Maarten Maartensz

Text Philosophy - Aristotle - Politics - Book II - Notes
 

 

Aristotle:
Politics


Notes to Book II:
Maarten Maartensz

Note on these notes

These notes date from the end of 2007, and based on notes in my paper copy of the "The Politics" that date from 1968-1972.

The format is that I quote the text of Aristotle that I comment in blue, and write my own notes in black, with a "Back" at the end of every note that moves the reader back - provided he or she is on line, or has downloaded the relevant files in similar directories, or uses a CD of my site - to the beginning of the quotation in the original text that the note is concerned with. (See also the TOC.)

The result is that my quotations + my notes take more space than Aristotle's original text, but one advantage of the procedure I use is that the reader can read my quotations + my notes independently from the text, yet be moved thence - provisos as above - with a single click.

REMARK: This the 0-version, which means that quite a few things remain to be done. (Nov 16 2007)



Part I


[1] Our purpose is to consider what form of political community is best of all for those who are most able to realize their ideal of life. We must therefore examine not only this but other constitutions, both such as actually exist in well-governed states, and any theoretical forms which are held in esteem; that what is good and useful may be brought to light.

Note Aristotle's end: "what form of political community is best of all for those who are most able to realize their ideal of life."

Two things are noteworthy here: First, the state Aristotle discusses, especially when Greek, tends to be a city-state, or perhaps something like a province (such as the ancient Sparta), and not a large modern state, though there were large states in Aristotle's time too; and second, that he had collected many constitutions of such city-states, which have been lost except one.

Also, it is interesting that he is explicitly willing to consider "any theoretical forms which are held in esteem".    Back.


[2] And let no one suppose that in seeking for something beyond them we are anxious to make a sophistical display at any cost; we only undertake this inquiry because all the constitutions with which we are acquainted are faulty.

This seems to have been written in some irony, but is noteworthy - and see my previous note - that Aristotle held "all the constitutions with which we are acquainted are faulty".    Back.


[3] For the citizens might conceivably have wives and children and property in common, as Socrates proposes in the Republic of Plato. Which is better, our present condition, or the proposed new order of society.

The Republic is well worth reading, since it is great prose and includes many interesting arguments. It is also worth mentioning, and worth realizing, that a considerable part of the arguments is of a Monty Pythonesque quality. Aristotle will discuss it in this book, a little further on, and does so quite sensibly.    Back.


Part II


[4] There are many difficulties in the community of women. And the principle on which Socrates rests the necessity of such an institution evidently is not established by his arguments. Further, as a means to the end which he ascribes to the state, the scheme, taken literally is impracticable, and how we are to interpret it is nowhere precisely stated.

Indeed, and it is true of Plato's Republic as of any other plan for an ideal society that I am aware of that "the scheme, taken literally is impracticable, and how we are to interpret it is nowhere precisely stated".    Back.


[5] I am speaking of the premise from which the argument of Socrates proceeds, 'that the greater the unity of the state the better.' Is it not obvious that a state may at length attain such a degree of unity as to be no longer a state?

This is a very important insight, and Aristotle clearly was aware of totalitarianism, if not by that name.

The insight is this: A good society is a pluriform society, where the different groups and members hold the society together by checks and balances, and where no group or individual can achieve power over all.    Back.


[6] Since the nature of a state is to be a plurality, and in tending to greater unity, from being a state, it becomes a family, and from being a family, an individual; for the family may be said to be more than the state, and the individual than the family. So that we ought not to attain this greatest unity even if we could, for it would be the destruction of the state.

Because - as pointed out in the previous note - the society would cease to be pluriform, start to be totalitarian, and thus becomes the vehicle of one small group, at the cost of the vast majority they subject.

Modern examples of this, in the 20th Century, are national socialism, Soviet socialism, and maoist socialism, all of which were totalitarian dictatorships, and in all of which the individual members of the society were subjected to the state and forced to follow its dictates or else be severely punished or killed.    Back.


[7] Again, a state is not made up only of so many men, but of different kinds of men; for similars do not constitute a state.

Put otherwise: A society is an ordered collection of groups of men of various interests, abilities, and modes of livelihood, that cooperate for mutual benefit. (And "society" here seems to me the better term than "state", which I prefer to use for the institutions in it that govern it, on a municipal and social level.)    Back.


[8] .. (in like manner, a state differs from a nation, when the nation has not its population organized in villages, but lives an Arcadian sort of life) ..

Presumably, by "nation" Aristotle means something like "group of people who share a territory, a tradition, and a language".    Back.


[9] Wherefore the principle of compensation, as I have already remarked in the Ethics, is the salvation of states.

This is better expressed by Sinclair's translation of The Politics:

As I have already stated in my Ethics, it is the perfect balance between its different parts that keeps a city in being.    Back.


[10] Even among freemen and equals this is a principle which must be maintained, for they cannot all rule together, but must change at the end of a year or some other period of time or in some order of succession. The result is that upon this plan they all govern; just as if shoemakers and carpenters were to exchange their occupations, and the same persons did not always continue shoemakers and carpenters.

I agree, and have proposed something similar (without, at the time of writing, remembering Aristotle's Politics, that I had first read many years earlier.

See Bureaucracy Plan and Democracy Plan. Some of the intellectual background can be found in my Chapter 11 that I added to my review of Edwards' "The Logic of Moral Discourse".     Back.


[11] (..) at the same time it is just that all should share in the government (whether to govern be a good thing or a bad), an approximation to this is that equals should in turn retire from office and should, apart from official position, be treated alike. Thus the one party rule and the others are ruled in turn, as if they were no longer the same persons. In like manner when they hold office there is a variety in the offices held.

As in the previous note: See Bureaucracy Plan and Democracy Plan.    Back.


[12] Hence it is evident that a city is not by nature one in that sense which some persons affirm; and that what is said to be the greatest good of cities is in reality their destruction; but surely the good of things must be that which preserves them.

In other words - and I agree - totalitarianism (whether of the Platonic, Spartan, Stalinistic, Maoistic or Hitlerian variety, that incidentally all called themselves "socialist") is a bad idea that leads to bad and repressive government that is not in the interest of the vast majority.    Back.


[13] a city only comes into being when the community is large enough to be self-sufficing. If then self-sufficiency is to be desired, the lesser degree of unity is more desirable than the greater.

It is not clear to me in what sense Aristotle meant "self-sufficing", and he may have meant no more than "capable of maintaining its independence by itself". The reason to remark this is that many states are not "self-sufficing" in any clear economical sense, for example, because their wealth derives to a considerable extent from foreign trade.

Next, that "the lesser degree of unity is more desirable than the greater" is a wise remark, in line with Aristotle's rejection of totalitarianism - and note that a pluriform society requires groups and members with considerable freedoms to act and to speak, if within the boundaries of the law, and that such rights contribute to the happiness or at least the chances of most members of the society.    Back.


Part III


[14] But, even supposing that it were best for the community to have the greatest degree of unity, this unity is by no means proved to follow from the fact 'of all men saying "mine" and "not mine" at the same instant of time,' which, according to Socrates, is the sign of perfect unity in a state.

This refers to the kind of communism Socrates proposed (at least according to Plato), in which there would be very little personal property, and in which all would belong to all.    Back.


