III: THE SECOND PEAK:
THE THREE LOGOI OF THE PAMBASILEIA
Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus.
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land V: 416-417
But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a King to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.
King James' Version, I Samuel 8:6-7.
As I have argued previously, there are two peaks in the argument of Book 3 of the Politics. The first peak is the democratic regime, which is arrived at after a debate between oligarchy and democracy which occurs in Politics 3.9-13. The second peak is the universal kingship (pambasileia) which begins in Politics 3.15 and concludes at the end of Book 3. Pambasileialiterally means kingship over everything(1) and Mary Nichols suggests that "Aristotle apparently coins" this word. She says it is "a combination of the noun for 'kingship' with the adjective for 'all.'"(2) The discussion of the pambasileia, the second peak, consists of three logoi, or arguments, where opposing claims about political rule are addressed. In these arguments, we discover Aristotle's comprehensive teaching concerning political philosophy --that the rule of the many restrained by law is preferable to the rule of the one best man.(3)
In this section I address these three logoi from in Politics3.15-17(4) to show that in this debate not only do we find Aristotle's missing critique of Plato's teaching about the philosopher-king,(5) but also an argument for the superiority of the rule of law. It is said by commentators on this section of the Politics that the teaching about the pambasileia has similarities to the Socratic-Platonic teaching about the philosopher-king as presented in the Republic.(6) Yet it is reasonable to consider that, contrary to Plato's suggestion of the possibility of a philosophic politics, Aristotle ultimately rejects such a politics in favor of one that is more practical.
The importance of the pambasileia section of the Politics is that it brings to an end the examinations of the basic forms of regime discussed in the beginning of Book 3. The concern that arises from the general examination of regimes, or classical political science, is to judge the political nature of various regimes. In doing so, we may be given a better understanding of the character of those regimes and the authoritative element that rules within them. The introduction of the discussion of the pambasileia appears to follow a similar track, a general exploration of the character of a particular form of regime.
Concerning the pambasileia section of the Politics, Martha Nussbaum muses that this section is "notoriously hard to interpret in a way that renders [the argument] consistent with [Aristotle's] insistence on shared rule."(7) Nussbaum then argues, after noting the difficulty of interpreting this section, for an interpretation that would make this section consistent with her claim that Aristotle insists that rule must be shared. I read her point as an argument for the mixed regime, a combination of the rule of the few and the many. She is not discussing political rule generically speaking.
Nussbaum seems to take too seriously the claim that the "polity" or mixed regime is the desired regime in Book 3 and she is not alone in the belief that Aristotle presents the 'polity' as his best regime, if not in theory then in practice. Nichols, in Citizens and Statesmen, also holds this position.(8) But there are two arguments counter to Nichols' and Nussbaum's.(9)
The first being that the "polity," the so-called mixed regime, is not the regime presented as the best regime, either practically or theoretically, in Book 3.(10) There are two regimes presented as possible contenders for the claim of being the best regime in Book 3--democracy and the pambasileia. As I have argued, neither the best regime of Politics 7 nor the aristocracy in 3.7 are contenders for the best regime.
Second, the inconsistency suggested by
Nussbaum is an important hermeneutic clue that
Aristotle gives to help the reader uncover the
argument he is trying to make. In this light, I
interpret the dispute between the pambasileia
and the argument for the mixed regime as an
important textual clue for concluding that the
interpretation that argues that the mixed regime
is the best regime is false.
An Inquiry into Kingship
In Politics 3.14 Aristotle suggests a transition to "investigate kingship" (3.14.1284b36) after a digression concerning what to do with a "person of excessive virtue" (3.14.1284a4). This digression centers on the issue of whether it is right to ostracize such a person. The solution is that, in "deviant regimes," to ostracize a person of "excessive excellence" (arete) is both "advantageous [for the rulers] and just" (3.14.1284b24); "yet it is also evident, perhaps, that it is not simply just [to do so]" (3.14.1284b24-25). In the case of the best regime, "there is considerable question as to what ought to be done" to such a person of "excessive excellence" if he exists (3.14.1284b26-27). The digression ends with the suggestion that such a person, if he were to exist, should be obeyed by everyone gladly (3.14.1284b32-3). He notes that to obey him "seems the natural course" (3.14.1284b32), and that these persons of "excessive excellence" when obeyed "will be a sort of permanent king in their polises" (3.14.1284b34).
The transition into an examination of kingship comes after the digression concerning what to do with the person of "excessive excellence." "What must be investigated is whether it is advantageous for the city or the territory that is to be well administered to be under a kingship or not, or some other regime instead, or whether it is advantageous for some and not for others" (3.14.1284b37-39).(11) This general set of questions establishes the tone for the whole inquiry. Aristotle raises the question of kingship to ask if such rule is "advantageous"--that is, best--for cities. Yet what immediately follows this question does not address it but is simply an account of the various forms of kingship. The four types of kingship (basileia) that Aristotle presents are 1) permanent kingship (3.14.1285a2-15), 2) barbaric kingship (3.14.1285a16-28), 3) elected tyranny (3.14.1285a30-b3), and 4) heroic kingship (3.14.1285b3-19).(12)
The conclusion of the examination of the varieties of kingship, which occurs prior to the discussion of the pambasileia, ends with the re-listing of four types of kingships: 1) heroic kingship (3.14.1285b20-24), 2) barbaric kingship (3.14.1285b24-25), 3) dictatorship or elective tyranny (3.14.1285b25-26), and 4) the Spartan form, which, "to speak simply, is permanent generalship based on family" (3.14.1285b26-27). In the original ordering of the varieties of kingship, the position of both heroic kingship and the Spartan form were switched. Also, it should be noted that all the varieties of kingship so far mentioned are under the restraint of law.(13)
After listing the four varieties of kingship, a fifth form of kingship is mentioned in which "one person has authority over all matters, just as each nation and each city has authority over all in all common matters with an arrangement that treats political rule as though it were a form of household management (oikonomike)" (3.14.1286b29-32).(14) This form of kingship is similar in character to the head of a household, but involves rule over a city or a nation or several nations (3.14.1286b32-33).(15) It is also important that no mention of law is made in the passage which introduces this form of kingship.
In chapter 14, the pambasileia and the Spartan, or an elected, kingship are said to be the two fundamental kinds of kingship that must be investigated (3.14.1285b35). Thus, Aristotle reduces the original five forms of kingship to two. In doing so, he implies that any discussion concerning kingship need only examine these two. He says that although the other forms of kingship have more authority over matters than the Spartan form of kingship, they have much less authority than the pambasileia. Because of this, Aristotle collapses the other four forms of kingship under the category of kingship limited by law and then compares restrained kingship to the extreme form of kingship, unrestrained by law, which he calls pambasileia. Aristotle states the two questions he wishes to examine:
Whether it is advantageous for cities to have a permanent general or not and whether it is advantageous for one person to have authority over all matters or not? (3.1285b37-86a1).
The first question is dismissed without
examination; to examine the first question,
Aristotle says, would require a study of the laws
rather than of the regime. Also, the "permanent
general" can arise in all regimes and not just in
the one form in question (3.14.1286a4).(16)
Therefore, with the dismissal of the first
question, the proposed examination of Spartan
kingship is also dismissed without further
discussion. The latter question and the
pambasileia alone remain for examination. This
occurs because Aristotle states that pambasileia
is a form of regime, whereas the first type, the
Spartan, is not. This division opens the
discussion for the pambasileia as such, and leads
to the possibility of the political artist, or the
politically disciplined man, suggesting that this
man ought not to be ruled by anything. His
nature is such that he is best suited (because of
his supremacy of foresight) to rule over all
FIRST LOGOS (1286a7-b40)
The Best Man vs. the Best Laws
At this point Aristotle opens up the first logos with the question, "is it more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or by the best laws?" (3.15.1286a8-9). This question begins a dialogue between a partisan of the laws and a partisan of the best man.(18)
The partisan for the best man puts forth the argument against the laws: "the laws only speak of the universal and do not command with a view to circumstance" (3.15.1286a10-11). The laws cannot be superior since they only speak generally. Also, to rule in accordance with the written laws, argues the partisan for the best man, is foolish because it would be like requiring a doctor to treat sick people by a written set of instructions ("as it is done in Egypt") without regard to the individual circumstances of the patient in question (3.15.1286a12-15).
Another problem is that the laws cannot simply address problems that arise out of the consequences of implementation. That is, the laws cannot give order to what comes from the laws (3.15.1286b10). These objections suggest that something other than the laws needs to guide what the laws themselves cannot directly control or provide.(19) Judith Swanson reads "law" here not to refer to that derived from custom and the political character of the regime, but from natural law.(20) Such a position seems a gross misrepresentation of the text.
In Swanson's correct reading of Book 3.15-17 of the Politics--the debate between the rule of law and the rule of the wise king--Aristotle sides politically with the rule of law over that of human will, regardless of how wise or noble that ruler can be. In this she is correct. But she goes on to argue that the law being advocated in this debate is natural law rather than everyday, conventional law, nomos.(21) Putting aside the problems with ascribing a natural law teaching instead of a natural right teaching to Aristotle's Politics, the text in question--Politics3.15-17--uses law (nomos) in its conventional meaning, or customary law. Although conventional law may be in accord with natural law, or the principle of natural right, it is not natural law per se. If Aristotle were arguing for the rule of natural law in this text, he would not have allowed the rule of law argument to win, because the rule of law argument is in fact the continuation of the democratic argument earlier in Book 3. Instead, if he were supporting an argument for natural law/natural right, he would have let the argument for the absolute rule of the wise king defeat the rule of law argument. The absolute rule of the wise king would seem to be the perfect embodiment of the rule of natural law/natural right.(22)
To restate the argument made against the laws by the partisan of the best man: first, the difficulty of the laws is that they speak generally and, second, because they speak generally, they do not attend to the particular circumstances. Hence, the partisan for the best man concludes that the "regime" of written laws cannot be best.
In response to the attack on the rule of law, the partisan for the laws declares that "what is unaccompanied by the passionate element generally is superior to that in which it is innate" (3.15.1286a16-18). He argues that passion is not present in law but is necessarily possessed by every human soul.
The partisan for the best man interrupts, stating that such indeed is the case but that this problem is addressed "by the fact that he [the best man] will deliberate in a finer fashion concerning particulars" (3.15.1286a20-21). Also, as "the ruler must necessarily be a legislator, the laws must exist but they must not be authoritative" (3.15.1286a22-23). The laws cannot be authoritative because circumstances change. Issues of justice tend to admit of degrees of variation in circumstances that affect the outcome of the judgment. Laws cannot be authoritative because they are dependent on the particular type of regime a polis happens to have. The laws of a democracy are fundamentally different from those of an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or a kingdom. The same is true for the offices. The regime itself is prior to both the laws and the offices and is thus fundamentally more authoritative than either.
The partisan for the best man admits the need for the laws but claims that they ought to be subordinate to the best man because he is best able to deliberate about circumstances, whereas the laws cannot. The laws cannot change themselves. Because what is right and wrong is determined by the given circumstances, the possibility arises that the laws may be in contradiction to what is right. Once the laws deviate from what is right, they become unjust. Therefore, the possibility of the unjustness of the laws supports the claim for the rule of the best man.
The partisan of the laws then asks, "as regards the things that law is unable to judge either generally or well, should the one best person rule, or should all?" (3.15.1286a22-25). The partisan for the laws, noting that the laws can at times be unjust and may be unable to deal with specifics, changes the question. He asks who is a better judge, the best man or the many? (3.15.1286a25). In response to this question, we see that the partisan of the laws also reveals himself to be a partisan of the many.
The argument for the laws is in fact the justification for the rule of the many over the laws, regardless of the best man's character. The partisan of the laws notes that any single person taken separately, like most human beings, might (or even, will) be inferior to the best man (3.15.1286a27). But, he argues, "the city is made up of many persons, just as a feast to which many contribute is finer than a single and simple one, and on this account a crowd also judges many matters better than any single person" (3.15.1286a26-31). Here the partisan of the laws argues that the numerical strength of the many makes up for the defects of single individuals, and together the many's collective strengths will exceed even the best man's. This is similar to the argument made at Politics 3.11.1282a13-19.
