What Makes a Constitution Good
In what the difference between them consists I have
already stated. I will now address myself to showing that the
Cretan constitution deserves neither praise nor imitation.
To my mind, then, there are two things fundamental
to every state, in virtue of which its powers
and constitution become desirable or objectionable. These are customs and laws.
Of these the desirable are those which make men's private
lives holy and pure, and the public character of the state
civilised and just. The objectionable are those whose effect
is the reverse. As, then, when we see good customs
and good laws prevailing among certain people, we confidently assume that, in consequence of them, the men and
their civil constitution will be good also, so when we see
private life full of covetousness, and public policy of injustice,
plainly we have reason for asserting their laws, particular customs, and general constitution
to be bad. Now, with few exceptions, you could find no habits prevailing in private life more
steeped in treachery than those in Crete
, and no public policy
more inequitable. Holding, then, the Cretan constitution to
be neither like the Spartan, nor worthy of choice or imitation,
I reject it from the comparison which I have instituted.
Nor again would it be fair to introduce the Republic
Ideal polities may be omitted.
of Plato, which is also spoken of in high
terms by some philosophers. For just as we
refuse admission to the athletic contests
to those actors or athletes who have not acquired a
or trained for them, so we ought not to
admit this Platonic constitution to the contest for the prize
of merit unless it can first point to some genuine and practical
achievement. Up to this time the notion of bringing it into
comparison with the constitutions of Sparta
, and Carthage
would be like putting up a statue to compare with living
and breathing men. Even if such a statue were faultless in
point of art, the comparison of the lifeless with the living
would naturally leave an impression of imperfection and incongruity upon the minds of the spectators.