[15] There is an obvious fallacy in the term 'all': like some other words, 'both,' 'odd,' 'even,' it is ambiguous, and even in abstract argument becomes a source of logical puzzles. That all persons call the same thing mine in the sense in which each does so may be a fine thing, but it is impracticable; or if the words are taken in the other sense, such a unity in no way conduces to harmony.

This is very perceptive, and indeed undermines Rousseau's argument, who desired a society directed by the General Will of the population. Aristotle is quite right that such a state of affairs may be said to express the desires of all, but not of each, indeed to that extent that no one or hardly anyone might agree to what is supposed to be the General Will. And indeed, the whole conception is a totalitarian one, much abused by the socialist states in the 20th Century, and also by so-called modern democrats who claim, lyingly, that "the electorate is always right".     Back.


[16] And there is another objection to the proposal. For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it. Every one thinks chiefly of his own, hardly at all of the common interest; and only when he is himself concerned as an individual. For besides other considerations, everybody is more inclined to neglect the duty which he expects another to fulfill; as in families many attendants are often less useful than a few. Each citizen will have a thousand sons who will not be his sons individually but anybody will be equally the son of anybody, and will therefore be neglected by all alike.

This too is quite perceptive, and indeed also conforms with the facts: As it happens, most socialist utopias that have been tried - interestingly, many small ones in the United States of the 19th Century - quickly came to grief, because its members, apart from quarrelling among each other about the ideal constitution and the best moral practices, generally were much more inclined to take from the community than to contribute to it. And the same or a similar thing happened in Soviet-like states.    Back.


[17] But which is better - for each to say 'mine' in this way, making a man the same relation to two thousand or ten thousand citizens, or to use the word 'mine' in the ordinary and more restricted sense?

Aristotle will strongly prefer the latter, and I agree: That is the only way in which a human individual has a chance to realize his individual desires, or follow his own ideas.    Back.


Part IV


[18] Other evils, against which it is not easy for the authors of such a community to guard, will be assaults and homicides, voluntary as well as involuntary, quarrels and slanders, all which are most unholy acts when committed against fathers and mothers and near relations, but not equally unholy when there is no relationship.

This is sound psychology, which can be restated thus: To the extent that human beings do not have strong personal ties, they are prone to abuse each other if such abuse seems to serve their own interests.

Human beings may imaginatively or by empathy put themselves in another person's position, but tend to do so only to the extent that the others seem to be like them, or seem sympathetic or useful to them.    Back.


[19] Again, how strange it is that Socrates, after having made the children common, should hinder lovers from carnal intercourse only, but should permit love and familiarities between father and son or between brother and brother, than which nothing can be more unseemly, since even without them love of this sort is improper. How strange, too, to forbid intercourse for no other reason than the violence of the pleasure, as though the relationship of father and son or of brothers with one another made no difference.

One possible explanation for this is that Socrates, and Plato more so, like many of their Greek male contemporaries, were prone to homosexuality, and believed women to be inferior to men.

Of course, Aristotle is quite right that if the strength of the pleasure is an objection against sexual relations, it also is an objection against homosexual relations.

Incidentally, there are several possible explanations for the high incidence of male homosexuality in ancient Greece, that indeed requires explanation because, while it occurs in all societies, and also between some birds and mammals, it tends to be uncommon, and often is related - as in English public schools - to the unavailability of women or girls.

This is also the hub of the explanation that seems most plausible: In Greek society, there was a strong separation between the men and the women, and most men held that women were inferior to men.

And, other than Socrates and Plato, Aristotle seems to have been happily married.    Back.


[20] For friendship we believe to be the greatest good of states and the preservative of them against revolutions; neither is there anything which Socrates so greatly lauds as the unity of the state which he and all the world declare to be created by friendship. But the unity which he commends would be like that of the lovers in the Symposium, who, as Aristophanes says, desire to grow together in the excess of their affection, and from being two to become one, in which case one or both would certainly perish.

That "friendship" between the members, or at least benevolence, or at the very least tolerance, is a requirement for a good society is a useful point, but indeed it may easily be exaggerated, and Plato did so.

And a better objection that Aristotle gives seems to be that all love, whether homosexual or not, is at the cost of friendships with others than the beloved.    Back.


[21] Of the two qualities which chiefly inspire regard and affection - that a thing is your own and that it is your only one - neither can exist in such a state as this.

For - to put this otherwise - all love seeks personal possession of what is loved.    Back.


Part V


[22] Next let us consider what should be our arrangements about property: should the citizens of the perfect state have their possessions in common or not? This question may be discussed separately from the enactments about women and children.

This is what is generally considered the main mark of socialism and communism: That the members in such a society collectively own the means  of production.

The formulation I gave is a common one, but it should be evident that it is not at all obvious how "the members" of a society could conceivably "own", and that "collectively", the "means of production" (generally understood in the sense of: land, seed, cattle, factories, roads etc.)

Indeed, a logical objection is that what belongs to all effectively belongs to none, and a practical and historical objection is that in communist socialist states the members of the Polit-bureau of the Communist Party had the effective and dictatorial power over the means of production.    Back.


[23] Three cases are possible: (1) the soil may be appropriated, but the produce may be thrown for consumption into the common stock; and this is the practice of some nations. Or (2), the soil may be common, and may be cultivated in common, but the produce divided among individuals for their private use; this is a form of common property which is said to exist among certain barbarians. Or (3), the soil and the produce may be alike common.

Incidentally, similar questions were raised and discussed during Oliver Cromwell's revolution in England, notably by the so-called diggers and levellers, who came for the most part from the common people and had quite pronounced and interesting anarchistic, socialistic and communistic ideas.

An interesting and fine writer from this tradition is Gerrard Winstanley, who was edited in a volume of Penguin Classics,as "The Law of Freedom and other Writings", Ed. Cristopher Hill.    Back.


[24] But indeed there is always a difficulty in men living together and having all human relations in common, but especially in their having common property. The partnerships of fellow-travelers are an example to the point; for they generally fall out over everyday matters and quarrel about any trifle which turns up. So with servants: we are most able to take offense at those with whom we most we most frequently come into contact in daily life.

Indeed, and see under ....

One may also restate the point thus: Where no-one owns personal property, all lack the means to create privacy, and do their own thing in their own way in their own time. Likewise, all are forced into relations with other members to obtain the means to satisfy their personal needs that could be satisfied far more easily, quickly and effectively when each had some personal property to use for personal ends.    Back.


[25] These are only some of the disadvantages which attend the community of property; the present arrangement, if improved as it might be by good customs and laws, would be far better, and would have the advantages of both systems. Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private; for, when everyone has a distinct interest, men will not complain of one another, and they will make more progress, because every one will be attending to his own business. And yet by reason of goodness, and in respect of use, 'Friends,' as the proverb says, 'will have all things common.'

Yes, this is very sensible, and conforms to the facts about later socialist experiments. It also supports the so-called social democrats, who may be said to have sought to introduce a modicum of socialism into capitalism, and not by a social revolution, but by better legislation, achieved by means of the ballot-box or trade-unions.    Back.


[26] Even now there are traces of such a principle, showing that it is not impracticable, but, in well-ordered states, exists already to a certain extent and may be carried further. For, although every man has his own property, some things he will place at the disposal of his friends, while of others he shares the use with them. The Lacedaemonians, for example, use one another's slaves, and horses, and dogs, as if they were their own; and when they lack provisions on a journey, they appropriate what they find in the fields throughout the country.

