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".
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".
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
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
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".
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.
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
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
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.)
(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".
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.
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
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.
Democracy Plan. Some of the intellectual background can be found
Chapter 11 that I added to my review of Edwards' "The
Logic of Moral Discourse".
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
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
In other words - and I agree -
(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.
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.
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
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".
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
For more on selfishness and love, see
the Ethics. Back.
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.
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
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
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
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"
l'Histoire n'est qu'une suite d'horreurs."
and which moved Hazlitt to the quite
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"
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
And it should be remarked that, apart from
and cruelty, all of which are quite
human and quite
too, the common human traits of
quite far in explaining and underpinning the above first three quoted
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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 , a city or state that cannot defend
itself, and which has anything worth having, will be overrun by its
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).
and poverty is the
parent of revolution and crime.
Indeed, and not only that:
the parent of revolution and crime",
next to egoism and ambition (and the ambitious or greedy are not happy
even if rich and respected).
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.
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
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.
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
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 ,  and
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".
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.
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
Interestingly, this dominant concern
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
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.
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
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:
451 and Idee 829)
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.
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
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
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.
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 : 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.
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.
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
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.
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
Indeed, and this requires to
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
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.
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.
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".
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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".
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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".
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.
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.
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 .....
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
when Lycurgus, as tradition says, wanted to
bring the women under his laws, they resisted, and he gave up the
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.
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  - and note that this also
was according to the laws of Sparta.
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
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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).
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:
Liberty" and Ethics,
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.
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 
- , who has seen quite a few of such things, it sounds, quite
anachronistically of course, like Stalinistic propaganda-material.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
 and , 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.)
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.
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
From whence English still has the
phrase "Draconic laws".
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.