Medieval Western Political Thought
Western civilization came into existence in the late Roman Empire, with the first synthesis of classical civilization and Christianity. When that empire disintegrated, the ancient world ended, and Western civilization nearly ended with it. As Roman power unraveled, learning and culture declined, with reading and writing sometimes confined to the monasteries. However, as the medieval period continued, the monasteries sent their members out into the rest of Europe, evangelizing and teaching. These efforts resulted in the founding of the first university systems and the Scholastic school of thought. The Scholastics included the highly influential work of St. Thomas Aquinas, who synthesized Aristotle's philosophy with Christian theology. Among the topics considered in the Scholastic movement was politics: the nature of government, the types of government, and how to achieve better government. Advances in political and economic thought were made, discussed, and debated.
Practical developments in government and law also occurred. Italian city-states rediscovered republican forms of government, feudalism was developed, the multi-level government of the Holy Roman Empire came into existence, and England began to develop the common law.
As the Church was the only major institution to survive the fall of the Roman Empire, it provided important continuity and had tremendous influence. Consequently, much of political thought concerned the relationship of Church and government. Since a unified Christianity was the organizing principle of the society, some scholars viewed the church, and thus the Pope, as the ultimate authority on all matters. The emperors and kings, in contrast, wanted to use the church to further their own power, and demanded the right to appoint bishops, abbots, and priests. These disputes eventually led to theories of separate roles for religious and secular institutions.
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