Politics 3 opens with the implication that to understand what the polis or the political community is one must investigate the regime (3.1.1274a32-33). The case is begun for the importance of the regime in Aristotle's attempt to understand political community. Politics 3, as I have argued earlier, is the third and final beginning of the whole Politics. It is also where Aristotle's central concept the regime, or politeia, is first explicitly developed and explored. Before Politics 3, the concept of the regime was either wholly absent, as in Book 1, or merely assumed but not explained, as in Book 2. Also, without the concept of the regime, both the practical books, Politics 4-6, and the theoretical books, Politics 7-8, would be without an essential framework in which political action could be understood.(1)
The concern for the best regime in Book 3 is presented on two levels, the theoretical and the practical. The theoretical question of the best regime is what regime is simply best. The practical question of the best regime is what regime is best for a particular people in a given historical and material situation.(2) The first concern is philosophic, the second concern is political. Yet the philosophic concern cannot abandon the realization that political things as such are eminently practical. So, the theoretical question must address practical concerns in order that its argument be persuasive.
In other words, the theoretical question of which regime is
best simply must deal with regimes that are actually possible,
not with regimes that are practical impossibilities.(3) Thus, in
political philosophy, the concern of philosophy, although
concerning eternal questions, must both frame them to conform to
actual possibilities and judge them by their practical outcomes.
Therefore, the best regime for Aristotle cannot be only a
theoretical possibility left in the realm of ideas, but an actual
regime.(4) But before we address the issue of the best regime, we
must understand what Aristotle understands as the regime.
What Is A Regime?
Only after five chapters discussing the citizen, which presupposed but did not discuss the regime, do we get a discussion of the concept of the regime, or politeia. Aristotle begins Politics 3.6 with an injunction:
Since these things have been discussed, what comes after them must be investigated--whether we are to regard there being one regime or many, and if many, which and how many there are and what the differences are between them (3.6.1278b6-8).
A discussion of the regimes and their number necessarily follows a discussion of citizens. Why? As I have already argued, the discussion of citizens presupposed but did not spell out the importance of the regime in understanding fully what it means to be a citizen. In other words, the discussion of the regime should have come before the discussion of the citizen so that that discussion would not have been as troublesome as it was.
The question of the regime concerns not only their number--i.e., how many regimes are there--but also the difference among them (3.6.1278b7-8). This is the question Aristotle is pursuing in Politics 3.6. He appeals to the heart of the matter by describing what a politeia is: "an arrangement of a polis with respect to its offices, particularly the one that has authority over all [matters]" (3.6.1277b9-10).
For what has authority in the polis is everywhere the governing body (politeuma), and the governing body is the regime. I mean, for example, that in democratic regimes the people have authority while, by contrast, it is the few in oligarchies. The regime, too, we say, is different in these cases; and we shall speak in the same way concerning the others, as well (3.6.1277b10-14).
Thus, to understand what type of regime one is dealing with one must first examine what type of governing body it has. But, for Aristotle, there are many types of governing bodies and, therefore, there are many types of regime. But how does the governing body--understood as the regime--form the polis, or political community. Leo Strauss has said the relationship between the polis and the regime is that of matter and form, where the polis is the matter and the regime shapes it.(5) Thus to understand how the regime gives shape to the political community we need to address the question of form.
Again, the regime is that which gives form (eidos) to the particular political community. The particular form of a regime will by definition imply a different telos, or end, which that regime will hold as its authoritative way of life.(6) This is to say, the form a regime will have will structure the authoritative body within that given political community. In doing this, the way of life of those who have authority will become authoritative, or normative, within that political community.
The structure, or form, of a regime allows one access to the telos of the regime. Therefore, different regimes will have different forms and, because of their different forms, they will have differing ends. These differing ends will lead to differing authoritative ways of living,(7) which leads in turn to differing understandings of justice.(8)
It is reasonable that the difference of form will lead to a
difference in ends. Each regime, because it has a different
form, will have a different end. Differences in ends are to be
understood as differing conceptions of ways of life and so, by
implication, differing conceptions of what is just. Because of
this, there exists a great variety of possible regimes--one for
each possible variation in form. But, in practice, the
possibilities of the variety of forms which the regime may have
are limited to the various social elements which exist within the
political community.(9) So, for Aristotle, there exists, in
understanding human political communities, a radical dependency
upon form, which arises from the interdependency between form and
Let us return to the issue of the governing body, or politeuma. Aristotle argues that it is closely associated with, if not identical to, the regime (3.6.1277b10-11). Now, the governing body is that element within the political community which has authority or, simply, that rules. Some scholars call this body the sovereign.(10)
In some ways, calling the politeuma the sovereign is to fall into a premise of modern politics, one which directly leads to the concept of the modern state. The original concept of the sovereign is the literal ruler of a regime--i.e., the king or monarch, who is inherently identified with his realm. The medieval concept of the body politic is used to emphasize that the king and his realm are one in that his realm is as much his body as his physical body.(11) When regimes gradually become more popular (i.e., democratic), the one who sanctions rule ceases to be simply the king or ruler but the people. This, in turn, leads to a change in the sovereign from the one king to those who rule within the regime. Yet, as developed in modern political thought, the term sovereign suggests that it is like a king in also having a will that will be enforced. Although this is true, one must remember that the will being expressed is that of the ruling body, or class, and not the composite of what is ruled--the political community. Now, the term body politic applies to the political community itself, which leads to some confusion as regimes become more popular (this is to say, more democratic) in their character. Popular rule is characterized by the people (or the many) being the governing body, or the politeuma.
Now this does not mean that the whole political community rules, but that the people expressed by the common sort or the many are those who have authority, and they tend to be the poor rather than the rich. Aristotle does not believe that there can be a ruling element which perfectly expresses the will of the whole political community. There is a distinction between ruler and ruled although, in the case of popular rule, they are of the same character. Thus, the body politic and the governing body or sovereign are not identical.
In modern political thought, as derived from Hobbes, the state is the embodiment of the sovereign's will and the sovereign's will is the expression of the originating social compact, which constructs the political community. To repeat: the state is an abstraction of the will of the sovereign, which is in turn an abstraction of the originating compact of the social order. Therefore, the body politic, when it comes into being, does so out of a social compact. This original compact creates the sovereign. From this procession comes the state. And the state is the expression of the sovereign's will. So, the state is an abstraction from an abstraction.
Also, the modern state, as an abstraction of the sovereign's will, arises out of the social compact, which is the expression of the will of the whole body politic. The state is the will of the whole body politic and the sovereign is that which sanctions state action. There is no distinction between who rules and that which is ruled. Aristotle holds that politics and the rule of the political community must be the action of the particular element for the sake of the whole body politic and not the action of the state, which, by definition, is an expression of the will of the body politic. The modern state, and the view of politics which creates it, places no limits upon what the political community can or cannot do because it is the expression of the will of the whole body politic. Conceptions of limited government and individual rights arise out of this system of politics to place some restraints upon politics, or else the whole scope of human life would be under the authority of the state. The reason that this condition will occur, if the power of the state is not limited or restrained, is that there is no inherent limits upon the state in that it is not by nature but merely an expression of the human will.
On the other hand, the classical conception of politics, especially in Aristotle's political thought, holds that the political community is by nature, in that nature intends human beings to live within it.(12) As a product of nature and like all natural things, the political community has inherent limits upon what it can and cannot do. While Aristotle has no theory of limited government, his understanding of the political community is limited by its very nature, in that it is by nature. Also, Aristotle's understanding of political community and its scope of authority is more limited than the modern notion of the state in that Aristotle does not believe that there can be an expression of the whole political community which can be embodied into a ruling body.(13) Nor does Aristotle believe that an abstraction of that will is even possible. Rather, all political rule, for Aristotle, is derived from the action of a particular person or group of persons, expressed in association as a class.
So that which rules, in Aristotle, is not an abstraction but is a concrete person or group of persons. What sanctions a political act is not that it is the expression of the "general will" of the body politic(14), but that it is the expression of those who are in authority, and their will is held to be authoritative within the political community. The authority of the governing body is not to be understood as an abstraction of a general will but as their de facto ruling. Now this view of political authority realizes that, although the ruler may rule either for his particular advantage or for the common advantage, his rule is nevertheless his own rule and not an abstraction of the whole body politic. Responsibility is direct in Aristotle; the ruling body is responsible, although the political community is also responsible in that there would be no political community without a regime, and the regime and the governing body are said to be the same thing.
