Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



The Roman concept of citizenship represents both a measure of their capacity to govern and one of their key contributions to Western culture. In the Greek city-state, citizenship was something which could not be separated from the intimate and varied life of the polis. It enabled a man to live the good life because it entitled him to participate in all the activities which the polis sponsored. Justice, Plato wrote, meant that every man in this society was doing that for which he was best suited and was receiving in return what was his due. It was the result of a harmony and a balance among the classes. There was little tendency here to picture the state as a legal creature called into existence in large part to protect individual rights. The Greek made no distinction between the state, which commands obedience, and society, which enlists cooperation . There was no hint that an Athenian citizen could retain his status as a citizen if he left Athens; if he left the city, he would become in this respect a fish out of water. Finally, there was no thought that citizenship could ever really become universal. Greek thinkers frankly believed that men were so unequal that only a few of them could ever hope to enjoy the good life and therefore only a few could be admitted into the ranks of citizen. [excerpt]


This is a part of Section I: Athens, Rome, and Jerusalem: Background of Western Civilization. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.