The partisan of the laws goes further by arguing that the many are less corruptible than the one best man (3.15.1286a32). This is so, he argues, because they are like "water" and, as such, are "more incorruptible than the few." The judgments of a single person are necessarily corrupted when he is dominated by anger or some other passion of this sort, whereas it is hard for all to become angry and err at the same time" (3.15.1286a33-35).
The partisan of the laws seems to make a comparison between the laws and the many. They (both the laws and the many) are said to be less corruptible by the passions than is the one best man. This is the case for the many because, to restate, it is harder to corrupt them than it is to corrupt one man. The partisan of the laws does not say that it is impossible for the many to be corrupt or to become angry, but that it is harder to make them corrupt or angry.
Experience tells us, however, that a corrupt people can be far worse than any single tyrant. Publius, in the Federalist Papers, clearly indicates this, by his concern about majority tyranny. But the partisan of the laws does not exaggerate the many's incorruptibility, so he limits the many: they "must be free people acting in no way against the law, except in those cases where [the law] necessarily falls short" (3.15.1286a36-37). The multitude ought to consist of the free men who do nothing against the law unless the law does not or cannot deal with the issue at hand (3.15.1286b35). The partisan of the laws also argues that the many are better able to judge well than the one best man simply because their number lessens the possibility for error due to mere passions.
So the partisan of the laws limits the many's judgment in that they must be, first, free men, second, obedient to the law, and third, careful to change the law only when it falls short. These three limits, or criteria for limiting the judgement of the many, point to the power of the many; if these are not present, the laws will be ignored and the many will rule according to their whims. Hence, the rule of the many is potentially worse than, or at least as bad as, the bad rule of one man. The tendency of this argument is to downgrade the superiority of the rule of law in favor of the rule of the best man.
The partisan of the best man argues that the limits placed on the many by the laws are easily evaded by them. The partisan of the laws then poses the question: "if there were a number who were both good men and good citizens," then "is the one ruler more incorruptible or rather the larger numbers who are all good?" (3.15.1286a38-39). The partisan of the best man answers that it is clearly not one, because the many good will have difficulty with factions, whereas the single good ruler will be without factions (3.15.1286b1-2).
The partisan of the laws at first seems to ignore the problem of faction raised by the rule of the many. He instead raises the question whether the good man or the good majority is less corruptible. If there can be a good multitude, argues the partisan of the laws, then to argue that the good one is better than the good many will create a situation in which the many will rise up in factions (3.15.1286b1). Aristotle here suggestes that those who believe themselves to be good or as good as the good single ruler will view his absolute reign as a slight to their excellence. In this light, they will strive for equal status with him.(23) However this does not deal with the question of how to address problems that occur because of factions within the many. I contend that Aristotle deals with factions and their problem in his discussion of the so-called "mixed regime" in Politics 4.7-9 and 4.11-16. What is discussed there is not a particular form of regime but what elements constitute a regime and how they can be made harmonious.
Instead of addressing the problem of factions in order to show that the rule of the many good is superior to the rule of the single best ruler, Aristotle raises the question whether it is more likely that there could be one good man or a good multitude. To clarify, the question is which is more possible, aristocracy--which at this point in the text he calls the rule of a good multitude--or kingship. If there could be a majority of good men, it would be better to be ruled by them than by one single good man. However, the principle that it is better to be ruled by the good simply, regardless of number, than to be ruled by the many is maintained, in light of the previous argument for the many's excellences--their excellences in judging, providing for the city's needs, and so on. This puts an interesting twist to the debate. The partisan of the laws has gotten the partisan of the best man to accept the premise that the rule of the many good men is better than the rule of the one good man (3.15.1286b5).
This establishes the direction for the argument that the rule of the many is simply better than the rule of one man. Since aristocracy is more choiceworthy than kingship--"provided it is possible to find a number of persons who are similar" (3.15.1286b7-8)--then the groundwork is laid for the rule of the many being better than the rule of a single ruler. Given this line of reasoning, the partisan of the best man has accepted the premise that the rule of the many good is better than the one good, which can be used to support a fundamentally democratic premise, that the many are simply better than either the one or the few. Thus, the possibility of a good multitude provides the basis to rescue the rule of the many--i.e., democracy--from its status as a merely base regime.
At this point, to avoid the trap set by the partisan of the laws, the partisan of the best man argues that only if the majority is seriously good can it avoid the creation of factions (3.15.1286b1).(24) The underlying argument is that the one good man can be seriously good, whereas it seems improbable that there can be a seriously good multitude.(25) However, if such a seriously good majority could exist, it would be an aristocracy. Yet, what is aristocracy? Is it merely the rule of the good men, as suggested above, or is it the rule of the few, who rule for the sake of the common good as suggested by Politics 3.1279a35? Recall that Aristotle earlier in Book 3 seems to reject the usefulness of the twofold typology of regimes--composed of the quantitative (e.g., one, few or many) and qualitative (i.e., its justice, or its rule for the common good) claims--established in Politics 3.7. His rejection takes the form of his making the case that what defines oligarchy is not that its rulers are few but that they are rich, and that they claim their rule is just simply because only the wealthy should rule (3.8.1279b11-80a6). Aristotle argues that the rule of the many rich is as much an oligarchy as the rule of the few rich. Therefore, the quantitative claim of the regime is not a basis to understand what type of regime one is examining. Instead, the qualitative claim of a regime, its claim about the best way of life, is the distinctive criterion for examining the varieties of regimes (3.10.1281a13-39). Therefore, what defines aristocracy is its claim that it is the rule of the best men (aristoi). But this claim is too generic. Would not all regimes claim that their rule is the rule of the best men? In this light, aristocracy then becomes merely the name of whatever actual regime is best.
Earlier in Politics 3, the rule of the many was not justified as better than the best man in judging because they were the virtuous multitude. Rather, it was justified in spite of the fact they were far from virtuous. So if one accepts the earlier position as valid, then the standard needed to rescue democracy from becoming a base regime may not be the possibility of the good multitude but the collective judgment of the multitude that is not overly slavish. This should underlay any acknowledgement of the unlikelihood of a virtuous multitude.
To return, the partisan of the best man argues
that the many good have to be excellent in soul,
just like the single good man. But if one good
man is hard to find, then a good multitude
would be even harder to find. Also some even
suggest that not only is a good multitude
difficult to find, it is most likely that one could
not even exist. It is stated that if the condition
set forth is true, although the aristocracy of
many good rulers is more choiceworthy in cities
than kingship, its creation is highly improbable.
The History of Regimes
In response to these arguments, the partisan of the laws presents the history of regimes (3.15.1286b5) as an explanation for the superiority of aristocracy over kingship. Or, more correctly, the partisan of the laws presents the history of regimes to show the natural tendency for the rule of the many to come gradually into being over time and thus to prevail against both the rule of one and the few. The history of regimes begs the questions: who is to rule? Is it to be the one or the many? As shown by the history of regimes, which is, properly speaking, the political history of the Hellenes, history tends to point toward the rule of the many.
An outline of the history of regimes presented at Politics3.15.1286b8-21 goes as follows:
(2) "many similar with respect to excellence" ruling
The regime after kingship lacks a specific title, about which Aristotle notes:
But when it happened that many arose who where similar with respect to excellence, they no longer tolerated [kingship] but sought something common and established a regime [politeia] (3.15.1286b11-13).
Lord, in his translation of the Politics, reads politeia in the above sentence as a reference to so-called "polity," the mixed regime of Book 4. Nichols agrees with Lord's interpretation of the above passage.(27) Both Nichols and Lord translate politeia in a way that supports their interpretation of the text, that "polity" is either the best practical regime or the best regime. Instead of an argument for "polity," it seems more textually sound to interpert Aristotle as giving an account of the arising of political rule. Kingly rule as discussed in the history of regimes is heroic kingship--not pambasileia--and emerges through kinship bonds. The emergence of political rule comes from the moving away from the rule of the father in the household, which is the model for kingship, to the rule of equals ruling in turn. The emergence of the regime comes from the creation of political rule out of kingship. Thus, what is described in the above passage is not the emergence of a specific regime type but the emergence of political rule. Yet, if one assumes that the rule of the few good (i.e., virtuous) men is aristocracy, then this regime resembles aristocracy.
Returning to the history of regimes, it is clear that each step away from kingship gives more power to the many. Because the political communities become progressively larger, a reading of the history of regimes suggests perhaps that it is no longer easy for any regime besides democracy to come into existence (3.15.1286b21). Thus, what the history of regimes actually represents is an account of the coming together of human beings. Or, stated differently, it represents the development of human civilization.
First, the history of regimes shows that the process engenders an equalization (a levelling out) of excellence. I read this as a levelling out of virtue--i.e., human excellences expressed by skill and performance understood as one's nature. This levelling out occurs because of technology. Technology's assent is seen in the predominance of the artisan classes in the polis. Also, the greater availability of the arts and their leveling effect make it difficult to perceive the differences--hence, the excellences--among human beings. The more the arts predominate in the political community (which is to say the more technology), the less apparent the differences among human beings become. As the differences become less apparent, even more human beings begin to look fundamentally equal. Therefore, people living in technological civilizations will no longer abide inequality, since in a technological order there appears to be no obvious differences among human beings.
The arguments made here appear to agree with what David Hume argued in his History of England, summarized in the Essays, that political liberty and equality arise with the arts.(28) This would argue against Rousseau's claim, in his First Discourse, that with the development of the arts and sciences mankind not only loses its natural freedom but its equality. Hume and Aristotle argue that the contrary occurs. In fact, Hume says that "progress in the arts is rather favourable to liberty, and has a natural tendency to preserve if not produce a free government."(29) This point leads to the next consequence of the history of regimes.
Second, acquisition and the prominence of self-interest promote the creation of democracies. Civilization tends toward the development of democracies and nothing but democracies (3.15.1286b19-21). The evidence from the development of civilizations indicates that the majority will rule in their own interest. Therefore, the end product will be either democracies or tyrannies.(30)
Here, Aristotle sounds very much like Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, in which he argues that in the future only democracies or despotisms will be created as political systems. With this insight, we might see that the current debate concerning how much democracy is choiceworthy and/or inevitable begins with Aristotle's discussion. Aristotle shows that, not only does democracy seem to be inevitable but it is also choiceworthy. It is choiceworthy in that it meets the natural needs of the majority of human beings.(31) Aristotle in this section of the Politics suggests all the aspects of democracy which we today see as desirable. Yet Aristotle also gives a warning in the history of regimes about what tends to happen in democracies--the rule of law tends to erode in them in favor of the arbitrariness of the many's will. This suggests that Aristotle argues that the key to preserving the best form of democracy is to reinforce the respect of the rule of law in the many. The many must be made to love the law more than the articulations of their own interests. To preserve the regime allows their rule and that provides for their essential needs--the liberty to live as free men and to live in relative peace without the fear of violent death. Aristotle seems to suggest the ironic position that, in order to preserve the many's ability to rule and thereby to serve their self-interest, they must resist allowing their pursuit of self-interest to undermine the rule of law, which provides the very regime that allows them to pursue their interest in the first place.
We are again drawn back to address the following question: can there be a good multitude? Only in the earliest regimes could one find a good majority. Why? The text is silent on this question. Now, Aristotle wonders whether a seriously good majority is possible. The difficulty is obtaining a multitude that is good. To obtain a good multitude depends upon the particular route of development that a civilization has taken. Developments of civilization that lead to equality tend also to lead to factional differences. This is caused by the release of self-interest, which tends to destroy the unity originally fostered by equality.
Does the development of civilization that
provides for the possibility of human equality
also necessarily lead to factionalization,
struggle, and the dominance of self-interest?
The answer seems to be, yes, it must. But this
leads to an even more fundamental problem.
Democracy is said to be, by this argument, the
natural end of human equality. Yet it is also a
bad regime. If this is true, equality must be
"bad," or else the premise that democracy is bad
must be false. I suggest the latter is the case.
