It can be argued that contemporary political theories of democracy tend either to exaggerate the political capacities and virtues of the average person(1) or argue that the average person's political apathy and selfishness preserves democratic regimes.(2) In recent decades, proponents of these tendencies have turned to Aristotle's understanding of democracy for justification of their various interpretations of democracy. But can Aristotle be used to defend or to support democracy? He can indeed, as this chapter demonstrates; not only does Aristotle support democracy but he makes the suggestion that democracy may legitimately be understood as the best regime.(3)
The role that Aristotle's political thought offers to democratic theory interesting as well as controversial. Some scholars have argued that Aristotle's understanding of human beings as political animals supports a radical participatory democracy.(4) But this view of Aristotle is at odds with the traditional view, which understands him condemning democracy as a deviant, or a defective, regime type.(5) Also, there are other scholars who find either the aforementioned views of democracy as too exaggerated for the evidence given by the surviving and prospering democratic regimes.(6) It is the argument of this chapter that Aristotle, in his Politics, supports a middle ground for the democratic regime.(7) Not only does the view of democracy Aristotle presents develop a middle ground, it nevertheless understands that, given human nature, the democratic regime is superior to all other regime types. To discover this reading of Aristotle, one must turn to Politics 3.9-13.
Politics 3.9-13 deals with arguments that the rule of the
many has a valid claim as the best regime or, as the text says,
as the most choiceworthy regime for polises. The statement made
at the beginning of Politics 3.11, that the multitude should be
the authoritative element (3.11.1281a39-40), is what Aristotle
finally holds to be the truth concerning the best regime.(8) It
can be argued that Politics 3.9-13 is a consistent whole, dealing
first with the debate between democracy and oligarchy and then
later with all the other valid claims to rule. Certainly both
the rule of the many and the concern for justice are constant
themes in these chapters.(9) Let us begin our examination of this
section, which will lead us to the first peak--the rule of the
many as the best claim to rule--in Politics 3.9.
Oligarchy and Democracy
Politics 3.9 opens thus:
It is necessary first to grasp what they speak of as the defining principle of oligarchy and democracy and what justice is [from] both oligarchic and democratic [points of view] (3.9.1280a6-9).
This seems to be asking two questions. 1) What is said to be the defining principle of democracy and oligarchy? 2) What is held to be just by democrats and oligarchs? The first question asks how common opinion defines these two regimes. To put this question another way would be to ask, what do most people think defines democracy and oligarchy? The simple answer is that given above in Politics 3.8: oligarchy is the rule of the rich and democracy is the rule of the poor.(10)
The second question addresses a wholly separate issue, what does each type of regime--particularly democracy and oligarchy--hold to be just? This question implies a distinction between what is simply just and what each type of regime holds to be just. So ot pivots on the same distinction between justice and law, in that law is imperfect with respect to justice because laws are the expression of what particular regimes hold to be proper or what is right here and now, and justice is what is simply and everywhere the right thing to do. So, too, with the distinction between the conception of justice expressed by a particular regime and justice simply.(11) Yet there is a difference between law and the conception of justice held by specific regimes. So, although the relationship between law and justice is akin to a regime's conception of justice for it and justice simply, it is not identical to it. The distinction between law and what is held to be just by a regime is that the concept of what is held to be just by a regime is the guiding principle that will shape the specific laws of that regime. So not only is law derivative from justice, but it is derivative from specific regimes' claims concerning what is just.(12)
Aristotle observes, "For all fasten on a certain sort of justice, but proceed only to a certain point, and do not speak of the whole of justice in its authoritative sense" (3.9.1280a9-10). This addresses the second question but not the first by seeming to say that when regimes speak about justice they tend to speak not of the whole of justice but only of a part of it. Aristotle then gives an example:
Justice is held to be equality, and it is, but for equals and not for all; and inequality is held to be just and is indeed, but for unequals and not for all; but they disregard this element of persons and judge badly (3.9.1280a11-13).
This seems to imply that although justice involves both equality
and inequality, various regimes argue that one exclusive of the
other is the whole of justice. The claims that regimes make
concerning what is just are said to be only part of the whole of
justice. Yet regimes rarely make this distinction. Rather, they
claim what is only part as the whole of justice. But this is
said to be incorrect because people judge badly, for "the
judgement concerns themselves, and most people are bad judges
concerning their own things" (3.9.1280a13-15). The reason for
people's error in judgement is that they tend to judge badly
concerning things which will either affect them or things they
dom which implies a defectiveness in judgement borne in self-interest.
Justice and Regimes
Aristotle goes on to explicate further what is just.
Since justice is for certain persons, and is divided in the same manner with respect to objects and for persons, as was said previously in the [discourses on] ethics, they agree as to the equality of the object, but dispute about it for persons (3.9.1280a15-18).
The problem of equality in justice arises when it applies to persons. When the question involves objects, equality is easily agreed to in that objects make no claim about their own value; this is to say that the value of objects is given to them by persons, so agreement can be reached.(13) However, as to persons, each person will make their own claim about their own worth, and others might disagree. So it is unlikely that men will agree. Aristotle explains why this occurs:
They do this particularly because of what was just spoken of, that they judge badly with respect to what concerns themselves, but also because both, by speaking to a point of a kind of justice, consider themselves to be speaking of justice simply (3.9.1280a18-21).
People err because they take a part of justice for the whole of justice.
For the ones, if they are unequal in a certain thing, such as goods, suppose they are unequal generally, while the others suppose that if they are equal in a certain thing, such as freedom, they are equal generally. But for the most author-itative they say nothing (3.9.1280a21-25).
So inequality or equality in one thing does not mean inequality or equality in other things, which seems to undermine a notion of strict equality--forced equality in all things--because such an equality would be in error, in that all are not equal in all things.
Aristotle also notes that concerning the most authoritative things there is silence, such topics are not addressed.
For if it were for the sake of possessions that they participated and joined together, they would share in the polis just to the extent that they shared in possessions, so that the argument of the oligarchs might be held a strong one; for [they would say] it is not just for one who has contributed one mina to share equally in a hundred minae with the one giving all the rest, whether [he derives] from those who were there originally or the later arrivals (3.9.1280a25-31).
If one looks closely at the oligarch's argument, it appears very similar to the argument made by democratic socialists, who argue that without equality of possession citizens cannot be equal,(14) which is ironic because modern radical democrats seem to defend a classical oligarchic theory of political rule: those who own the means to provide for the political community are the true citizens.(15) They differ in that the classical oligarch wished to exclude those who did not contribute to meet the political community's needs, while the radical modern democrat desires to redistribute wealth to empower those without to make them equal with those who have.
The oligarch's argument ignores the question of longevity:
how long has one or one's family been citizens? The oligarch
only cares if one has contributed sizeable amounts, equal to the
other sizeable contributions. The oligarch thus cares only if
one paid for the privilege of being a citizen. Another oddity of
the oligarch's argument is that it apparently reflects a social
contract-like argument in that the political community seems to
exist for the sake of sharing possessions (3.9.1280a25). This
should make some democratic advocates of social contract theory
question the so-called fundamental democratic character of the
The Polis vs. an Alliance
Aristotle raises an objection to the argument that has been made by the oligarch, especially the claim that the political community's reason for being is for the sake of sharing possessions. To say that the political communtiy exists for this reason is to say that it exists merely for the sake of living, or simple survival. Further,
If [the polis exists] not only for the sake of living but rather primarily for the sake of living well (for otherwise there could be a polis of slaves or of animals--as things are, there is not, since they do not share in happiness or in living in accordance with intentional choice) and if it does not exist for the sake of an alliance to prevent their suffering injustice from anyone, nor for purposes of exchange and of use of one another--for otherwise the Tyrrhenians and Carthaginians, and all who have agreements with one another, would be as citizens of one polis--at any rate, there are compacts between them concerning imports, agreements to abstain from injustice, and treaties of alliances (3.9.1280a31-39).
Aristotle argues that the end of the polis, i.e., the political community, is neither survival nor exchange. In doing so, he rejects the oligarch's argument that sharing possessions is the reason for the political community. Nor is the end of the political community a security agreement. Otherwise, political communities or nations having security agreements with each other would be one political community or nation.