Indeed, and see the previous note, especially about social democracy, that may be said to have aimed at "capitalism with a human face", and to have succeeded in that aim to a considerable extent in modern Europe, though not only or primarily through social democratic activities in parliaments or trade-unions, but because science has progressed rapidly, and thereby made it possible to produce far more per head, to share more or less fairly with more or less fair laws, than there was to share in earlier societies.    Back.


[27] It is clearly better that property should be private, but the use of it common; and the special business of the legislator is to create in men this benevolent disposition. Again, how immeasurably greater is the pleasure, when a man feels a thing to be his own; for surely the love of self is a feeling implanted by nature and not given in vain, although selfishness is rightly censured; this, however, is not the mere love of self, but the love of self in excess, like the miser's love of money; for all, or almost all, men love money and other such objects in a measure.

In other words, and to repeat and restate earlier notes: Most of the harm that private property enables - exploitation, slavery, starvation wages, long working hours, child labor, great poverty for the greatest and working part of society - can be removed or extenuated through proper and enforced legislation.

That "the love of self is a feeling implanted by nature" is obviously connected to the elementary facts that nobody can have the feelings of another's body, and nobody can think with another's brain.

For more on selfishness and love, see the Ethics.    Back.


[28] The exhibition of two virtues, besides, is visibly annihilated in such a state: first, temperance towards women (for it is an honorable action to abstain from another's wife for temperance' sake); secondly, liberality in the matter of property. No one, when men have all things in common, will any longer set an example of liberality or do any liberal action; for liberality consists in the use which is made of property.

This seems mostly correct (and for Aristotle's sense of "liberality" - perhaps better called "generousness" - and "temperance" see the Ethics Book ..), though it may be cogently objected that while under communism one cannot be generous with one's property, since one has none, one still may be generous in kindness, helpfulness, and other acts.    Back.


[29] Such legislation may have a specious appearance of benevolence; men readily listen to it, and are easily induced to believe that in some wonderful manner everybody will become everybody's friend, especially when some one is heard denouncing the evils now existing in states, suits about contracts, convictions for perjury, flatteries of rich men and the like, which are said to arise out of the possession of private property.

Here Aristotle very farseeingly sketches the effect of communist and socialist propaganda in the 18th, 19th and 20th Century - and perhaps it should be added that in the French Revolution there were communists, such as Babeuf, and - to a considerable extent - Robespierre and Marat, and that the term "socialism" dates to 1827, though the ideals are clearly far more ancient.    Back.


[30] These evils, however, are due to a very different cause - the wickedness of human nature. Indeed, we see that there is much more quarrelling among those who have all things in common, though there are not many of them when compared with the vast numbers who have private property.

This again is highly perceptive, and concerns an issue few idealists, few radical reformers, and few adolescents are willing to meet frankly and head on: "the wickedness of human nature". This needs at least two remarks.

First, it seems clearly true, on average, as illustrated by human history, which is fairly described by Gibbon and by Chamfort in these terms:

"History is little else but the register of the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind"
   (Gibbon)

"Presque toute l'Histoire n'est qu'une suite d'horreurs."
   (Chamfort)

and which moved Hazlitt to the quite correct exclamation

If mankind had wished for what is right, they might have had it long ago.
   (Hazlitt, "On the pleasure of hating")

 Second, this is mostly explained by egoism and stupidity

"Egoism and stupidity are the roots of all vice"
   (Buddha)

and also by the facts that all men only can feel their own needs and interests, and think their own thoughts, and that all sympathy or human kindness requires a certain amount of imaginary taking the place of another, while it also is a fact that the vast majority of men is not particularly well inclined towards men who are not a member of their own society, group, club, party, or family, and indeed are often inclined, also because the ideology or religion or morals of their groups allows or approves this, to exploit, abuse, lie to, or deceive foreigners, strangers and non-groupmembers.

And it should be remarked that, apart from sadism, malevolence and cruelty, all of which are quite human and quite common too, the common human traits of egoism, stupidity and chauvinism go quite far in explaining and underpinning the above first three quoted observations.    Back.


[31] Again, we ought to reckon, not only the evils from which the citizens will be saved, but also the advantages which they will lose. The life which they are to lead appears to be quite impracticable. The error of Socrates must be attributed to the false notion of unity from which he starts. Unity there should be, both of the family and of the state, but in some respects only.

As before, this is remarkably prescient on Aristotle's part as regards the socialist states of the 20th Century, and as regards the totalitarian modes of thinking that are at their intellectual or emotioal foundation.     Back.


[32] For there is a point at which a state may attain such a degree of unity as to be no longer a state, or at which, without actually ceasing to exist, it will become an inferior state, like harmony passing into unison, or rhythm which has been reduced to a single foot. The state, as I was saying, is a plurality which should be united and made into a community by education; and it is strange that the author of a system of education which he thinks will make the state virtuous, should expect to improve his citizens by regulations of this sort, and not by philosophy or by customs and laws (..)

Again a very insightful Aristotelian remark about totalitarianism and socialism, which may be supplemented by the rather melancholic observation that it seems to require a great mind to see through the confusions and wishful thinking that are at the basis of so many political ideologies and schemes to improve society or mankind, that in fact are usually composed from wishful thinking, confused ideas, and little historical and psychological knowledge.   Back.


[33] Let us remember that we should not disregard the experience of ages; in the multitude of years these things, if they were good, would certainly not have been unknown; for almost everything has been found out, although sometimes they are not put together; in other cases men do not use the knowledge which they have.

See my previous remark, and note that Aristotle wrote this some 2350 years before I wrote this. And clearly he was then right, is now right - and has either been insufficiently read or insufficiently understood in the intervening milleniums.    Back.


[34] Great light would be thrown on this subject if we could see such a form of government in the actual process of construction (..)

Here we are helped by modern history: There is, at the time of writing this, namely 2007, quite a large amount of interesting documentation about the rise and fall of the Soviet Union.

Three interesting books are: Robert Conquest, "The Great Terror"; P.J.D. Wiles, "The Political Economy of Communism" and Anne Applebaum, "Gulag". More literary but equally interesting are Orwell's "1984" and "Animal Farm".    Back.


[35] But, indeed, Socrates has not said, nor is it easy to decide, what in such a community will be the general form of the state. The citizens who are not guardians are the majority, and about them nothing has been determined: are the husbandmen, too, to have their property in common? Or is each individual to have his own? And are the wives and children to be individual or common.

This - as also remarked above, but which bears repeating, seeing so much misery in human history, and so many dictatorships surrected on the basis of idealism and wishful thinking - also holds for most radical plans for social transformations.    Back.


[36] (..) the ingenious policy of the Cretans, who give their slaves the same institutions as their own, but forbid them gymnastic exercises and the possession of arms.

Presumably, to prevent their acquisition of the skills and the means for becoming soldiers.

Incidentally, if these Cretan slaves otherwise had "the same institutions" and were well fed and not severely punished for small misdemeanors, it is somewhat difficult to see what is the real difference between them and the population of nearly all modern European states, who still must toil much of their lifes to have the means to survive, and are not allowed to bear arms, since the police and the military have the monopoly of arms, and the government the monopoly of violence.    Back.


[37] And whether community of wives and property be necessary for the lower equally with the higher class or not, and the questions akin to this, what will be the education, form of government, laws of the lower class, Socrates has nowhere determined: neither is it easy to discover this, nor is their character of small importance if the common life of the guardians is to be maintained.

