With him the love of country means
Blowing it all to smithereens
And having it all made over new
Robert Frost, A Case for Jefferson 9-11.
Every actual democracy rests on the principle that not only are equals equal but unequals will not be treated equally. Democracy requires, therefore, first homegeneity and second--if the need arises--elimination or eradication of heterogeneity.
Carl Schmitt, Die geistesgeschichtliche
Lage des hutigen Parlamentarismus, preface.
Throughout the previous chapters I have outlined the arguments that Aristotle presents for justifying popular rule, or democracy as the best regime. As I have suggested, Aristotle presents two peaks in his Politics or, at least, in Politics 3. The first peak is the rule of the many and the superiority of their capacity to judge finely, and the second peak is an argument concerning the superiority of the rule of law. After examining the two peaks separately, I conclude that they are in fact reflections of each other. It is the oligarch who first puts forth the analogy of the arts to undermine the democrat's claim of supremacy over oligarchy; but the claim of the arts is not the claim of oligarchy, but of kingship. Oligarchy's claim is that the wealthy should rule. The democrat claims that the rule of the best man is merely another form of oligarchy, in that it denies the many access to the ruling offices (3.10). Also, the rule of law is not the rule of law generically expressed but the rule of law in a democratic context. This equates the rule of law and the rule of the many.
The argument for the rule of the many and the rule of law consists of these two arguments in that they both end up justifying the rule of the many restrained by law as the best regime. The first peak arises out of the concern for which element in the city ought to be authoritative (3.10.1281a10-11). The line of argument moves and ends to indicate the best judges--the many or the few or the one (3.11.1282b8-23). The second peak arises out of the question whether the best man or law should rule (3.15.1286a8-9). The answer found in both peaks is that the many should rule and that their rule should be guided by law. The law here is not natural law or a transpolitical law, but democratic law.(1) Democratic law will act as a restraining factor to allow the city to reach the right decision on how citizens should live and act. The rule of law here obstructs the slavishness of the multitude, which was said to be the only factor that would disqualify the many's capacity to judge in a more superior fashion than all other rulers (3.11.1282a13-19).
The arguments of the two peaks in the end both defend democracy when ruled by law as the best regime. This contravenes the usual defense of kingship, aristocracy, and so-called "polity" as the best regime. As I have demonstrated in the first chapter, all three of the usually understood best regimes are rejected as candidates for the best regime in Politics 3. They are rejected in favor of democracy restrained by law.(2) Some might object to this interpretation, as going against the whole tradition of scholarship on Aristotle's political philosophy. But one must take note of the two famous interpreters of Aristotle--Hobbes and Sidney--who argue that Aristotle ultimately supports democracy restrained by the rule of law as superior to all other regime types. Hobbes rejects Aristotle because Hobbes construes his discussion of the rule of law and his support for popular rule as harmful to the political peace in limiting the ruler's ability to act. Hobbes' support for monarchs leads him to reject popular rule; he contends that Aristotle's political philosophy favors such a regime. Sidney, on the other hand, openly and clearly uses Aristotle's arguments about the rule of law's superiority to the rule of the wise, and the greater wisdom of the many in political deliberations, as support for his defense of popular or democratic republicanism against Filmer's monarchic absolutism.
Further support for this conter-traditional reading of Politics 3 is evident in the traditional interpretations' misreading of the text by treating it merely as a philosophical treatise. This was dealt with my introduction, but it now needs to be brought up again. Aristotle's Politics 3 warrants all due sensitivity to its rhetorical character becasue it is not a treatise simply but a series of philosophical logoi, indeed dialogues, aimed at his students. Thus, Politics 3 and the whole of the work is, in fact, lecture notes, not simply expressing authoritatively Aristotle's teachings concerning politics but presenting different arguments as possible truths about political life. It is the students' duty to figure out which arguments are true and which are not. So the text has a dialogic character, in that it mixes dialogue between competing arguments concerning political things within a treatise. By paying attention to the rhetorical character of the interplay of dialogue and treatise, one discovers a reading and a teaching concerning political life that is usually missed when one treats the Politics as merely a treatise.
Again, the conclusions reached in this dialogic reading of the text are supported by two important interpreters of Aristotle's Politics, Hobbes and Sidney. Hobbes was a close student of Aristotle's Rhetoric,(3) and he paid close attention to Aristotle's rhetorical strategies. His close attention to Aristotle's rhetorical strategies led him to reject Aristotle's teaching, because it opposed his own absolutist view of politics.
My argument regarding Politics 3 is summed up by C. S. Lewis, one of the most sensitive and intuitive readers of Western philosophy. Lewis, in an article about equality, says
I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reasons. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they're not true. And whenever their weakness is exposed, the people who prefer tyranny make capital out of the exposure.(4)
The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.(5)
Although the Christian conception of man's fallenness is not present in Aristotle, Lewis's view mirrors Aristotle's conclusion of Politics 3 that the absolute rule of the best man is not advisable because the best man cannot be evident.