Aristotle is trying to suggest, in his use of this
dialogue, a teaching that democracy is not as
bad as was suggested by the original typology
presented in Politics 3.7.
The King and the Kin
At Politics 3.15.1286b21, Aristotle raises a fundamental question about kingly rule: "Should the family reign?" Even if kingly rule were best for the polis, would this hold for the king's offspring? What would happen if his offspring were like the many--i.e., like everybody else, prone to a desire for profit and self-interest rather than the desire for the best and the good? Should he choose the good or his own? Clearly, the principle of kingship would require him to choose the good over his own. Such a choice, however, is hardly credible, since it would require his going the principles of love of one's own.
The love of one's own seems to be something which nature promotes in all animals, hence in all human beings. The question of "what should the pambasileia do?" seems fundamental in deciding its choiceworthiness as a regime. Should he give rule to another who is virtuous, or should he choose his own, less virtuous offspring? This problem places the love of the good and the love of one's own, both instilled by nature, in direct opposition to one another. However, in a contest between the two, nature seems to favor the love of one's own as more authoritative than the former. The point Aristotle makes is that it is not easy to believe that one can choose against one's own for the sake of the good. Again, it is a hard thing to believe because nature instills in us the love of one's own, and a conflict between the two claims suggests that nature does not provide an answer to this problem.
The claim of the pambasileia is that he must be superior by nature. The first difficulty is that to be human requires the preference for one's own.(32) The pambasileia would be required to love the good more than his own.(33) Can the superior man be superior to nature? Can the superior man overcome the love of one's own? That is not easy to believe, Aristotle notes. Therefore, human beings, the many will not allow a superior man to be so hardhearted as to disavow his son or to prevent him from getting his inheritance--the kingship. However, not believing that one could deny his own leads us to the conclusion that it is likely that the many will not stand a person who could be so hardhearted. We can conclude from this line of argument so far developed that the people will then force the pambasileia to give his own son the inheritance.
It is reasonable, therefore,to suggest that the many will demand that the pambasileia choose his own. The requirement to choose one's own over what is best, of the good, is done out of the necessity to respond to the many's demand. The requirement to choose one's own at all costs is done to appease the many's sentiment that one should not reject one's own. It is hard for the many to believe that the choice of one's own is irrational. Because nature inclines one toward the love of one's own in both animals and human beings, there must be some sort of intelligibility--hence rationality--to it. Or to what extent is nature is guided by reason? The conflict between one's own and the good points to a possible problem with teaching the benevolence of nature. If there is no rationality behind choosing one's own, then in what sense is nature intelligible or benevolent?
The second difficulty is the problem of persuasion or the difficulty of having to use force (power). The pambasileia's rule is supposed to be accepted merely by the evident superiority of his nature. His nature is so evidently superior that all recognize it as being such: this is his claim to rule.(34)
Therefore, if the king has to rely on force, it would suggest the inability of nature to reveal what is naturally superior. It would also suggest that nature does not provide for the best simply to rule. The politically effective man is said to be superior as such. This assumption about the superiority of the politically effective man is brought about by what people believe about their general comprehension of human nature. If they can see clearly what is implied by nature, then the superior should rule. If they cannot perceive what is implied by nature clearly (like the difference between the natural master and the natural slave), then such a political rule would be problematic.
The first logos concludes with these two difficulties that concern the perpetuation of the pambasileia as a regime. As Nichols says, even if the pambasileia is the best regime, its "succession is a difficult problem."(35) The problem which is manifested here is similar to the problem which arose concerning the natural slave. Nichols argues that, "as in the case of masters and slaves, we cannot count on nature to produce like from likes."(36)
This problem makes a regime's perpetuation subject to chance, and this is a political defect in any regime. Secession and perpetuation are critical to judging which regime is better. Democracy, on the other hand, escapes this problem; in a democratic regime, the continual existence of the many ensures that regime's perpetuation. Also, as long as law is maintained and respected by the many, the rule of law will be preserved.
Questioning the political efficacy of the
pambasileia leaves in doubt the natural
superiority of the pambasileia. People are either
fundamentally equal, or they believe that they
are fundamentally equal because the differences
are not readily evident. Although Aristotle does
not present this teaching in his own name, the
argument as developed so far is that if people
are generally equal, then law should rule. The
premise is that the rule of law is favored by
nature because human beings are fundamentally
alike. Also, the doubts concerning the clear and
evident superiority of any one man will weaken
the fundamental claim of the rule for the
SECOND LOGOS (1287a1-b35)
The second logos begins with the concern about a king who "acts in all things according to his own will" versus a king who "rules according to law" (3.16.1287a1-4). Aristotle says that a monarchy that "rules according to law is not ... a kind of kingship" (3.16.1287a4). He calls such a ruler a permanent general and notes that permanent generals can exist in all regimes (3.16.1287a5). The pambasileia rules in all matters only according to his own will (3.16.1287a8-9). This is a return to the beginning of the dialogue (3.16.1285b20-30), where Aristotle drops the discussion of the permanent general because it is not a type of regime. The return to the issue of a permanent general is a rejection of the king's being subject to the law and hence a rejection of the rule of law. Again, that the regime is prior to the laws is a fundamental principle of Aristotelian political philosophy.(37)
The rejection of the king's ruling by law is made within the context of Aristotle raising another criticism: "some hold that it is not even in accordance with nature for one person among all the citizens to have authority, where the city is constituted out of similar persons" (3.16.1287a10-13).(38) That is, if the citizens are similar (or equal) persons, the rule by one seems to be contrary to justice:
For in the case of persons similar by nature, justice and merit must necessarily be the same according to nature; and so if it is harmful for their bodies if unequal persons have equal sustenance and clothing, it is so also [for their souls if they are equal] in what pertains to honor, and similarly therefore if equal persons have what is unequal (3.16.1287a12-16).(39)
What is being argued is that equal persons should be treated roughly in the same manner, whereas unequal persons should be treated differently.(40) An example of this is that it would be unhealthy for a person of one constitution to eat an amount equal to what is consumed by a person with a radically different constitution. As to clothing, it is silly for a person who is big to wear clothes fit for a small person, and vice versa. This is a reflection on the teaching of the history of regimes. Since the history of regimes points to the equalization of human beings, political rule must then correspondingly represent the rule of equals.
From this general premise, Aristotle concludes,
Hence it is no more just [for equal persons] to rule than to be ruled, and it is therefore more just [that they rule and be ruled] by turns (3.16.1287a16-17).(41)
That persons have natures that are similar (to each other) would seem to require equals ruling and being ruled by each other in turn. The partisan of the laws notes, "this is already law; for the arrangement [of ruling and being ruled] is law" (3.16.1287a18). According to the above argument, it is preferable to have law rule instead of having only one citizen rule (3.16.1287a19-20). "If it is better that some must rule," this argument says, then those who are ruling "must be established as guardians of the law and servant of the laws" (3.16.1287a20-21).
The reason for establishing the offices under the law is that "there must necessarily exist certain offices [by which persons, and not law, rule]" (3.16.1287a22). The offices and officers who serve the laws are established to exercise authority for the laws in matters, as argued in the first logos, that the laws' principles cannot cover.(42) The prudence of the officeholder is to make up for the defect of the laws; however, the officeholder's authority comes from the laws themselves. Aristotle notes that this position would respond to the criticism that "those things which the law is held incapable of determining, a human being could not decide ... either" (3.16.1287a23-24).
So the pambasileia section of the second logos begins on an examination of what kingship entails. Kingship is a sort of rule (arche) that exists not by will, nor by force, but through deliberation [boule] (3.16.1287a2).(43) Because the pambasileiaexists merely by deliberation alone, to what extent is it truly a regime? It is not a regime, yet it is a regime. It is not a regime in that it merely embodies personal rule rather than institutional rule through the law. So pambasileia is akin to tyranny. Yet it is a regime in that it is both a description of an authoritative way of life--the rule of the best, or wisest--and a description of a governing body--the absolute rule, unrestrained by law, of one ruler. In fact, Algernon Sidney, refering to the same texts in Aristotle, attacks Filmer's position concerning the right of kings to rule absolutely. Filmer claimed Aristotle to be a supporter of monarchial rule, but Sidney argued that Filmer misuses Aristotle because Aristotle ultimately favors popular rule.(44)
The pambasileia appears to be as nonpolitical as the sophists' elevation of rhetoric in political activity. Strictly speaking, the pambasileia is not political in that the necessities of politics require the use of force. The implication that for human beings deliberation alone is not enough signifies that politics is a mixing of force and deliberation, as well as of persuasion.(45) The defining quality of the pambasileia, however, is that the people willingly accept his authority over them through a recognition of his evident superiority.
At the end of Politics 3.15, the argument makes it extremely difficult to notice differences among people. To justify the rule of the pambasileia requires obvious and discernible differences between the king and the people; if the people cannot see the differences between themselves and the pambasileia, they will not recognize his authority over them.(46) If the people do not recognize the authority of the pambasileia, the legitimacy of the regime fades. If he uses force to establish his authority over the people he will be indistinguishable from a tyrant. As Aristotle notes, tyranny necessarily involves the unwillingness of the people to obey the laws of their ruler (4.10.1295a14-20).(47)
This form of kingship is exercised by persuasion, not by force, because to rule merely by force is not politics, argues the partisan for the laws. However, that response begs the question--to what extent is ruling by mere persuasion truly politics? Politics, as noted earlier, is a balance between persuasion and force, as the polis is a balance between the civilization of empire and the freedom of the tribe.(48)
As an attempt to solve the crisis of the people's inability to recognize the pambasileia, Aristotle returns to nature (3.16.1287a1-1287b35). If men are equal, the laws should rule (3.16.1287a20); if not, then the best should rule. Since men cannot see the nature of other men with their eyes, it will be hard for them to accept the rule of the pambasileia simply on trust. The claim of the pambasileia is that he should rule because he is the best; so, merely to trust that he is best is unacceptable. Thus, the text suggests that the rule of law is preferable by nature to the rule of the pambasileia.
The argument for the law is that those who are alike by nature should have the same justice. Therefore, it is natural to rule and to be ruled in turn. If the laws cannot determine what is just, then how can it be said that human beings can judge these things, since the laws are made by men? The argument for the laws rests on the basic equality of human beings or, more precisely, on the inability of human beings to see the fundamental differences among themselves, i.e., "greatness of soul," "excellence," or "wisdom." These qualities are neither observable nor measurable. They are not visible to the eye and thus cannot be perceived by the many. The laws, on the other hand, are both visible to and perceptible by the many, whereas the nature of men is not. Also, the laws can teach men, while nature's ability to teach is, at best, questionable. If nature were able to teach directly, then the question of the superior man would not be so problematic.
The partisan for the laws argues that the laws are preferable to the pambasileia because the laws can educate the many for judgment, whereas nature's ability to teach the many is questionable. The laws themselves provide solutions to their own weaknesses in three ways. First, if the laws do not govern the specific case, then those who are authoritative--the rulers appointed to be the laws' servants and guardians--are to execute judgment in the name of the laws. Second, the laws provide for experience in that they are the collective wisdom of a people spread over time which is the customary law referred to in the text (3.16.1287b7). Third, rule by laws bids the good of the intellect to rule rather than human passions.
Finally, the partisan for the laws argues that, if
the laws cannot rule, neither can men. If law
reflects intellect (nous) without desire, and if the
laws are unable to redress human problems, to
what extent can human beings, who have desire
working within them, also redress problems
which will confront them? The laws are
preferable because they educate both the many
and the rulers, who are assigned under the law,
to judge (3.16.1287a25). To say that law is
intellect without appetite and spiritedness is to
say that "it is without the beast" (3.16.1287a30).