This notion of alliances, however, would be at odds with what is happening in Europe and North America--by the use of trade agreements there is an attempt to make a single political community.(16) This attempt, Aristotle would say, is going to run against the political character of the existing political systems by trying to eliminate them by agreement. To do so is impossible because the polis or the political community is an association not just for either exchange or security but also for the sake of happiness. Thus, key to the polis is the notion of living well, issuing in happiness.
Also, only human beings live in political communites because only human beings 1) share in happiness or 2) live according to intentional choice. These two principles are essential for Aristotle's notion of human political life in that, although he acknowledges other animals as being political, only human beings express their political nature through the construct of the polis.
But no offices common to all have been established to deal with these things, but different ones in each [polis]; nor do those [in one polis] take thought that the others should be of a certain quality, or that none of those coming under the compacts should be unjust or depraved in any way, but only that they should not act unjustly toward one another (3.9.1280a40-b4).
The differences between allies and citizens is that, with citizens, one is concerned for their character, whether they are good and just, much more than one cares for the character of one's allies. The only thing that one desires from one's allies is that they keep the agreement that was made, whereas one desires one's fellow citizens to be good and just and not unjust and depraved.
Note how the European Economic Community (EEC) is an alliance, but more than an alliance, in that it does some of the things the polis does--such as eliminating common offices and a concern for the character of its members. The latter is shown in the EEC's refusal of membership to economically prosperous non-democracies. The differences referred to between a polis and alliances could be understood in terms of sovereignty. The polis will concern itself with its ability to determine its type of political rule (i.e., sovereignty), whereas in an alliance the question of sovereignty is put aside and left alone allowing for mutual interest to be advanced.
Aristotle continues his rejection of the position that the political community is like an alliance by noting that "whoever takes thought for good management, however, gives careful attention to political virtue and vice" (3.9.1280b5-6). The concern for political virtue and vice is the touchstone of a political community, so the definition of treason and patriotism--the betrayal of one's own political community are fundamental considerations. There is no treason in alliances, only breach of treaty, which is nothing more than breach of contract. Of course, one does get upset at a blatant breach of an agreement, or a contract, for that matter, but the anger and the feeling of betrayal is intensified when the person who betrays it is close to whom he betrays. Thus, the anger of the members of a political community is intensified with treason, betrayal of the political community by one of its own, occurs.(17)
It is thus evident that virtue must be a care for every polis, or at least for every one to which the term applies truly and not merely in a manner of speaking. For, otherwise, the association [koinonia] becomes an alliance which differs from others--from [alliances of] remote allies--only by location (3.9.1280b6-10).
The difference between a political community and an alliance is not merely location; the political communtiy has a shared sense of what is just and what is unjust that the political community advances. Political virtue and vice is the concern for what the political community holds to be just and unjust and not what is just and unjust simply. Here arises the concern about Lycophon's argument regarding the political community and law as merely a compact: "And law becomes a compact and, as the sophist Lycophon says, a guarantor among one another of the just things, but not the sort of thing to make the citizens good and just" (3.9.1280b11-12). Is this not the social contract argument of Hobbes and Locke? If law and, thus, the political community are merely based on contract, then agreement concerning what is just and not just has to be reached or, if not, put aside, as one does concerning allegiances.(18)
But that the matter stands thus is evident. For even if one were to bring the locations together into one, so that the polis of the Megarians were fastened to that of the Corinthians by walls, it would still not be a single polis (3.9.1280b13-15).
The discussion of law and the political community as mere contract is replaced by an examination of what makes a polis a polis. The possibility is raised that, if two different polises were put within a wall, would this make them a single polis? Aristotle says no.
Nor would it be if they practiced intermarriage with one another, although this is one of the aspects of the community that is peculiar to polises. Nor, similarly, if certain persons dwelled in separate places, yet were not so distant as to have nothing in common, but had laws not to commit injustice toward one another in their transactions--for example, if one were a carpenter, one a farmer, one a shoemaker, one something else of this sort, and the multitude of them were ten thousand, yet they had nothing in common except things of this sort, exchange and alliance; not even in this way would there be a polis (3.9.1280b16-23).
Aristotle makes it very clear that the condition for a polis is
neither security nor exchange. Nor is a political community
produced through intermarriage amoung different peoples. Yet he
notes that intermarriage hints at an aspect of what makes up a
political community in that marriage is not only a shared life,
but a sharing of something that will truly be common, e.g.,
children. So, it is both in the sharing of a common interest--the good of the children--and a common life that makes marriage
akin to a polis.(19)
What Does or Does Not Make a Polis?
Aristotle now explains the reasons that the factors he has stated are not enough to make those two polises a single polis:
What, then, is the reason for this? It is surely not on account of a lack of proximity of the association. For even if they joined together while participating in this way, but each nevertheless treated his own household as a polis and each other as if there were a defensive alliance merely for assistance against those committing injustice, it would not by this fact [alone] be held a polis by those studying the matter precisely--if, that is, they participated in a similar way when joined together as they had when separated (3.9.1280b23-29).
Aristotle ties together the two strands--the political community as contract and the political community as alliance--of his whole argument. So the consideration of the alliance between the two political communities is similar in reasoning to the view of the political community as merely a contract, limiting the practice of injustice among the members of a community. To repeat, Aristotle says that such an association is not, strictly speaking, a political community for those who wish to speak with precision on these matters.
Aristotle now sums up his position on what does not constitute a polis, observing that
it is evident, therefore, that the polis is not a community [koinonia] in location and for the sake of [citizens'] not committing injustice against each other and of transacting business (3.9.1280b29-31).
Although these things do not make or define a polis, they,
must necessarily be present if there is to be a polis, but not even when all of them are present is it yet a polis, but [the polis is] a community [koinonia] in living well, both of households and of families, for the sake of a complete and self-sufficient life (3.9.1280b31-34).
Aristotle makes clear that the political community exists for the sake of the complete and self-sufficient life of its members, with the following caveat:
This will not be possible, however, unless they inhabit one and the same location and make use of intermarriage. It was on this account that marriage connections arose in polises, as well as clans, festivals, and the pastimes of living together. This sort of thing is the work of affection; for affection is the intentional choice of living together (3.9.1280b35-38).
He makes it clear that the benefits of the polis and of the political life consist in good things like marriage, friendships, and property rights. Thus, the political community is needed to fulfill the parts of the polis which, by themselves, are incomplete. Again Aristotle observes that, "living well, then, is the end of the political community, and these things are for the sake of this end" (3.9.1280b39-40). The end of the political community is the good life, and things like marriage, exchange, friendship, and the like, contribute to what is understood to be the good life, in that one could not conceive a human being being happy in their absence.
Aristotle goes on to define what is a polis: he says, "a polis is the association [community (koinonia)] of families and villages in a complete and self-sufficient life" (3.9.1280b40-81a1). In one sense this repeats the origins of the polis found in Politics 1.2, yet in this definition he gives the end for which the polis aim--"a complete and self-sufficient life." Now the self-sufficient life which is the goal of the polis is to be understood as the good life defined by happiness. This is seen in what he says next: "This, we assert, is living happily and finely" (3.9.1281a1-2). Thus to repeat: the end of the polis is the good life understood as living happily.
The political association [koinonia] must be regarded, therefore, as being for the sake of noble actions, not for the sake of living together (3.9.1281a2-3).
Now noble actions are the reason for the political community, not merely living together. But noble actions appear to be a new end, because previously the end was living well. Now it appears that living well and noble actions are the same. But this has not been shown so far in the text.