Indeed, and as before - and even a great mind like Socratres or Plato clearly uttered many a falsehood, mostly inspired by wishful thinking, and proposed plans and constitutions that were neither precise nor practical, apart from their totalitarian contents.    Back.


[38] The government, too, as constituted by Socrates, contains elements of danger; for he makes the same persons always rule. And if this is often a cause of disturbance among the meaner sort, how much more among high-spirited warriors? But that the persons whom he makes rulers must be the same is evident; for the gold which the God mingles in the souls of men is not at one time given to one, at another time to another, but always to the same: as he says, 'God mingles gold in some, and silver in others, from their very birth; but brass and iron in those who are meant to be artisans and husbandmen.'

We shall read more on the dangers of continued rule by the same below, where I will comment on it. Here I merely remark that Aristotle is right at least in that a leadership that cannot be peaceably removed differs little from a dictatorship, however benign it might be (but normally isn't).

As to Socrates' aristocratic notions, it may be remarked that Aristotle mostly shared them, and indeed it is at least as difficult for a genuinely intelligent man to believe all are his intellectual equals as it is difficult for a genuinely strong and tall man to believe all are his equals in strength and length.

And since egalitarianism has been very popular among Western academics and students these last 25 years (of academic marxism, feminism, socialism, and postmodernism), and I am too intelligent and informed to believe it, and too experienced with it to believe those who professed it and made careers with it did so honestly, let me add that one of the moral advantages of allowing and agreeing, as I do, that all genuine talents are innate, is that it follows that one can not fairly praise or blame anyone for the talents he was born with, or without, but that one only may fairly praise or blame people for what they do and have done with what they have got.    Back.


[39] Again, he deprives the guardians even of happiness, and says that the legislator ought to make the whole state happy. But the whole cannot be happy unless most, or all, or some of its parts enjoy happiness.

This is another very common still very popular confusion of totalitarianists and extremists of all kinds, that amounts logically speaking to the equivocation of "all X", "some X", "a few X" and "one X" by speaking and writing always of X without quantifiers, as in "Women want...", "Frenchmen are...", "Men think..." a.s.o. that produce systematically ambiguous statements without any cognitive value, but with great potential to confuse and mislead.

A similar, related and also very common confusion is to speak as if abstract entities - "the state", "the people", "the German nation", "the voter", "the electorate" a.s.o. - are feeling, thinking, acting, believing, desiring, in short personal entities, much rather than the individual men and women who fall under these concepts.

One can see a combination of both confusions and fallacies in virtually all modern media-prose, in totatilitarian and non-totalitarian contexts, apparently because it makes it so easy to formulate many a well-sounding general proposition; because it doesn't offend powerful individuals; and because most are too stupid to see clearly that all they are presented with in these terms is fallaciously expressed at the very least.    Back.


[40] And if the guardians are not happy, who are? Surely not the artisans, or the common people. The Republic of which Socrates discourses has all these difficulties, and others quite as great.

Likewise, the socialism of which Lenin and Mao discoursed did not lead to happy people, apparently not even at the dictatorial top, for these too risked daily to be murdered, imprisoned, or "re-educated" by their fellows in power, at least if they deviated palpably from the majority.    Back.


Part VI


[41] The same, or nearly the same, objections apply to Plato's later work, the Laws, and therefore we had better examine briefly the constitution which is therein described.

Plato wrote this late in life, after quite a few political and moral disappointments. It is less interesting reading than The Republic, and as Aristotle says, not more cogent.    Back.


[42] In the Republic, Socrates has definitely settled in all a few questions only; such as the community of women and children, the community of property, and the constitution of the state. The population is divided into two classes - one of husbandmen, and the other of warriors; from this latter is taken a third class of counselors and rulers of the state. But Socrates has not determined whether the husbandmen and artisans are to have a share in the government, and whether they, too, are to carry arms and share in military service, or not. He certainly thinks that the women ought to share in the education of the guardians, and to fight by their side. The remainder of the work is filled up with digressions foreign to the main subject, and with discussions about the education of the guardians.

The digressions mostly concern metaphysics. One famous, though not well-reasoned, passage is the parabel of the grotto, that depicts all men - except enlightened Platonists, of course - as living in perpetual illusion.    Back.


[43] In the Laws there is hardly anything but laws; not much is said about the constitution. This, which he had intended to make more of the ordinary type, he gradually brings round to the other or ideal form. For with the exception of the community of women and property, he supposes everything to be the same in both states; there is to be the same education; the citizens of both are to live free from servile occupations, and there are to be common meals in both. The only difference is that in the Laws, the common meals are extended to women, and the warriors number 5000, but in the Republic only 1000.

There are more differences, and Plato-specialists might make lists, or discuss gnats, but on the whole Aristotle seems right to me.    Back.


[44] The discourses of Socrates are never commonplace; they always exhibit grace and originality and thought; but perfection in everything can hardly be expected. We must not overlook the fact that the number of 5000 citizens, just now mentioned, will require a territory as large as Babylon, or some other huge site, if so many persons are to be supported in idleness, together with their women and attendants, who will be a multitude many times as great. In framing an ideal we may assume what we wish, but should avoid impossibilities.

Again fair and just Aristotelian remarks. It is noteworthy that the Greek city-states were remarkably small by modern standards, both qua states and qua cities, which incidentally makes their civilization - art, mathematics, philosophy - the more amazing.

And as to "framing an ideal": It would be well if anybody who framed an ideal should add a clear and practical plan or proposal how to attain the ideal from the state where one starts from and lives in.    Back.


[45] For a state must have such a military force as will be serviceable against her neighbors, and not merely useful at home. Even if the life of action is not admitted to be the best, either for individuals or states, still a city should be formidable to enemies, whether invading or retreating.

Quite so, for men being what they are, for the most part - see [30], a city or state that cannot defend itself, and which has anything worth having, will be overrun by its neighbors.    Back.


[46] For liberality and temperance are the only eligible qualities which have to do with the use of property. A man cannot use property with mildness or courage, but temperately and liberally he may; and therefore the practice of these virtues is inseparable from property.

This may be doubted to some extent - see under [] - but it seems mostly correct, and better terms than "liberality and temperance" may be "generous and fair" (which incidentally shows again why "property" is not essential for this, if helpful).    Back.


[47] (..) and poverty is the parent of revolution and crime.

Indeed, and not only that: Unhappiness "is the parent of revolution and crime", next to egoism and ambition (and the ambitious or greedy are not happy even if rich and respected).    Back.


[48] The whole system of government tends to be neither democracy nor oligarchy, but something in a mean between them, which is usually called a polity, and is composed of the heavy-armed soldiers.

Note that more or less literary, "democracy" is government by the many or the people, and "oligarchy" is government by the few.

Those in Western states who believe they live in a "democracy", e.g. because the media and the government say so, as do the teachers in schools, should realize that (1) precisely the same, with the very same term, was done in the Soviet-Union and (2) Aristotle - like Machiavelli - would probably insist that in any case modern so-called democracies have many traits of what they called oligarchies, presently including in many countries a sort of hereditary government, where the governors and parliamentarians often are children or grandchildren of governors and parliamentarians.     Back.


[49] In the Laws it is maintained that the best constitution is made up of democracy and tyranny, which are either not constitutions at all, or are the worst of all.