Law gets rid of, or at least places a restraint
upon, the beast that exists within all human
beings. Also, Aristotle teaches in the
Nicomachean Ethics and the Movement of
Animals that all animal movement--including
human action--requires both cognition and
desire (orexis). This is the strongest argument
for the rule of law versus the rule of the one
superior good man (pambasileia), in that the rule
of law both restrains and channels desires that
affect political decisions.(49) Because human
beings cannot escape desire, law, which is
strictly speaking without desire, provides the
restraint needed to avoid the decline in human
The Analogy of the Arts
The partisan for the laws criticizes the claim of the comprehensiveness of the medical arts used as a support for the rule of the pambasileia. Originally the example of the arts was made to counter the argument of the excellence of the many. Yet since the medical art is not comprehensive, the use of it as an argument to support the rule of the one of superior foresight is highly questionable (3.16.1287a35). Hence, the analogy of the arts, used to justify the rule of the one of clearly superior political expertise, is also false (3.16.1287a34), as was said before. Speaking for himself, in a digression on law in his criticism of the political theorist Hippodamus at Politics2.8.1269a19, Aristotle says that the argument from the arts is false. In fact, the two passages are almost identical, except that in Politics 2.8 the argument of the arts is clearly said to be false, whereas at Politics 3.16.1267a33 the text says that the argument of the arts "may be held to be false" Another difference is that Aristotle speaks in 2.8 in his own voice, whereas the passage in 3.16 is put in the mouth of a the partisan of the laws. Yet does not the explicit claim in Politics 2.8, made in Aristotle's own voice, support the view that Aristotle sides with the partisan of the rule of law over the partisan for the rule of the best man?(50)
Let us return to the debate. The partisan for the best man shows that the (written) laws are inferior by using the analogy of the arts. Just as it is better to be treated by a doctor than by a written set of instructions, he argues, it is preferable to be ruled by the one good man than by the laws. The artist, according to this argument, is the ultimate source of knowledge, either as directly applied, in the case of the doctor treating a patient, or as a patient following a set of written instructions. The same is also true for other arts. The chairmaker, for example, is an expert at making chairs. He could write instructions for making chairs so that the novice could copy the chairmaker's techniques. However, what actually occurs is that the novice is copying, or mimicking, the experience of the chairmaker. Knowledge is not transferred merely through written instruction; hence, the novice can never have the actual know-how to make chairs exactly like those of the chairmaker. The novice is dependent on the particular matter and the set of instructions with which he is presented. This argument is similar to the argument made at Politics 3.11.1281b39-82a23 against the multitude's excellence. There is a distinction between arts in which only the practitioner has adequate knowledge to judge finely what has been done and others in which non-artists may also finely judge the outcome of the art.
The criticism of the analogy of the arts arises from the argument that, although humans have nous, they also have appetite and desire. The partisan of the laws uses the example of a doctor's being persuaded, through promise of profit, by a man's enemies to harm instead of healing him. He asks, which would one rather trust now, a doctor who can be corrupted or the written instructions, which cannot? (3.16.1287a40). The partisan of the laws notes that people trust the latter rather than the former. Therefore, people trust the laws over the superior man, because he is human also and has passions like other human beings. Again, recall that Aristotle insists that all actions require desire (orexis) and cognition. This will place an inherent limit on any human rule per se, in that desire will interfere with judgment.
The turn to the one skillful artist rather than to the law is then to be rejected. The rejection of this particular argument seems to support the general argument for the rule of law. The craftsman or artist can be satisfied by pay or by the advancement of his personal interest. Therefore, the artist's interest is not that of the whole, nor is it necessarily inclined toward excellence. Neither is the expertise of such a craftsman comprehensive. No one artist can encapsulate the whole possibility of any single art. Because no artist can encapsulate the whole, how can it be said that the pambasileia encapsulates the whole of the political art?
Another problem with the analogy of the arts is that human passions arise even in the arts. Physicians bring in another doctor when they require treatments themselves, because they are not able to judge concerning themselves (3.16.1287b1). When needing treatment themselves, physicians distrust their own judgment. These observations call into question the ability of the artist to separate his skill from his interest. What is desired is an impartial judge. The partisan of the laws argues that "when [men] are seeking justice they are seeking impartiality, for law is impartiality" (3.16.1287b4).
Should the image of having to call in another
doctor and of not dealing with one's own case be
applied to the pambasileia if there is trouble or
suffering in the city? Can the pambasileiado
this? If he cannot trust his own judgment, does
this not mean that he is clearly not superior?
That another's judgment might be needed and
thus superior seems to weaken his claim to
absolute rule. Does the need to consult another
suggest that the one consulted should be
appointed king? The partisan of the laws speaks
of the problem of factions arising in a city. If
factions occur, will the pambasileia listen to
another 'doctor' who tells him to give up his
On Laws and the Rule of Law
The partisan of the laws takes the argument one level higher. He notes that, although the arguments for the written laws made previously are good, "laws based on unwritten customs are more authoritative" (3.16.1287b5). What the partisan for the laws then admits that the rule of human beings might be safer than the rule of written laws. However, he continues to note that the rule of human beings is not as safe as the rule of unwritten laws, or custom (3.16.1287b6-7). To take it even further: if the rule of human beings is safer than the rule of written laws, why is not the rule of one man also safer? Perhaps written laws are not as good as the rule of one good man. Then is this also not true for unwritten laws? Is the rule of one good man truly better than unwritten laws? Now, however, both the rule of one and of many seem to be clearly inferior to unwritten laws. Customs are more authoritative about more authoritative things, such as how to worship the gods, whom one should obey, and so on, than written laws (3.16.1287b5). This argument for custom shows that unwritten laws can be like written law--intellect without appetite--yet safer and more authoritative than the rule of human beings or even the best of them.
The partisan of the laws then presents another criticism of the pambasileia. He notes that no one man can oversee many things or, more precisely, "it is not easy for one person to survey many things" (3.16.1287b8). Because the city requires many offices, "there will be a need for a number of persons to be selected as rulers under him" (3.16.1287b9-10). He asks, "what difference is there between having them present right from the beginning and having one person select them in this manner?" (3.16.1287b10-12). Then the argument returns to the contention that the many good are preferable to the simply good (3.16.1287b12), and, the partisan for the laws notes,
Even now there are offices (that of juror, for example) which have authority to judge concerning some matters that the law is unable to determine; for in the case of those it is able to determine, at any rate, no one would dispute that the law would be the best ruler and judge concerning them (3.16.1287b15-18).
The partisan of the laws admits that the law cannot determine all things. However, he argues, the things that the laws are capable of deciding are commonly agreed to have been done fairly.
But the possibility that some things cannot be encompassed by the laws raises the question as to whether "the rule of the law is more choiceworthy than that of the best man" (3.16.1287b20-21). He notes that to "legislate concerning matters of deliberation is impossible" (3.16.1287b22). Aristotle argues that deliberation about happiness or the things conducive to happiness is also impossible.(51) The laws clearly cannot replace human deliberation.(52) Is this the best argument against the laws and for the rule of the best man?
Aristotle has the partisan of the laws address this argument by noting, "it is not necessary for a human being to judge in such matters, but rather that there should be many persons instead of only one" (3.16.1287b23-24). Should not the many, educated by the laws, deliberate over the matters which are of great importance to the city? The partisan for the laws argues that
[e]very ruler judges finely if he has been educated by the law; and it would perhaps be held to be odd if someone should see better with two eyes, judge better with two ears, and act better with two feet and hands than many persons with many (3.16.1287b25-29).
The many have many hands, many eyes, and
many feet. Their strength is that they have more
of the qualities needed for a good judge than any
individual. However, the image of a
many-handed, many-footed, many-eyed, and
many-eared being is that of a monster.(53) Yet is
this not also the characterization of the powers
of a god, a being that is omnipotent? The
evidence for the superiority of greater numbers
is that monarchs "create many eyes for
themselves, and ears, feet and hands, as well; for
those who are friendly to their rule and
themselves they make co-rulers"
On Rulers and Friends
The end of the previous argument pivots on the people whom kings appoint as co-rulers. If they are not friends,
they will not behave in accordance with the monarch's intentions, but if they are friends to him and his rule, the friend is someone similar and equal, so if he supposes these should rule, he [necessarily] supposes that those who are similar and equal should rule similarly (3.16.1287b33-34).
So if the king picks co-rulers he will probably pick friends who will behave in accordance with his intentions and who are similar and equal to him. If such friends are indeed equal and similar to the king, what happens to his authoritative claim to have sole authority over all?
The rule of the good is to make others good. However, such rule is not strictly political but deals with what is understood as friendship. Is not the image one of force? Is it not the relationship of a king to his subjects? Or rather, is it like that of a teacher, or even Socrates, to his students? I think it is the latter. The pambasileia's relationship to others is one of friendship and not of political rule, which must also involve force.
The most important argument is that the universal king's rule is based on friendship. Friendship implies equality and likeness;(54) therefore, only the actually or the potentially good men will accept the pambasileia. But since he is such a rare find, friends who are his equal will be as rare, if not more so. Thus, the only friendship he will have is that between unequals. Yet the condition for the creation of the pambasileia, the acceptance of his rule non-coercively, ultimately depends upon a virtuous people who can recognize the best in their midst and be willing to allow him to rule over them. But this is, in itself, problematic in that a people who could benefit from his rule would be equally capable of ruling themselves justly.
What about the relationship between him and his subjects? Such a relationship seems to be that of benevolent friendship, not of political rule(55) and not the complete friendship of free and equal men, who are equally good and just. If such people were around, his claim to absolute rule would be diminished. Rather, the relationship of the pambasileia to his subjects is that of parental friendship.(56) As the father is concerned with his children, the pambasileia is concerned with his subjects. But parental rule can also be tyrannical, like that of the Persians, whose sons are treated as slaves (NE 8.10.1160b28). But the good father desires that his children someday become no longer dependent upon his rule, that they become capable of self-rule.
But is this also true of the pambasileia? Or are his subjects perpetual children? Can there be such people, who are perpetually children? Such a condition of the people would mean that his subjects are, in fact, the natural slaves, mentioned in Politics 1. But such people are rare, although not as rare as the pambasileia himself. If the character of his subjects is that of natural slaves, and if the rule over slaves, even natural slaves, is despotic rule, then the pambasileia's rule is then also a form of despotic rule. Since despotic rule is not such a noble thing, would this would imply that the pambasileia likewise ignoble?
This view of the pambasileia would also suggest that unless the subjects are natural slaves, his rule must be limited until his subjects become capable of self-rule. When his subjects become capable of self-rule, he must cease to rule over them unless his rule changes its nature from kingship to tyranny.
Another problem with pambasileia is that since the most complete friendships are among free and good men who are equals, such friendship is not possible under pambasileia. Yet such people are needed to accept his rule. Moreover, while the best friendships seem to be excluded under the rule of the absolute good man, such friendships have the opportunity to flourish under democracy (NE 8.12.1161b8-10).
Democracy, as a regime, has a resemblance to political friendship in that it strives to be an association of generally free and equal persons, who live together and rule either together or in turn (NE 8.9.1060a5-31 and 8.10.1161a5-9). Also, Aristotle explicitly says that, in comparison to tyranny, democracy allows both friendship and justice to flourish to a larger degree because in this regime the people are "equal, and so have much in common" (NE 8.12.1161b9-10). Having things in common is very important for friendship because "where ruler and ruled have nothing in common, they have no friendship."(57)
What does the pambasileia have in common with his subjects if he is the "god-like man" and they appear to be children, at best, and natural slaves, at worst? Very little. Recall what Aristotle says is the relationship between the gods and men: no friendship is possible between them or where there exists "some wide gap in excellence (arete)" (NE 8.7.1158b33-36). This is also true of kings (NE 8.7.1159a1-3). Clearly, the reason that justifies the rule of the pambasileia is the gap of excellence between him and the rest of the city. Therefore, the claim of his extraordinary excellence that demands his rule excludes the possibility that he can have friends in the city.
Given these questions involving friendship, it is
evident that if friendship is as important as
justice in the regime, as Aristotle himself says
(NE 8.1.1155a23-28), then the pambasileiacan
hardly be the most choiceworthy of regimes. An
even more fundamental concern, considering the
pambasileia's difficulty with friendship, is the
fundamental question, can he be happy?