For Aristotle, clearly, the political association is not simply for the sake of living together, but has Aristotle laid any foundation for the statement that the political association is for the sake of noble actions? Or is this merely an unsupported claim? The discerning reader will not take "noble actions" as the political community's end too literally, but should construe them as actions of pure excellence, or virtue. One should interpret noble actions as referring to actions done for the sake of living well, or of happiness,(20) which is to say that noble actions provide not merely for the well-being of the community but for its happiness. Thus, we have a criterion for actions. Although Aristotle never clearly gives this definition, noble actions are those actions done for the community which aim at the happiness and the good life, of the political community.(21)
These considerations beckon us directly to Aristotle's penultimate sentence in chapter 9, where he notes that "those who contribute most to an association [koinonia] of this sort have a greater part in the polis than those who are equal or greater in freedom and family but unequal in political virtue, or those who outdo them in wealth but are outdone in virtue" (3.9.1281a3-8). Aristotle indicates that those who contribute nobly to the community have a greater part in political life than either the wealthy or the free-born, but this begs a question. Are not noble actions relative to the regime in question? If this is the case, are not the wealthy's and the free-born's contributions more important in that they are the foundation of the particular regime of the polis? Will not what is understood to be noble action vary depending upon the type of regime? The addition of noble actions into what defines a political community is neither clear nor helpful in determining why the political community exists. Instead, it forces us to look more closely at the noble actions, asking if they really lead to the polis's happiness or to living well.(22)
Politics 3.9 does not end with a resolution to the question
of noble actions and of their relation to the political community
or, expressed generically, of their relation to political life.(23)
Aristotle ends the chapter with a discussion of justice, which is
the subject that opened the chapter. So Politics 3.9 comes full
circle. "That all who dispute about regimes speak of some part
of justice, then, is evident from what has been said"
(3.9.1281a9-10). This statement seems to admit that "all" the
debates about the various regimes are making a valid claim
regarding "some part of justice," which agrees with what was
noted earlier in the chapter.(24) Each regime speaks only about a
part, not about the whole of justice. But can any regime speak
of the whole of justice? Or are all actual regimes defective in
that, because only one element will be authoritative in them?
Because only one element can only be authoritative within a
regime, its conception of justice is at best only a part of what
is just. This line of argument appears to suggest that the
simply just is not obtainable through politics. Perhaps this
line of reasoning suggest not only a limits of politics argument,
but it points to the natural limits of the simply just. On this
unanswered question, chapter 9 ends.
The Five Claims To Rule
Politics 3.10 begins with an inquiry into the authoritative element of the polis (3.10.1281a14), which is the outcome of the revision of what truly defines a regime. What defines a regime is the claim that the authoritative element advances as to what is just. What defines a regime is not the typology of Politics 3.7 that looked at the number of those who rule (the quantitative claim) and their relationship to the common advantage (the qualitative claim). That typology collapses at Politics 3.8 where the qualitative claim is said to be accidental.
Politics 3.10 sets up five possible choices concerning the nature of the authoritative element in the polis, whereas in 3.9 there are only two presented (oligarchy and democracy). So two regime types and their claims now become five: 1) the multitude, 2) the wealthy, 3) the respectable, 4) the one who is best of all, and 5) the tyrant. As mentioned earlier, the best few is replaced by the respectable, indicating that either 1) aristocracy is the generic name for the best regime or 2) it is a political impossibility. The former seems more true than the latter. But these five types correspond to five of the six regimes of Politics 3.7. The sixth, or the missing one is the so-called "polity" or "mixed regime."(25) The correspondence of the list here and the five regimes are 1) the multitude = democracy, 2) the wealthy = oligarchy, 3) the respectable = (perceived) aristocracy, 4) the one who is best of all = universal kingship, 5) tyrant = tyranny.
It is very important to note that tyranny is listed as a
possibly choiceworthy authoritative element, whereas rule by the
best few is not, which is disturbing to most readers because
tyranny is given the opportunity to show itself to be a
choiceworthy regime, but not that of the best, "who are few."
Although Aristotle does say that it is difficult, although not
impossible, for the many to be virtuous (3.7.1279a38-b1), here
the virtuous few--expressed as the few best--is not mentioned as
a choiceworthy possibility for the authoritative element of a
political community. The only claim which address the issue of
virtue or the rule of the best is the authoritative rule of the
one who is best of all (3.10.1281a14). Aristotle says that all
the possibilities which are presented here involve difficulties
(3.10.1281a15), which sets up the tension between the competing
claimants for rule in the polis. Yet the remnant of 3.10 is a
debate between a democrat and an oligarch.(26) One must examine
this debate, because in doing so one is ushered to the first peak
in the argument in Politics 3 concerning what is best, which is
the rule of the many.
The Debate Between an Oligarch and a Democrat
The debate opens with the general question of what element should be authoritative in the polis (3.10.1281a14-16).(27) The oligarch starts the debate by asking, "How could they not? If the poor by the fact of being the majority distribute among themselves the things of the wealthy, is this not unjust?" (3.10.1281a15-16). The oligarch addresses the injustice of the many's actions,(28) asserting that the many, in taking the possessions of the wealthy few, merely act out of self-interest and not for the good of the whole polis. The oligarch contends that the redistribution of wealth was done only for the many's advantage.
The democrat replies with an oath and an appeal to conventional right. "By Zeus, it was resolved in a just fashion by the authoritative element!" (3.10.1281a17). The oath adds significance to the reply in that it places the validity of the claim under the authority of the gods.(29) To do this is to appeal to a higher judge, higher than men debating among themselves. By swearing an oath, the democrat appeals to the divine and the civic as added support in his argument, which raises the stakes in the debate. His claim is now either true or else he has committed an act of impiety, but to do this is to risk divine retribution or become a political outcast.
The oligarch responds to the democrat's response by saying,
What, then, ought one say is the extreme of injustice? Again, taking all [the citizens] into consideration, if the majority distributes among itself the things of a minority, it is evident that it will destroy the polis. Yet it is certainly not virtue [arete] that destroys the element possessing it, nor is justice destructive of a polis; so it is clear that this law cannot be just. Further, any actions carried out by a tyrant are necessarily just; he is superior and uses force, like the multitude with respect to the wealthy (3.10.1281a18-23).
Note that the oligarch's reply has two arguments in it.
The first argument makes four points, as follows: 1) if the majority takes "the things of a minority," it will destroy the polis; 2) it is not virtuous to harm oneself; 3) to destroy the polis is to do harm to the majority; 4) thus, taking "the things of a minority" cannot be just. Note that the first point places the question abstractly, in terms of majority and minority. It does not mention who exactly is being acted against by the majority. Also, it does not strictly follow that the first point is simply true. Could there not be a minority whose property threatens the existence of the polis and by the action of the majority the polis may be saved? The generic and nonspecific character of the action posited by the oligarch gives us no direction to judge whether the action will in fact harm the polis.
As for the second argument, it is falls into these points: 1) if the majority can take from the minority, then the actions of a tyrant are also just; 2) since the tyrant, who is powerful, uses force to achieve his goal, the multitude's actions are similar in their relation to the wealthy. The second argument is also problematic. It assumes, in the second point, that the act of a multitude when authoritative in the polis is a mere act of force. For the deprived oligarch, law and force become equivalent.
The democrat responds, "but is it just, therefore, for the minority and the wealthy to rule?" (3.10.1281a23). The oligarch shifted the argument to the justice of the majority acting against the minority. This is a separate question. The democrat forces the oligarch to face the original question, concerning who should rule, or be authoritative. However, the democrat also takes up the question by asking the oligarch,
If they [the minority and the wealthy] in the same way rob and plunder the possessions of the multitude, is this just? If so, the other is, as well (3.10.1281a24-25).
The democrat's question and reply intimates that, if the oligarch is right about democratic practice toward the minority, then what about the oligarchy's practice toward the many. Are not the two actions the same? If they are, then they are equally unjust.
The response of the oligarch to the democrat's turn of the definition is "all of these things are bad and unjust" (3.10. 1281a25-26). This concedes that on the level of political practice oligarchy is unjust, but it does not consider which type of rule is worse. Recall that the criterion, an act is unjust if it destroys the polis, so we must see which act of the two parts of the polis--the rich or the poor--will, in fact, destroy the polis. This view is usually adopted by supporters of elite theory to minimize popular rule.(30) As argued earlier, it is not so evident that the actions of the majority against the minority would surely harm or destroy the polis, but it is clear that the actions of a minority against the majority surely would. For who makes up the polis? Is it not the many? Are they not, by definition, the majority? But the oligarch does not want to address this because it would put him on shaky ground, by undermining his own very claim to rule. Instead, he raises the possibility of the rule of the respectable. He asks, should the respectable "not have authority in all matters?" (3.10.1281a26-27).
