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ARISTOTLE

His Environment and Method of Work

ristotle was born at Stagira Thrace in 384 B.C and he died in 322 B.C . He studied in
Platos Academy, served as Alexanders tutor and then kept his school, the Lyceum, for
about twelve years. He was profoundly influenced by the prevailing political
degeneration of the Greek city-states as evidenced by Philips easy victories over
them. Aristotle was the greatest of Platos disciples and he took his inspiration on many things
from his celebrated teacher. But there is an essential difference between the two political
theorists. If Plato was pre-eminently a radical thinker, Aristotle was decidedly conservative in his
political speculation. Again, while Plato is a deductive thinker, Aristotle follows the inductive
method. Plato started with abstract notions of justice and virtue and on the basis of these set up
an ideal state. Aristotle reasoned inductively by comparing the working institutions of a large
number of city-states actually existing in his own time. While Plato plans his ideal state on the
basis of certain assumed principles like the rule of philosophy, communism, etc., regardless of
practical difficulties, Aristotle tested the validity of his hypotheses by reference to existing
contemporary institutions. The intellectual make-up and reasoning process of the two were
different. Plato proceeded from the Universal or the Ideal to the particular, while Aristotles
process was from the particular and concrete to the Universal. Plato believed that reality lay in
the ideal i.e. the idea of a thing while Aristotle held that it lay in the concrete manifestation of
thing. Aristotle regarded himself more as a systematiser of already- existing knowledge than as
a propounder of new philosophy. The reasoning of Aristotle is less imaginative and more logical
and scientific than that of Plato, and his speculations and judgments are sounder than those of
his master.
If Plato used the a priori or speculative method and started with certain fundamentals,
Aristotles chief reliance was on observation, empiricism and comparison. His method was
historical and scientific but it was coloured by his belief in certain fundamentals such as the
superiority of a Greek over a non-Greek, etc. With him, ethics and politics are not so inextricably
intertwined as with Plato. If Plato subordinated politics to ethics, Aristotle gave the pride of place
to politics.

Influences on Aristotle
The political philosophy of Aristotle reflects three main influences. His thought was,
firstly affected by the decline of the city-state which was giving place to the Imperial System
even in his days. Then again, Aristotle was deeply influenced by the current Hellenic prejudices
and beliefs such as the essential superiority of the Greek over the barbarian and of the citystate over other forms of social organization, active role of the citizen in public life, usefulness of
slavery and the priority of the State over the individual. The third major influence on Aristotle
was Plato with whom he studied for about 20 years.

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Aristotles knowledge was encyclopaedic and he wrote on ethics and metaphysics, on
art and poetry, on economics and politics, on physics and mechanics, on physiology and
medicine, on astronomy and logic. In his writings Aristotle showed much regard for popular
opinions and current practices, for he was essentially a realist philosopher. His chief work, the
politics, in really a justification of existing institutions like the state, slavery and family is
calculated to suggest remedies for the ills of the body-politic of the city-state. It is an unfinished
treatise in the form of a monologue and represents thought at work and not the finished product
of thought, as shown by its constant digressions. It is like a collection of essays. The Politics is
divisible into three parts. Books I, II and III give us Aristotles view of the nature of the state, its
origin and its internal organization (book I) his examination of states projected by thinkers like
Plato or of states projected by thinkers like Plato or of existing states (Book II) and his
classification of states with a (Book II) and his classification of states with a view to finding out
the ideal state (Book III). This gives rise to two constructions independent of each other. Books
IV, V and VI, hanging together, represent the first construction, explain the nature and
classification of constitutions and deal with political dynamics i.e. books VII and VIII , Aristotle
portrays his ideal i.e. best state.
Aristotles Politics deals with the science and art of government. It deals with political
Ideals and Political Actualities. His Political Ideals reflect Plato but Aristotle gives us his ideals of
the state rather than an ideal state. His political ideals, representing his science of government
are dealt with in Books 2,3, 7, and 8. In Books 4, 5 and 6, Aristotle deals with Political Actualities
and gives us his views on the art of government. These books show his political realism.