The Happiness of the "Pambasileia"
Is there another problem with universal kingship in regard to the happiness of the city? The universal king must rule for the common good, not his own. But what happens when the common good of the city is in conflict with his own personal happiness? The answer is that the good pambasileia fulfills his duty to the city by subordinating his happiness to the city's well-being. But Aristotle argues that this is highly problematic. In his criticism of Plato's Republic, Aristotle notes that "if the [rulers] are not happy, who else will be?" (2.5.1264b21-22). How can the city be happy if the ruler is not? Will not the king's unhappiness change the nature of his rule, from just to unjust?
Aristotle appears to be silent on this question, so his answer seems to be that this is a fundamental problem with universal kingship--the conflict between the happiness of the ruler and that of the ruled.(58) The pambasileia cannot escape this dilemma. If he pursues his happiness when to do so is against the common advantage of the ruled, then his regime changes from kingship to tyranny. If the pambasileia were to go against the common advantage of the ruledand to pursue what makes him happy, in theory he could abdicate. But to abdicate would lead to a regime change that could harm the city. Thus, universal kingship is plagued by dilemmas.
In democracy, on the other hand, this tension hardly exists. If it were to exist, abdication from political life would not affect the vary nature of the regime as it would in kingship. Not only does friendship prosper more in democracy than in monarchy, the city has a greater possibility to be happy. This is so because, in democracy, the ruler and ruled tend to be equals. Thus, the potential conflict between the happiness of the ruler and the happiness of the ruled is for the most part eliminated.
The question of happiness begs an address to the
question of the end of politics and, especially, of
political life. If the end of politics is the good
life, then is not the good life also that way of life
that most fulfills the conditions of happiness?
The end of the best way of life in the
Nicomachean Ethics is happiness. If there is a
connection between justice and happiness, in
that a level of justice is a requirement or
precondtion for the fulfillment of happiness,
then the good life--that which is brought about
by justice--must also be the happy life.(59) So the
argument of the pambasileia is that its rule is the
rule of the best. Does not this then imply the
rule of the just? Clearly this is the implication
in the text. Yet justice and happiness seem
unified, as is implied by justice;s being the
social excellence that aims at the good life, and
the good life is the life that best brings about
Is the Rule of the "Pambasileia" Apolitical?
Another fundamental problem concerns the
political efficacy of the pambasileia, because it
is said that the superior man's rule should be
based upon friendship and not force. We are
reminded here of Socrates' relations to his
students. Although Socrates works for the
benefit of his students, his relationship to them
is not one of equals. Because he can only
persuade, he is unable to prevent some of his
students--such as Alcibiades and Critias--from
becoming politically bad men.(60) Xenophon
distinguishes in his Anabasis between himself
and Proxenus. Proxenus was taught by Gorgias,
the famous sophist, that rhetoric alone is needed
in ruling men.(61) Yet Proxenus was only capable
of ruling the nobles. On the other hand,
Socrates taught Xenophon that ruling also
included force. Because of this teaching,
Xenophon was able to rule both the many and
the nobles. Because the many are not going to
be moved by words, force is needed.(62)
The end of the second logos ends with the
pambasileiadescribed, by the partisan for the
laws, as being insufficiently political. Rather,
pambasileia is described more like a form of
paternal rule or friendship and less a form of
political rule. This forced us to examine
Aristotle's discussion of both friendship and
political friendship in the Nicomachean Ethics
and to compare it to the pambasileia. The end
of the logos, where it is shown that the
pambasileia is not sufficiently political, is
supported by the middle part of the logos. The
middle part shows that the argument from the
arts is false, not simply but politically. The
whole argument of the second logos points to
the problem of whether politics can be
ultimately understood philosophically or not.
The general trend of the argument is that politics
cannot be understood philosophically as merely
an art. Since the argument of the arts is shown
to be politically false, we must find the basis for
the pambasileia's rule. This brings us to the
THIRD LOGOS (1287a1-1288a2)
Qualifying the Universial King's Rule
The third logos begins by addressing the criticism made against the pambasileia throughout the second logos. Aristotle notes that the arguments "hold in some cases, in others perhaps they do not" (3.17.1287b36). He means by "perhaps they do not," not that they definitely do not hold in some cases. This qualification is important, because it leaves open the truthfulness of both arguments.
Aristotle notes that by nature there are certain people "apt for mastery, and ... kingship, and ... another [kind] that is political, and this is both just and advantageous" (3.17.1287b37-38). Yet none are, he says, apt for tyranny, or the other deviant types of rule, because these are contrary to nature (3.17.1287b39-40). Nature is said to provide for the just and the advantageous, not for the unjust or the disadvantageous. But Aristotle here speaks "beautifully" concerning nature's powers. As is seen by nature's inability to make evident to the many the superior nature of the superior man, it is not clear to what extent nature directly provides for the just and advantageous to "come into being" and not the unjust and the disadvantageous.
History shows us many examples of slavish mulitiudes, who choose to be lead by a tyrant (or despot) rather than to live freely. Also, when a free people rejects law and moderation, in both character and in rule, they tend to embrace both licence and lust. Such a free people will end up being as tyrannical as any tyrant. Both Tocqueville and Publius, the author of The Federalist Papers, affirms this along with Aristotle. Aristotle warns that the disposition of a radical democracy is like that of tyranny and must be avoided (4.4.1292a10-20).
Aristotle restates the argument of the laws that among similar and equal persons,
... it is neither advantageous nor just for one person to have authority over all matters, regardless of whether there are laws or not, and he acts as law himself, whether he and they are good or not, and even whether he is better in respect to excellence--unless it is in a certain manner (3.17.1287b40-1288a5).
If, in other words, people are basically equal,
there is no reason except in possessing an
excellence of a "certain manner" for one to have
authority over all. The "manner" of excellence
in question is that of an excellence which is so
preeminent that all other excellences are seen as
lacking in value. Only then is it acceptable for
one individual to possess authority over all,
even when the multitude in question is
composed of equals basically similar in nature.
Yet this claim points to the importance of the
multitude's character and nature and one
wonders why this type of rule is most fit for it.
On the Different Natures of the Multitudes
The nature, or character, of the multitude to be ruled in many ways determines the type of regime which is best for it. There are as many forms of regimes that are best for a multitude as there multitudes.(63) The best regime for a people depends upon their character. And the best for them may differ from what is best simply.(64) However, although Aristotle does not forget what is best for a given multitude, he insists upon finding out what is best simply. But the best simply must not overlook the limits placed upon the nature of human beings and thus forget their temporal and physical natures. Given these limitations, we turn to Aristotle's account of the best multitude.
Aristotle observes that there are fundamentally three characters of multitudes: 1) kingly, 2) aristocratic, and 3) political. The kingly multitude is a multitude;
... of such a sort that it accords with its nature to support a family that is preeminent in excellence relative to political leadership (3.17.1288a9-11).
The aristocratic multitude is
... of such a sort that it accords with its nature to support a multitude capable of being ruled in accordance with the rule that belongs to free persons whose excellence makes them expert leaders relative to political rule (3.17.1288a12-14).
The political multitude is one in which
... there arises in accordance with its nature a military multitude capable of ruling and being ruled in accordance with a law distributing offices on the basis of merit to those who are well off (3.17.1288a15-17).
A surface examination of the political multitude described here suggests its resemblance to Aristotle's description of the "polity," presented at Politics 3.7.1279a37-1279b4. Yet nowhere does Aristotle refer to the political multitude as a "polity." Instead, one should understand this multitiude to refer to one whose nature is political, most if not all of whose members are capable of sharing political rule. The difference between these multitudes turns out to be their capacity to support the rule of either a king or an aristocratic few. If they can do neither, they are best governed by law, selecting their rulers on the basis of merit. Does this not sound like the solution arrived at by the Framers of The Constitution of 1787 or the author of The Federalist Papers?
The different types of multitude are dependent on the regime so one should view them in the context of their particular regimes. The various multitudes generally are disposed to the regime dominated by the artisans by nature, or to radical democracy; however, Aristotle maintains that nature does not intend deviant regimes. Because this is the case, human beings do not by nature seek the bad, the unjust, or the disadvantageous. The determining element of the character of one's regime is the type of multitude one encounters, so the fundamental question is the character of the people. Where there is a multitude devoted to equality, there can be no kingship, unless the multitude possesses a desire to be ruled by a king, or a dynasty evidently superior in quality to them.(65)
But as long as the multitude is not slavish the type of king would have to be one of exceedingly extraordinary merit or excellence. In speaking about the pambasileia, Aristotle speaks of his ruling not over an inferior mulitiude but over one which could sustain him. So it is unlikely that such a king could arise out of a multitude of slavish people. Rather, he could only arise out of the best type of multitude. Yet would a pambasileia want to rule over people who could rule themselves just as well? It appears that such a multitude is the only fitting one for such a king; it is also the only one which would accept his claim to rule willingly. But to rule over such people would be superfluous.
In one sense, the suggestion that the multitude
that would accept the rule of the pambasileia is
the one that needs him the least points to a
problem with this type of rule. That those
whom he rules are just as well off without him
seems to belittle the benefit of such a regime.
Or, at least, it points to the fact that the benefits
of such rule is not predominantly political. The
last point is seen in the extreme rarity of the
pambasileia, who is said to be a person of such
outstanding excellence, that the political norm
would be the rule of the political multitude. But
the typical, governing political multitude is the
rule of the many.(66)
"That Special Excellence"
After the discussion of the different multitudes, we return to the question of a whole family or "even some person among the rest, ... so outstanding in excellence (arete) ... an excellence more preeminent than ...all the rest" (3.17.1288a16-17). W. R. Newell argues, along with Hans-Georg Gadamer and Ronald Beiner, against the relation of politics and technical knowledge.(67) In this case, he is justified to turn to Aristotle to find the teaching concerning politics that is not based upon a requirement of technical knowledge, or science. For this reason, the argument from the arts was rejected in Politics 3, as well as in Politics 2. However, Newell's specific reading of "superlative excellence" as prudence is an error perpetrated in the name of debunking technical knowledge as the basis of political wisdom.(68) It is true that Aristotle is vague about what he understands as the "superlative excellence" and that he leaves the excellence unnamed. Aristotle's occasional method of telling about something and then not telling what it is, or not naming it, is a deliberate device to make one think about what the excellence in question really is.
Could leaving the particular excellence of the pambasileiaunnamed be an attempt to force the reader to go back to the Nicomachean Ethics in order to discover the hierarchy of excellences. Vander Waerdt makes the plausible case for a hierarchy of human goods which would structure what we understand to be the best. Yet, it seems that the excellence in question is not an excellence discussed by Aristotle in his corpus, but one much more abstracted from particular human goods. The issue warrants close examination.
If this concern about what excellence Aristotle is referring to in speaking about the pambasileia points one back to the Nicomachean Ethics, then one should look at the accounts of the excellences presented there to see which one best represents the excellence in question. But the inevitable conclusion seens to be that many of the arguments in the Nicomachean Ethics point back to the Politics. So one finds out that moral excellence is closely tied to the type of regime or government one is raised in and that one cannot wholly escape the formation of one's character by that type of regime. Thus, it could be said that Aristotle engages in a dialogue between these two works, as well as one going on within each of them.
But, in turning to the Nicomachean Ethics to confront the hierarchy of excellences, one must remember a fundamental point that Aristotle makes in the Politics: excellence (arete) understood in its social context is relative to the regime. Aristotle is not thus claiming that excellence (arete) is relative, but that each regime will advance a certain understanding, or a part, of excellence as the whole of excellence. It is only in the case of the best regime that the excellence advanced by the political community either approximates or encompasses the whole of excellence.
In addressing the role of excellences within the framework of the discussion of absolute kingship, Aristotle inquires into how excellence manifests itself in the political community. He notes that, should such an excellence occur within a political community, it is "fitting in such a case that the family be a kingly one and have authority over all matters, or that this one person be a king" (3.17.1288a12-19). The claim of this person or family is that he or they possess an excellence so superior that it is clearly preeminent over all other known excellences.(69) But what is this excellence which is so clearly preeminent over the rest of the excellences that it requires that the one who possesses it be simply obeyed? Aristotle does not give this special excellence a name and, because it is not formally named, much scholarship has been expended to spell out what to name this excellence or to determine what it is.