Now one can raise the objection that the oligarch speaks of the superiority of the respectable on the grounds that the wealthy and the respectable are said to be two different ruling elements, but this is not the case. Oligarchy is said to be defined by "family, wealth, and education," whereas democracy is said to be defined by their opposites, "lack of birth, poverty, and vulgarity" (6.2.1317b39-41). Also, the respectable are really those who have good birth. Aristotle says that "what [the many] call good birth ... [is a mixture of] having old wealth and [possessing some sort of] virtue" (4.8.1294a21-22). Given this, it is reasonable to say that the oligarch assumes that the wealthy, especially those of old money, are the respectable, and thus oligarchy is in fact nothing more than the rule of the respectable.
The democrat's response to the question of the rule of the respectable is clearly that such rule would limit the ruling offices, which are honors in the polis, to the same people and hence would be merely another form of oligarchy (3.10.1281a28-31).
Thus, the respectable, in the eyes of the democrat, are no more than a sub-set of oligarchs. The oligarch then responds to the democrat's statement with the question, "is it better for the one who is most serious (spoudaiotaton) of all to rule?" (3.10. 1281a32), to which the democrat responds that the rule of the "one who is most serious of all" is "still more oligarchic as [even] more are deprived of [the] prerogatives [of ruling]" (3.10.1281a33).
The oligarch's response to this reply is the suggestion that law should rule rather than man (3.10.1281a34-35). The reason suggested is that law, unlike human rulers, has no passion adversely affecting political decisions (3.10.1281a35-36). But this response evokes the reply that law can be either oligarchic or democratic, that law is not regime-neutral (3.10.1281a37-38). That law is regime-dependent--the type of law a regime has will depend on what type of regime it is--is dismissed here as unimportant--"what difference will it make with regard to the questions that have been raised?" (3.10.1281a38).
Thus, Politics 3.10 ends in an apparent aporia, in which
neither side has demonstrated a clearly better argument against
the other. This is reflected in Aristotle's statement that "all
these [claims] appear to involve difficulties" (3.10.1281a15).
We are left with an unsatisfactory conclusion. But in the next
chapter the apparently unsatisfactory conclusion of 3.10 is given
as an argument that one side has in fact won over the other.
Also, one notes the important re-collapsing of the five claims
back into two, democracy and oligarchy. This returns us to the
two claims which were originally examined in Politics 3.9.
The Multitude's Victory?
The second sentence of Politics 3.11 states that the multitude should be the authoritative element in the polis, rather than the best few (3.11.1281a39-40):
That the multitude should be the authoritative element rather than those who are best but few, though, could be held to be resolved, and while questionable, it perhaps also involves some truth (3.11.1281a41-43).(31)
Aristotle compares the many with the "best but few," not with the one best. The "best but few" were not possible competitors for the authoritative element in Politics 3.10. So the statement made here does not involve a potential claim argued in Politics 3.10. Nevertheless, a qualified victory is declared for the many's claims as best.(32)
In one sense, the democrat in Politics 3.10 reduced all claims but his own and tyranny to forms of oligarchic rule.(33) In doing so, although he does not clearly defeat his opponent, he nevertheless reduces the legitimate claims to rule to three. But the unmentioned claim--the rule of the "best who are few"--needs to be addressed, and is at 3.11.1281a40-41. The questionability of the superiority of the many's rule is shown in the following: 1) While individually they may be inferior to a serious man (spoudaios), together they are better than him (3.11.1281a41-b1). To confirm this reading, the example of the dinners reveal that the many usually give better ones than that by a single person (3.11. 1281b1-2).(34) 2) While individually the many may lack both excellence and prudence, together they can share in excellence and prudence (3.11.1281b3-5).(35) 3) While individually the many are weaker and less powerful than a great individual, when acting together they have more strength and are more powerful than a single actor (3.11.1281b5-7). 4) They are also better judges "of works of music" and poetry (3.11.1281b7-9). The democrat states that although the serious man (spoudaios) may have both better taste and judgment than the many individually, collectively the many's judgment tends to moderate the possibility of misjudgment by their sheer number (3.11.1281b9-15).
The comparison given is not to the serious few but to the one serious man, which leads to the next sentence--"whether this difference between the many and the few serious (spoudaious) can exist in the case of every people and every multitude is not clear" (3.11.1281b15-17). But this is clarified by the objection:
By Zeus, it is clear that in some case it is impossible; the same argument would apply to beasts--for what difference is there between some [of them] and beasts, so to speak? (3.11.1281b17-20).
Clearly, the objection would qualify the excellence of the multitude but the reply to this objection is that "nothing prevents what was said [concerning the multitude's excellence] from being true of a certain kind of multitude" (3.11.1281b21). This reply suggests that 1) there are different types of multitudes,(36) and 2) different multitudes have different capacities for political excellence. Yet it also could be argued that the only politically relevant difference between the different multitudes is their behavior.
Does not the behavior of any group really reflect, not its nature or make-up per se, but rather how it acts? If the group is restrained, it will act in one way; if it is not restrained, it will act in another. This observation suggests two things: 1) the character of the multitude is a factor in establishing what should be the authoritative element and 2) a means to control the behavior of the multitude will demonstrate the excellence of the many over the few best.
One way to restrain the many is through the rule of law. Law is a means to control human behavior.(37) Democratic law will, if enforced and held to be authoritative, restrain the behavior of the multitude so that their rule will make a multitude whose rule is superior to both the one best and the few best. But this is not addressed here. Rather, what is addressed is the rule of the multitude simply (3.11.1281b22ff), regardless of either its make-up or the way its behavior can be moderated or, more correctly, allowed to arrive at its innate excellence.
At Politics 3.11.1281b17, another oath is made to counter the use of the oath at 3.10.1281a17. The latter oath is used to support a criticism of the multitude, suggesting that the multitude can be a kind of a monster, or beast (3.11.1281b19). This reading of the second oath leads us to the conclusion that only a certain type of multitude can be virtuous (3.11.1281b20-21).(38) But is this really an oath, or an act of blasphemy?
At 3.11.1281b22, the text restates the question that is said to be the object of inquiry. Yet in doing so Aristotle appears to be adding something else to it.
Through these things, accordingly, one might resolve both the question spoken earlier [of who should rule] and the one connected with it--over what [matters] should free men or the multitude of the citizens have authority (3.11.1281b22-25).
The addition is the question, "over what [matters] should free
men or the multitude of the citizens have authority." In one
sense, the second question is an answer to the first in assuming
that the many free should rule, in that the question now attempts
to raise the limits of their rule. Yet this is an interesting
point, because the first question--who should rule--is usually
assumed to be more important. Now, Aristotle here switches the
main thrust of the remaining part of Politics 3.11 to the latter
question--over what matters should the many or the free men have
The Limits of the Many's Authority
The argument advanced immediately after the question is raised is that it is not safe to allow the many to have a share in the greatest offices (3.11.1281b26-27). The reason is that "through injustice and imprudence they would act unjustly in some respect and err in others" (3.11.1281b27-28).(39) Yet this is countered by the argument that to "give them no part and for them not to share [in ruling] is a matter of alarm, for when there exists many who are deprived of [the] prerogatives and are poor, that polis is necessarily filled with enemies"(3.11.1281b27-30).(40)
If both positions are true, then one is left with the claim that the many should "share in deliberation and judging" (3.11.1281b31). This is said to have been the course that "Solon and certain other legislators arranged" in allowing the many to choose their rulers and to have the ability to audit their activities but not to rule simply (3.11.1281b32-34). Arlene Saxonhouse seems to think that Aristotle leaves behind the polis where the many rule as one--which is said, in the text, to have become like a many-limbed monster--in favor of one in which the many "share in selecting and judging."(41) She argues that in doing so Aristotle finds "greater satisfaction in the model offered by practical legislators, Solon in particular."(42) Yet Saxonhouse has not considered Aristotle's claim that the practical solution is not a real solution.(43) Aristotle at this point in the text says of the many,
For all of them, when joined together, have an adequate perception and once mixed with those who are better, bring benefits to polises, just as impure sustenance mixed with the pure makes the whole more useful than small amounts of the latter, but each separately is incomplete with respect to judging (3.11.1281b34-38).
