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Politics

Aristotle

Book V, Chapters 8–12

Book V, Chapters 1–7

Book VI

Summary

Aristotle next addresses the question of how constitutions may be preserved, noting that when the cause of change is known, one has a better idea of how to prevent such change. Aristotle recommends that the ruling party (1) always be wary of lawlessness, especially in its petty forms; (2) never try to deceive the masses; (3) treat everybody well and fairly, especially those outside the constitution; (4) cultivate a state of emergency so that people will not attempt a revolt; (5) prevent in-fighting between nobles; (6) ensure that the property qualification for office remains proportionate to the wealth of the city; (7) be careful not to confer great promotions or significant withdrawals of honor too suddenly; (8) be wary of a class that is on the rise, and give power to the opposing class or the middle class; (9) prevent public office from becoming a source of profit; and (10) offer special consideration to the rich in a democracy and to the poor in an oligarchy.

Aristotle explains that a constitution is most likely to last if those holding office are loyal to the constitution, highly competent, and of good character. Additionally, it is essential that a majority in the city be in favor of the constitution and that the constitution refrain from becoming too extreme. A middle ground is important in all things: extremism may well undermine the very goals of the extremists. Most important of all, however, is the education of the citizens in the spirit of the constitution. Being bound to a constitution can then be liberating rather than enslaving.

Aristotle focuses on the particular questions involved in the preservation of monarchies, both kingships and tyrannies. Aristotle applies much of what he has said earlier about non-monarchies to monarchies, as a kingship is similar to an aristocracy—the rule of the best directed toward the benefit of all—and a tyranny is a combination of the most extreme and harmful elements of oligarchy and democracy. Tyrannies are particularly unstable, and may be toppled by outside forces or by the hatred and contempt of inside forces. Kingships are generally quite durable, though, as Aristotle notes, they are becoming increasingly rare, as there are fewer exceptional individuals to assume the mantle of kingship.

Aristotle believes that kingships are best preserved through a policy of moderation. Tyrannies may be preserved in one of two opposing ways. The first involves implementing a policy of harsh repression that consists of breaking the spirit of the people, making them mistrust each other, and rendering them incapable of action. Such a policy would include expelling or executing men of merit, forbidding public gatherings or cultural events, employing a secret police, and so on. The second method of preserving a tyranny involves doing everything to keep the people happy, short of surrendering absolute power. The tyrant should be careful with public funds, ensuring that they are spent to the benefit of the people, he should temper his own indulgences and extravagances, and he should also never abuse his subjects physically or sexually. This will ensure that his rule is not only more durable, but also more tolerable than most forms of tyranny.

In closing, Aristotle comments that tyrannies and oligarchies tend to be the most short-lived forms of government. He then launches a brief attack on Plato's ##Republic##, remarking that the Republic gives an inadequate account of the ways in which constitutions can change.

Analysis

Given Aristotle's emphatic belief (stated in his ##Nicomachean Ethics##) that an end is good only when pursued in moderation and that evil is the result of ignorance, it is not surprising that Aristotle values moderation and education as forces that can ensure the stability of a constitution. Revolutions occur when a powerful faction rises to oppose the ruling faction. If the ruling faction can harness its extremist tendencies, then it is less likely to alienate those who are not in power and, thus, are less likely even to face an opposing faction. A policy of moderation can keep those who are not in power from forming factions, and education can help those who are in power to work toward the end of upholding the constitution.

It seems odd that Aristotle would be interested in teaching governments he deems unsavory, such as democracies, oligarchies, and tyrannies, how to preserve themselves. His recommendations, however, usually involve a policy that incorporates moderation and education that renders these constitutions akin to their more admirable parallels. This is most clear in the case of tyranny: were a tyrant to implement an oppressive police state, according to Aristotle's first suggestion, he would create what Aristotle explicitly labels the most evil regime imaginable. Aristotle then proposes a second, more palatable alternative: were a tyrant to not abuse his power, according to this suggestion, his tyranny would become more like a kingship.

Similarly, Aristotle's suggestion to both democracies and oligarchies is that they become more moderate and seek more actively to please those who are being excluded. It is worth recalling that Aristotle differentiates between democracy and politeia, oligarchy and aristocracy, based on the fact that the bad forms of government (democracy and oligarchy) aim at the interests of just the ruling faction, while the good forms (politeia and aristocracy) aim at the interests of all. In recommending that oligarchies and democracies aim to please those who are being kept from power, Aristotle is essentially recommending that they become more like their good counterparts. If an extreme oligarchy, for example, were to follow Aristotle's advice and start giving all sorts of consideration to the poor, it would cease to be an oligarchy and would have to undergo constitutional change. Thus, while claiming ostensibly to teach various constitutions how to preserve themselves, Aristotle subversively aims for every constitution to serve the interests of all.

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The Mere Acquisition of Coin

by readingthegreat, July 25, 2013

Early in book one, Aristotle states, “for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good.” The wording of “they think” in his statement implies that humankind seeks “good” based on their subjective definition of the term. If humankind seeks what they think is good, it naturally falls that individuals will seek what they believe to be good for themselves, which then seems to lead naturally to the accumulation of coin because of its ability to bring material comforts.

I want to believe that money does not b... Read more

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