Natural Origin of the State


Aristotle believes that, a man is by nature a political animal. He finds the origin of the
state in the innate desire of an individual to satisfy his economic needs and racial instincts. For
the realization of this desire the male and female on the one hand and the master and slave on
the other, come together, live together and form a family i.e. a household which has its moral
and social use. So long as the needs and desires of the members of this entity are simple, it
remains a separate entity. But when the urge to seek a fuller life seizes the different households,
they come together, form a village and finally develop into a city or state which is big enough to
be self-sufficing. It is in the household that the three elements originate and develop which are
essential to the building of a state viz. fellowship political organization and justice. The state
develops as naturally as a household. The human faculty of speech suggests the naturalness of
society and the state. The state is natural because social life is natural to man and the state
represents the highest development of social life. The state, though natural, is not independent
of human volition. Like of family, it is maintained and moulded by human effort.
The state is as natural as the family because it owes its origin to the same social
instincts in man as does the family. It is the culmination of the process which starts with the
family. It is as necessary for the individual as the family. The economic needs of man may be
met within the family but his fullest development, moral and rational, is possible only within the
state. The state is natural because it is the end or destination of the individual just as the oak
tree is the end of acorn.

Nature of the State


The state is a Koimonia i.e. community of some kind. Every community is established to
realise some good. The state being the highest of all communities, aims at the highest good.
The state is a natural association for it develops organically from the earlier natural associations
i.e. the household and the village. It is the end of them. It is the culmination of a natural
development. Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature and that man is by nature
a political animal. Further, the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual,
since the whole is of the state and its priority to the individual is evident from the fact that a man
outside the state is not self sufficing. He finds his perfection only in the state which is his end of
which he is a natural, integral and organic part. As an organic part of the state, the individual is
a political animal. The state covers all individuals and associations. It is the whole of which

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individuals and associations are parts. They are to the state as hands and feet are to a human
organism and have meaning and life only within the state.
The state, to Aristotle, is a kind of association of individuals with a functional unity of
varied and reciprocal parts made one by the pursuit of a common aim in which their nature, their
habits and their training lead them all to join. Or again, the state is conceived as an association
of individuals bound by spiritual chains about a common life of virtue, while yet retaining the
individuality of separate properties and separate families. The state, to Aristotle, has an organic
growth and performs a moral function. Its end is to give a perfect, self-sufficing and fully
developed life to the individuals living in it. Man is a man i.e. he is better than a brute, only if he
lives in a state. Without the civilizing influence of speech and organized association, he would
be merely an animal, not a rational animal. That state being, therefore necessary to make a
man a man, the state is prior to him. A man may be able to satisfy his economic needs within his
hourehold but he must satisfy the cravings of his moral and intellectual self outside the limits of
his household i.e. through the medium of the state.
From the foregoing, it is easy to determine the nature of the state. It is natural. It is the
end or culmination and, therefore, the most perfect form of social organisation. It is the supreme
association, an association of associations. It is the whole of which other associations and
individuals are parts. Teleologically, it is prior to individuals and associations. As a whole of
dissimilar parts, the state has an organic nature. But it is not an organism for it has no end of its
own apart from that of its constituents.

The Ends of the State


Aristotle believed that a man was essentially good and the function of the state was to
develop his good faculties into a habit of good action. The function of the state, therefore, was
positive and not negative as would be implied by a conception of the state as a mere punishing
agency. Aristotles organismic conception of the state did not destroy an individuals identity.
Man, having his nature supplemented by the state, rather than the state as controlling mans
every faculty, is the pivot of his thought. The function of the state was the promotion of good life
among its citizens and, therefore the state was a spiritual association in a moral life. Aristotle
saw a good deal of identity between the individual and the state. The state, like an individual,
must show the virtues of courage, self-control and justice. As a self-contained ethical society
the state lives the same life as the individual; like him, it acknowledges a moral law, and like him
it forces itself (its members) to conform to that law. It has the same end, and it attains the same
happiness in pursuing that end.

Aristotles Defence of slavery


While discussing the origin of the state, Aristotle mentions the institution of slavery. He
finds slavery essential to a household and defends it as natural and, therefore, moral. A slave is
a living possession of his master and is an instrument of action. For he who can be and,
therefore, is anothers and he who participates in reason enough to apprehend, but not to have
reason, is a slave any more than he can produce good music without instruments. Men differ
from each other in their physical and intellectual fitness. Aristotle justifies slavery on the grounds
that there is a natural inequality between men, there is a natural rule of the superior over the
inferior and that functions must be based on nature i.e. the function of ruling goes to the
superior intellects while the function of physical labour must to those who have good bodies but
poor minds i.e. slaves. Those who are intellectually to lead the others. The intellectual must
control and rule the physical. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing, not only
necessary but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others
for rule. In any composite whole like the family, the end of the whole is best served if the
naturally superior element controls and directs the naturally inferior elements of the whole. If the
master do not tyrannise over the slave, slavery is advantageous to both the master and the
slave. Slavery is good because the slave gets the derivative virtues and excellence of his
master. Slavery is essential for the master of the household because, without slaves, he has to
do manual work which slaves alone can provide him. Aristotle appeals to the owners to be