One may ask why "democracy" would be "the worst of all" systems of government according to Aristotle. The brief answer is probably that, in his opinion, the rabble is not fit to govern; and the somewhat longer and more polite answer that a democracy usually does not have able governors, and is too much dependent on a too unenlightened and changeable popular vote to last.

As pointed out in the previous note, it is not likely that Aristotle would have held that the modern Western so-called democracies are a "democracy" in his sense of the word.    Back.


[50] But they are nearer the truth who combine many forms; for the constitution is better which is made up of more numerous elements. The constitution proposed in the Laws has no element of monarchy at all; it is nothing but oligarchy and democracy, leaning rather to oligarchy.

In brief: Good government is mixed, and uses various styles of governing and coming to decisions where appropriate.    Back.


[51] The oligarchical principle prevails also in the choice of the council, for all are compelled to choose, but the compulsion extends only to the choice out of the first class (..)

This is dealt with also below, and see under [97], [98] and [99].    Back.


[52] There is also a danger in electing the magistrates out of a body who are themselves elected; for, if but a small number choose to combine, the elections will always go as they desire. Such is the constitution which is described in the Laws.

Actually, this is the common practice in modern Western democracies, namely of "electing the magistrates out of a body who are themselves elected".

A general rule that applies here is that no government and no magistrate can be trusted that is not controlled by independent people, and that cannot be removed peaceably by a majority of qualified people.

In terms of this general rule, many so-called modern democratic institutions can not be trusted.

And the reason such government or institutions cannot be trusted is Lord Acton's "All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".    Back.


Part VII


[53] Other constitutions have been proposed; some by private persons, others by philosophers and statesmen, which all come nearer to established or existing ones than either of Plato's. No one else has introduced such novelties as the community of women and children, or public tables for women (..)

Some of the other "constitutions" will be discussed below, but it is noteworthy that Plato's Republic was very radical, also in its own day.    Back.


[54] In the opinion of some, the regulation of property is the chief point of all, that being the question upon which all revolutions turn. This danger was recognized by Phaleas of Chalcedon, who was the first to affirm that the citizens of a state ought to have equal possessions. He thought that in a new colony the equalization might be accomplished without difficulty, not so easily when a state was already established; and that then the shortest way of compassing the desired end would be for the rich to give and not to receive marriage portions, and for the poor not to give but to receive them.

Interestingly, this dominant concern with "the regulation of property" is also what moved most socialists, communists and social democrats - which indeed makes some emotional and intuitive sense in societies were the many are mercilessly exploited by the few, as has been often the case.

Even so, it is neither a panacea nor sensible, for if persons are rewarded in rough proportion to their personal merits, as most find fair, there will not be equal rewards for all, since all are not the same in merit, talents, strength or opportunities.

The most workable and fairest system seems to be one in which everyone can earn a wage that permits one to lead a healthy life with some leisure, and everyone is paid in rough proportion to merits and education; and few or none get the chance to become stinkingly rich, through the means of progressive taxation.     Back.


[55] Plato in the Laws was of opinion that, to a certain extent, accumulation should be allowed, forbidding, as I have already observed, any citizen to possess more than five times the minimum qualification.

In Holland, where I live, there is a norm that the official salaries should not be higher than 10 times the minimum wage. This sounds more egalitarian than it is, for it only holds for ordinary salaried jobs, and not for CEOs, medical specialists, lawyers etc.

On the other hand, it is more fair than in Holland a 100 and more years ago, where the differences were easily 1 : 25 or more, and most of the working population worked for 10 or more hours a day to obtain merely the wherewithall to feed themselves, and that poorly.

For those who read Dutch, there are interesting remarks by the 19th Century Dutch writer Multatuli, that give clear statements of what working men than earned, and what they could buy with it. The brief summary is that the vast majority worked very hard for very little. (Dutch: Idee 451 and Idee 829)    Back.


[56] And, besides the violation of the law, it is a bad thing that many from being rich should become poor; for men of ruined fortunes are sure to stir up revolutions.

Indeed, and that has turned out to be a common cause of revolutions and attempted revolts.    Back.


[57] Laws were made by Solon and others prohibiting an individual from possessing as much land as he pleased; and there are other laws in states which forbid the sale of property: among the Locrians, for example, there is a law that a man is not to sell his property unless he can prove unmistakably that some misfortune has befallen him.

I select this mostly in illustration of the fact that there were many systems of laws and many laws in the different Greek city-states, and that, accordingly, in one relatively small terrritory (Greece) in a relatively short time (between -600 and -400) in effect very many social experiments were performed.

It is a great pity that Aristotle's collection of the constiturions of many of these city-states has perished.    Back.


[58] Again, where there is equality of property, the amount may be either too large or too small, and the possessor may be living either in luxury or penury. Clearly, then, the legislator ought not only to aim at the equalization of properties, but at moderation in their amount. Further, if he prescribe this moderate amount equally to all, he will be no nearer the mark; for it is not the possessions but the desires of mankind which require to be equalized, and this is impossible, unless a sufficient education is provided by the laws.

Quite so, and see under [54].

That note requires one supplement, which is this: In a properly organized society everyone gets a good education, and one which is adequate for his or her talents, regardless of the wealth or poverty of his parents.    Back.


[59] Moreover, civil troubles arise, not only out of the inequality of property, but out of the inequality of honor, though in opposite ways. For the common people quarrel about the inequality of property, the higher class about the equality of honor (..)

Indeed, and see [56]: Generally the leaders of the lower classes are not from the lower but from the upper classes, because they are better educated, better known, and richer.    Back.


[60] There are crimes of which the motive is want; and for these Phaleas expects to find a cure in the equalization of property, which will take away from a man the temptation to be a highwayman, because he is hungry or cold. But want is not the sole incentive to crime; men also wish to enjoy themselves and not to be in a state of desire - they wish to cure some desire, going beyond the necessities of life, which preys upon them; nay, this is not the only reason - they may desire superfluities in order to enjoy pleasures unaccompanied with pain, and therefore they commit crimes.

See the next note, and note here that - as very often - Phaleas proposed an apparent cure for a real ill without properly understanding the causes of the real ill or the ramifications and consequences of the proposed cure.    Back.


[61] The fact is that the greatest crimes are caused by excess and not by necessity. Men do not become tyrants in order that they may not suffer cold; and hence great is the honor bestowed, not on him who kills a thief, but on him who kills a tyrant.

Indeed, and it may be generally said that only thoroughly bad men desire to become tyrants, and their motives in general are greed for power and wealth, often with some admixture of madness (as was also the case for the 20th Century tyrants Stalin, Hitler and Mao, and quite a few others).

And it is noteworthy that later, and even in the Middle Ages, it was considered praiseworthy to kill a tyrant - as indeed it is, since it tends to be very difficult and very dangerous, and to help many at the cost one one life of one thoroughly bad man.

Incidentally, for those of relativistic leanings: If one defines "bad" in terms of "physical harm", one has a clear and workable definition, which needs very little relativism to be applied sensibly.

A society where many of its members are killed, imprisoned, or divested from their property or means of making a living, because they happen to have opinions those in power disagree with, is a bad society, simply because a human society is an attempt to benefit all of its members through cooperation.    Back.


[62] And so with respect to property: there should not only be enough to supply the internal wants of the state, but also to meet dangers coming from without. The property of the state should not be so large that more powerful neighbors may be tempted by it, while the owners are unable to repel the invaders; nor yet so small that the state is unable to maintain a war even against states of equal power, and of the same character.

Indeed, and this requires to supplementary remarks.

