"Bates's conclusion-that Aristotle thought democracy under the rule of law to be the best regime-is surprising, because this contradicts many of the traditional views of Aristotle scholars. But even more surprising is that Bates supports his conclusion with a meticulous reading of Aristotle's Politics. Not only does Bates deepen our understanding of Aristotle's political thought, he also suggests an Aristotelian defense of modern liberal democracy as rooted both in a universal human nature and in particular historical circumstances. This is a bold book with a provocative argument written in a vigorous style."
-Larry Arnhart, author of Aristotle on Political Reasoning: A Commentary on the "Rhetoric"
"This is a spirited book which develops a salutary argument for grounding the case for modern liberal democracy in Aristotle's Politics. The argument is both old-fashioned and challenging-and hence refreshing-competently drawing upon a multitude of familiar authorities and modern commentators. Bates reminds us what citizenship, patriotism, and piety can mean for a healthy political order. Best of all, perhaps, in this helpful introduction to Aristotle's Politics, is the display provided therein of a learned and provocative intelligence at work in the service of contemporary republicanism."
-George Anastaplo, author of But not Philosophy: Seven Introductions to Non-Western Thought
The book on Aristotle is a literary and analytical triumph. It is also a pedagogical tour de force because through the dialogue approach it achieves a clarity and coherence that stands out among treatises on political theory. Perhaps this is because the author does what he argues Aristotle did with Politics. Both Politics and the Bates book have a twofold characteristic. They are scholarly and analytical treatises based on rigorous and painstaking research in the archives and writings on Aristotle. Bates is clearly in command of his subject. He knows and can compare what Carnes Lord, Leo Strauss, William Bluhm and others have written and he has himself mastered the text he is writing about. But he is also able to convey with superior writing skills, the full thrust of his interpretation. He has mastered the literary craft as few scholars have done.
The Bates book while it is a scholarly treatise is also a dialogue. In Bates' words: "the Politics is" a mixture of two genres--treatise and dialogue. . . . " One becomes aware of this characteristic early in the book. Someone to whom Bates gives only passing reference, Hannah Arendt, used to compare the Socrates dialogue to a conversation between persons with two competing viewpoints. Dialogues help the student to grasp the substance of the two sides of an issue. Out of such an exchange, the question is never finally resolved but is somehow illuminated enabling the listener or reader to say "now I understand"*at least in part.
Another strength of the Bates study is its organization. Somehow Bates persuades the reader there is a reason that every topic appears in its place in his Table of Contents. For example, the first two chapters come first even though the City and the Citizen take their meaning from dependence on the Regime. However Bates patiently explains their placement. Not only is there a reason but he makes it explicit within his text.
The other theme he introduces in the beginning and throughout the text is why it is important to be crystal clear on what Aristotle has to say about democracy and the republic. He is tireless in returning to the point and relentless in challenging the popular view of Aristotle that he places aristocracy ahead of democracy as the best regime. He uses Hobbes and Sydney to justify his view. The reader gains confidence in Bates as again and again he returns to first principles whether in criticism of what he considers flawed propositions or in misunderstandings of Aristotle.
Other strengths of the book are the intellectual powers reflected in individual chapters or sections. He questions views on "polity" of writers he otherwise respects. He helps readers to understand why they came to the conclusions they did. He answers questions posed in some of his main headings, for example, "Does Aristotle underrate democracy?" He explains, "The political excellence of the many" for those who point to democracy's weaknesses. And he seems to anticipate and respond to questions the reader may have as he moves from one subject to another.
All through his manuscript Bates addresses recurrent questions that he may be responsible for placing in the reader's mind: "Who are the best persons?" "What is just rule?" "Why the concept of 'the best' is replaced by 'the respectable?"' In every chapter and section new questions arise. The consequences of one question lead on to new questions that flow from the answers to former questions. Bates returns to these issues on the first through the third logos.
Near the end, he returns to the living peaks of governance: the many and the rule of law. The first peak is his response to the question of "the best regime." He makes explicit what has throughout been a central theme how can the people rule? His law is democratic law. The two peaks are the answer he finds in Aristotle to the dangers that otherwise might arise from the one or the many as the best ruler.
Concluding his counter-traditional reading of Aristotle's Politics rests on old and new sources that appear and reappear in his text. His defense of democracy restrained by law rests also on circumstances. At no point does Bates embrace or find in Aristotle a radical defense of democracy. Political life for them both is a practical vocation. The leader is a gardener who feeds and waters the plant of democracy. Politics three is lecture notes presenting different arguments as possible truths about political life. Tyranny no less than democracy is discussed. The text has ideologic character, a mix of dialogue and competing arguments concerning political things. Democracy is not something to be established everywhere regardless of the soil. Bates considers that his argument about democracy is summed up by C. S. Lewis in an article on equality:
I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government ....
The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle believed some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.
Aristotle's presentation of a democracy restrained by law as the best regime is a paradigm. Aristotle does not see it as a model to be put into practice anywhere and everywhere. It depends on circumstances to come into practice anywhere and everywhere. It depends on circumstances for its coming into existence and for emerging from an environment that allows it to grow and prosper. This distinguishes Aristotle's praise of "democracy as the best regime" compared with other more modem advocates of democracy. So ends the paraphrase.
Review of AAristotle’s Best Regime@
This is an enormously valuable work of scholarship, deserving of publication and wide readership. One reason for this positive appraisal is the meticulous work that has clearly gone into its preparation, as evidenced by its careful reading of the text. The author, treating Aristotle=s works as deserving to be read as finished products, pays attention to the best translations of the exact wording, the word order, and the meaning of phrases, in addition to the structure of the arguments, and the overall structure of the works cited. Such textual analysis allows us to read Aristotle with a fresh eye, returning to his arguments and setting aside (without forgetting) the glosses that may mislead as well as instruct.
Mentioning other treatments of Aristotle on democracy illustrates another reason for considering the manuscript as highly publishable. The author is not afraid to challenge either the reader=s preconceptions or conventional interpretations of the Aristotelian corpus. At the same time, the author readily acknowledges instances in which his reading of the text differs from well-known contemporary scholarship, including a number of authors for whom I have great respect. Yet this picture of Aristotle as an advocate of a highly nuanced version of the rule of the many as restrained by the rule of law deserves to be entered into the scholarly debate.
A third factor supporting the publication of the manuscript lies in its clear differentiation of two distinct, though complementary and mutually supporting, lines of argument: that purporting to demonstrate the ability of the many to rule well, and that contending for the superiority of the rule of law even over the rule of the one best man. It is true that each line of argumentation tends to advance in a negative way--undercutting the arguments for the alternatives rather than making a conclusively positive argument for the advantages of rule by either the many or a body of law-but in this the author only emulates Aristotle himself. The more important point to note is the skillful way in which each separate strand of argument is brought to the conclusion so that it may be neatly tied to its counterpart in the conclusion. ….