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merciful to their slaves, and suggests that those who are cruel to their slave ought to have due
punishment meted out to them. Aristotle holds that prisoners of war should be enslaved only if
they are intellectually inferior to their captors. It was, to the patriotic mind of Aristotle,
outrageous that the Greeks, who were intellectually the most advanced people, should be
enslaved. A Greek could at best be made a casual, not a natural, slave. Aristotle did not believe
in racial, human or sex equality. Aristotles defence of slavery rests on two assumptions i.e (1)
men are divided by nature with respect to capacity for virtue, and (2) it is possible to categories
people on the basis of their capacity for virtue.
We have no reliable and fixed criterion to determine who is a natural slave and who is
not. Aristotle agrees that the difference between a free-born master and a natural slave is not
always apparent and yet he holds that as a rule, there are not only intellectual but also physical
and, therefore, tangible differences between the two. Can a slave have the freedom and grace
of movement of a free-born Greek trained in gymnasium? If Aristotle approves of the institution
of slavery, he does so under definite conditions. He makes out for one thing, a distinction
between slave by law and slave by nature i.e., between causal and natural slaves. Slaves by
law include prisoners of war. He admits that the child of a natural slave is not always a natural
slave. He does not approve of slavery by mere right of conquest in war because superior
physical force does not always mean superior excellence. Besides, the cause of war may be
unjust and conquest immoral. Then again a Greek should not enslave a Greek. He asserts that
the interests of the master and the slave being the same, the master should not abuse his
authority over the slave but befriend his slave. He should on occasions, reason with him. All
slaves should be given the hope of emancipation.

Aristotles Realism
Aristotle lived at a period when slavery was a universal institution and a necessary part
of social structure. On the other hand, the Sophists declared slavery to be unnatural. Aristotle
took a realistic attitude on the question of slavery. He justified slavery to secure the necessary
leisure to the freeborn Greeks for participation in public affairs. Besides, emancipation of all
slaves would have revolutionized the whole social structure in the city-states and upset all social
values. It must be realized that if Aristotle permitted slavery, he also placed low in the social
scale those Greeks who were actively engaged in commerce. In spite of his denunciation of
wealth-producing activities, particularly usury, Aristotle, like a realist that he was, had to admit
that wealth played an important part in politics, that the character and distribution of wealth is a
determining factor in fixing the form of government; and that revolutions were due to the
discontent of the poor against the rich.

Criticism
Aristotles defence of slavery is very unconvincing and unnatural. He does not give any
reliable and fixed criteria for the determination of who is and who is not a natural slave. His
definition of slavery according to which some men are, by nature, born to issue orders and
others to obey them without reasoning would reduce the majority of men in this machine age to
the position of slaves. An industrial worker, with little initiative of his own, is very like Aristotles
instrument of action i.e. a slave according to his description. Aristotles assertion that some men
are born to rule and others born to obey would reduce the society into two parts arbitrarily. The
fact is that, in society, there are countless gradations with respect to moral and intellectual
endowments which would point to slavery, but a very complex system of subordination and
authority. Aristotles definition would reduce domestic servants and even women in backward
countries to the position of slaves.
Aristotle gives undue importance to heredity by saying that some people are slaves by
nature. He admits that a slave is not a mere body and unlike animals he can comprehend
reason. Can a man who can comprehend another mans reason develop his own rational
potentialities if given proper facilities and environment? The slave being a man is essentially

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incompatible with his being a mere instrument of action. Aristotle conceives of a slave as an
animate instrument of action and yet he admits that slaves have sometimes the bodies of
freemen, sometimes the souls Aristotles justification of slavery goes against his teleology
according to which the end of a man is to be a moral being with a free and rational will. He
shows a certain amount of racial bias in his treatment of slavery. He is against the enslavement
of Greeks but not of barbarians.

Aristotle on Citizenship
Book III of the Politics brings us to its most fundamental question i.e. Aristotles idea of
the citizen and the state. What is a state beings Aristotle, and says that, viewed objectively, the
state right of suing or being sued franchise, nor yet descent from a citizen represents the
essence of citizenship. Aristotle analyses the conception of citizenship into its essential and
non- essential attributes. The essential attribute of citizenship which a citizen must and a citizen
alone can possess is neither residence, descent nor legal privilege but performance of civic
function, not for a limited but for an indefinite period. To Aristotle, a citizen is one who
participates in the administration of justice and in legislating as a member of the governing
body, either or both, these two being the essential features of sovereignty. Aristotles citizen
therefore, was one who partook of the active sovereign in the state, taking part in the
deliberations of the state assemblies and in the juries of the state. The essence, therefore, of
citizenship lay in the enjoyment of political rights and duties. It must be kept in mind, says
Aristotle, that the definition of citizenship, given, above, applies to a democracy, not to all the
various kinds of states and governments. In oligarchies, for instance, not all citizens but a few,
holding certain definite offices, legislate or serve as jurors. Aristotle holds that the virtues of a
good citizen are not necessarily the same as those of a good man nor are the virtues of
citizenship in different forms of state of the same type. Excellence of citizenship in a democracy
demands virtues different from those in the oligarchy.