First, this shows that any organized society must use part of its product to protect itself against its neighbours - and this requires something like taxes, and a kind of government.

Second, anarchists, pacifists, and idealists who deny this, and who want to rely on arguments only, and trust in the goodness of human nature, simply are willfully blind for the evidence that human nature is not as they think it is, unless they are very young and very ignorant, and not capable yet of true rational judgment because of ignorance.    Back.


[63] The equalization of property is one of the things that tend to prevent the citizens from quarrelling. Not that the gain in this direction is very great. For the nobles will be dissatisfied because they think themselves worthy of more than an equal share of honors; and this is often found to be a cause of sedition and revolution.

See under [], and note that the desire to have more than others, in wealth, status, power, beauty, chances, distinction and public acclaim and fame is very human, and not at all limited to "the nobles".

And indeed, some of this is not immoral at all, and quite desirable, for it seems fair to reward or admire others for being special in a useful or pleasing way - and everybody does so where it concerns facial beauty, that is not due to any personal merit but to chance.

This love of distinction that moves so many humans, and that incidentally also manifests itself in display of riches in those who pretend verbally to be "no better than others" and to be "ordinary persons like everyone else" (with a Merc, a false Rolex, and golden teeth-fillings), seems to be part of human nature, and needs to channeled in a well-constructed society so that it does good for the most part, and not bad.    Back.


[64] And the avarice of mankind is insatiable; at one time two obols was pay enough; but now, when this sum has become customary, men always want more and more without end; for it is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it.

Indeed, and a man without desire has no motive even to lift a finger, and probably is dead or unconscious.

The Buddhists claimed that the source of all human suffering is craving, and recommend the giving up of desiring, through meditation and proper living, and though there is some sense in this, it is basically incoherent for the reason given in the previous paragraph.

And in any case, the problem is not with desire as such, or the fact that it tends to be unlimited in many cases (power, wealth, fame), but that the means used for its satisfaction are so often harmful, and on the pattern of "the end" - my satisfaction - "justifies the means".    Back.


[65] The beginning of reform is not so much to equalize property as to train the nobler sort of natures not to desire more, and to prevent the lower from getting more; that is to say, they must be kept down, but not ill-treated.

First see the previous note.

Next, for those of pronounced democratic and egalitarian sentiments (that tend to be means to aggrandize onself, but let that be) it should be remarked that indeed "the lower classes" often "must be kept down" somehow, if possible without ill-treatment.

If this had happened during the Russian revolution, or during Hitler's rise to power, great harm to many millions would have been prevented. As it was, the lower classes, as so often, were the willing tools of populists and would-be dictators, and severely repressed as soon as they had brought the dictators to power.    Back.


Part VIII


[66] Hippodamus, the son of Euryphon, a native of Miletus, the same who invented the art of planning cities, and who also laid out the Piraeus - a strange man, whose fondness for distinction led him into a general eccentricity of life, which made some think him affected (for he would wear flowing hair and expensive ornaments; but these were worn on a cheap but warm garment both in winter and summer); he, besides aspiring to be an adept in the knowledge of nature, was the first person not a statesman who made inquiries about the best form of government.

Hippodamus seems to have belonged to the human type that in modern times produces pop-stars, popular politicians, and media gurus of all kinds. In short, he had a theatrical personality, which indeed does not imply at all that he was stupid or uninformed - and indeed, it is a proper mark of human distinction to have been "the first person not a statesman who made inquiries about the best form of government."

Incidentally, Aristotle speaks of course of the Greeks, and it is interesting that outside Greece, for example in China, there were great men that may be fairly compared to him, such as Confucius and Mencius, who are well worth reading in good editions. (For Confucius, there is a good edition by Lin Yutang, "Confucius", and both Chinese philosophers are included in Wing-tsit Chan's excellent "A Sourcebook of Chinese Philosophy".)    Back.


[67] The city of Hippodamus was composed of 10,000 citizens divided into three parts - one of artisans, one of husbandmen, and a third of armed defenders of the state. He also divided the land into three parts, one sacred, one public, the third private: the first was set apart to maintain the customary worship of the Gods, the second was to support the warriors, the third was the property of the husbandmen. He also divided laws into three classes, and no more, for he maintained that there are three subjects of lawsuits- insult, injury, and homicide. He likewise instituted a single final court of appeal, to which all causes seeming to have been improperly decided might be referred; this court he formed of elders chosen for the purpose. He was further of opinion that the decisions of the courts ought not to be given by the use of a voting pebble, but that every one should have a tablet on which he might not only write a simple condemnation, or leave the tablet blank for a simple acquittal; but, if he partly acquitted and partly condemned, he was to distinguish accordingly.

I extracted this mainly to give an indication of what some ancient Greek social reformers were up to.

Aristotle discusses this in his text that follows.    Back.


[68] He also enacted that those who discovered anything for the good of the state should be honored; and he provided that the children of citizens who died in battle should be maintained at the public expense, as if such an enactment had never been heard of before, yet it actually exists at Athens and in other places.

One may presume that Aristotle lived in Athens at the time of writing this. Apart from that, it is interesting that modern Western societies are not as helpful to "the children of citizens who died in battle".    Back.


[69] As to the magistrates, he would have them all elected by the people, that is, by the three classes already mentioned, and those who were elected were to watch over the interests of the public, of strangers, and of orphans.

Note the "by the people, that is, by the three classes" (which suggests diferent modes of elections for the different classes) and also what they were to be concerned with - and the interests "of strangers, and of orphans" have not been well-protected in more modern Western societies, by the way.    Back.


[70] There is surely a great confusion in all this.

This I selected because it is so very true of so many political plans and proposals, in rough proportion to their radicalism and idealism.    Back.


[71] To honor those who discover anything which is useful to the state is a proposal which has a specious sound, but cannot safely be enacted by law, for it may encourage informers, and perhaps even lead to political commotions.

This is true, and Athens had been much plagued by informers when it was ruled by dictators. Even so, it may be fairly argued that Hippodamus may have had something else in mind, and indeed in modern states it is normal to honor prominent musicians, scientists, artists and the like, which seems to me a good idea.    Back.


[72] It has been doubted whether it is or is not expedient to make any changes in the laws of a country, even if another law be better. Now, if all  changes are inexpedient, we can hardly assent to the proposal of Hippodamus; for, under pretense of doing a public service, a man may introduce measures which are really destructive to the laws or to the constitution.

Here two things are noteworthy: There always have been conservatives and traditionalists who objects to all changes, or all radical changes; and the "pretense of doing a public service" has ever been the means of whomever sought distinction, fame, power or wealth, and still is, especially if one replaces "pretense" by "promise, usually not kept".    Back.


[73] Such changes in the other arts and sciences have certainly been beneficial; medicine, for example, and gymnastic, and every other art and craft have departed from traditional usage. And, if politics be an art, change must be necessary in this as in any other art. That improvement has occurred is shown by the fact that old customs are exceedingly simple and barbarous.

More briefly: Conservatives and traditionalists are mistaken in principe, though not always necessarily in particular fact.    Back.


[74] For the ancient Hellenes went about armed and bought their brides of each other. The remains of ancient laws which have come down to us are quite absurd; for example, at Cumae there is a law about murder, to the effect that if the accuser produce a certain number of witnesses from among his own kinsmen, the accused shall be held guilty.