However, in one sense, the Christian conception of the fall of man mirrors another important reason that democracy restrained by law is the best regime for Aristotle. The concept of the fall of man mirrors Aristotle's position that nature is not perfect in its design. As Aristotle notes about natural slaves, "nature wishes to make bodies of the free and slaves different ... yet the opposite occurs" (1.5.1254b27-33). This is also true of the opposite of natural slaves, the natural rulers, or the pambasileia. Hence Lewis and Aristotle favor democracy rather than the absolute rule of one man, regardless of how wise he may be, because nature does not clearly distinguish who should rule and who should be ruled. Or, to paraphrase Lewis, no man is evidently fit to rule other men simply by nature. This is why humans engage in politics.(6) Since nature does not simply distinguish between rulers and the ruled, humans must reason concerning the question of who should rule and why they should rule. The way they do this is by reasoning about the question. Most agree concerning the why, for the why is the concern for justice; those who rule must do so in the best interest of the whole community. The disagreement is concerning the who, and this question is the whole point of Politics 3.
In one sense, the rule of the one best man is the best regime in theory. Aristotle does not deny this, but spends the last three chapters of Politics 3--the pambasileia section--presenting the position. But the defense of this type of rule abstracts man from his bodily nature. Although Plato might leave the argument in this position,(7) Aristotle does not. He presents practical arguments against the pambasileia's favoring the rule of the many restrained by law. However, Aristotle's defense of democracy restrained by the rule of law as the best regime is also a theoretical argument.
Although the defense of democracy restrained by the rule of law as the best regime concerns itself with the practical limits of political life, it is nevertheless abstracted from the particulars of given political communities and their histories and tradition. Yet Aristotle realizes this limitation concerning the teaching about the best regime. So in Politics 4-6 he deals with preserving all regimes, including tyranny. This character of Aristotle's teaching concerning the superiority of democracy as the best regime distinguishes him again from other, more radical democratic theorists, such as Benjamin Barber and Ronald Beiner. They seem to want to impose democracies universally, replacing existing nondemocratic regimes.
Aristotle does not favor such an idealistically radical implementation of theory.(8) He contends that if the best regime--democracy restrained by the rule of law--is to come about, it must arise out of the given cultural, environmental, and historical traditions of a given people or else it will fade into tyranny. So Lewis is again right in that, if one overpraises democracy and demands too much both from it and from the people, one will usually justify tyranny.(9) Instead Aristotle gives us a theoretical justification for limited, not radical, democracy. His vision of democracy is one restrained by the rule of law, not merely by the will of the people or by wise rulers.(10) Law will serve as the habituator of the many to insure that they will not become slavish, thus ensuring their political judgments will be as good as or better than, the wise few or the wise king. Also since they are not slavish, they will be the better judges to make up for the defects in the law, in that law inherently addresses generalities more ably than particulars.
Aristotle's presentation of democracy restrained by law as
the best regime is a paradigm for what is best for human
beings.(11) Aristotle, however, does not intend it as a model to
be put into practice anywhere and everywhere. Rather, it is an
human ideal, something that, if it comes about, one should both
think oneself blessed in possessing and also know the means for
its best preservation. The presentation of the best regime,
although potentially present in all human associations, is
nevertheless dependent upon circumstances to come into existence.
So, if such a regime is to come into being it must emerge from an
environment that will allow it to grow and to prosper. It simply
cannot be planted anywhere and expected to prosper. This
fundamentally distinguishes Aristotle's praise of democracy
restrained by law as the best regime from other more modern
advocates of democracy.(12)
1. See Yack 1993.
2. See McCoy 1989.
3. Strauss 1936.
4. Lewis 1986, 17. Contrast this argument to Barber 1984, Wolin 1993 and Arendt 1958.
5. Lewis 1986, 17.
6. See Masters 1989, Arnhart 1990 and 1988a, and Wilson 1993a and 1993b.
7. cf. Plato's Republic.
8. Compare Gadamer 1975 and Rosen 1987.
9. On this point Lewis's insight has been also supported by Pierre Manent's interpretation of Tocqueville's defense of democracy. See Manent 1996, 129-132.
10. In many ways Aristotle's argument for democracy restrained by the rule of law echoes the arguments made by liberal democrats, except that Aristotle defense of both law and democracy is missing a natural rights theory. Also Aristotle does not advance a blind and absolute for democracy, in that he realizes that democracy absent the rule of law is also a form of tyranny (Politics 4.4.1292a15-21). Thus, Aristotle would most likely echo Pierre Manent's sentiment that "To love democracy well, it is necessary to love it moderately" (1996, 132).
11. See McCoy 1963 and 1989.
12. See Mueller 1992a and 1992b for a similar yet different defence of limited democracy.