Note that, while individually the many are inferior to the best, together they become "adequate" in regard to perception and not equal to the best, as suggested earlier at 3.11.1281a43-b7.(44) Instead, a mixing of the adequate many and the best few is advocated at 3.11.1281b34-38.(45) Yet this course of action is said to be "useful," but not best. So, if this is merely a useful consideration, then it takes us far away from the question of what rule is best.
The limits placed on the multitude assumes not the virtuous multitude, which was said to be possible previously at 3.11.1281b20-21, but the one that is "neither wealthy nor has any claim at all deriving from excellence" (3.11.1281b24-25) or the multitude simply. The claim that it is a matter for alarm for the multitude not to have some share in rule seems to mean that even the limited rule of a bad multitude is somehow more just than its exclusion from rule (3.11.1281b30). The "usefulness" of the mixing reminds one of the imperfection of politics, which in turn forces one to consider what will work as well as what is best. But, again, one should notice that the second-best useful mixing is nevertheless a rule of the many, albeit a limited one.
At 3.11.1282a38, the mixture of the many choosing the ruling
offices and auditing them and the best holding the most
authoritative offices is said to "involve a question." The
analogy of the arts is raised as an objection to the many having
even the limited role of either auditing or choosing rulers. The
argument made from the analogy of the arts is that one to be able
to judge how finely an art is practiced requires the knowledge to
practice the art (3.11.1281b38-82a6). It is also argued that the
same is true in respect to choosing the ruling offices
(3.11.1282a6-7). When the non-expert, who is not knowledgeable
in an art, practices an art he does so defectively relative to
the expert, so that the non-expert does not have better knowledge
of the art than the expert, but rather less knowledge
(3.11.1282a10-11). If this is so, the argument goes, then "to
choose correctly is indeed also the work of those who know"
(3.11.1282a7). The argument from the arts concludes that the
"multitude ought not to be given authority either over the choice
of officials or over auditing them (3.11.1282a11-13). The
argument from the arts is the best reply against the rule of the
multitude, which seems to have been what was argued previously.
The Many's Limits Rejected
Aristotle says that "perhaps not all of these things have been rightly argued" (3.11.1282a13-14); he implies that neither the argument for the multitude nor that from the arts against the multitude were made correctly
both because of the previous argument, provided the multitude is not overly slavish (for each individually will be a worse judge than those who know, but all when joined together will be either better or no worse), and because there are some [arts] concerning which the maker might not be the only or the best judge, but where those who have some knowledge of its works (3.11.1282a14-19).
But if one examines the earlier argument concerning the multitude, the above correction is already acknowledged (3.11.1281a43-44). The only real addition to the earlier claim is that now the non slavish multitude is said to be "either better or no worse" when joined together (3.11.1282a17).(46)
This does not add or change much concerning the argument of the multitude, but the correction to the argument advanced from the arts is a serious one. It is a correction in that it makes a distinction between the arts, specifically between those in which only practitioners can judge and those who do not practice the art but can also judge. Those who create that which is made are not the only ones with knowledge of the object because those who use it also possess some knowledge of it (3.11.1282a20-23).
The examples used are that owners and household managers judge the house better than the builders, "pilots judge rudders better than carpenters, and the diners, not the cook, are the better judges of a banquet" (3.11.1282a20-24). Note that the banquet analogy is used again. Now, not only do the many put on better banquets than the best man (3.11.1281a44-81b2), but they may also be better judges than the cooks, although this is not strictly so.
Although the diner is a better judge than the cook, it does not follow that all diners are equally good judges. Rather, what is in fact argued here is that the diner is the judge of the art, not the cook. Seen in this way, the argument from the arts remains an obstacle because judging is nevertheless an art and the logic of the arts--that an expert possesses more knowledge than a non-expert and, therefore, the expert should have more authority or should rule--still holds firm.
The only thing that is accomplished by the correction is to obscure the issue by distinguishing those who make and those who can judge. Yet taken in context this is a virtual restatement of the claim that the judgment of the many as a whole will be better or at least no worse than the best man. Now, this is said of the many who is not overly slavish and not of the virtuous many. But even this non-virtuous many is said to be better than the best man in judging. In this light, the argument from the arts is severely weakened because the many together are said to be better judges than the few or the one best. At this point, the argument from the arts is dropped.
But Aristotle continues the argument against the many, now with a new objection:
It is held to be absurd for vulgar persons to have more authority over great matters than the respectable; but auditing and the choice of officials are a very great thing and, in some regimes, as was said, these are given to the people for the assembly has authority over everything of this sort. Hence, persons from the lowest assessments and of whatever age share in the assembly and deliberate and adjudicate, while those from the greatest assessments are treasurers and generals and hold the great offices (3.11.1282a25-32).
On first glance, this objection would appear to limit the multitude's authority by only allowing them to deliberate and to adjudicate while, at the same time, permitting the respectable to hold the greater ruling offices (3.11.1281b26-34). Yet upon closer examination this is hardly a limiting of the multitude because Aristotle makes the case that adjudicating and deliberating are hardly small things but rather the opposite, the greatest responsibilities in the regime.
To the degree that choosing officials and auditing is a very great thing the claim that the many should not have a share in the greatest offices, because their "injustice and imprudence will lead them to act unjustly and err" (3.11.1281b26-34), is undermined. The many are said to hold the most important role in the polis:
Perhaps these things too are handled correctly: neither the juror nor the councilman nor the assemblyman acts as ruler, but the court, the council, and the people, and each individual is a part of these things just mentioned --I mean "part" the councilman, the assemblyman, and the juror (3.11.1282a33-37).
Apparently the multitude, when exercising these functions, only truly exercises them when they act as a whole, not as individual parts.(47) The regime acts as a whole and not merely as a collection of parts. Therefore, when the many rule, their rule is not of individuals but of the whole. They act as a united group rather than as a mere collection of individuals, so the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Unlike liberal social-contract theory, where the whole is merely the sum of its individual parts, Aristotle presents the whole not only to be the final political actor but also to be logically prior to the parts. Thus, we recall that when acting together their judgment is "better, or no worse, than those who know" (3.11.1282a15-17), which clearly overturns the view that Aristotle, by siding with the Solonian qualification, is limiting the many. Aristotle shows that Solon's measures do not really limit the many in any truly significant way, as Saxonhouse has suggested.(48)
Therefore, the many's rule is hardly rejected, but rather affirmed as Aristotle makes explicit with reference to oligarchy:
So the multitude justly has authority over great things, for the people, the council, and the court are made up of many persons. Also the assessments of all of them together is more than that of those who would hold great offices, whether taken singly or as a [group of a] few (3.11.1282a36-41).
Aristotle's argument for the many's abilities overshadow the claim for the excellence of the few. In a sense, a possible oligarchic reply would be that, since the rich few seem to provide the means of economic support for the polis, they should be authoritative. But it may be countered that, not only are the many together better than the few, they also together pay more than the few in their assessments, which provide for the needs of the polis. From the oligarch's own argument, therefore, the rule of the multitude would seem indubitably best. Indeed, Aristotle concludes, "let the discussion of these things stand thus, then" (3.11.1282a42).
In contemporary political thought, democratic theory is seen
as a defense of the deliberative capacity of the people simply--that each individual has the right to participate in deliberating
about the political questions that will affect his life and well
being.(49) Modern democratic arguments also reject the moral
superiority of one group of persons over another. This is not
Aristotle's defense of democracy. He defends the many's ability
to deliberate not because it is their right to do so, but because
the many together deliberate best and the best deliberation is
itself best for the political community.(50) Thus, if a people
unified could not deliberate finely, Aristotle would argue that
they should not rule. In this light, Aristotle's defense of the
many is not unqualifiedly based upon a belief that it is just
that the many should govern because governing affects them most,
but that they should govern because their governing is best--it
allows the best political outcome. However, the debate does not
end here, but the question of the laws which was raised at
3.10.1281a34-36 is raised again.