Qualifications of Citizenship
To Aristotle, the essence of citizenship is that a citizen must be a functioning member of
a city-state, not a mere adherent nor a mere means to its existence. The prime qualification for
citizenship is the capacity to rule and be ruled in turn. This rules mechanics and labourers out of
consideration because these working people are too dependent on the lead of others to be able
to develop the capacity to rule. Besides, freedom from economic worries is essential for
discharge of duties of citizenship. An essential for proper discharge of duties of citizenship. An
essential qualification for citizenship, therefore was the holding of property which alone could
ensure leisure necessary for participation in civic duties. Manual work, to Aristotle deliberalises
the soul and renders it unfit for political speculation and discharge of civic duties. Working
classes, therefore, have neither the ability nor capacity for citizenship. This is like cutting the
society with a hatchet into two parts which was Aristotles chief point of criticism against Platos
ideal state. Aristotle discards the Platonic view that the capacity to rule is the exclusive
possession of a few individuals. But the equality of opportunity to rule he restricts to the citizens
only. And yet Aristotles citizen body is practically co-extensive with Platos guardianclasses.
Aristotle is more reactionary than Plato for whereas the latter makes the producing class an
organic part of the state, the former relegates them to the position of instruments and not
members of the state.

Criticism
Aristotles conception of citizenship is extremely aristocratic and illiberal for modern
application. He was conceiving of citizenship in terms of a small- city-state with direct
democracy whereas modern country-states have indirect democracy. Aristotles citizen is a juror
and a legislator. But there may be systems of government which do not provide for a jury

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system. In a modern nation-state, every citizen cannot be a legislator. He can, at best, control
legislation through his elected representative. Aristotle failed to realise the possibilities of a
representative government. Nor is Aristotles idea of citizenship applicable to colonies. By
excluding all leisureless working classes from citizenship, Aristotle denies them the educative
value of political privileges attached to citizenship. He reduces them to the position of a mere
means of existence for the state, not an active part of the body-politic. Aristotles definition of
citizenship creates a large disenfranchised and discontented class which goes against the
solidarity of the state. It is the duty of the state to secure social and political right for its humblest
members. Aristotles definition of citizenship does not take into consideration the complex
gradation of capacity and leisure of members of the society.
If the end of the state is to serve the greatest good of the greatest number, it must be
able to utilize the experience of the largest number of people as well as their differences. Again,
if citizenship is to be reserved only for a class of people who are rich enough not to have to
work for their living, we might well be certain that the governing body, based on rich citizenship,
would first and last think of passing legislation to ensure the stability of the rule of its own class
and would, therefore, identify the interests of its own class with the public interests of the state.
Laws would be passed to preserve for the ruling class their large incomes and properties.
It must, however, be admitted, in justification of Aristotles limited citizenship, in his days
cannot something much more than citizenship now a days does and did require leisure which
the working class people did not enjoy. Aristotle realized this, and, like a realist that he was,
preferred the practical to the ideally perfect. Like a realist again, he held that a good citizen in a
democracy had virtues different from those of a good citizen in an oligarchy.

Aristotle on Law and Justice


Aristotle holds that low, though like the state by man, is not conventional, but natural
because it is moral. Law is dispassionate reason and its content is the same as that of morality.
It has the character of the universal. To Aristotle as to all Greeks, general principles of conduct
which are ascertained by reason are natural laws. Canons of right and justice are eternal and
universally binding and their sanction comes from their essential rationality. Laws represent
social experience and ripened collective wisdom of a people. The principles of natural law were
to be implemented only by the legislator. A citizen had no right of withholding his obedience to
law. Aristotle believed in natural law but not natural rights. He agreed that laws were relative to
the constitution of the state. A bad constitution meant bad laws. The absence of law in a state
meant lack of constitution. Law was superior to the government because it checked the latters
irregularities. Rule by law was better than personal rule because law had an impersonal quality
which the ruler lacked. Aristotle set a great store by the stability of laws.
Justice to Aristotle as to Plato, is virtue in action. Justice means that every member of a
community-should fulfil his moral obligation towards the fellow-members of his narrow sense. In
the wider-sense justice is identifiable with moral virtue and general excellence. It is comprised of
all virtues. Complete justice is the whole of moral virtue in social relationship.