But even though the political community is ultimately
responsible for the actions of the ruling body, because the
ruling or governing body is not an abstraction but an actual
group or class, there is a greater sense of responsibility while
ruling. The ruled will blame the class or group which is the
governing body for bad or harmful actions by the ruling body, and
the members of that class will more likely not want the
repercussions. This is to be contrasted with modern politics,
where the state is responsible for political acts and the state
is an abstraction, not any particular group or class. This
forces us to return to Aristotle's claim that the regime--that
which structures the political community and defines who is
authoritative within it--and the politeuma are the same thing.
Also, it forces us to realize that when we talk about the regime
we are not to understand it as an abstraction but in terms of a
particular element within the political community that has
authority within it.
The Reason For Political Community
Following the definition of regime, Aristotle begins an inquiry into why the city comes to be and how many forms of rule exist for human beings:
First, then, we must lay down by way of presupposition what it is for the sake of which the polis is established, and how many kinds of rule are connected with man and the association (koinonia) in life (3.6.1278b15-17).(15)
Aristotle feels the need to explain why the polis comes into existence. In doing this, he seems to be dealing with issues already addressed in Politics 1.2, yet he nevertheless covers the same ground. This point is emphasized when he says that "It was said in our initial discourses, where household management and mastery (despotike) were discussed, that the human being is by nature a political animal" (3.6.1278b17-19). The above clause repeats the statement made at Politics 1.2.1253a2-3, but there the clause modified not a reference to an earlier discussion about household management and mastery but to the claim that "the polis belongs among the things that exist by nature" (1.2.1253a1-2).(16)
The implication is that, because man is a political animal, the political community is, by extension, also "by nature." By nature, humans are intended to live in association with their fellows in political community. Thus, Aristotle says that the natural state for humans is the polis. This claim contradicts the modern view, as advanced by Thomas Hobbes, that the political community is not natural, but artifical--or willed--and that human beings by nature are isolated (or solitary) creatures who live radically selfish lives that are essentially "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."(17) Rousseau goes further than Hobbes in suggesting that human being is not only asocial but also nonrational and nonspeaking creatures by nature--that speech is also an artifical construct.(18)
Yet, for Aristotle, both Hobbes and Rousseau got it backwards: what they precieve is not humans in their natural state--which Aristotle argues is living in a political community--but their condition outside political community:
He who is without a polis through nature rather than chance is either a mean sort or superior to a human; he is "without clan, without law, without hearth," like the person reproved by Homer; for the one who is such by nature has by this fact a desire for war, as if he were an isolated piece in a game of chess (1.2.1253a3-7).
He also strengthens the problem of existing wholly outside a political community by saying,
For just as a human being is the best of the animals when completed, when separated from law and adjudication he is the worst of all. For injustice is harshest when it is furnished with arms; and a human being is born naturally possessing arms for [the use of] prudence and excellence (arete) which are nevertheless very susceptible to being used for their opposites. This is why, without excellence (arete), he is the most unholy and the most savage [of the animals], and the worst with regard to the things of Aphrodite and food (1.2.1253a31-37).
This may sound similar to Hobbes' description of the state of nature, but here Aristotle is not describing the condition natural to man, but its opposite.
In returning to Politics 3.6, Aristotle offers some suggestions why the political community comes into being--or why humans form political communities.
Hence [they] strive to live together even when they have no need of assistance from one another, though it is also the case that the common advantage brings them together, to the extent that it falls to each to live finely (3.6.1278b19-22).
Thus, humans not only come together for mere common advantage, as Hobbes would suggest, but for some reason they desire to live together. Now Aristotle does not wholly reject Hobbes' claim that men associate for advantage, or for purely selfish reasons, but he denies Hobbes' extreme claim that they only associate because of a desire for advantage. Also, the understanding of advantage is not mere individual advantage but the common advantage of all parties. Their association with each other, on the level of advantage, necessitates some reciprocation and also some equity.
Again, this claim echoes Politics 1.2. There he argues that human beings have the ability to perceive not only the pleasant and the painful but also the "advantageous and the harmful, and hence also the just and the unjust" (1.2.1253a9-15). The ability to distinguish between the just and the unjust seems to require the obtaining of the former and the avoidance of the latter. And it is through the political community that justice--through law and adjudication--is obtained (1.2.1253a38-40). But, in the earlier quotation, Aristotle argues that humans associate with each other "even when they have no need of assistance from one another"--i.e., no need for common advantage.
He continues examining this view of human association by saying that "it is this above all, then, which is the end for all both in common and separately; but they also join together, and maintain the political community (koinonia), for the sake of living itself" (3.6.1278b22-25). Later, in Politics 3.9, Aristotle suggests that the polis exists not merely for the sake of living but for something more, i.e., living well (see 3.9.1280a31-40 and 3.9.1280b29-81a10).(19) The political community is an association "of families and villages in a complete and self-sufficient life."
This, we assert, is living happily and finely. The political community (koinonia) must be regarded, therefore, as being for the sake of noble actions, not for the sake of living together (3.9.1280b40-81a3).
On the surface of things, Aristotle in Politics 3.9 seems to undermine what he says in 3.6, yet this is only how it appears. Now in 3.9, Aristotle is speaking about the end, or telos, of the political community; and its end, he argues, is not for the sake of merely living together but of living well.
Yet one cannot live well without first living, so living is a necessary precondition for living well, or finely, which is understood as happiness. But in Politics 3.6 Aristotle makes an argument, which is not refuted in Politics 3.9 but is rather ignored:
For there is perhaps something fine in living just by itself, provided there is no great excess of hardships. It is clear that most humans will endure much harsh treatment in their longing for life, the assumption being that there is a kind of joy inherent in it [i.e., living] and [there is] a natural sweetness [to it] (3.6.1278b25-30).
Thus, he argues that it is held that in living there is a "natural sweetness" and "joy inherent in it," which underlies why humans form political communities with one another.(20)
I am not arguing here that the aim of the political community, or of politics, is merely peace, but quite the contrary. The aim, or the end, of both the polis and political activity is living well or finely (kalos)--e.g., ultimately obtaining happiness (eudaimonia) through justice. To claim that the end of politics or the political community is peace would be to turn Aristotle into Hobbes.(21)
Thus life is to be understood as the necessary precondition that makes possible the attainment of the end of the political community--i.e., living well or achieving happiness. But is this Aristotle's last word? Although Aristotle, in Politics 3.9, suggests that mere living is a precondition for the political community, it is nevertheless inferior to the reason why it exists, which is living well.(22) He never adequately refutes or rejects the claim made at 3.6.1278b25-30 concerning the natural sweetness of life. Rather, he merely argues that the end of the political community is more significant in allowing one to understand the regime and, hence, politics. Yet the argument concerning the natural sweetness in mere life has a ring of truth to it that is confirmed by Aristotle's biological writings.(23)
So we are faced with an apparent contradiction--"life is
naturally sweet" but "although the polis comes to be for the sake
of life, it exists for the sake of living well."(24) But this is
not a contradiction because Aristotle qualifies his claim about
the sweetness of life by saying that it is sweet "provided there
is no great excess of hardship" (3.6.1278b26). The qualification
about the avoidance of great hardship points to the later claim
that the end of the polis is not mere life but living well. The
sweetness of life points to the possibility of fulfilling its
natural end, to live well, to achieve happiness. Great hardship
prevents humans from attaining happiness and limits the quality
of life. Thus, although humans seek happiness, their attainment
of it relies upon the avoidance of "a great excess of hardship."
This is why life, which is also a necessary precondition to
happiness, is naturally sweet. As long as one lives without a
great excess of hardship one has the possibility of living finely
and of enjoying happiness.
The Modes of Rule
Following the discussion of the presupposition for which the political community is established, Aristotle turns to the second part of inquiry--"how many kinds of rule are connected with humans, and the association of life" (3.6.1278b16-17). In turning to this question, he also says,
As for the modes of rule that are spoken of, it is easy to distinguish them, and we discuss them frequently in the external discourses (1278b31-33).
Now, it is generally held that the external discourses are his missing dialogues or other missing works, but I believe this reference to external discourse is another reference to Politics 1. Recall that there, especially in Politics 1.1, Aristotle begins his discussion about the different character of different types of rule. There he maintains that those who claim political rule is the same as ruling a household and as being a master of slaves are in error (1.1.1252a7-15). Also, throughout the rest of Book 1, he examines these two forms of rule--i.e., mastery (despotike) and household management--in great detail. Yet, in doing so, he ends up treating the politics as the sum of its parts, and in the case of Politics 1 the parts are the household and village.(25)
Aristotle's discussion of the modes of rule echoes the
various types of rule mentioned in Politics 1.1: mastery
(despotike), household manager, kingly-parental rule, and the
political ruler or statesman (politikos). But in his discussion
at Politics 3.6, we should remember his claim that these types of
rule are not merely different in size, number, or scope, but in
Aristotle begins his examination of the different modes of rule by discussing mastery (despotike). Mastery is the rule over slaves. The discussion of mastery recalls Aristotle's discussion of slavery and mastery in Politics 1.4-1.7. There he talks about not only conventional Greek slavery but also the slave by nature.(26)
The first sentence dealing with mastery in Politics 3.6 also brings up the issue of the natural slave and the natural master. Yet the point of the sentence deals more with the nature of mastery simply than with the particular relationship that occurs between the natural slave and the natural master:
Mastery (despotike), in spite of the same thing being in truth advantageous both to the slave by nature and to the master by nature, is still rule with a view to the advantage of the master primarily, and with a view to that of the slave accidentally (for mastery cannot be preserved if the slave is destroyed) (3.6.1278b33-37).