The Claim of the Laws
Although Aristotle says that the argument is to stand, he answers the first question raised that
it makes noting more evident than that it is law--correctly enacted--that should be authoritative and that rulers, whether one person or more, should be authoritative with respect to those things about which laws are completely unable to speak precisely on account of the difficulty of making clear general declarations about everything (3.11.1282a42-b6)
The first question is the question which opens this chapter--who should rule, or have authority in the polis? This is important because those who rule are those who make the laws for that regime. Now, it appears that law should rule where law can speak clearly, and that people should rule where law cannot.(51) But this is not an answer to the question, as Aristotle himself says (3.11.1282b6-8). Why is this so? Because laws are relative to the regime, good laws depend upon having a good regime; if there is a bad regime, there will be bad laws (3.11.1282b8-13).
The chapter ends on the assertion the relativity of law, and the statement that the question of who should rule has yet to be answered.(52) But this ignores the previous argument raised before the introduction of the laws. Was it not clear that the rule of the multitude was said to be better, or no worse, than either the rule of the best few or the one best?
The problem with law's relativity can be solved if one connects it to the many's rule. In doing this, one does two things: 1) the association of the relativity of the laws to the many's rule re-insures the nature of the multitude because particular laws shape the character of the multitude by restraining their excesses;(53) and 2) it also allows that, what the law cannot address because of its inherent weakness, the many, who are better, or at least no worse, than the best men, will have authority to make up for the law's defectiveness.(54)
Here ends the first peak of Book 3 on an ambiguous defense
of not only the rule of the many but with the suggestion that the
rule of law should be tied to the rule of the regime that is
best. Given the argument of Politics 3.11, the rule of the many
constitutes such a regime. Yet, in another sense, the first peak
of Politics 3, in 3.12-13 only refines the democratic argument
and does so to lead the reader to the final question, that of law
versus human rule.
The Question of Political Philosophy
Politics 3.12 deals with the question of justice in political life, begining with an echo of that of Nicomachean Ethics 1.1, by claiming that,
Since in all the sciences and arts the end is some good, the greatest and primary good is that which is the most authoritative of all; this is political capacity (3.12.1282b14-16).
Politics is thus said to deal not merely with good things but the "greatest and primary goods" which are the "most authoritative of all." Again, this is similar to the claim of Nicomachean Ethics 1.1, wherein politics is shown to be the architectonic art, upon which all the other arts rest. The primary of the political overall lesser ends is explicitly indicated in that "the political good is justice, and this is the common advantage" (3.12.1282b16-17).
The shift between "the primary good and the greatest goods" and the political good raises the question of whether these two are the same? Usually interpreters of Aristotle distinguish between "the primary good and the greatest good" and "the political good." Yet this passage does not clearly say that such a distinction is warranted, but suggests that, since politics deals with the most authoritative good (3.12.1282b14-16), justice is the political good and so it pursues the common advantage of those who live together in the political community (3.12.1282b16). Aristotle does not distinguish between them. The usually interpretative leap is from the claim concerning what type of "goods" politics deal with to what exactly "political justice" concerns.
Although the two sentences do not automatically exclude each other, it is thrue that they do not seem simply to concern themselves with the same thing. But, in the final analysis, they do in that, since politics deals with the most authoritative good, and the political good is justice, the most authoritative good must be justice.(55) Justice is thus established as the most authoritative, because it is the political, good, defined as the common advantage of those living together. And justice is spelled out further to be "held by all to be a certain equality" (3.12.1282b17-18). Aristotle notes that "up to a certain point" all those who deal with this question agree with his own treatment of justice in Nicomachean Ethics 5, as expressed in Politics 3.12: common opinion asserts that "justice is a certain thing for certain persons and should be equal for equal persons" (3.12.1282b18-21). Aristotle's fundamental account of justice is that it must be understood as the equitable interaction of people in the polis.(56)
The Equality Inherent in Justice
Aristotle then warns the reader to consider "equality in what sort of things and inequality in what sort of things--this should not be overlooked" (3.12.1282b21-23). By this, he means that the main question, in what things are equality and inequality important and unimportant, politically? This very question involves the political problem, with which political philosophy is primary concerned (3.12.1282b23).(57) In fact, one can argue that the question of equality still haunts political philosophy and still plagues political thinkers. All tend to assert that some sort of equality is politically necessitated by justice, yet determining what this means leads to unending arguments.(58) In the context of what is addressed in the text, the question is, on what basis should rulers rule?
In the above inquiry a question was raised: "perhaps the offices should be unequally distributed?" The reason for would be, "in accordance with a preeminence in any good, even among persons who do not differ in any other respect but happen to be similar, on the grounds that justice and what accords with merit is different for those who differ" (3.12.1282b24-27). But what is the limit of superior merit? What excellences are to be included and excluded from consideration? The argument for awarding the ruling offices on the basis of excellences is initially rejected because political justice does not entail giving to the fair, the tall, and so forth, greater political rewards because of their particular excellences (3.12.1282b28-30).(59) The falsehood of such reasoning was demonstrated by the other sciences, in that having one skill neither includes nor precludes having the others that are by chance or heredity (3.12.1282b30-83b1).
The conclusion concerning political justice arrived at is that not all excellences or goods are commensurable with each other (3.12.1283a3). Since it is not possible that all excellences or goods are commensurable, this leads to the position that, "in political matters, ... it is reasonable ... [that we] do not dispute over offices on the basis of every inequality" (3.12.1283a9-11). Instead, the dispute
necessarily occurs in respect to those things that constitute a polis. It is, [therefore,] reasonable that the well born, the free, and the wealthy lay claim to honor (3.12.1283a14-17).
It is important to notice the importance of "reasonableness" in this argument. Certain claims are said to be reasonable and others are not. The claims that are reasonable are so because they are essential for the composition of a polis. The unreasonable claims are so because they are not essential for the composition of a polis.
Therefore, political claims based on excellences, such as
beauty, height, etc., are unreasonable and not to be taken
seriously because one can still have a polis with ugly and short
people.(60) Although beauty and height are excellences, they are
not necessarily politically relevant. Also, claims derived from
a lack--or a deficit--of excellence would likewise be dismissed
as unreasonable.(61) In this way, Aristotle would consider claims
to rules based on poliitcally irrelevant grounds to be
The Reasonable Claims
Aristotle also rejects the issue implicit in the social- contract tradition that merely being human and living under a regime is a claim that justifies political rule. The claim to rule is not an automatic qualification but a claim which holds that this claim is better than the others. The various claims compete concerning what is best. The claim that justifies political rule is not the lowest common denominator, as both social-contract theory and modern democratic theory hold, but aims at which rule is most excellent and, therefore, best.
So, the claims of wealth, free birth, and good birth--those of the respectable are said to be the reasonable claims for political justice, and Aristotle indicates why. The wealthy's claim is reasonable in that they help provide for the existence of the polis (3.12.1283a17). A polis that is wholly poor, or one that is wholly made of slaves cannot survive (3.12.1283a17-18); a polis needs both the wealthy and the freeborn. Yet, Aristotle adds to this two more required elements for a polis, justice and military excellences, or arms (3.12.1283a19-20): "It is not possible for a polis to be administered without these things" (3.12.1283a20) because, "whereas without [justice] there cannot be a polis, without [military excellence] one cannot be beautifully administered" (3.12.1283a21-22).
The claims of the respectable are not explicitly raised in this context. Justice and military excellence are not by nature simply the attributes of the well-born, because they are generic attributes, the first being of process, the second of inclination. The respectable's contribution to the polis is in all likelihood the same as the wealthy's, but only in that they tend not only to give of their wealth and of their persons to provide for both the needs and the defense of the polis. Hence, they engage in military excellence, which is essential in order that the polis be "beautifully administered." The respectable tend to strive for honor and recognition and, since they do, they will also strive to hold the ruling offices in the polis.