It is clear that Aristotle was neither a traditionalist nor a conservative, and also was not one to believe that "in earlier days everything was much better".

And it may be noted that in some muslim countries it still seems to be a law that for several crimes it requires four witnesses to prove it in court, which has the consequence that many of those crimes never come to court.    Back.


[75] Even when laws have been written down, they ought not always to remain unaltered. As in other sciences, so in politics, it is impossible that all things should be precisely set down in writing; for enactments must be universal, but actions are concerned with particulars.

Aristotle has more fully discussed the necessary vagueness and imprecision that comes with discussing social and legal and moral affairs in the Ethics. See .....     Back.


[76] The analogy of the arts is false; a change in a law is a very different thing from a change in an art. For the law has no power to command obedience except that of habit, which can only be given by time, so that a readiness to change from old to new laws enfeebles the power of the law.

What is true is that part of the force of the law depends on habit and education, but surely another part of the force of the law are the legal punishments.    Back.


[77] Even if we admit that the laws are to be changed, are they all to be changed, and in every state? And are they to be changed by anybody who likes, or only by certain persons? These are very important questions; and therefore we had better reserve the discussion of them to a more suitable occasion.

But it is not difficult to state the outline of the Aristotelian answer: In a functional society, that is not in a civil or other war, the law should only be changed by specific persons for specific reasons by specified legal  procedures - for else anarchy will soon rule.    Back.


Part IX


[78] In the governments of Lacedaemon and Crete, and indeed in all governments, two points have to be considered: first, whether any particular law is good or bad, when compared with the perfect state; secondly, whether it is or is not consistent with the idea and character which the lawgiver has set before his citizens.

This corresponds to the distinction I draw between ethics and morals, which I commented on in Note ... to Book ... of the Ethics     Back.


[79] Besides, if there were no other difficulty, the treatment or management of slaves is a troublesome affair; for, if not kept in hand, they are insolent, and think that they are as good as their masters, and, if harshly treated, they hate and conspire against them. Now it is clear that when these are the results the citizens of a state have not found out the secret of managing their subject population.

Indeed - but it is noteworthy this is quite inconsistent with Book I of the Politics, where Aristotle also discusses slavery, but with considerable less realism.

And incidentally, in the ages that followed Aristotle, it has emerged what is, apart from morality, "the secret of managing their subject population": An effective secret police, with torture chambers and unlimited "reasons of state" to do as they think fit.    Back.


[80] Again, the license of the Lacedaemonian women defeats the intention of the Spartan constitution, and is adverse to the happiness of the state. For, a husband and wife being each a part of every family, the state may be considered as about equally divided into men and women; and, therefore, in those states in which the condition of the women is bad, half the city may be regarded as having no laws. And this is what has actually happened at Sparta; the legislator wanted to make the whole state hardy and temperate, and he has carried out his intention in the case of the men, but he has neglected the women, who live in every sort of intemperance and luxury.

I do not know whether modern feminists would approve of the success of the Spartan women, but to me it seems that, apart from other considerations, they must surely have been clever manipulators.

Also, it shows that, even in a society where nominally women have no or little status, and are deemed inferior to men, they may well succeed in having their ways, at least when member of the upper classes.    Back.


[81] The consequence is that in such a state wealth is too highly valued, especially if the citizen fall under the dominion of their wives, after the manner of most warlike races, except the Celts and a few others who openly approve of male loves.

It is somewhat interesting that Aristotle claims effectively that in "warlike races" "wealth is too highly valued" and these male warriors tend to be dominated (as in Sparta, the most warlike Greek state) by their wifes.

Likewise, that "the Celts and a few others (..) openly approve of male loves" may be so, but then so did many of the Greeks, including the Spartans - and so did Aristotle's teacher Plato.    Back.


[82] (..) among the Spartans in the days of their greatness; many things were managed by their women. But what difference does it make whether women rule, or the rulers are ruled by women? The result is the same.

Feminists may well care to differ, for especially modern feminists tend to claim that women are somehow better at making good decisions than men. My own opinion is that this is not true: Ceteris paribus, intelligent and informed persons make better decisions than stupid or ignorant persons, and I agree with Aristotle, and indeed with classical feminists like Mary Wollstonecraft, that sex (or "gender", as pomo-feminists write, as if the world is improved by rectifying the language into Political Correctness) is not relevant.     Back.


[83] (..) when Lycurgus, as tradition says, wanted to bring the women under his laws, they resisted, and he gave up the attempt.

Lycurgus was the lawgiver of the Spartans, and it is interesting to note that the Spartan women were, accordingly, not as repressed as one might be inclined to think, even though they were supposed to obey their husbands and masters.      Back.


[84] And nearly two-fifths of the whole country are held by women; this is owing to the number of heiresses and to the large dowries which are customary.

See [83] - and note that this also was according to the laws of Sparta.     Back.


[85] For if a constitution is to be permanent, all the parts of the state must wish that it should exist and the same arrangements be maintained. 

This is put better in Sinclair's translation:

"The point is that if a constitution is to have a good prospect of maintaining itself, it must be such that all sections of the community accept it and want it to go on."

And the way to do this, as Aristotle proceeds to explain in the text that follows, is to engage the whole adult population somehow in the government, by making them elect or elected for certain public functions.    Back.


[86] Again, they have the decision of great causes, although they are quite ordinary men, and therefore they should not determine them merely on their own judgment, but according to written rules, and to the laws.

What is true is that "great causes" should be judged rationally by capable men on rational grounds; what is also true is that this is a fairly rare event.    Back.


[87] But that judges of important causes should hold office for life is a disputable thing, for the mind grows old as well as the body. And when men have been educated in such a manner that even the legislator himself cannot trust them, there is real danger.

Legal judges, e.g. in England and Holland, are nominated "for life", though at least in Holland there is an age limit.

My own opinion is that all public functions should be in the hands of capable people, and that all holders of public functions should be investigated periodically as to their competence, by capable but independent persons, and be dismissed or downgraded if malfunctioning.

The reason for this is again Lord Acton's "All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" - and indeed many bureaucrats have effectively absolute power, or something close to it, within their sphere of influence, as long as they do not displease their bosses.    Back.


[88] Further, the mode in which the Spartans elect their elders is childish; and it is improper that the person to be elected should canvass for the office; the worthiest should be appointed, whether he chooses or not.

Interestingly, very many public functions in modern democracies (so called, basically on the ground of regular public elections and a certain kind of laws, that guarantee legally - if often not factually - equal punishments for equal crimes, and equal rights for all) are elective, and obtained by canvassing.

This means in practice that e.g. the currently most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States, can only come from those few American citizens who are able to command or obtain somehow tens of millions of dollars, for canvassing.    Back.


[89] Yet ambition and avarice, almost more than any other passions, are the motives of crime.

Quite so. Few crimes are committed for bare necessities of life; most crimes arise from personal greed or passion.    Back.


[90] Whether kings are or are not an advantage to states, I will consider at another time; they should at any rate be chosen, not as they are now, but with regard to their personal life and conduct.

A Greek king was not quite the same thing as a king in Europe more recently.

Currently, European kings and queens have a symbolic role only, but this has taken several hundreds years to bring about.

A somewhat Machiavellian justification for such a function is that "the common people" seem to need a publicly known leading figure they can follow, e.g. in times of trouble, because they are not able to make up their own minds rationally on many issues of importance.