Distributive Justice
Justice in the narrower i.e. political sense, has two subvarieties viz (1) distributive, and
(2) corrective justice. Corrective justice is mainly concerned with voluntary commercial
transactions like sale, hire, furnishing of security, etc., and other things like aggression on
property and life, honour and freedom. Distributive justice consists in proper allocation to each
person according to his worth or desert. This type of justice relates primarily but not exclusively
to political privileges. From the point of view of distributive justice, each type of political
organisation has its own standard of worth and, therefore, of distributive justice. In a democracy,
the standard of worth is free birth; in an oligarchy it is riches; in aristocracy of birth it is descent

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while in true aristocracy it is virtue. Distributive justice assigns to every man his due according
to his contributions to the society. It minimises strife and confusion by countering inequality of
the equals or the equality of the unequal. Distributive justice is identifiable with proportionate
equality i.e. a mans rights and awards must correspond to his social performances and
contributions.
Aristotle insists that offices and honours must not be confined to the fit and virtuous few
only to the neglect of the many because the many, collectively, make an important contribution
to the state and must be proportionately rewarded. Aristotles concept of distributive justice does
not apply to modern conditions. Based on the notion of award of offices and honours in
proportion to a mans contribution to society, it could apply to a small city-state and is not
applicable to big nation-states of today. Our notion of distributive justice is based on duties
rather than rights. Particularly the duty of paying proportionate taxes to the state.

Aristotle on Education
Like Plato, Aristotle was very keen on education. The state, I say, is a unity in diversity,
which should be made a community by education. The end of the state is good life of the
individual for which education is the best instrument. Virtue depends not only on nature but also
on education. According to Aristotle, education was meant to prepare the individual for
membership of the state and as such had a political as well as an intellectual aim. Aristotle held
that education must be adapted to the constitution of the state and should be calculated to train
men in a certain type of character suitable to the state. To him, the building of a particular type
of character was more important than the imparting of knowledge, and, therefore, proper
educational authority was the state and not private individuals. The state should set up an
educational machinery of its own. Aristotle too, drew up a curriculum of studies based on music
and gymnastics dividing the entire period of education of an individual into smaller periods of
seven years, but his views on education on the whole, were less complete and less systematic
then those of Plato.

Distinction between State and Government


With scientific precision, Aristotle showed a distinction between the state which was the
assemblage of the body of citizens, and the government which consisted of those citizens only
who held the supreme political power and administered the state. The government is a tangible
means of executing the ends and performing the moral and political functions of the state. While
the government might change with the overthrow of those who occupied the highest political
offices, the state changed only when the constitution of the state was changed. With Aristotle,
therefore, the identity of a state depends upon the identity of its constitution which is defined as
an arrangement of the offices of state, determining their distribution, the residence of
sovereignty and the end of political association. The end of the state is the primary concern of
the constitution while the residence of sovereignty determines the particular nature of the
constitution. To change the constitution, according to Aristotle, is to change the state itself. This
would seem to imply that after the constitution of a state has been changed, the new state has
the moral sanction to repudiate the liabilities of the previous state. Bolshevik Russia and a
number of republics in South America seem to have followed the Aristotelian line of thought in
repudiating some of their obligations. Aristotle did not believe in the sovereignty of the state.
Sovereignty belonged to the de facto government of the state.

Aristotle on Government
The government in a state could be constituted on the basis of (1) birth, (2) wealth and
(3) number. A government based on birth has the defect that, whereas one monarch may be a
wise and efficient ruler, his successor may prove to be a moral or intellectual degenerate. Again,

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a government based upon wealth may not be good or efficient because wealth is no criterion of
a mans moral or intellectual worth. The third basis is one of number. Now Aristotle believes that
the aggregate virtue and ability of the mass of the people is greater than the virtue and ability of
a part of that mass. Though the bulk of the citizens may not be fit to give any valuable judgment
on the technical details of administration, still they would have the sound commonsense of
deciding to whom they would delegate political power and the authority to make laws. They
have sense enough to choose their own rulers, and should be able to bring to book their rulers if
the latter misbehave. Aristotle was therefore, in favour of a vague sort of democracy. He would
give ultimate sovereign power to the mass of the citizens, though the best citizens only would
represent the actual governing authority and machinery.