W. R. Newell attempts to understand the
"superlative excellence" used to explain the
claim to rule of the pambasileia, claiming that it
must be phronesis, or prudence.(70) Newell notes
that in Politics 3 and in the Nicomachean Ethics,
the two examples of the phronimos--one who
typifies prudence--were Jason and Pericles.(71)
However, it is not a particular excellence that
Aristotle is talking about when he speaks about
the "superlative excellence." Newell does point
out that the "superlative excellence" is
politically questionable and, in doing so, his
argument tends to support the one made here.
Yet it appears that Newell is mistaken in his
understanding about what exactly it is apart
from phronesis.(72) But Aristotle is not talking
about phronesis, so he must be talking about
some other excellence.
The Rejection of Phronesis as The Superlative Virtue
Now the reason that phronesis, cannot be the excellence in question is that the exercise of phronesis--the excellence of deliberating or judging finely (euboulia)--is not so peculiar that it is a rare occurence.(73) Quite the opposite, although in its most perfect form, the completely prudent person is scarce, prudence is nevertheless a common occurence in human association. Also, unlike sophia, which deals with universals and eternal things of the intellect (i.e., the theoretical), phronesis deals with human action or the practical (i.e., things associated with praxis). Because phronesis deals with the practical or--as I understand what Aristotle means by praxis in its more generic sense--human action, it addresses those things which can admit to be otherwise, the changeable, or the temporal (see NE6.5.1140a25-b28).(74)
Also, we see clearly that Aristotle does not hold phronesis, prudence, to be such a rare activity. The proof of this statment can be found in Politics 3, in which Aristotle claims that the many, when they act together and are not utterly slavish, are as good or better judges than those who claim expertise in the matter at hand (see 3.11.1282a14-19).(75) If phronesis--deliberating or judging finely--were the "superlative excellence" which defines the pambasileia, then the realm of possible persons who could be one would be many, not few. In fact, the assembly of the many, whose judgment is said to be as good as or better than the most excellent one, could be a pambasileia if he could be a corporate entity. But the pambasileia is not and cannot be a corporate entity. Rather, he is a single, rare individual, who embodies a form of excellence that justifies his ruling over humans absolutely.
Another reason that phronesis is to be ruled out
as the "superlative excellence" is that phronesis
is said to be found within rulers and rulers are
not a rare occurence in human society (Politics
3.4). This is reinforced by the discussion of
phronesis in Nicomachean Ethics 6, where
Aristotle also points out that phronesis is not
only directed toward the actions of a single
person but toward the whole community (NE
6.8.1141b24-40). Given that humans live in
community and have to make judgments
constantly, and a good deal of those judgements
are made in a fitting manner, it is evident that
phronesis is a common occurence. So it must be
ruled out as the excellence peculiarly possessed
by the pambasileia.
That Special Excellence Revisited
If the "superlative excellence" is not phronesis, as Newell suggests, what excellent is it? Again, because Aristotle does not specify what it is, we must look toward the other excellences. To answer this question some might notice the similarity between the pambasileia and Plato's philosopher-king and suggest that the two might be a clue as to the "superlative excellence" to which Aristotle is referring. The connection to Plato's philosopher-king would suggest that the excellence in question is the excellence of the philosopher, sophia, or wisdom. If wisdom is the "superlative excellence" then the pambasileia is the political embodiment of the philosopher as ruler. If so, the political teaching of the third logos would be that wisdom is simply authoritative over all, that wisdom's claim is superior to all other claims to rule. Is that not also the claim of intellect (nous)? Intellect is simply the authoritative part that rules over the body as a tyrant, completely and wholly. So if the excellence in question is that of intellection, would not intellection in its purest form, i.e., nous, be the excellence of the pambasileia? Before we can address the question concerning widsom's possibly being the special excellence of the pambasileia, we must rule out the claim for nous.(76)
In one sense, the operation of nous in the intellect is not a seperate or independent excellence. Rather, it is the model or form (eidos) which all intellection aims at--be it phronesis, techne, episteme, or sophia.(77) All the forms of the intellectual excellences are merely different ways or different modes of apprehending the noetic. Therefore, nous, or intellect simply, is not an actualized human faculty, but nous is that which is exercised by a particular intellectual excellence (see NE6.5.1240b30-41a8). Given the above understanding of nous, it is unlikely, contary to Lindsay's argument,(78) that the special excellence of the absolute king is that of perfectly embodying the noetic.
Now that nous is eliminated as a contender, what about wisdom? The problem of widsom's being the excellence in quesiton, is that the political utility of wisdom is not clear anywhere in Aristotle's work. Quite the opposite, for Aristotle makes the case that it is generally held that wisdom is politically useless or at least does not deal with the same things as politics (see NE 6.6.1241a9-b8). This is because politics as a human activity (i.e., praxis) deals with choice and things that admit of change, whereas widsom deals with the universal, the eternal, and the changeless. Since the excellence of the pambasileia must be understood to be preeminently political, and, since political things are those which deal with praxis and not with eternals, one can reasonably eliminate wisdom as the excellence in question.
In returning to the question "superlative excellence," we are forced to recall that every regime makes its claim to some excellence and this is generally understood to mean that the one possessing what the regime deems most excellent should rule. So any claim based upon excellence must consider which of the claimants encompasses the highest excellence. Again, the claim to support the rule of the pambasileia is that his excellence is the highest.(79) So the question is, is widsom the highest exellence? Those who value the philosophic life, assert that it is. But this is not the question asked. The question that is in fact asked is whether widsom is the special excellence peculiar of the pambasileia which ultimately justifes his rule. Surely wisdom does justify a claim to rule, in that the most wise, one would think, would rule better than the unwise. Given this, it is reasonable to believe that wisdom is the excellence in question. But does the account of the pambasileia really embody the principle of widsom and thus the way of life of the philosopher?
Leo Strauss, in his discussion of the pambasileia, argues that the pambasileia is not so much the philosopher but the political reflection of the philosopher.(80) Strauss claims that philosophy does not arise in kingdoms but in democractic, or more precisely, in radically democratic regimes, ones that are in decay rather than at the peak of their excellence.(81) Even if one does not agree with Strauss's claim that the peak of excellence is opposed to democratic regimes, he is quite correct that the pambasileia is at best the political reflection of the philosopher and not the philosopher himself. Although Struass does not go to explain the differences between the political reflection of the philosopher and the actual philosopher, the metaphor used to describe the relationship--i.e., that of reflection--points to what the argument would be if he did. Struass's metaphor suggests that the similarity between the two is one of image and not of substance. So as the philosopher is the peak of the life of intellect--understood as the pursuit of wisdom--the pambasileia is the political equivalent of that peak. The pambasileia is a peak of the political way of life in that he embodies the principle of ruling as though nature could always simply select or elect one to always rule as it does in the account of the natural slave, who is selected to be always ruled.
Vander Waerdt agrees with Strauss that the pambasileia is not the philosopher.(82) Yet, unlike Strauss, he says Aristotle avoids the problem with Plato's philosopher-kings by "altering the kind of [excellence of which] the king's rule rests."(83) He goes on to say that the excellence of the pambasileia is "a kind of heroic or even divine [excellence] which differs in eidos from both moral and philosophic [excellences].(84) Lindsay agrees with Vander Waerdt in the alleged connection between the excellence in question and the claim that such an excellence is divine in character,(85) that the special excellence of the pambasileia is a divine quality. Yet Lindsay's stress upon nous misses the deeper meaning of Vander Waerdt's powerful suggestion in that the excellence in question is a kind of divine excellence. Although it seems that Vander Waerdt misses the significance of his own suggestion by stressing the heroic qualitiy of this special excellence rather than the divine or, as in a pagan universe, the natural. The divine or quintessentially natural character of the particular excellence in question is what makes the pambasileia a peak of the possible human types.
Thus the pambasileia is the peak of political rule--the natural ruler--one who is by nature most suited to rule. Now such a person must posess phronesis, or prudence, as any ruler does, but phronesis is not that which distinguishes him.(86) What distinguishes him rather is that he is by nature the most suited to rule. So the "superlative excellence" of the pambasileia is not an excellence akin to as those discussed in the Nicmoachean Ethics (with the exception of magnanimity), but it is his literal selection or election by nature to rule simply. In other words, the excellence that elevates the pambasileia above all other human beings is that nature points to him, nature makes it clear or evident that he should rule over all and all should simply obey him. Thus, the "superlative excellence" is not a single particluar excellence but it is the fact that nature has given him such a character that he by nature simply superior to all other persons and this superiority validates his claim simply to rule over everyone else.
Clearly, the selection of this one person to be the
ruler by nature would be seen as a very
particular excellence. Also given the fact that
all human excellences are natural, one would be
tempted to understand nature's election of such a
person with such superiority as an endowment
of some kind of excellence. Perhaps it is but
such an excellence is nameless. Rather, it is
best to understand it not as an excllence but as a
condition or state which nature grants to such a
person. Thus it should be understood as a
crown or a peak, in that nature's election and the
fact of that election would be made evident by
nature for all to see. Thus, there would be no
doubts to his claim to justly possess such an
The Problem of Obedience
The next argument is that the pambasileia's rule is simply natural and that nature demands that one obeys those who are simply superior.(88) The logic of this line of reasoning is that the simply superior men should rule and should be obeyed. Aristotle is leading to an aporia, a stopping place where the argument is good on both sides. The fundamental question pertains to the extent to which nature brings forth a single man or a multitude capable of rule. If nature does not, then what does such a shortcoming suggest about nature?
Both the single superior man or the multitude, in order to be authoritative in a political sense, need to persuade; so what is needed is a persuasion by nature.(89) Political necessity would dictate that the ruler should have (some) force behind him. Force would not be needed, however, because his superiority should recognized as such by all. The tendency of the political community, as indicated in the history of regimes, is to move toward equality as things become more civilized. Unless nature so provides that the ruler is completely superior in appearance, he will not be persuasive. The fundamental question now is, how politically relevant is the pambasileia?
The answer to this question seems to be that, given the actual nature of human beings, he is not very relevant. Human nature does not clearly distinguish between ruler and ruled, although it intends to do so (see Politics 2.5-6). Because of this failure by nature to distinguish clearly the different natures of human beings, human beings need politics and the political community to establish for them the criteria for ruling and being ruled. Because nature does not in fact always--or, possibly, it never actually--crowns or makes evident to all who should rule simply (as it is also true that nature does not simply make evident who should simply follow), the ideal of political life is not a permanence of rulers. Rather, the ideal of political life is ruling and being ruled in turn. Thus, the fundamental nature of human beings is that they are political animals--i.e., habituated within the context of political communities--and this is the fulfillment of nature's design for them. Therefore, who is ruler and ruled is ambigious because they are political animals, and so the issue of ruler and ruled will vary by the regime in which they find themselves. The fact that nature tends not to, or does not make, evident who should rule may be the reason that Aristotle does not give a name to the excellence which distinguishes the pambasileia. Because such election by nature does not occur, there is no name given to act of nature's election to be the natural rule.(90) So, this nameless special excellence is merely a hypothetical excellence, not an actual excellence in that there is no example in practice of such a ruler, unless we believe Xenophon's account of Cyrus. But such an understanding of Xenophon's Cyrus is not without its problems. The special excellence is one that is possible theoretically--in that nature does intend such a possibility--but nature does not bring such a possibility into practice, or into actual existence.
The third logos concludes the inquiry of the pambasileiaunsatisfactorily:
Concerning kingship, then, the varieties that it has and whether it is advantageous for polises or not, and if so, which and in what fashion, let our discussion stand thus (3.17.1288a29-32).
The logos ends without a satisfactory answer to whether the superior man should rule even when the people are basically similar and without a distinction as to whether the rule of the pambasileia is advantageous to cities or not. The logos ends having both sides with their strongest arguments brought forth, yet is inconclusive to which argument trumps the other.