In a democratic regime, having the respectable hold the ruling offices is not out of the question. In fact, it should be encouraged because it will tie them to the regime rather than have them as its opponents. The holding of offices is not the most important thing, as suggested earlier, so the many may still retain control of the regime.(62) Is this not similar to what the Federalist Papers suggests concerning who will be attracted to political life under the new Constitution? If so, Aristotle would agree with Publius, the author of the Federalist Papers, in thinking that the ambitious, who seek honor, will most likely seek it through the given democratic structures. In allowing ambition to motivate the nobles to seek the elected offices, this strategy strengthens democracy by helping it to be finely administered and makes it even more secure in that an old opponent to the many's rule is thus turned into an ally.
Politics 3.12 ends with a quick assessment of the reasonable
claims on political rule by the wealthy, the free, and the well-
born, but this examination seems insufficient, in that the claims
of neither the well born nor the respectable are examined.
Although one can suggest a possible role for them, as I did
above, the text gives none. This leads us to Politics 3.13,
which addresses what was not addressed here.
Political Justice Revisited
Politics 3.13 continues the discussion of the previous chapter. It opens with the assertion, "now, with a view to the existence of the polis, all or at least some of these things might be held to have a correct claim in the dispute" (3.13.1283a24-25). At 3.12.1283a16-17, the claims of the well-born, the free, and the wealthy were said to be reasonable. Now they are said to be "correct" when concerned with "a view to the existence of the polis," an important distinction because correct claims are just claims. This again alters our understanding of regimes such as oligarchy, the rule of the wealthy, and democracy, or the rule of the free born.(63)
However, the correctness of those claims is aimed at "existence," not the good life. For what claims would bring about the good life are "above all education and excellence (arete)" (3.13.1283a25-26). Yet the distinction made here between the good life and existence may not be that important after all. For, as Aristotle argued earlier, "although the polis comes into being for the sake of living, it exists for the sake of living well" (1.2.1252b29). Living is the precondition for living well, but the end of living is living well.
There can be no good life without the earlier claims (e.g., free birth, wealth, etc.). So we must ask about both education and excellence. These are relative terms, in that both depend upon the regime for their final form and significance.(64) Again, they are to be seen as finishing touches, rather than as key components achieving the good life. True, it would be impossible to conceive of the good life without either education or excellence, but the specifics of both tend to be regime-relative, whereas the claims of wealth, free birth, and good birth are in themselves fundamental to the various regimes.(65)
Aristotle continues by insisting that all those "who are equal in one thing alone should not have equality in everything, nor those who are unequal in a single thing [be] unequal [in everything]" (3.13.1283a27-28). For such regimes, Aristotle says, "are necessarily deviations" (3.13.1283a28).(66) But this does not deal fully with the above argument, only with the concern of treating equals equally and unequals unequally (3.12.1282b16-21). So this further adds to the problem of judging what is just and what is not just because the qualities between men vary greatly. The above addition to the claim about the just would favor a type of rule which includes more people in ruling than it excludes. Nevertheless, it would require that some be excluded from ruling. Does this not entail a restrained democracy?
Aristotle returns from the deviation to the previous point, about the justice of the claims of the wealthy, the free born, and those of good birth. He says that although their claims "were said previously" to be justly made, they are "not justly made in an unqualified sense" (3.13.1283a29-30):
The wealthy [have a claim] because they have the greater part of the territory ... further, for the most part they are more trustworthy regarding assessments (3.13.1283a30-32).
The wealthy's claim seems just in that they possess what the polis needs and that they are more trustworthy in administering it. Their trustworthiness is due to their tendency to have more excess capital at the polis's disposal than the poor, whose resources are committed to mere daily survival.
The free and the well-born, on the other hand, are first said to be "close to one another" (3.13.1283a33-34) but, Aristotle next speak not of the free but of the well-born, noting that they "are more particularly citizens than the ignoble, and good birth is honorable at home among everyone" (3.13.1283a34-36) and that "it is [more] likely that better persons come from those who are better, for good birth is [due to the] excellence of a family" (3.13. 1283a36-38). Somehow, these points seem not that persuasive regarding the value of the well-born, for most of these claims are those of opinion rather than claims that can be demonstrated to have some validity in practice.(67) But the question of good birth is in fact the question of excellence, for
In a similar way, then, we assert that justice is an excellence characteristic of community [koinonia], and that the other [excellences] necessarily follow from it (3.13. 1283a38-40).
Because Aristotle said that the polis could not exist without
justice (3.12.1283a21), justice is that which holds the polis
Justice and the Good Life
Justice and the good life are related in that the end of
justice is the attainment of the good life.(68) Indeed, the
opening sentences of Politics 3.13, introduce the claims that
distinguish the various regimes, that had any validity to them,
are merely different understandings of the good life. Also, any
understanding of the good life must consist in some understanding
of education and of excellence (arete) (3.13.1283a24-25).(69)
The next section of Politics 3.13 raises the question that, if the good, the wealthy, the well born, and the multitude all exist in a single political community, will there not be a dispute as to whom should rule? (3.13.1283b1-4). This is a restatement of the opening question of Politics 3.10.1281a13-15, so we return full circle to the opening of this section of Politics 3, which regime should be authoritative? But now the question is, will the dispute occur when all exist in a single political community together? The answer is both yes and no because, since there can be only one authoritative element in a political community, the other contenders will still live there and may desire to become authoritative. Aristotle argues that "the judgment as to who should rule is not disputed under each of the regimes that have been mentioned" (3.13.1283b4-7), but this does not answer the question posed here.
Although the regime of a political community establishes
which element is authoritative, it does not eliminate the other
claimants to rule. Since there can be no political community
without all of the elements that advance these claims, the
various elements within the political community will vie for
authority. But this consideration is not presently developed
here, rather it is developed in Politics 5. There, in Politics
5, regime change is discussed in its fullest and complete
character. Also, the question of how various claims and their
corresponding elements co-exist in a fine manner is taken up in
Politics 4--in the section usually understood to deal with the
so-called "mixed regime."
The Political Excellence of the Many as Argument for Popular Rule
Throughout the examination of Politics 3.9-13, one has come to witness the argument for popular rule, i.e., the rule of the many. Now, popular rule is commonly understood to be democracy. Thus, the defense of popular rule, in these chapters of Politics 3, can be understood as an argument for democracy as rule of the best, in that the many's deliberation is as good as, if not superior to, either the one best or the many best. Seen in this light, the political excellence of the many is its good deliberation (eubolia) and good deliberation is what defines phronesis (NE 6.6.1140a26-27). Thus, the political excellence of the many is found within its capacity for phronesis.
Given this, popular rule is defended foremost politically, in that all correct political action necessitates phronesis. Since phronesis is the specific excellence that points to the superiority of popular rule, i.e., democracy, over the other regimes, the argument for popular rule is not one of legitmacy, as modern democratic theorist argue, but superior deliberative capacity. Yet superior deliberative capacity is not to be understood in the abstract, but as the essential capacity to make excellent, or at least sound, political decisions. Thus the regime type effects how political decision will be made; therefore what type of regime one has will be a matter of great concern, if you want the best political decisions made. Now the logic of the best regime is that it is the regime that governs best. So, the concern for what type of regime is best is to be understood as fundamentally a political question. Thus the criteria for how a regime is best must be a criteria that is politically relevant.
As we have seen throughout this chapter, popular rule, or
the rule of the many, shows itself to have a valid claim to the
possibility that is may be the best regime. Although its claim
to being the best is not yet totally locked up, what is made
clear is that if popular rule or democracy is not the best of the
regimes, it better than all the other types of regime.
1. Examples of scholars holding this view are Arendt 1958, Barber 1984, Beiner 1983, Euben 1993, and Farrar 1988.
2. Examples of scholars holding this view are Dahl 1956, 1971, Huntington 1981, and Michels 1962.
3. See Narcy 1993, Aubenque 1993b, and deRomilly 1975, 66-71 and 122-25.
4. See Arendt 1958, Beiner 1983, and Sullivan 1984; Contrast Winthrop 1978a and 1978b.
5. See Bartlett 1994a, 1994b, Coby 1986, 1988, Finley 1985, Johnson 1988, Lord 1987, 1981, 1982, Lockyer 1988, Mulgan 1977, 1991, and Winthrop 1978a and 1978b.