Although the rule over the natural slave by the natural master is advantagous both to master and slave, in the normal condition of slavery, i.e., conventional slavery (which was discussed in Politics 1.4, and 1.6-1.7), the master's advantage is served and the slave is only accidentally advantaged. This statement is all he says about mastery at Politics 3.6, yet this point only deals with who is generally advantaged and not specifically about the character of mastery. For that we must again turn to Politics 1.
Mastery is the rule over slaves, be they natural slaves or conventional slaves, rather than the rule over free men or members of the household (oikos). Although slaves are within the household, their relationship to their rule is not the same as that of either husband to wife and parent to child. Aristotle explicitly insults those who do not distinguish the female (or wife) from the slave as barbarians (1.2.1252a35-b9).(27) Thus mastery is especially the rule over slaves and not free, or potentially free, persons.
The discussion of slavery in Politics 1 mostly centers around a discussion of natural slavery. The argument of natural slavery is the position that by nature there exist some people who are incapable of self-governance, and these people--for their own good --need to be ruled by those who do know their good. What defines the natural slave is a defect in their foresight and thus the rule over them is the natural rule of the foresighted over those lacking in foresight (see 1.2.1252a30-35). Yet the problem of natural slaves is that although they do exist it is not all that clear who they are:
Nature indeed wishes to make the bodies of free persons and slaves different, as well [as their soul]--those of the latter, strong with a view to necessary needs, those of the former straight and useless for such tasks, but useful with a view to a political way of life (which is itself divided between the needs of war and those of peace); yet the opposite often results, some having the bodies of free persons while others have the souls. It is evident, at any rate, that if they were to be born as different only in body as the images of the gods, everyone would assert that those not so favored merited being their slaves. But if this is true in the case of the body, it is much more justifiable to make the distinction in the case of the soul; yet it is not as easy to see the beauty of the soul as it is that of the body. That some persons are free and others slaves by nature, therefore, and that for these slavery is both advantageous and just, is evident (1.5.1254b27-55a3).
Thus although nature intends to distinguish between the bodies of natural slaves and free men, it does not always do so. Because of this problem, it leads us to question the assumption that the possessor of the slave's body is also in fact the possessor of the slave's soul. Because of the mix-up with bodies, one is not confident that there is not a corresponding mix-up with souls.
This problem of the difference of the body and soul is one of knowing the real nature of the thing rather than its appearance. This is primarily an epistemological question that has great implications for politics. For, if one can easily delineate between the soul of a free man and the soul of a natural slave--and by implication, the soul of a natural ruler and the naturally ruled--then there would be no real distinction between mastery (despotike) and political rule.(28) But because there exists a gap in the ability of humans to perceive the true souls of others--in that nature does not simply distinguish between them--political rule is fundamentally different in kind from mastery.(29)
The failure of nature clearly to distinguish natural slaves
from free men lead us to an interesting discovery. Because the
rule over natural slaves--and also by implication the rule of the
simply natural ruler, i.e., pambasileia--is the rule by the
foresighted over those who lack foresight, political rule is not
to be understood as this form of association (koinonia). Why is
this so? It seems that politics is not the same as the rule of
natural slaves. But if politics is not the rule of the
foresighted over those lacking foresight, what type of
association is it? To answer this question, let us look at the
other forms of rule mentioned in Politics 3.6.
Parental and Marital Rule
After his comment about mastery, Aristotle discusses the character of the rule over children and wives (3.6.1278b37). "Rule over children and a wife and the household (oikos) is called household management" (3.6.1278b37-38). Household management is a form of rule that is "for the sake of the ruled or for the sake of something common to both [the ruled and ruler]" (3.6.1278b38-39). Aristotle specifies that household management in itself "is for the sake of the ruled, as we see in the case of the other arts, such as medicine and gymnastic, but accidentally it may be for [the sake of the rulers] themselves" (3.6.1278b39-79a2). He then gives an example of how an art can accidentally benefit one who trains or exercises it:
For nothing prevents the trainer from being on occasion one of those engaging in gymnastic, just as the pilot is always one of the sailors: the trainer or pilot looks out for the good of the ruled, and when he becomes one of them himself, he shares accidentally in the benefit; for the one is a sailor, and the other becomes one of those engaging in gymnastic, though still a trainer (3.6.1279a2-8).
Here we are told that household management is an art, and like all arts it primarily benefits the one for whom the art is exercised and not necessarily for the one practicing the art.(30) The analogy of art is used to describe rule over the household, yet this rule benefits the ruled. Thus, it appears that household management and the arts generally are the opposite of mastery, which is primarily for the benefit of the master and accidentally benefits the slave.
Yet the discussion of household rule ignores, in Politics 3.6, the possibility of difference between children and wives. If Aristotle ignores the difference between children and wives, he is validly open to the criticism of feminist scholars who claim Aristotle to be one of the originators of patriarchy.(31) Although he appears to be that claiming women and children are the same, is this view his final position? To find out we need to look back to Politics 1, where he discusses the differences between ruling over children and ruling over wives.(32)
In Politics 1.12, after dealing with mastery in 1.4-1.7, Aristotle addresses the remaining two forms of rule in the household, parental rule and maritial rule (1.12.1259a36-39). He says that rule over either a wife or children is fundamentally different from mastery because the two are rule over free persons (1.12.1259a40). Although, given that they are both forms of rule over free persons, the two are "not the same mode of rule" (1.12.1259a40).(33)
Aristotle argues that the rule of a wife is political in character, whereas the rule over children is rule in a kingly fashion (1.12.1259a40-41 and 1.12.1259b10): "the one who generates is ruler on the basis of both affection and age, which is the very mark of kingly rule" (1.12.1259b10-14). Thus, the rule of children aims primarily at both their well-being and their advantage. One rules over them to insure that they are raised well, so they will be good persons, or at least good citizens. The rule over a wife is more similar to political rule, for the benefit of both parties.(34) Aristotle, in speaking about the household in the Nicomachean Ethics, says that humans unlike the other animals whose child-rearing is the extent of their association, share a household also "for the benefits in their life" (NE 8.12.1262a20-21). He says that husband and wife "each supplies the other's needs by contributing a special function to the common advantage. Hence, their friendship seems to include both advantage and pleasure" (NE 8.12.1262a23-24).
At Politics 1.12.1259a42-b1, he distinguishes between the rule over children and the rules over a wife. He gives a reason why the males rule the female and the parent rules the child:
For the male, unless constituted in some respect contrary to nature, is by nature more expert at leading than the female, and the elder and complete than the younger and incomplete.
Now he is not saying that women are younger and incomplete, which explains why parents rule over children, but that they tend to be naturally less experienced in leading and taking command. He brings this issue up because in political rule the ruler and ruled alternate, yet this does not seem to occur in marital rule. He explains that, although marital rule is rule over equals, it is nevertheless a form of rule in which men tend to rule perpetually.
Aristotle attempts to explain why males tend to rule
perpetually in the household, although men and women are
generally the same, by describing the nature of political rule
and how the nature of politcal rule applies to the relation
between husband and wife. He says that in political rule, ruler
and ruled "tend by their nature to be on an equal footing and to
differ in nothing; all the same, when one rules and the other is
ruled, [the one ruling] seeks to establish differences in
external appearances, forms of address, and prerogatives"
(1.12.1259b1-9). This establishment of prerogatives by those who
rule is said to be the reason why "the male always stands thus in
relation to the female" (1.12.1259b9). Men rule over women by
nature in the marital relationship out of "external appearances"
rather than by virtue of any natural inferiority of women. This
explanation does not deny the claim that by nature women are less
adept at ruling then men but it shows how this natural difference
is worked out in the household. In the following chapter,
Aristotle spells out why women are less apt at ruling than men.