The partisan for the best man simply ignores the
claim that if the people are roughly similar and
equal, it is unjust for one to have absolute
authority over all even while he admits the
criticism's general validity. On the other hand,
the partisan of the laws admits the defects of the
laws. He addresses this problem by insisting
that many rulers are better than one. The ending
of the final logos leaves the question
unanswered to force the readers to answer the
question himself, whether it is more
choiceworthy to be ruled by the best laws or by
the best man.(91)
Reviewing Kingship vs. The Rule of Law
Let us review the whole debate about the pambasileia. The first logos ends on the necessity of force; the second logos ends with the issue of friendship, and the third logos ends on the need for natural persuasiveness. The difficulty of the superior one's acting is that people do not understand what he is doing so he appears to be tyrannical. Because people would not be sure if the pambasileia is in fact naturally superior, this form of rule may in fact issue in tyranny if the naturally superior is not in fact the one ruling.
The rejection of the analogy of the arts raises the question of foresight. The rule of the pambasileia appears to be nothing more than the rule of the naturally foresighted over those inferior in foresight. But foresight is not so fundamentally different in most human beings that one person's foresight is so much superior that it would justify his absolute rule over others by nature's dictate. We must remember that politics deals with ruling free perons. It is not the ruling over either children or slaves, that is the role of the household (oikos), which was discussed in Politics 1. Nor is politics the rule over utterly unwilling subjects, that type of rule is tyrannical. Thus, the whole discussion of the pambasileia shows how political rule fundamentally differs from the absolute or despotic rule, even though the rule of the pambasileia resembles such type of rule.
Yet, universal kingship differs from tyranny because the pambasileia rules over willing persons. He is not a tyrant. However, his rule is nevertheless similar to household rule, in that those he rules are by nature require his rule for their benefit. Although those whom he rules are not natural slaves (at least it is not said that they are) they are in a way similar to them.
The pambasileia's reign would also be like household rule in that it is an art (techne) and, as such, it is wholly to benefit the ruled. In that the rule of the pambasileia is a form of techne, it is even more distinguished from either tyranny, which is never for the advantage of the ruled, and despotism, which is only accidentally advantageous for the ruled. Thus, one can understand why the political relevance of the arts was so much an issue in this debate. If the arts are politically relevant or if politics is an art, then the claim that the best should rule is to be vindicated. If the rule of the best can be vindicated, then the case for the pambasileia is easily made. But the argument of the arts was rejected and thus the case for the pambasileia is to be rejected.
The rejection of the argument of the arts, seems to entail the rejection of the Socratic claim that politics is a form of the arts. Aristotle holds that politics is not simply an art. Although he agrees with Socrates that an art is wholly for the sake of its object, he does not think politics is an art. If politics is an art, it would mean that ruling would only be for the sake of the ruled. Yet Aristotle argues that political rule is both for the sake of the ruler and the ruled; political rule, when done well, is for the sake of the common advantage or the common good.
In the above light, the pambasileia is both the most political and the least political form of rule. It is most political because its claim is the most comprehensive or the most universalistic: he should rule absolutely over all human beings and they should obey him. Yet this is also how it is also the least political rule: the underlying premise of being suited by nature to be the ruler is radically at odds with the fundamental assumption of political rule, that who is to be ruler and who is to be ruled is ambiguous. This is to say that political rule, ruler and ruled is not a set equation or a constant, rather it is a ever changing relationship that vary from one regime to another.
In another sense the claim of the pambasileia is
the least political of claims to rule because his
claim is that of the arts; that is the one who is
best should rule. Because of this, the
pambasileia's rule, like all arts, is wholly for the
sake of the ruled. Yet since politics is for the
common advantage and not merely for the sake
of the ruled, the rule of the pambasileiais not
political. Given that politics is not an art it is
therefore understandable that what governs
politics is phronesis, not techne. And since
phronesis governs politics, those who deliberate
best should rule. As noted earlier, Aristotle
claims that the many can make this claim as
well as the best one or the best few (see Politics
Natural Equality and its Limits
Throughout the three logoi, Aristotle simply alludes to the rule of equality by nature but does not make the statement openly, as Algernon Sidney noticed.(92) Aristotle places the argument for the rule of equality beneath the discussion of the history of regimes. This is done because nature desires to fulfill what it intends but needs human action to do so. Because this is the fundamental premise, we are presented with a strange argument that equality is what nature truly intends.
But when we bring up the question of the superior one we generally see that intellect (nous) works and rules within all human souls and not just his alone. If foresight is potentially present in all human beings, then is there even the possibility of a superior one? This question, however, raises the further question of the proper relationship between the many and the one and who ought to rule? A superior man should appear to be like a god to the many. But does he appear this way or does he appear more like a teacher from the point of view of his students? However, one must remember that Aristotle says that a god is intellect (nous) without passion.
One must remember that law explicitly has the same definition as that of a god. We must recall that the rule of the many was said to be less subject to control by passion than the rule of one. Can one then conclude that the rule of law is preferable to the rule of the superior one in that it is more in line with the rule of a god than that of the superior man? Can the superior man indeed be a law unto himself?
The account of the universal king or the ruler by
nature leads us to Aristotle's Nicomachean
Ethics and to the magnanimous man in
particular. Are not the magnanimous man and
the pambasileia one and the same? They seem
so. Or are they different, yet similar in their
fundamental character? Are they not said to be
peaks of excellences, one political and the other
ethical? Yet the a through reading of the
Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics would
suggests that this is rather a false distinction, in
that ethics and politics are not as radically
seperate as was suggested. Also, if one closely
examines Aristotle's account of magnanimity as
an excellence one notices that it is not so much a
peak of moral excellence but a crown or an
ornament of those who seek honor or reputation
as a way of life.(93) Thus, the pambasileia, like
the magnanimous person, is a refection of moral
and political excellence and, like all refections,
he must in some way distort what he is
Two Peaks: Of Thought and Of Politics
When one recalls the history of regimes, it is not by chance that the historical survey follows what happens of Athens (3.15.1286b7-21). Kingship is found in the earlier stages of political development. If kingship is to be associated with the rule of the best, then it appears the earlier periods are best. This identification of kingship with the earlier stages of history seems to agree with the opinion that the ancient and the best are the identical. Yet philosophy, which is considered the peak of human intellection or thought, is also held to be significant human good, in that one of the defining characteristics of human beings is their capacity for both speech and reasoning. But where is philosophy found? In the urban regime, which is found in the later stages. The history of regimes, thus, seems to suggest that philosophy arises out of decadence--that is lawlessness--rather than out of excellence (arete). Philosophy arises of out decadence in that it arises only within the urban democratic regime. Thus it appears that philosophy does not arise out of the rule of the best man, i.e. kingship.
Thus the peak of the political--i.e., the rule of the best men or kings--versus the peak of thought--i.e., the possibility of philosophy--appear to be opposed. Yet this view is only true if one takes kingship as being superior to republican rule. Perhaps the peak of political life is not kingship but republican rule--i.e., democracy. If republican rule is considered superior and hence the peak of politics, then the peak of the political and the peak of thought--i.e., the possibility of philosophy within the political community--might not be as radically opposed. Thus, the progression of the history of regimes shows not so much a picture of degeneration but rather co-emergence of both the political and intellectual peak of humankind.(95) However, as presented in Politics 3.15-17, the peak of political rule would appear to be quite clearly the possibility of pambasileia. However, the discussion of the characteristic of the pambasileia's rule in fact suggest the rule of philosophy. The similarity of the pambasileia to the rule of the philosopher is quite striking.
Since philosophy is only possible in the urban regime is it then therefore also possible that the pambasileia's coming into being arises out of the urban regime (3.15.1286b3). But in the urban regime it is hard to fathom a person so excellent that one would grant him absolute rule. Therefore, the possibility of philosophy, which provides in man the closest connection to the divine part of human beings, leads to the problem of the inability of most humans to distinguish people's natures clearly. This should remind one of the problem of the natural slave in Politics 1. There are such people, but nature does not allow them to be clearly distinguished from the free. So, too, with the pambasileia. But this is why human beings have politics, because nature does not simply tell us who should rule and who should be ruled.(96)
The necessity of politics is to help humans
fulfill what nature designed. So one needs to
concern oneself with the two peaks of a human
being, the individual and the communal. The
individual peak is derived from the capacity to a
rational being. The communal peak concerns
itself with the best regime. Now, if the best
regime were the community of complete
excellence, in which all the citizens possessed
all of the excellences, then the peak of the polis
would coincide neither with the peak of thought
or the individual human being. This is because
the peak of thought--the occurrence of
philosophy--is reached in the urban democracy,
in which citizens do not possess complete
excellence but generally lack it. So the political
peak would seem to be different than that for the
individual. But if the best city is democracy
with imperfect subjects, then the peaks of
thought and the political would coincide. The
debate between the rule of law and the absolute
best man ends up with the possibility that the
two human peaks do coincide. This should
make supporters of philosophy hesitate before
they reject democracy in favor of a more perfect
regime because any such regime may not be as
perfect as they suppose. Thus, in rejecting
democracy, they may be undermining the
possibility of their own way of life.(97)
1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
1.Newman 1973, 3:279.
2.Nichols 1991, 74.
3.Contrast Mulgan 1974.
4.One of the only articles that addresses this debate directly is Lindsay 1991, 488-509. Lindsay's specific comments in reference to the specific points about the debate in the Politics text is both insightful and helpful, but I find that he stretches his argument when he attempts to tie this debate with Aristotle's teaching about the divine found in the Metaphysics.
5.Dobbs argues that Aristotle's silence about the Philosopher-King is an implicit rejection of that teaching. I reject Dobbs' interpretation in that although does not address the philosopher king, he does address the issue of the king who is simply best. Dobbs' argument is incorrect in that he fails to see the clear similarities between Socrates' Philosopher-King and Aristotle's presentation of the pambasileia, yet I believe in the final analysis that he is correct that Aristotle does not think this form of rule is in fact the best. (Dobbs 1985, 29-46).
On the other hand, Lockyer suggests that, in this
section of the Politics, Aristotle presents an
implicit criticism Plato's teaching about
Philosopher-Kings (1988, 59).
6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.
6.Newell notes, "some commentators regard this aspect of Book 3 as a rather puzzling relapse into Platonism, as if Aristotle had suddenly conceded the possibility of the Platonic philosopher-king" (Newell 1987, 159-79). The commentators Newell is referring to are Saunders 1991 and Ross 1960, 255.
7.Nussbaum 1980, 421. Also Vander Waerdt 1988, 249-53, claims that these passage is either ignored or put into a historical support for Macedonian rule.
8.Note that the description of "polity" as a mixed regime does not arise in Book 3. The view of "polity" as a mixed regimes is developed in Book 4. I argue that the so-called discussion of mixed regime, in Book 4 is not about "polity" or even about a specific form of regime but a generic discussion about what elements compose a regime.
9.Although I do not support Nichols' argument about polity, her book is extremely helpful in reading most sections of the Politics (Nichols 1991).
10.I have argued for this point more earlier.
11.Some interpreters of the pambasileia section see it as Aristotle's discussion of the importance of prerogative powers of the executive. They read the discussion about kingship as a prelude to the discussion concerning the executive (or the offices) in Book 4.14-16. See Mansfield 1989 and Cox 1988. I find that this interpretation tends to ignore the setting where the discussion of absolute kingship takes place, a discussion examining the validity of the claims to rule of various regimes.
12.Newman is perplexed about the discussion concerning kingship. He notes,
We might have expected that more would be said about Kingship than is said, and that Aristotle would follow up his study of it with a study of Aristocracy. The kinds of kingship have been clearly distinguished, and why should not those of aristocracy be similarly enumerated? This is not done; on the contrary, Aristotle passes on to inquire in C.18 which is the best of the normal constitutions, and he finds that the best is kingship or aristocracy, whence he infers that, as the citizen of the 'best state' is a good man, the citizen of a kingship or aristocracy will be brought into being by the education which produces good men (Newman 1973, 3:xxxiii).
Also see Nichols 1991, 74-75.
13.See Politics 3.14.1285a4, 1285a18, 1285a32, and 1285b5-6.