Sovereignty of Law
To prevent the abuses of the sovereignty of people Aristotle placed above it the
sovereignty of laws. Aristotle held that law had qualities which were fundamental to the life of
the state. He believed in the virtue of law because law determined beyond the passions of man.
Law is, therefore, free from the influence of human passion. Law represents the rule of reason.
Law is stand and introduces the element of stability in the constitution of state. Law, in so far as
it represents the practical wisdom and experience of the past, is essential for the proper living of
man and for the proper working of governmental machinery. Aristotle holds that where laws
have no authority, there is no constitution. The law ought to be supreme over all and the ruler
should judge of particulars

Classification of Government
Aristotle classifies the different forms of government on a twofold basis i.e. (1)
according to the number of persons who hold or share the sovereign power and (2) according to
the ends the governments have in view. This basis enables us to distinguish between the pure
and the corrupt forms of government. This is because the true and of the state is the perfection
of its members and the degree of devotion to this end is the criterion to judge whether a
government is pure or corrupt. Judged according to the twofold basis given above, there are six
kinds of government as under:Pure form
Corrupt form
(1)
Monarchy with supreme Virtue as (1)
Tyranny - representing force deceit
its guiding principle
and Selfishness.
(2)
Aristocracy- representing a mixture (2)
Oligarchy reprinting the greed of
Of virtue and wealth
wealth.
(3)
Polity representing martial and (3)
Democracyrepresenting
the
medium virtues, power resting with the principle of equality with power in the hands
middle class people.
of the poor
In the table given above, monarchy represents the rule of one man for common good
with tyranny as its perversion. Monarchy is the ideal or pure form, but is impossible of
realization or at least perpetuation, for, even if we can find an individual who possesses all the
necessary qualifications and virtues fully, we cannot expect him to pass on his virtues, in all
their fullness to his successor. So a monarchy gets perverted into a tyranny which is the rule of
one, not for common good but for selfish purposes. In all, Aristotle recognizes five kinds of
monarchy i.e. the Spartan type, oriental hereditary despotism, old heroic kingship, elective
perpetual dictatorship, and the philosopher-guardian. Aristocracy is the rule of the few for the
common good. Aristocracy too, is difficult of realization and gets perverted into an oligarchy
which means the rule of the few for selfish purposes and not for common good. Polity means
the government of all for the good of all, but because the poor must always be more numerous
then the rich, polity gets perverted into democracy which, to Aristotle, means the rule of all for

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the good of the poor only. Aristotle suggests that out of the really practical forms of government,
polity, based on the rule of law, is the best.

Economic Basis of Government


Aristotle, with his native shrewdness, points out that in the case of rule by more than
one man, the real distinguishing factor is wealth, for if you have an oligarchy-aristocracy
degenerates into oligarchy-it will always be the rule of the rich and if you have democracy- polity
degenerates into democracy it will always represent the rule of the poor. Thus we have an
economic basis of the classification of government too. Aristotle observes that in a four
elements always struggle for power viz (1) Birth, (2) Virtue (3) Wealth and (4) Liberty.

Best Constitution
Plato portrayed an ideal state because he believed in the unlimited perfectibility of
human nature. To Aristotle, human nature was perfectible within limits. He, therefore, visualizes
the best possible state. Aristotle refuses, to return a direct and positive answer to the question
he poses himself, namely, what is the best constitution or state? He points out that in a polity
there is the happy combination of the elements of liberty and wealth, in tyranny there is the
element of birth alone; in oligarchy the element of wealth and in democracy the element of
liberty alone. He adds that one must consider not only what is the best attainable in practice and
what is best under a particular set of conditions and circumstances. In an ideal state, there must
be the rule of ideal virtue i.e. the government must be in the hands of the best. If one man is
super- excellent in virtue, the form of government should be monarchy; otherwise pure
aristocracy. But it is not possible to maintain such a government for a long time, both monarchy
and aristocracy having a tendency to degenerate, after some time, into tyranny and oligarchy
respectively.
To Aristotle, that constitution is best which is best attainable under the circumstances.
He realizes the necessity of moderation and stability in the constitution, follows the rule of the
mean and points out that polity is the best attainable constitution, ordinarily. He rules out other
forms of government as representing extremes. For instance, oligarchic wealth promotes
arrogance and lack of will to obey and democracy breeds egalitarian license, etc. That form of
government is best in which the element desiring stability is the strongest. Ordinarily, polity in
which the middle class is strongest is the best attainable form of government.
It may be said that Aristotles own economic position was responsible for his middleclass liberalism and his advocacy of the supremacy of the middle- class as conducive to the
stability of the state. To him, Polity is the best form of government because it has a mixed
constitution which makes it more balanced and stable than a pure constitution can be. Such a
mixed constitution reconciles the diverse elements of rich and poor, of oligarchy and democracy,
of quality and quantity and of birth and numbers. It is a government of the middle- class which is
numerous enough to give a popular touch to the constitution and select enough to avoid evils of
democracy. Middle-class people are not given to revolutions. Polity is also characterized by
constitutionalism i.e. sovereignty of law and by distributive justice which assigns to various their
due in the state machinery.
In Books VII and VIII of the Politics, where he discusses the form of the best state,
Aristotle does not say explicitly where he is dealing with the ideal or the best attainable state.
He mixes idealism with practicality and instead of giving the detailed structure of the state, he
confines himself to pointing out the most favourable external conditions for the best state which
are partly inspired by the Laws of Plato and which are based on Aristotles doctrine of the
golden mean. These external conditions calculated to promote stability of the state are :-