6. See Mueller 1992a and 1992b.
7. There are several interpreters of Aristotle's Politics who also advocate a middle ground position on democracy, but advocate a liberal democratic understanding (e.g., Galston 1991, Nussbaum 1988, 1990, and 1992, Rasmussen and Den Uyl 1991, Salkever 1991, and Swanson 1992). This chapter attempts neither to address nor to refute those who advocate a liberal or libertarian Aristotle.
8. Contrast Bookman 1992, Lindsay 1992a and 1992b.
9. See Wolff 1988 and 1993.
10. See Farrar 1988 and Finley 1985.
11. See Strauss 1978 and 1953.
12. See Voegelin 1990 and Strauss 1953.
13. Yet even with regard to objects, equality does not come easy. One only has to look at the caseloads of the small claim courts across the country last year to notice that people tend to see property as extensions of themselves.
14. See Macpherson 1973, Barber 1984, and Wolin 1993.
15. See Macpherson 1973.
16. See Fukuyama 1992.
17. See Jaffa 1975 and Lord 1987.
18. See Macpherson 1962, Strauss 1988, and 1989.
19. See Yack 1993, Swanson 1992, Arnhart 1990, Wilson 1993a, 1993b, and Masters 1989.
20. See Jaffa 1975, Lord 1987, Nichols 1991, Salkever 1991, and Nussbaum n.d., 1986, 1988, 1990a, 1990b, and 1992.
21. See Nichols 1991, Salkever 1991, Jaffa 1975, and Lord 1987.
22. See Strauss 1978.
23. See Nichols 1991 and Jaffa 1975.
24. See Politics 3.9.1280a9-13.
25. This view rejects that "polity" (the "regime" called "regime") = the mixed regime. For the full argument on this issue see chapter 5 above. The argument is made in that chapter that 1) there is no "mixed--regime in Aristotle's Politics. Rather the so-called account of the mixed-regime, at Politics 4, is a generic account of all regimes. Pellegrin 1987 makes a similiar but different argument.
26. See Strauss 1978, 21.
27. Miller 1995, 281 suggests that there are five and not two interlocutors. Although there are five claims addressed in Politics 3.10, the discussion of these five claims is framed by a specific debate between an oligarch and a democrat. I argue it makes more sense not to see five interlocutors but rather two, so there will be a consistency in the rhetorical structure of the debate. Also, in reading only two interlocutors rather than five, one notices that the two interlocutors end up using the other claims to bolster their particular regime claim. So, instead of partisans of each particular claim arguing the case of that claim, either the democrat or the oligarch will raise each claim to bolster the claim to rule each one advances. Thus, the oligarch ends up advancing not only the claim of the rich, but also the few excellent and the singular most excellent, whereas the democrat ends up advancing the rule of law.
28. Contrast Mulgan 1991 and Lindsay 1994.
29. For the importance of the oath in Greek political life, see Pleseia 1970.
30. See Dahl 1956 and Michels 1962; Contrast Macpherson 1973, Finley 1985, and Barber 1984.
31. Thomas Lindsay argues that "Given the speculative tone with which Aristotle commences, one could reasonably wonder whether he intends to provide a defence of demotic judgment here or is simply exploring a possibility" (1992a, 103). He then says that Aristotle is more than exploring a possibility because, even diluted, the claim about the many's judgement survives (1992a, 103).
32. See Aubenque 1993b and deRomilly 1975, 122-25.
33. Although he does separate them, the democrat nevertheless implies that oligarchic rule is akin to tyrannical rule in that it is unjust.
34. Indeed Saxonhouse says the analogy of the "pot luck dinner" is similar to that of the analogy of 1) "the river and the chorus" at Politics 1276a35-39 and 1276b4-8, and 2) the analogy of "the ship" at 1276b20-21. These analogies symbolize the importance of the unity of the differing parts within the whole of the city (1993, 215-224).
35. See Garrett 1993.
36. Compare Politics 3.17.
37. See Murphey 1990 and Yack 1993.
38. Contrast Garrett 1993.
39. See Garrett 1993.
40. Is this not true of the best regime of Politics 7, where the many are deprived of any of the ruling prerogatives? Also does this point, along with the fact that the regime of Politics 7 depends upon conventional slavery, which is said to be unjust earlier at Politics 1.4-7, undermine the claim that the regime presented as the best regime at Politics 7 is far from it. I argue that Bartlett's defence of the regime of Politics 7 as Aristotle's best regime either underrates the importance in Aristotle of justice in human affairs--in that human being are political animals and justice is the political virtue--or he merely fails to address these objections in any satisfactory manner (see Bartlett 1994a and 1994b).
41. Saxonhouse 1993, 223.
42. Saxonhouse 1993, 223-24.
43. See Bookman 1992.
44. See Garrett 1993. He spells out the moral status of the many in Aristotle. Garrett argues that although he does not consider the many merely vulgar or immoral, they are nevertheless morally inferior to the noble.
45. See Lindsay 1992a. Does this not appear to be an advocacy of a mixed regime? I suggest this is mentioned only as a question, only to be rejected further on. See my earlier rejection of the mixed regime.
46. See deRomilly 1975, 66-77.
47. See Quinn 1986 for an examination of the part-whole analogy and its implications in Politics 3. Also, see Saxonhouse 1993, 215-24.
48. Saxonhouse 1993, 223.
49. See Barber 1984, Wolin 1993, Finley 1975, and Macpherson 1973.
50. See Garrett 1993; Contrast Barber 1984, Wolin 1993, and Macpherson 1973.
51. See Miller 1979 and Quinn 1990.
52. See Yack 1993, 175-208. Yack argues for the importance of the habituation effect of the laws and its ability to structure human behavior. Also, see Bodeus 1991b for how law is relative to the regime, although Bodeus stresses the regimes of Politics 2 than the account of law found in Book 3.
53. See McCoy 1989, 41-42, and 43-44 and Bodeus 1993, 54-57.
54. See Yack 1991, 176-177.
55. Compare Vander Waerdt 1985.
56. See Strauss 1953, 1978, and Voeglin 1990; see Wilson 1993a and 1993b.
57. See Kullmann 1984.
58. Compare Nussbaum 1990a.
59. See Nussbaum 1986 and 1980.
60. See Saxonhouse 1993, 224; Also see Nichols 1991, 68.
61. See Nussbaum 1988.
62. This is the case because the offices are mostly administrative or executive and not legislative in their character. If the offices were legislative then the respectable would make the laws and would thus shape the regime to reflect their own (limited) view of justice, contrary to the many. Thus, when the offices in a democratic regime, start to assume more of a legislative character, then if that regime is to remain a democracy then the respectable should not be allowed to hold such offices.
63. This passage would suggest that the claims of two previously deviant regimes--wealth and freedom--are said to be "correct." This only adds more evidence to my belief that the regime typology of Politics 3.7 is not Aristotle's final word about which regimes are just and which regimes are unjust.
64. See Lord 1982 and Bartlett 1994b.
65. See Nussbaum n.d., 1992, 1990a, and 1988.
66. Note that a deviation is now judged by how it treats both equality and inequality in the claim about justice. Regimes that distort either equality and inequality now run the risk of deviating from what is politically just--thus they become unjust regimes.
67. One could explain away the Aristotle's argument for the greater importance of the preservation of regime-favorable opinion than first principles as a rhetorical constraint, due to the possibility that he is addressing the kaloskagathoi or members of the well-born class? See Tessitore 1990. But it is far from clear that the audience of the Politics either the kaloskagathoi or the well-born but rather it is those who wish to know, albeit about politics. So, the assumption of who is in fact the audience is far from a closed question. Given this, one cannot assume the that Aristotle's preference for regime-favorable opinion over first principles is due to rhetorical restraint.
68. See Nussbaum 1992, 1990, Lord 1982, 1987, Strauss 1978 and 1989.
69. See Lord 1982, 1987, Nussbaum 1990, n.d., 1988, and Strauss 1978.