He argues that, although women possess the deliberating element
in its complete form, unlike both the slave--who lacks it
utterly--and the child--who "has it but it is incomplete"--the
deliberating element in women "lacks authority" (1.13.1260a5-19).(35) This lack of authority of the deliberating element in the
female is the reason why the male tends to be naturally more apt
at ruling. Therefore, the only thing separating marital rule and
political rule is the fact that the male rules perpetually over
the female in the household, even though they are generally equal
in their natures. And this perpetual rule by men occurs within
the household given "the establishment of prerogatives" over
time. Something similar to the continual rule of the male over
the female does not occur in political rule, in which ruler and
After the discussion of parental and marital rule in Politics 3.6, Aristotle continues his discussion of the character of political rule,(36) beginning with the nature of the offices of the political community. He notes that the offices tend to be held in turn and claimed on the basis of merit, when the regime is "established in accordance with equality and similarity among the citizens" (3.6.1279a8-10).(37)
Aristotle says that the above distribution of the offices was not always how they were distributed, and he provides an account of how political rule has developed over time:
Previously, as accords with nature, they claimed to merit doing public service by turns and having someone look to their good, just as when ruling previously they looked to his advantage. Now, however, because of the benefits to be derived from common [funds] and from office, they wish to rule continuously, as if they were sick persons who were always made healthy by ruling; at any rate, these would perhaps pursue office in a similar fashion (3.6.1279a10-16).
Political rule only tends to deviate from ruling and being ruled in turn, when the one who rules has a character which needs to be always ruling.(38) Therefore, if one wishes to maintain the situation in which ruler and ruled will alternate between each other, it will be necessary to keep from the ruling offices those who desire to rule in order to fulfill some need or hunger lest political rule degenerate from the principle of ruling in turn.
Yet those people who need to rule in order to fulfill their character need not be completely dangerous to political life or to the political community. Such persons can be made to become servants of the common advantage, or the common good, of the political community by binding honor and the things which the ambitious desire to the rewards for serving the political community. In this way, does Aristotle agrees with Publius, the author of the Federalist Papers, that the good of the political community is tied to the industry of the ambitious. But this must be done in a way that will prevent the ambitious from turning their rule into mere self-aggrandizement rather than for actual public benefit. The best way to ensure the public benefit as the actual end of their rule is to maintain the principle of rotation of ruler and ruled. The perpetuation of this principle--that the ruler and the ruled will in some fashion be alternated in turn--will prevent anyone or a small group from perpetuating self-benefitting rule.
Concerning the nature of those who seek to rule, common opinion tends to hold that those who seek public office do so for their own self-interest. This view of the motive of self-interest by the public-spirited person is generally very narrowly understood in crude economic terms. The many who hold such a view will commonly ask--why would anyone spend far much more money obtaining a political office than what that office gives as a salary? The usual assumption held by common opinion is that the office-holder will use his office for his own economic aggrandizement through graft and corruption. Now it is true that graft and corruption do occur in politics, yet rarely are they an exclusive motive for entering into politics. Corruption is not an end in itself, but a means to an end--the perpetuation of rule, of maintaining power.
Therefore, the common view that greed is what motivates those who seek rule is not correct, because the need to hold office is symptomatic of something else. It could be an outlet for grand ambitions, such as in Alexander, Caesar, Hitler or Stalin. Or it could be necessary to fulfill emotional needs of those seeking political power--they need to seek the recognition of others as a means to feel good about themselves. Or it could be a combination of the two.
The need to seek the recognition of others is what Aristotle
understands to be the pursuit of honor. Those who desire honor
will tend to seek the public offices as a means of achieving
honor through public service. Others will enter the military
offices and seek honor through heroic deeds. Let us not forget
the real source of that honor, the common people who make up the
majority of the political community. Yet those who seek honor
tend to despise the praise of the many, seeking instead the
praise of the noble and honorable.(39) This is the irony of the
pursuit of honor, in that its true source is something which
those who pursue it either dislike, dishonor, or despise.
However, the true source--the political community which is mostly
composed of the many and the vulgar--is masked by public
purposefulness, that the deed is done not merely for one group
within the political community but for the common good of the
The Two Types of Regime
Following the discussion of how political rule can change, Aristotle makes mention of what primarily divides different regimes into two different types:
It is evident, then, that those regimes that look to the common advantage are correct regimes according to what is unqualifiedly just, while those that look only to the advantage of the rulers are errant, and are all deviations from the correct regimes; for they involve mastery, but the polis is an association (koinonia) of free persons (3.6.1279a16-21).
In understanding the above statment, we should return to the original inquiry of this chapter--"whether we are to regard there as being one regime or many and, if many, which and how many there are and what are the differences between them" (3.6.1278b6-8).
He says that correct rule is for the common advantage or, as it is generally called, the common good, whereas incorrect or deviant regimes are those which are primarily ruled for the benefit of the ruler and only accidentally for the ruled. Therefore, incorrect or deviant regimes are similar in their nature to the rule over slaves but different in that they are ruling, not over slaves, but over free men. The fundamental defect inherent in all deviant regimes is the failure to distinguish between the rule over free persons and slaves.
The last sentence of Politics 3.6 points to the proper understanding of what politics and, therefore, political rule is. It is an association or community of free persons. Because politics is the rule over free persons, it is the opposite of mastery. This understanding would seem to suggest that there is only one form of regime and all the rest are deviations or falling away from it. Yet one should remember that there are some forms of political rule, i.e., the incorrect regimes, which primarily rules for the benefit of the ruler. Although these regimes fall away from the principle of political rule, they are nevertheless a form of political rule.
In Politics 3.7, Aristotle says that he has discussed the regime, so he addresses how many possible regimes there are. The investigation is now to see "how many [of them there are] in number and which sorts there are, and first of all the correct ones; for the deviations will be evident once these have been discussed" (3.7.1279a22-25). Thus in this chapter, Aristotle will examine the number of regime types. But the assumption governing this inquiry will be that one needs first to discuss the correct regime, because the defective ones will follow.
The assumption is that for every correct regime, there will be a defective one. This assumption sets the stage for Aristotle's regime typology, which will be brought up in this chapter. Yet this assumption will lead to the view that what will really define regimes is the number in the ruling body, since the distinction between correct and defective is said to be a one-to-one relationship--one defective for each correct regime. We will see that this view is not the position of Aristotle at the end of his discussion of regimes.
In the next sentence, Aristotle emphasizes the understanding of the regime:
Since "regime" and "governing body" signify the same thing, and since the governing body is the authoritative element in polises, it is necessary that the authoritative element be either one or a few or many (3.7.1279a25-28).
Since the ruling element must be composed of either one, few or many, it is logical that, given that the ruling element is the regime, there are as many regimes as there are possible ruling elements. This concern with the number of the rulers will be understood to be the quantitative claim of a regime.
Next, Aristotle observes that "when one or few or many rule
with a view to the common advantage, these regimes are
necessarily correct, while those with a view to the private
advantage of one or few or the multitude are deviations"
(3.7.1279a28-31). Notice that he changes deviant rule from
ruling for its own benefit to ruling for the advantage of any
particular element in the polis. Yet this slipped-in change does
not affect how he will describe the various defective regimes,
because the regimes will not be defined by which element is
benefited, but rather by which element rules.
Deconstructing Aristotle's Typology of Regimes
Traditionally, the typology of regimes is understood as the conceptual framework that defines regimes.(40) It is a schema used to define the variety of possible regime types.(41) I argue here that the simple twofold schema as presented in the text does not survive as the defining typology of regimes. Rather it deconstructs or falls apart both logically and rhetorically and then leads the reader to Aristotle's final and presumably authoritative teaching concerning how regimes are to be defined, and also how to arrive at the best regime. Because it deconstructs, I suggest that Aristotle does not present the typology of regimes of Politics 3.7 as a permanent teaching concerning how regimes are to be classified. Rather it is presented as, at most, a rhetorically and provisionally useful initial classificatory framework, one which sets forth a very simple twofold dichotomy of regimes. The typology seems to deconstruct for Aristotle's pedagogic purposes. It is from this initial, provisional framework that a discerning reader will be led to a far more authoritative understanding about how regimes are to be defined, one which is based upon the specific claims each specific regime makes concerning what is just. Again, the initial schema ushers the reader of the Politics into a closer examination of what really defines a regime, which I hold to be ultimately its claim about the just.
If there is one single teaching that all readers of Aristotle's Politics or readers of textbooks summarizing Aristotle's political science learn, it is Aristotle's typology of regimes. The tendency to take the typology of regimes presented in Politics 3.7 as a final account of regime classification seems to be justified by the presentation of the text and by its authoritative interpretations. Clearly, the typology of regimes appears to be presented in a straightforward manner, indicating that Aristotle may wish us to view the typology as a true statement rather than as a merely provisional one used to present another argument. However the tendency to see the typology as simply true is to misread the text and therefore to misunderstand the purpose of the regime typology in Aristotle's overall schema for the Politics.
