people governing for the public good. It gave rise to the English idea of Commonwealth.

Candidate is Latin. Candidus means shining white – because on public occasions, Roman senators wore bleached togas, chalked brilliant white.

Fascist, a lovely insult these days, comes from Mussolini’s Italy. Mussolini had ideas of reviving the old Roman Empire. Fasces, meaning bundle, were literally a bundle of sticks carried as a symbol of a magistrate’s authority- something to give the rowdy plebs a good beating with.

Originally the Greek word Tyrant carried no negative connotation. He was the sole or absolute ruler of a polis or a city state. Later, with the rise of democracy, it came to mean someone who ruled cruelly without law.

A Greek city state or Polis was divided into wards or Demes. Giving rise to the word democracy – rule by the people of the demes.

Before we start getting all misty-eyed about democracy, let us just remind ourselves that ancient Athens, its birthplace, was a slave owning society where only male citizens could vote.

Democracy was in opposition to…
Monarchy- rule by a monarch or king;
Aristocracy- rule by the best;
Oligarchy- rule by a few;
Plutocracy – rule by the rich.

Perhaps we should add one more, although it is not official. Kleptocracy – rule by a bunch of thieves… something most of us probably have strong opinions on.

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