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(1)

An Advanced Handbook of Political Science


Population:- There must be a certain minimum of population to make the state selfsufficing as also a certain maximum beyond which orderly government becomes difficult.
Aristotle however, does not give the minimum or maximum figures. He lays down that
population should be such that citizens know each other, to be able to elect right persons to
different offices. This naturally points to a city-state.

(2)

Size:- The size of the state should be such as to ensure a leisured but not a luxurious
life i.e. it should be neither too large nor too small. It should be small enough to permit of the
holding of periodic mass assemblies for deliberative purposes and to be taken at a single
glance. The unity of purpose and interest that comes from personal knowledge and active
personal intercourse with ones neighbours is necessary for the best state. The modern states
are so big that there is a sharp distinction between the government and the state, a position
which, to Greek mind, is detrimental to the unity of the state. The territory of the state should be
hard of access to the enemy and easy of egress to the inhabitants. It should be near enough the
sea for necessary imports but not too near it to encourage foreign trade or a sea- going class.

(3)

Character of the people:- The population should, in character and ability, resemble the
Greeks who combine the spirit and courage of the northern races with the intelligence of the
Orientals.

(4)

Classes in the State:- The classes in the state necessary to make it self- sufficing are
agriculturists, artisans, warriors, well- to-do people, priests and administrators. The first two of
these are in but not of state i.e. they are non- citizens. The citizens who hold most of the land on
individual basis perform different functions at different periods of life i.e. fighting when young,
administrative work when older and that of priesthood when very old.

(5)

Education:- Aristotle holds that the character of the people and the tone of the society
depend, to a considerable extent, on education, which cultivates intellectual, moral and physical
excellence and enables a citizen to perform his duties properly. He lays down a system of
uniform compulsory and public education for the leisured classes which is more cultural than
practical.
Aristotles ideal state is not an aristocracy of intellect like that of Plato but one of wealth
and leisure. It is a landed aristocracy with a tendency to become aristocracy by birth. As such it
is more conservative than that of Plato. Plato insists on equality between men and women;
Aristotle disenfranchises women. Platos classification of society is functional, that of Aristotle
essentially hereditary.
Aristotle mentions other things about his- best state i.e. best means of defence against
foreign attack, topography, water-supply, arrangement of streets and fortification, etc. His
description of governmental organisation for his best state is very cursory. He lays down that
three institutions are necessary to perform the three main functions of government i.e. popular
assembly, for deliberative work, which should be composed of all citizens and to whom the
ultimate decisions of the government must be submitted, a system of magistracy and a system
of judiciary.
In extreme democracy all the three organs of government, mentioned above, are open
to all bona fide citizens which endangers the stability of the state. This danger of instability is
obviated in a polity by laying down that a citizen must possess a certain minimum of property
before he is eligible to take a share in the work of government. This would mean the rule of the
middle-class. There must be a reasonable equality of property- ownership and property- right
between the citizens. There should be none extraordinarily rich or poor because there can be
no harmony of interest between the very rich and the very poor. The best state should eschew
all aggressive wars because the true ideal of a state should be virtue and not power. It should
be a tight little independent city over which the supreme power will rest in a true aristocracy

Aristotle
36
whose members rule and obey each other in turn. The end of Book VIII leaves the subject of
the best state rather unfinished.
If in the Republic, Plato portrayed his ideal or Best state, in the Laws he sketched his
second best state which he meant to be realizable. As a political realist, Aristotle was not
interested in the Ideal state of the Republic with its various unrealizable and objectionable
features. For his best realizable state Aristotle borrows a good deal from the laws of Plato with
the result that there is a good deal of kinship between Platos second best state and the Best or
Ideal state of Aristotle. In other words what Aristotle calls the Ideal state is always Platos
second best state
By the time Plato had begun to write the Laws, he had come to realise that some
features of his state of the Republic were unrealizable and had to be dropped or modified. One
of these features was his communism of women and property to which Aristotle strongly
objected. Then, again, Plato, in the Laws, allowed wealth to share power with intellect. In the
Laws the philosopher- rulers power with intellect. In the Laws the philosopher-ruler lose their
monopoly of absolute power in favour of laws. Platos dropping of communism of women and
property and of the unlimited rule of philosophers and his respect for laws were to the liking of
Aristotle and made Platos of the Laws acceptable to Aristotle.
Plato, in the laws, is for a mixed constitution, based on the principle of balance of
power. Aristotles Best state is based on the principle of balance of power. Plato advocates a
state-owned and state-organised system of education in the Laws. So does Aristotle in the
Politics while portraying his Best state. Platos state of the Laws is a small state. So is the Best
state of Aristotle.