The argument undermines itself because it deconstructs upon close and careful examination. By "deconstructs," I mean to use the contemporary philosophical idea in its benign sense, as Harvey Mansfield suggests, meaning to bring one back to the origins or the starting point of one's object of inquiry.(42) Deconstruction occurs when the logic or structure of an argument can no longer remain persuasive because either logically or rhetorically it falls apart.
The regime typology has the tendency to mislead the reader,
in that the reader tends to see the typology as simply a final
teaching. One is mislead also because most readers are not
careful readers and will miss the subtle way Aristotle undermines
this typology. Another reason why most readers will misread the
argument is, as Tzvestan Todorov says concerning what happened to
Aristotle's Poetics during the Renaissance, when the text became
"so-celebrated no one dared contest or even, finally read it at
all." Todorov also says, "instead it is reduced to a few
formulas quickly transformed into cliches that removed from their
context betray their author's thought altogether."(43) One can say
that this is also true of Aristotle's typology of regimes. It
has been divorced from all context within the text of the
Politics. It has also been divorced from its rhetorical role
within the structure of the overall argument being developed in
Politics 3. Also, it has been divorced from its didactic and
dialectical roles. Finally, it is also true that it has been
made into a cliche--easily remembered and thus easily made into
The Regime Typology Origins
The origin of the typology of regimes is said to be Nicomachean Ethics 8.10.(44) J. A. Stewart, supporting Alexander Grant, argues that it is highly unlikely that Nicomachean Ethics 8.10 was written after Politics 3.7.(45) It is usually thought that the regime typology presented there is the first and a crude version of what is developed later in the Politics. I argue that this view is false in two ways: 1) it ignores the different rhetorical context that the typology plays within both texts; and 2) the two typologies differently regard the virtue of the many.
The major difference between the regime typology of Nicomachean Ethics 8.10 and Politics 3.7 is that the correct rule of the many is not called the generic name of all regimes, regime, as it is done in the Politics text, but rather timocracy.(46) Here timocracy, unlike the regime of Plato's Republic, which is the rule of those who value honor, is the rule of those who have property (NE 8.10.1160a33). Yet this classification cannot work in Politics 3, because it is said that the regime which is based on property is oligarchy (3.4.1276b17-18 and also 3.7.1279b7). Although the timocracy of the Nicomachean Ethics requires only a small property qualification and all those who have it are considered equal (NE 8.10.1160b18), right before that statement Aristotle suggests that timocracy is "also meant to be rule by the majority" (NE 8.10.1160b17). These two principles seem to be at odds, and this leads one to wonder about what truly defines timocracy--property or the many's rule?
With respect to timocracy's being based upon a small property qualification, at Politics 4.4.1291b37-92a1 and 4.6.1292b24-29, there is a form of democracy which rests upon some limited property qualification. Another oddity is that, if timocracy is really meant as a regime type, why is it not mentioned at all in the Politics? There is an echo of the timocracy of Plato's Republic in Politics 3.7, where "the regime called regime" is mentioned. There, the military--and, by implication, those who love honor--is the authoritative element (3.7.1279a38-b4). But it is extremely important to note that later in the Politics, this account of the regime called regime is dismissed, dropped without further comment.
The regime typology in Nicomachean Ethics 8.10 is not as serious as most, if not all, of the commentators on Aristotle's Politics suggest.(47) Although Aristotle does say that there are three correct regimes and three corresponding deviations, he never says what the deviations are exactly, except for tyranny. Tyranny is explicitly said in the text to be a deviation of kingship (NE 8.10.1160b1).(48) The careless reader is allowed to assume that oligarchy is the deviation from aristocracy and democracy is the deviation from timocracy. However, the word used to describe the connection of oligarchy to aristocracy and democracy from timocracy is not parekbaseis, the word used for deviation at Nicomachean Ethics 8.10.1160a36, but metabainei, which is a form of metabole, the word for "change" or "transformation" (NE 8.10.1160b10).(49) The sentence constructions of Nicomachean Ethics 8.10.1160b12 and especially Nicomachean Ethics 8.10.1160b17 are the same as Nicomachean Ethics 8.10.1160b10; what is missing and is assumed to be there is the verb derived from a form of metabole.
Change or transformation is the point of the text, not deviation. What was earlier the point of discussion and the promise of the opening sentence was an examination of the deviations of the three correct regimes. But, again, we do not get deviations, we get transformations.(50)
It is important to note that, although it is true that a deviation can be a form of change, it is not true that all changes are perversions, at least for Aristotle.(51) Clearly, then, there is a shift in the argument from deviations to transformations that the careless reader misses. If one misses the switch, then one assumes that the transformations are in fact deviations. But they are not. Nowhere in Nicomachean Ethics 8.10 does Aristotle suggest any deviation, except for tyranny. Neither democracy nor oligarchy is explicitly said in the text to be a "deviation." Therefore, to insist on calling those regimes deviations is not to pay careful attention to what the text actually says.
Given the difference between deviation and change, as well
as the problem inherent in the presentation of timocracy, the
regime typology of Nicomachean Ethics 8.10 does not hold together
well. This failure in the account of timocracy, I will argue, is
also the fate of the regime typology of Politics 3.7.
The Typology's Main Setup
Politics 3.7 begins with an inquiry or investigation into regimes. It is a transition within Book 3 from the discussion of the citizen to a deeper examination of regimes and the claims they use to justify their rule. Aristotle says that this investigation will be twofold, dealing with 1) "how many in number and of which sorts they are" and 2) the various correct and deviant forms (3.7.1279a22-25). This echoes the beginning of the regime typology of Nicomachean Ethics 8.10. Yet the echo of Nicomachean Ethics 8.10 is dropped because deviation is not understood to be a deviation from the correct regime, as it is in the Nicomachean Ethics, but a change in the number of rulers.(52) In other words, the typology is twofold, involving two criteria: 1) a quantitative claim about the number of those in authority; and 2) a qualitative claim as to whether the rule of those who rule is for the common advantage or for their own self-interest.(53)
Let us examine the quantitative claim first. Aristotle asserts that politeia, "regime," and politeuma, "governing body," signify the same thing (3.7.1279a25-26). This premise sets up the assertion that the authoritative element must therefore be comprosed by "either one, few, or many" (3.7.1279a27-28). This is, in sum, the quantitative claim--concerning the number of those who rule. Although it makes sense that the rulers must be either one, few or many--given that regime is the same as governing body, it does not necessarily follow that the number of rulers truly distinguishes one regime from another.(54) So the quantitative claim does not really define, or help in truly defining, a regime.
The qualitative claim concerns the justness of the regime. Aristotle says, "when one, few or many rule with a view to the common advantage, these regimes are necessarily correct, while those with a view to the private advantage of one or few or the multitude are deviations" (3.7.1279a28-31). Again, this eliminates the echo of the regime typology of Nicomachean Ethics 8.10. There, the deviation is not from a correct regime simply but one form of rule derived from the quantitative claim of one, few or many.
Also in this context, justice is seen strictly in terms of to whose advantage the rulers rule--their own or the common advantage of the whole. But is this enough? Could the ruler ruling in his own interest be seen as just in some circumstance? If so, this understanding of justice and the justness of a regime is not so clearly useful as it first appears.
Both the quantitative and the qualitative claims are presented in the same sentence.(55) Aristotle then proceeds to present the correct regimes, following the claim that "either it must be denied that persons sharing [in regime] are citizens, or they must participate in its advantages" (3.7.1279a31-32). This view of the citizen ensures that we continue the citizen-centered notion of politics that is developed in the earlier chapters of Politics 3.(56)
Aristotle presents the correct regimes in the following order: 1) kingship (3.7.1279a32-33), 2) what "we are accustomed to call aristocracy" (3.7.1279b34-37) and 3) the regime whose name is common to all regimes--the "regime called regime" (3.7.1279a37-38).
Kingship is said to be what we are accustomed to call the form of monarchy which "looks toward the common advantage" (3.7.1279a32-33). The regime that Aristotle says "we are accustomed to call aristocracy" is said to be called such for two reasons: 1) those who rule are "the best persons," and 2) those who rule are "ruling with a view to what is best for the city and those who participate in it" (3.7.1279a34-37).
Finally, of the correct regimes, "the regime called regime" is said to occur when "the multitude governs with a view to the common advantage" (3.7.1279a37-39). Also, Aristotle says that the regime called regime "happens reasonably, in that while it is possible for one or few to be outstanding in virtue, but when more are concerned it is difficult for them to be proficient with a view to virtue as a whole, but [they can reach virtue] particularly regarding military virtues" (3.7.1279a39-b2).