14.Newman notes at 1285b29 how
Aristotle forgets that he has included under the Lacedaemonian type of Kingship not only the hereditary but also the elective kingship (1285a15: cp. also C.15.2396b39) (1973, 3:277).
Commenting on 3.14.1285b31 Newman also suggests that,
In saying that the rule over a household is a kind of Kingship (see above on 1278b37), Aristotle is thinking of the relation of a father to his children, not that of the husband to his wife or of the master to his slaves (1973, 3:278).
Also this view of kingship collapses household
management and political rule in a way similar
to what Aristotle himself criticize in Politics 1.1.
15.This implies that the pambasileia is beyond the polis, that it is not limited by the polis only, but applies also to ethnos (nation) or a collection of ethne (cf. Newman 1973, 1:268).
Newman translates ethnos as "nation." A more
literal translation would be "people." "Nation"
is also literal; however, its usage should be
understood in terms of a tribe, i.e., the Navaho
nation, and not in terms of the nation-state, i.e.,
Germany, Japan, etc. "Nation," I argue, should
be avoided, because the required use is archaic
and not commonly used, and the current usage
might lead to misunderstandings. See Chapter
1, note 20.
16.This why there is no need to discuss in the first two books either the laws or the ruling offices. There is no need for the laws or offices if there is a virtuous ruler: he supersedes the laws and the offices. The laws are a limit on his wisdom. This distinction will be discussed later in this paper (Compare Strauss 1978).
Another reason why there is no need to discuss
before this either laws or the ruling offices is
because both are creations of the regime. The
centrality of the regime in Aristotle's political
science delays the inquiry into either law or the
offices because their character is a function of
the character of the regime, and thus derivative
of it. Aristotle argues that the character of both
law and institutions is shaped by the regime, and
not the other way around.
17.On this point, Martha Nussbaum notes,
Several passages in the Politics seem to indicate that Aristotle agrees with Plato about the desirability of subjecting all citizens to someone divinely good and wise, disagreeing only about the possibility of setting up a polity [regime] that could deliberately cultivate such men as rule (1980, 421).
Nussbaum misses the depth of Aristotle's
argument here. It is true that on the surface of
Aristotle's pambasileia argument, he is in
agreement with Plato, but that is on the surface
only; because beneath the surface there are, I
argue, many disagreements with Plato.
18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25.
18.I argue that we should read these next three chapters of the Politics as a dialogue, not as part of a systematic treatise. By reading these chapters as a dialogue, we are able to go beyond what is obscured by the surface of the text in order to reveal what is underneath. By doing this we are able to see the importance of this chapter of the Politics.
19.See Bodeus 1993, 54-57, 1991, Miller 1979, and Yack 1993, 175-208.
20.Swanson 1992, 98-101.
21.Swanson 1992, 98-106.
22.See Strauss 1953, Voegelin 1990, 55-70, and Rhodes 1991.
23.See Politics 3.15.1286b11-13.
24.I argue that Aristotle sets aside the problem of how to resolve the problem of factions until Book 4.
25.Earlier in Book 3 Aristotle discusses the problem with the possibility of the many having and exercising virtue. He notes,
It is possible for one or a few to be outstanding
in virtue, but where more are concerned it is
difficult for them to be proficient with a view to
virtue as a whole, but (some level of proficiency
is possible) particularly regarding military
virtue, as this arises in a multitude (Politics
26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31.
26.Assuming the unnamed regime is aristocracy, the account presented is similar to the degeneration of regimes presented in Plato's Republic 8, except that timocracy is missing and tyranny and democracy are reversed in their order.
27.See Nichols 1991, 80.
28.Hume 1985, 277-78.
29.Hume 1985, 277.
30.Compare Maryanski and Turner 1992.
31.Although discussing the teaching about democracy presented in Politics 6, Thomas Lindsay does make the interesting suggestion that "Aristotle perhaps anticipated a democracy somewhat resembling the modern liberal version in practice" (Lindsay 1992b, 758).
He also suggests that "we modern democrats
should give Aristotle" that was refused to him
by Hobbes, that Aristotle "anticipated, in key
respects, the foundation from which Hobbes
would launch liberalism" (Lindsay 1992b, 760).
32. 33. 34. 35. 36. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90. 91. 92. 93. 94. 95. 96. 97.
32.Nichols also sees this as a problem for the preservation of the pambasileia as a regime (1991, 78).
33.This reminds one of Aristotle's criticism in Book 2 of the Politics concerning the communism of wives and children in Plato's Republic.
34.At Politics 3.15.1287a1 Newman suggests that this line points us to believe that "Aristotle is thinking of a King like the King of the Persians (Hdt. 3.31, allon mentoi axeurakenai nomon, to basileuonti perseon exeinai polieein to anboulatai" (Newman 1973, 3:290).
35.Nichols 1991, 77.
36.Nichols 1991, 77-78.37. See Vander Waerdt 1985, 249-51, who points out the difficultly with this concept of kingship within the overall argument of Aristotle's political philosophy.
38.See Kullmann 1984 and Newell 1991, 201-06.
39.It should be noted that Algernon Sidney cites this and other passages to defend republican rule against the arguments made by Filmer concerning the Divine right of kings, i.e., the absolute rule of kings. See Sidney 1990, 84-85.
40.See Rhodes 1991 and Kullman 1984. Also see Voegelin 1990, 55-70.
41.Also see Sidney 1990, 84-85.
42.See Miller 1979.
43.Also seen Nicomachean Ethics 6.1142a35-1143a18. Aristotle's account of deliberation in the Nicomachean Ethics is assumed here.
44.Sidney 1990, 84-84 and 452-54.
45.See NE 6. See also Aristotle's Rhetoric 1.15.
46.Literature of the Middle Ages, especially that of the Arthurian legends, understood this problem concerning how to get the many to accept the authority of the superior man. Sir Thomas Malory addresses this problem by providing a sign, outside the person of the boy Arthur, to signify his right to the Kingship. His ability to remove the sword from the stone and anvil, of which no other man was capable, provides a visible and concrete witness to his claim (see Malory 1950, 7-10).
47.Also at Politics 4.10.1295a19-24, the third kind tyranny is said to be a sort of counterpart to the pambasileia.
48.Leo Paul deAlvarez, "A Word to the Troops", Convocation Address at the University of Dallas, given August 28, 1984. Also, see Strauss 1978, 30-31.
49.See Miller 1979 and Bodeus 1993, 54-55.
50.Compare Bartlett 1994a, he rejects view that the argument made against the arts is, in fact, Aristotle's. Although it is true that Aristotle is not speaking in his own voice in making this argument, it is the same as what was said in his own voice at Politics 2. Bartlett suggests that the earlier argument against the arts, as was the argument made in Book 3, is not in Aristotle's voice. Yet he does not make any sound case why we should agree with this reading? One can to counter Bartlett's claim that in Book 2 Aristotle seems not to be speaking in any other voice than his own.
51.Cf. Rhetoric 1.15.
52.Cf. Politics 3.11.1282a7-13.
53.Cf. Politics 3.11.1281a43-b21.
54.See NE 8-9.
55.Cf. NE 8.7.1158b12; 8.10.1161a24-26.
56.See NE 8.10.1160b23-27 and 8.11.1161a10-19.
57.Two excellent yet different accounts of the relationship between friendship and political community in Aristotle are Kronman 1979 and Yack 1993, 109-27.
58.This is made evident in the movie Roman Holiday (Paramount Pictures, 1953), directed by William Wyler. The princess (Audrey Hepburn)--heir to the throne of her country--on a world good-will tour runs away for a weekend to escape her responsibilities as princess. She sees this escape as a chance to be happy and enjoy life like other young people her age. In the process she falls in love with a reporter (Gregory Peck), who plans to publish her weekend exploits unbeknownst to the princess. It is clear that if she desires to be happy she must stay with her new found-love. But her duty as a good princess requires her to leave her love and forsake her own happiness for the good of her country and her people. She forsakes her happiness and goes back to her embassy to fulfill her duty as a good princess. But in the movie it is clear that, in doing this, she is changed. She is no longer the young and happy princess. She treats her servants harshly and bluntly, whereas before she treated them with respect and friendship. Clearly we see a change in attitude that will injure the people for whose well-being she sacrificed her happiness.
59.Compare Yack 1989.
60.Cf. Xenophon Memoribilia.
61.Anabasis 2.16-20. Also see Strauss 1978, 23 for a useful comment on this passage of Xenophon.
62.Anabasis 2.16-20.63. See Mulhern 1972.
64.See Rhodes 1991.
65.See I Samuel 8, where the children of Isreal want to be like all the other nations of the Earth and want God to give them a king to rule over them. Similar is the history of Rome, where the people choose Caesar over the republic. Both examples show how the character of the people can lead to them choosing to be ruled by a king. However, the historical examples given, do not favor such a decision.
66.See Lintott 1992, Bookman 1992. and Lindsay 1992a.
67.Newell 1991, 192-93. Yet Newell also ultimately rejects Gadamer and Beiner's version of political life as too Rousseauan (1991, 210-11) In this rejection, Newell is in agreement with Yack 1985.
68.See Newell 1991.
70.Newell 1991, 195-201 and 207-08.
71.Newell 1991, 205.
73.Vander Waerdt 1985, 252. points out that Aristotle insists sucha a claim is very rare.
74.See Berti 1993, Murphy 1993, and Voegelin 1990, 60-70.
75.See Quinn 1990 and Miller 1979. Also see Murphy 1993.
76.See Lindsay 1991.
77.See Murphy 1993.
78.See Lindsay 1991.
79.Compare Newell 1991 and Vander Waerdt 1985.
80.Strauss 1978, 37.
81.Strauss 1978, 37-38.
82.Compare Strauss 1978, 37 and Vander Waerdt 1985, 264.
83.Vander Waerdt 1985, 264-65.
84.Vander Waerdt 1985, 264.
85.Compare Lindsay 1991.
86.Contrast Newell 1991.
87.Again, one is reminded of Malory's Arthur, who is the king because it is ordained by God. It is true that the people championed his claim to rule, but the legitimacy of his claim rests not upon the people's consent but rather the fact that he is the only son of King Uther Pendragon. God has ordained that the son of Uther Pendragon be King of all the English and a great king at that. The fact that Arthur is destined to be such a king only adds greater legitimacy to his claim. (See Malory 1950).
88.Vander Waerdt 1985, 261-65, does gives reasons why one would obey the pambasileia.
89.Compare Politics 1286b30-35. The command is to do nothing against the laws.
90.This echo's the problem of the name of Cyrus's regime in Xenophon's Cyropaedia. Is not Xenophon's Cyrus a possible model for the pambasileia? If so, why does Aristotle not refer to him?
91.Compare Develin 1973.
92.See Sidney 1990, 77-87, 121-23, 132-34, 287-91, and 452-54.
93.I owe this formuation to Walter J. Thompson, who is working on the authoritative treatment of magnanimity.
94.I borrow the notion that the pambasileia is a refection from Strauss, who claims that it is the political reflection of the philosopher (1978, 37).
95.Cf. Politics 3.15.1286b8-21.
96.See Politics 1.5.1254b27-33.
97.Contrast Strauss 1978, 37. There he claims Aristotle favors the rule of the gentleman over the rule of the many or the demos. He claims Aristotle favors the rule of the gentleman becasue they are open to philosophy, whereas the demos is not. I am not convince of Strauss' claim. The gentlemen care more for the appearance of sophistication and the possession of beautiful things and are restained by civility and manners which would reject the demands placed upon one wishing to live the philosophic way of life. Although the gentleman does have the leisure to engage in philosophy, they do not use it to engage in philosophich conversations. Gentleman rather spend their time riding beautiful horses, courting beautiful ladies, and maintaining the stature of their place in society and within the political community. Whereas, the demos is kept from philosophy either due to a lack of leisure or a lack of intelligence. Democracts and democratic regimes tend to have a greater tolerance of philosophers and philosophy--in spite of a democratic regime executing Socrates--than do regimes ruled by the so-called gentlemen.