Personally, I tend to agree with the justification, but ideally I prefer a system as described on paper by the American Constitution, as explained by "The Federalist Papers", but I am aware that considerable parts of that Constitution are not practiced, especially lately (I write in 2007).    Back.


[91] Neither did the first introducer of the common meals, called 'phiditia,' regulate them well. The entertainment ought to have been provided at the public cost, as in Crete; but among the Lacedaemonians every one is expected to contribute, and some of them are too poor to afford the expense; thus the intention of the legislator is frustrated.

Note first that this is a quite interesting social practice: "common meals", that sounds socialistic or communistic, and has an obvious potential for totalitarianism, and forced propaganda or prayer.

It may have worked differently in ancient Greece, sometimes, but it seems to me that it is generally a bad idea that a state should enforce customs like that on the population, and may leave such things to their own free choice, and not make them mandatory.

My main reason is my distaste for and fear of totalitarianism in each and every shape or form: Human beings should be as free as is possible with a peaceful, well-organized, scientifically advanced society, based on public laws, free discussion of all opinions, and regular elections. (See also: Mill, "On Liberty" and Ethics, Chapter X, note [4])    Back.


[92] (..) according to ancient custom, those who cannot contribute are not allowed to retain their rights of citizenship.

In the 19th Century, the only persons allowed to vote or be elected in many European countries were those who paid taxes, or paid more than a certain amount of taxes. In practice, this tended to be the 5-10% of the richest.    Back.


Part X


[93] The common meals of Crete are certainly better managed than the Lacedaemonian; for in Lacedaemon every one pays so much per head, or, if he fails, the law, as I have already explained, forbids him to exercise the rights of citizenship. But in Crete they are of a more popular character. There, of all the fruits of the earth and cattle raised on the public lands, and of the tribute which is paid by the Perioeci, one portion is assigned to the Gods and to the service of the state, and another to the common meals, so that men, women, and children are all supported out of a common stock.

To me - see [91] - , who has seen quite a few of such things, it sounds, quite anachronistically of course, like Stalinistic propaganda-material.    Back.


[94] Surely all matters of this kind are better regulated by law than by the will of man, which is a very unsafe rule.

What Aristotle means, no doubt, is that it tends to be dangerous to make decisions depend on the whim of the moment, on plebiscites, etc. for these tend to be moved by emotions, rhetorics, or rabble-rousers, and not by rational deliberation.    Back.


Part XI


[95] Indeed, all three states- the Lacedaemonian, the Cretan, and the Carthaginian - nearly resemble one another, and are very different from any others.

This is interesting, and a part of the cause of this may have been that these states, that seem to have been quite authoritarian, where all relatively isolated and not on the Greek main land.    Back.


[96] The superiority of their constitution is proved by the fact that the common people remain loyal to the constitution the Carthaginians have never had any rebellion worth speaking of, and have never been under the rule of a tyrant.

Possibly be so, but it may also have been the case that the Carthaginians had repressive laws that were effectively maintained, so as to deal with "common people" who wanted a change of "the constitution".    Back.


[97] (..) the magistrates of the Carthaginians are elected according to merit - this is an improvement.

Indeed it is, and let me spell out why: The members of a society need good government; good government is only possible with good governers; and good governers, like good men, are fairly rare, as indeed are merely competent governors.

Hence, a certain means to destroy a society, if perhaps not in one move and not completely, is to have the governors elected, regardless of personal merit, or only by such popular merit the uninformed can recognize, and thus   by the majority of the stupid, the ignorant, or the brainwashed, in the name of "democracy", but in practical effect by way of populism and propaganda.

And a personal note, if I may: I find it disquieting that the currently most powerful person on earth, the President of the United States, who is roughly my age, has a IQ that is - at least - some 40 or 50 points lower than mine, and has at most a small percentage of my knowledge of science, philosophy or theoretical politics.

Of course, this does not mean that I am fit for this office, or indeed desire it, nor does it mean that IQ is an adequate measure of competence or humanity, but it does mean that in his society there are far more competent men than he is, who accordingly have a far greater claim to be where he is.    Back.


[98] Nothing is more absolutely necessary than to provide that the highest class, not only when in office, but when out of office, should have leisure and not disgrace themselves in any way; and to this his attention should be first directed.

To put the point a little differently, and in more modern terms: It is highly desirable that the most intelligent get the means and leisure to make the most of their talents. And indeed this is highly desirable also for the less intelligent, but less important for the benefit of society.    Back.


[99] Even if you must have regard to wealth, in order to secure leisure, yet it is surely a bad thing that the greatest offices, such as those of kings and generals, should be bought.

Yes - and in practice most important offices in the United States, for example, are "bought", perhaps and usually not outright and illegally, but certainly "bought" by canvassing and propaganda very few who are not very rich can afford.    Back.


[100] It would seem also to be a bad principle that the same person should hold many offices, which is a favorite practice among the Carthaginians, for one business is better done by one man.

Indeed.    Back.


[101] Hence, where the state is large, it is more in accordance both with constitutional and with democratic principles that the offices of state should be distributed among many persons. For, as I said, this arrangement is fairer to all, and any action familiarized by repetition is better and sooner performed.

Quite so, and this is an important conclusion in politicial science - and the only ones who disagree must be those who want absolute power for themselves or their own group, whether they are aristocrats, marxists, or religious folks.    Back.


[102] The government of the Carthaginians is oligarchical, but they successfully escape the evils of oligarchy by enriching one portion of the people after another by sending them to their colonies. This is their panacea and the means by which they give stability to the state.

Incidentally, "colonies" were also a "panacea" for other Greek city-states, and the process consisted in moving part of the population to a conquered city or else to surrect a new one.    Back.


Part XII


[103] The truth seems to be that the council and the elected magistracy existed before the time of Solon, and were retained by him, but that he formed the courts of law out of all the citizens, thus creating the democracy, which is the very reason why he is sometimes blamed. For in giving the supreme power to the law courts, which are elected by lot, he is thought to have destroyed the non-democratic element.

Solon gave laws to the Athenians, in the 6th Century B.C.

As to his supposedly having "destroyed the non-democratic element", first see under [97] and [98], and note also that historically it did not quite work out as Aristotle says, for in effect, whatever the nominal democracy, the Athenians were always governed by members of their aristocracy, who knew how to manipulate the population so as to elect them. (See Thucydides, e.g. for the speeches of Pericles.)    Back.


[104] In the legislation of Charondas there is nothing remarkable, except the suits against false witnesses. He is the first who instituted denunciation for perjury. His laws are more exact and more precisely expressed than even those of our modern legislators.

What is interesting is the legislation against "false witnesses", since this is clearly necessary if not sufficient for a fair trial.     Back.


[105] Draco has left laws, but he adapted them to a constitution which already existed, and there is no peculiarity in them which is worth mentioning, except the greatness and severity of the punishments.

From whence English still has the phrase "Draconic laws".    Back.


[106] Pittacus, too, was only a lawgiver, and not the author of a constitution; he has a law which is peculiar to him, that, if a drunken man do something wrong, he shall be more heavily punished than if he were sober; he looked not to the excuse which might be offered for the drunkard, but only to expediency, for drunken more often than sober people commit acts of violence.

This may not only have be inspired by "expediency", but also by the  consideration that one is responsible for one's own behavior, and more responsible if one knowingly makes the exercise of this responsibility impossible in situations were one should have it.

In any case, then, problems with drinks and drugs exist for millenia.    Back.