"The regime called regime" is presented for the first time here in Politics 3.7. Although, by the logic of the typology, it is the regime in which the many rule for the common advantage that is said to be where the military element is most authoritative (3.7.1279b2-4).(57) Later in Politics 4, where it is assumed that he takes up "the regime called regime" again, he either wholly drops (fails to take up again) or dismisses this claim. Rather, "the regime called regime" is said to be either a mixed regime, as argued by some interpreters, or a generic account of the regime in its mere form.(58) But note the concern for virtue in the statement:
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 (3.7.1279a39-b2).
Although it is hard for the multitude to be virtuous, the text does not say it is impossible. Rather a low approach, military virtue is presented as a way in which the many can reach virtue easily. But does military virtue lead to the rule of the many, to the rule of the few, or to the rule of one? How can the many rule when the military element is authoritative? Clearly, this issue leads to a question concerning "the regime called regime." If it is a regime in which the military element is authoritative, then how could it be a form of the rule of the many?(59) Or is the spurious claim that in "the regime called regime" the military element is authoritative? Clearly, the confusion on this point suggests that the claim must be spurious, in that it is never brought up once more when the regime called regime is discussed again.(60)
After the presentation of the correct regimes, the so-called deviations are presented. They are "tyranny from kingship, oligarchy from aristocracy, and democracy from the regime called regime" (3.7.1279b4-5). This presentation again echoes the typology of Nicomachean Ethics 8.10 and not the typology developed above. But then he clarifies this problem by stating the following:
Tyranny is monarchy with a view to the advantage of the monarch, oligarchy [rules] with a view to the advantage of the well-off, democracy [rules] with a view to the advantage of those who are poor; none of them is with a view to the common advantage (3.7.1279b5-10).
Note that the deviation of tyranny is no longer from kingship but
from monarchy. Monarchy means the rule (arche) of one. This
clarification removes the echo to the regime typology of
Nicomachean Ethics 8.10 from the earlier presentation of the
deviations, in that tyranny is not a deviation from kingship but
a deviation from monarchy, the rule of one. Therefore, if the
deviations are to hold up, democracy is the deviation not of the
regime called regime but of the rule of the many. So, too, with
oligarchy. It is not a deviation from aristocracy but from the
rule of the few. A schematic of the typology of regimes in
Politics 3.7 would look like this:
This is how it looks before we go to Politics 3.8. If the
classification of regime types were left at this, Aristotle's
political science--the study of regimes--would be a rather
simplistic system. But, as we shall see, Aristotelian political
science is far more complicated than this simple classification
How Regime Typology Deconstructs
In the last sentence of Politics 3.7, one can see, if one looks closely that the seamless typology is about to cave in upon itself. First, the defective regimes, oligarchy and democracy are clearly said to be the rule of the well-off and the poor, respectively ruling for their own advantage (3.7.1279b5-10). Notice the switch from the few and the many to the well-off and the poor. What was an issue of number turns into a distinction of class status. And in doing this, Aristotle implies that the issue about the many's rule has not to due with number but their make up.
The turn from the few and many to the rich and the poor is the first crack in the argument, and it is to be taken up in Politics 3.8. It is there that the character of the defective regimes is examined in greater detail. Tyranny is said to be a form of "monarchic rule of a despotike over the political community" (3.8.1279b16-17). This statement should make us recall two things: 1) the discussion of despotike in Politics 1.4-7, and 2) the claim at Politics 1.1 that political rule and despotike are different in kind. The latter implies that tyranny is not strictly speaking a form of political rule and hence it is not a type of regime.
Also, oligarchy is now said to be "when those [...] with property have authority in the regime" (3.8.1279b16-18). The definition of democracy has also changed. It is now said to be the opposite of oligarchy. It is where "those [who] have authority do not possess a [significant] amount of property, but are poor" (3.8.1279b19-20). This new definition continues the line of argument of 3.8.1279b5-10, but not the typology.(61) Democracy is now the opposite of oligarchy, where it should be the opposite of the regime called regime. Yet before this redescription of both the democratic and the oligarchic regimes, Aristotle begins Politics 3.8 with the following:
It is necessary to speak at somewhat greater length of what each of these regimes is. For certain questions are involved, and it belongs to one philosophizing in connection with each sort of inquiry and not merely looking toward action not to overlook or omit anything, but to make clear the truth concerning each thing (3.8.1279b11-15, emphasis mine).
Aristotle tells the reader that, in examining these things, one ought not to omit anything, yet in the redescription of the two regimes, he does omit something--the claim that these regimes rule for the advantage of the ruler(s).
This is an important omission in that it fails to address the qualitative claim as presented in the preceding chapter (i.e., rule for the common advantage versus rule for ruler's self-advantage). Given this, it can be said that the stated qualitative claim is conspicuous by its absence. If we acknowledge the opening of Politics 3.8, the reader was promised no omissions but the conspicuous omission of the stated qualitative claim is a violation of that promise. In omitting this claim Aristotle draws attention to what is not discussed, the qualitative claim.
After the omission of the qualitative claim follows the rejection of the quantitative claim. The remainder of Politics 3.8 deals with the question of what exactly constitutes the well-off and the poor.(62) The number of poor or well-off is "accidental" (3.8.1279b34) so the quantitative claim is accidental. So how can the accidental and the conditional be what defines the nature of a regime? If the rich are authoritative, regardless of whether they are few or many in number, their rule is oligarchic. So, too, with the poor in that their rule is said to be democratic (3.8.1279b25-30a1). This line of reasoning implies a clear rejection of the quantitative claim.(63)
We now see that the quantitative claim is definitely
rejected. With the quantitative claim removed, the typology
collapses upon itself--i.e., it deconstructs. It does so because
only one claim remains--even if questionably so because it is not
discussed in Politics 3.8--the qualitative claim.
The Qualitative Claim Revisited
The omission and thus the conspicuous absence of the stated qualitative claim in Politics 3.8 forces us to wonder why it was omitted. Could it have been omitted because the stated qualitative claim previously given is not sufficient as a claim? Whom rule benefits seems a very limited and narrow conception of justice, yet it is the concept of justice that Aristotle holds firm.(64) What is wrong with the stated qualitative claim is not the definition of what is just and what is not but the actual breadth of the statement concerning what is just. Is the omission of the qualitative claim a rejection of this reading of justice? No. Rather it is a demand to be more specific concerning what constitutes a valid claim about the just. Or, rather, is it the best way to reach what is the just? Aristotle rejects the stated qualitative claim as the real qualitative claim. Therefore, if whom the ruler's or rulers' rule benefits is not the issue of the qualitative claim, what remains as possibly fitting the role of the qualitative claim is the authoritative element's claim concerning what is just. This is now what Aristotle seems to suggest what the qualitative claim is in fact about. The real point about the qualitative claim cannot be whether the rulers rule according to their own interest or to the common advantage because this merely declares their rule to be just without telling one how it will be brought about. Rather, the point concerning the qualitative claim is 1) by what understanding their rule is just and 2) how justice will be obtained by their rule.
Politics 3.9 raises the concern of regimes' claims about what is just: "all [regimes] 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" (3.9.1280a9-11). Note that the text seems stress the whole of justice and to reject the validity of the claims made by various regimes concerning what justice is. This understanding seems to be unrealistic in that it seems to say that justice is only the whole of justice. Yet the text says that the claims advanced by the various regimes are indeed valid. They are valid in that they are elements of justice but they are insufficient in that they are merely parts, not the whole of what is the just. But are not the parts the best that one has access to in the actual world? Does not a certain interpretation of Plato's Republic suggest that the whole of justice may not be politically possible? If the above question is answered in the affirmative, then could the standard of the whole of justice, politically speaking, be unreasonable? If so, could Aristotle be suggesting that all the regimes can make some limited appeal to justice in their claims to rule? I suggest that this is the case.
Although on the level of thought, a grasp of the whole is possible, yet the disjunction between thought and reality--i.e., practice--would make us pay more attention to the claims about justice that approximate but do not encompass the whole of justice. Political philosophy becomes the examination of a regime's claim about justice, examining whether it best approximates the whole of justice.
The qualitative claim to rule is now changed from what it was said to be before--the concern for whose benefit the ruler or rulers rule (3.7.1279a30-31)--to the specific claim that a regime makes concerning what it holds to be just. The regime that has the best and the most just claim to justify its rule can be understood to be not only just, but the best regime simply. Thus, the typology of regimes no longer defines regimes; what finally defines a regime is its claim to rule, and the best regime is that regime whose claim to rule is the most just. The best regime is that regime whose claim to rule best approximates the just when compared to the whole of justice.
This consideration leads us to the claims of justice. What are the claims of the regimes? Oligarchy's claim is wealth (4.8.1294a10, 4.8.1294a21-25, and 6.2.1317b39-41); democracy's claim is both freedom and equality (4.8.1294a11 and 6.2.1318a2-10); and the regime called regime is said to be a blending of democracy and oligarchy (4.8.1293b34-35).(65) Tyranny's claim is force;(66) kingship's claim is wisdom or intellect (nous);(67) and finally, aristocracy's claim is divided into two: 1) virtue or excellence (arete) (4.8.1294a8-9), and 2) education combined with good birth (4.8.1293b35-38, 1294a15-19, and 4.8.1293b40-42).(68) The first claim is that of true aristocracy, the second is what pretends to be aristocracy in Aristotle's understanding.
In light of this argument, the best regime is the regime whose claims to rule are the most just. This reasoning would seem to support the position that Aristotle's Politics centers on regimes and aims at examining them against the best regime. Thus, Aristotle's Politics is about comparative regimes, with the best regime as its standard of measure. Therefore, the rest of Politics 3 will be an examination of the claims validating their rule advanced by the various regimes to see whether or not they can be balanced against justice. Although the rest of Politics 3 consists in examining only three of the six regimes--democracy, oligarchy, and kingship--the other three (the regime called regime, tyranny, and aristocracy) are implicitly examined. This set up is seen at Politics 3.10.1281a11-15, where Aristotle sets up the rhetorical framework for the rest of Politics 3:
There is a question as to what the authoritative element of the city should be. It is either the multitude, the wealthy, the respectable, the one who is best of all, or the tyrant; but all of them appear to involve difficulties.
The correspondence of the authoritative elements stated above and
the specific regimes are as follows: 1) the multitude, democracy;
2) the wealthy, oligarchy; 3) the respectable, aristocracy; 4)
the one who is best of all, kingship; and 5) the tyrant,
tyranny.(69) There is no corresponding element for so-called
"polity," "the regime called regime." Also, in tyranny, the
authoritative element is the tyrant, yet in Book 3 Aristotle is
silent about what characteristic defines the tyrant. I have
suggested earlier that characteristic to be coercive force, or
power. Power here must be seen in light of treating the
political community in the same way one rules over slaves, i.e.,
Given this treatment of the regime typology, clearly one can
say that the purpose of Aristotle's typology is pedagogic. It is
a first step toward discovering Aristotle's science of regimes
founded on the examination of the claims that regimes make
concerning the just. Yet in taking this step, Aristotle's
political science rests upon not only discovering what defines
regime per se but also what defines the best regime. It is this
inquiry--the search for the best regime both in theory and in
practice--that takes over the remainder of Book 3. This line of
inquiry seen in the opening sentence of Politics 3.10. Yet the
remainder of Politics 3 only examines three of the five possible
authoritative elements: the multitude, hence democracy (3.10-13);
the wealthy, hence oligarchy (3.10-13); and the one best regime
of all (3.14-18). What is left unexamined are the respectable
and the tyrant. If the remainder of Book 3 is the search for the
best regime, then the best regime must be of these three
examined. But the search for the best regime at this point is
another inquiry. This inquiry would not be possible, however, if
the reader of the Politics were made unaware of the need to find
the best regime through the deconstruction of the twofold regime
typology. For if we did not notice that the regime typology
deconstructed, the inquiry concerning the best regime begun in
Politics 3.10 could not be possible, because certain contenders,
as it were, the best regime (i.e., democracy and oligarchy) would
have been dismissed simply as unjust. Once the typology is seen
as merely tentative, previously dismissed regimes now can be
examined more philosophically.
1. See Mansfield 1989, 31-33; also Mansfield 1987, 227.
2. This is reenforced by the claim at Politics 3.17.1288a6-17 that the type of multitude one has ultimately determines the type of regime one has. See Lindsay 1994.
3. See Arnhart 1993, 45-75.
4. Contrast this to either Plato's Republic or Xenophon's Cyropedeia or the tradition of utopian literature that is said to be derived from these two books.
5. Strauss 1989, 32 and 1978, 45-47.
6. See Swazo 1991, 405-20 and Strauss 1978, 47-48. Also it is important to recall the connection between Aristotle teleological treatment of the political community and his biology. Arnhart 1994, 1988a and 1988b, claims that Aristotle uses his biological teleology in his understanding of human political activity. Nussbaum 1994, 488-77 and Miller 1988 and 1995 both agree with Arnhart's thesis. Given this, one should refer to what role eidos plays in Aristotle's biology. For the best treatment of the role of eidos in Aristotle's biology, see Preus 1979.
7. See Strauss 1978, 47-51.
8. See Strauss 1989, 32 and 59-79 and 1978, 31-33.
9. See Quinn 1986, 577-87 on the relation between the parts to the whole in Politics 3. Also, Saxonhouse 1993, 215-18 discusses how the parts relate to the whole. She argues that the parts are only meaningful in relation to the whole. The example she uses is that of the hand. When it is separated from the whole body, it is no longer truly a hand. The nature of the hand is seen in its functional relation to the whole.
10. See Mulgan 1970, although he later (1977, 55) refers to it as "the civic body."
11. See Kontorowicz 1957.
12. This would address Holmes 1979 claim to the contrary, that in classical politics there is no restraint on state action. Holmes's prejudice for individual rights fails to realize that they tied to a notion of human nature which admits to no limits.
13. Contrast to Holmes 1979.
14. See Rousseau's Social Contract.
15. Although it does not explicitly apply to the presupposition of the polis, Lindsay 1992b deals with the whole issue of the democratic presupposition in Politics 4-6. I make reference to this article to suggest that the presupposition concerning the polis' origins resembles the presupposition of any particular regime.
16. Keyt 1991 have argued that claim that the polis is by nature, along with the political animal claim, is a mistake. Keyt argues that except for this blunder by Aristotle, he and Hobbes fundamentally agree about the character of politics.
Ambler 1985 gives a more esoteric reading which fundamentally agrees with Keyt, although for different reasons. Both Ambler and Keyt's criticisms about the view that the city is by nature have been addressed recently by several authors. See Arnhart 1995, 1994a, 1994b, 1990, and 1988a; Masters 1989; Wilson 1993a and 1993b; Kullmann 1991; Nichols 1991; Murphy 1994; and Miller 1989 and 1995.
I believe that although Masters, Wilson, and Arnhart understate the distinction which is inherit in Aristotle but lacking in their defence of natural sociability between the household and the political community, they, along with Kullmann, Nichols, Murphy, and Miller, better understand what Aristotle means when he says humans are political animals than and what that claim implies to politics than do Ambler or Keyt.
17. See Hobbes 1991.
18. Rousseau's Second Treatise and Treatise on Language.
19. I discuss this chapter fully in chapter 2.
20. The only other thing which is said to have a "natural sweetness" is music at Politics 7.8.1340b14-19. Isn't this interesting? Music and life are both said to be things that are by nature sweet. Also, they are the only two things in Aristotle's whole corpus which are said to have a "natural sweetness."
21. Although he is addressing the issue of foreign policy, Maurice Defourny 1977, 198-201 overstates the importance of peace as the end of the political community for Aristotle. In doing this he turns Aristotle into Hobbes.
22. Recall, Aristotle argues that the political community comes into existence because of the desire to live together derived from the natural affection of humans to each other (3.9.1280b36-38). Although this is how it comes to be, its reason for being is to allow human being to obtain the good life.
23. See Arnhart 1994a, 1994b, 1990, 1988a, and 1988b and Miller 1989 and 1995. Also see Preus 1979.
24. See Yack 1989.
25. This is to be contrasted to the parts of the polis earlier discussed in Politics 3, citizens (3.1.1274b39-75a1).
26. See Swanson 1992, 31-43; Nichols 1991, 171-83; and Lindsay 1994, 128-34.
27. Many feminist critics take this line as an equation on Aristotle's part of women and slaves (See Okin 1979, 73-96; Brown 1988; and Elhstain 1981). Yet clearly the intention of this passage is a criticism of those who do equate women and slaves. Therefore the feminist critics who use this passage to condemn Aristotle blunder by their failure to read what he in fact says. The reason they misread him here and other passages is that they merely assume he automatically is hostile to women and therefore they are not obliged to pay any attention to the rhetorical context of what is said and how it is said.
Lately there have been a growing number of scholars against the above negative view of Aristotle and his position on women. These scholars have not only seriously addressed the woman question in Aristotle but also shown Aristotle is nowhere as guilty as the above Feminist scholars argue. See Levy 1990; Bradshaw 1991, 557-73; Swanson 1992, 44-68; Nichols 1991, 29-35; Saxonhouse 1982, 202-19 amd 1992.
For the best two general summaries of the debate about Aristotle's treatment of woman, see Mulgan 1994 and Lindsay 1994.
28. This problem of the difference of body and soul in the natural slave is echoed in the problem of the natural ruler or pambasileia of Politics 3.15-3.18. This is discussed at greater length in chapter 3.
29. This leads also by implication that because nature does not clear delineate between natural slave and free person, it also does not delineate between natural ruler and ruled. Given this then it is not likely that the best form of political rule for human beings would be the establishment of a natural ruler--as what is discussed in the last chapters of Politics 3--but rather a form of rule which treats ruler and ruled as generally equal persons--although not perfect equals.
30. See Republic 2-3.
31. Okin 1979, 73-96 and Brown 1988.
32. See Saxonhouse 1982, Levy 1990, and Bradshaw 1991.
33. See Nichols 1991, 29-35, Levy 1990, and Bradshaw 1991.
34. See Levy 1990 and Bradshaw 1991. Contrast them to Brown 1988 and Okin 1979. Mulgan 1994 and Lindsay 1994, 134-143 are to two best summaries of the woman question in Aristotle.
35. See Levy 1990 and especially Bradshaw 1991.
36. Concerning the nature of politics see Miller 1980a and 1980b.
37. See Coby 1986 for an account of the four concepts of politics. Whereas, I disagree with Coby that Aristotle ultimately holds politics to be an art, although he does at some time claim it is only to show that it really could not be. While I believe he is incorrect on this point, the rest of his comments about the character of politics are sound and thoughtful.
38. Does this not echo, the discussion of Jason--who was always hungry unless he was ruling? See Politics 3.4.1277a23-25.
39. This is the whole dilemma of Shakespeare's Coriolanus, where Marcus fails to realize that if he seeks public honor then he cannot despise the many, whom, in fact, are the public. Is this not also the dilemma of magnanimity, in the Nicomachean Ethics, where both honor and acclaim is sought from only the honorable and praiseworthy ones?
40. Barker 1946, Dahl 1964, Diamond 1981, Eidelberg 1975, Jaeger 1948, Lintott 1992, Lockyer 1988, Lord 1987, McCoy 1963, Mulgan 1977, and Zuckert 1983.
41. This is very similar to the classic schema in biology that distinguishes between genus and species. The attempt to provide a schema framework for regimes is another example how Aristotle's political works follow from his biological works. See Roger Masters 1989 and Larry Arnhart 1990, 479-559.
42. Mansfield 1995, 48.
43. Todorov 1981, xxiv.
44. See Andrew Lintott 1992, 115-16.
Martin Ostwald states that NE 8.10 is identical to Politics 3.7. He also says that it shows Aristotle's debt to Plato's account of the "three true and three corrupt forms of government in the Statesman 301a-303b" (Ostwald 1962, 233 note 27).
Franz Susemihl also gives a brief but very interesting historical and intellectual account of the origins of Aristotle's regime typology. He says that it is derived from Plato and Herodotus. See Susemihil and Hicks 1894, 447-451.
45. Stewart 1892, 2: 306.
46. The "regime called regime" is my translation of the regime (politeia) named after all regimes. Traditionally this regime is called "polity." I argue that calling this regime "polity" stems from St. Thomas' reading of the text via William of Morbeke's translation of the Politics. For further reasons against rendering the regime called regime as "polity" see the subsection later in this chapter: "The problem with Politeia as Polity in Aristotle's Politics."
Also Nicolai Rubinstein makes an extremely persuasive argument that Morbeke's mistranslation of the Politics text leads St. Thomas and the tradition to misread and thereby misinterpret the text (1987, 41-56).
47. Barker 1946, Johnson 1988, Lintott 1992, Lord 1987, Jaffa 1975, Lockyer 1988, Mulgan 1977, Nichols 1991, and Strauss 1978.
48. Also see Stewart 1892, 2: 307.
49. I am translating parekbainei, a form of parekbaseis, as "deviations." Alexander Grant suggests it should be translated as either "perversions" or "abnormal growth" (Grant 1885, 2: 270, note 1). Also Stewart argues that parekbaseis "seems to have been derived from the terminology of music" (1892, 2: 307). If this is correct, then "deviation" or "missing the note" or "off the mark" are better translations than "perversion."
50. See NE 8.10.1160b22. It seems to suggest that change is the message of the passage: "These, then, are the most frequent changes (metabainousin) from one regime to another, since they are the smallest and easiest."
51. See Politics 5.12. It should be noted that the text does state that the reason aristocracy changes into oligarchy is because of the "badness of the rulers" (NE 8.10.1160b14). Also Aristotle make sure that we understand that the character of oligarchy is not in the slightest way noble. But this is still a discussion of a reason for a change of regimes, from one type to another, and not the statement of one correct form of regime and its deviation or perversion. No reason is given for the change of timocracy to democracy (NE 8.10.1160b17-19). Usually it is taken for granted that the cause of the change of aristocracy to oligarchy is the cause of the change of timocracy to democracy. The text does not warrant such a reading. The text does not present or portray the character of democracy.
52. Andrew Lintott states the only difference between the regime typology of the two triads in the Politics versus the NE is that the qualitative claim--"the common good as aim"--is absent in the NE typology (1992, 116). Although this is correct, it is correct for the wrong reason. In the NE typology the qualitative claim is absent, but it is absent because in that text there are said to be only three correct regimes and three corresponding deviations. It must be understood that, in the NE's typology, the deviant types of political systems are not regimes in the true sense but deviations from regimes. This is not the case in the typology of the Politics.
53. For an excellent summary of the two criteria see Combee 1992, 23.
54. Recall that there are types of oligarchy and democracy which are said to be tyrannical.
55. Politics 3.7.1279a27-31.
56. But does not the definition of who is a citizen rest upon what type of regime one lives under? In fact it could be said that a citizen-centered politics is really a regime-centered politics. Thus the citizen, like law, is relative to the regime.
57. Is this an intended echo to the regime timocracy in Plato's Republic? I think it is. But as stated, this echo is lost in the other presentations of the regime called regime.
58. For the former view see Nichols 1991, Yack 1993, and Bluhm 1962. For the latter view see Pellegrin 1987.
59. Military organizations tend to be not only hierarchial but also oligarchic, in that officers have more say than non-officers, superiors have more say than subordinates, and leaders' have the last word on any matter.
60. Traditionally it is argued that the regime called regime is discussed at Politics 4 (see Barker 1946, Jaffa 1975, and Nichols 1991), but I suggest that the discussion at Book 4 is not about a specific regime-type but an account concerning all regimes--i.e., what constitutes them. This view is supported by Pellegrin 1987, although he connects his reading to Politics 7.
61. The destruction of the twofold typology by the elimination of the quantitative claim is clearly reinforced by Politics 4.4.1290a30-b1.
62. This dichotomy between the rich and the poor as the basic political tension seems to stress an economic interpretation of politics. Thus Aristotle would appear like an early Marx. Martha Nussbaum's work on the Politics is typical of this view concerning the similarity between Marx and Aristotle. Yet this view, I argue, underrates the significance in the opposing claims which each political type will make concerning what is just--i.e., the substantive claim used to justify their political rule.
See Nussbaum 1990, 203-52 and 1988, 144-84. For a more political reading of the rich-poor dichotomy see Mulgan 1991.
63. Again, this is reinforced by Politics 4.4.1290a30-b1.
64. See Politics 3.12.1282b16.
65. I reject this view. A regime cannot have two fundamentally opposing claims and not be in a state of constant civil war. See chapter 5, "The Problem of Politeia as Polity in Aristotle's Politics."
66. See Politics 3.8.1279b16-17.
67. See Politics 3.15-18. The claim of kingship as actually practiced historically is heredity, not wisdom. But Aristotle does not address the claim of heredity when he discusses kingship, rather he contrasts two forms of kingship: 1) absolute kingship and 2) kingship restrained by law.
68. Oligarchy is also said to combine good birth and education at Politics 6.2.1317b39-41. It seems to me that what both the text calls "so-called" aristocracy and what is usually perceived to be aristocracy are in fact just oligarchy, more nobly packaged.
69. Note that Aristotle here does not speak about either the simply virtuous, the simply just, nor of the many or few best. Although he does refer to the respectable, this applies not to virtue but more to good birth and education, and thus points to oligarchy (see Politics 4.8.1293b35-38, 1294a15-19, and 4.8.1293b40-42). Seen in this light, the reason why the respectable are not discussed in the rest of Book 3 is that it is a form of oligarchy, and to address it is to be redundant.
70. See Politics 3.8.1279b16-17.
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