Aristotle on Revolutions
Frequent changes in the governments of the city-state in Greece, due to deterioration
and decadence in political life, gave food for serious thought to Aristotle who formulated his
views on Revolutions and their causes. In Book V of the Politics he shows amazing power of
sifting historical material and of masterly analysis in dealing with the causes of the revolutions
and displays ripe political wisdom in suggesting preventives for them. Because of his masterly
treatment of revolutions and their preventives, the generally unfinished nature of the treatise
with its constant digressions and the fact that his Ideal state remains unfinished, it has been
opined that The Politics of Aristotle is more a book on the art of government than a systematic
exposition of political philosophy

Varying Degrees
Aristotle points out that there are varying degrees of revolution. A revolution may take
the form of a change of constitution of state of the revolutionaries may try to grasp political
power without changing the constitution. Again a revolution may make an oligarchy or
democracy more or less oligarchic or democratic respectively. A revolution, lastly, may be
directed against, not the entire system of government, but a particular institution or set of
persons in the state. A revolution may be complete or incomplete, armed or peaceful and
personal or impersonal.

General Causes of revolutions


In order to diagnose a revolution we must consider (1) the temper of the revolutionaries
and their (2) motives and (3) the causes and (4) occasions of the revolution. Revolutions are
generally traceable to the one sided and perverted notions of justice of revolution- minded
people. The most general cause of revolutions is mens desire for equality. But equality has
different meaning for different people. The democratic masses want absolute equality of all,

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whereas the oligarchic few favour proportional equality- based on considerations of wealth,
ability and worth. Other causes of revolutions are inequality of possessions, abuse of
governmental authority, absence of a middle-class as a stabilising and balancing factor and
clash of extreme ideologies. The objects of a revolution are gain, honour of equality. The most
important general cause of revolution is the discrepancy between the actual political ability and
the actual political power held by different classes of citizens. All revolutions are ultimately due
to the innate desire in citizens to have equality of opportunities and rights. A state will be stable
i.e not given to revolutions in proportion to the satisfaction of this craving for equality. A mixed
form of government, containing both oligarchic and democratic elements, is the best from the
point of view of avoiding revolutions.

Particular Causes
Particular causes of revolutions, to be distinguished from occasions of revolutions, as
stated by Aristotle, are love of gain, love of honour, insolence, fear, undue prominence of
individuals in public life, disproportionate increase in some part of the state, election intrigues,
carelessness in granting offices to disloyal persons, neglect of small changes and dissimilarity
of elements in the state.

Causes in Particular Kinds of States


Aristotle also examines causes of revolutions in particular kinds of states. In
democracies, revolutions break out due to the excesses of demagogues making the rich
oligarchs to combine against them. Oligarchies are overthrown due to the oppressive rule of the
oligarchs or due to rivalry between the oligarchs themselves. In aristocracies, revolutions are
due to jealously created by restricting honours of state to a small circle. Feign influence, too
produces revolutions in a state.
It is pertinent to point out that, in Aristotles theory of revolutions, economic motives do
not play important and decisive part. To him, inequality of honour is more conducive of
revolutions than inequality of possession. This goes against the Marxian view on the subject.

Prevention of Revolutions
Aristotle suggests a number of useful preventives for revolutions. The most essential
thing is to inculcate the spirit of obedience to law, especially in small matters and to watch the
beginnings of change in the constitution. Too much reliance should not be placed on devices to
deceive the people. Too much power should not be allowed to concentrate in the hands of one
man or one class of men and various classes in the state should be treated with consideration.
No man or class of men should feel that he or it cannot hold political power. Great political
offices should be outside the reach of unknown strangers and aliens. Holders of offices should
not be able to make private gain, by bribery and gratification, etc, out of their offices. The
administrative machinery, particularly financial administration, should be open to public scrutiny.
Offices and honours should be awarded on considerations of distributive justice and no class of
citizens should have a monopoly of political power. The citizens should be educated in the spirit
of the constitution. The highest offices in the state should be given only on considerations of
loyalty to the constitution, administrative capacity and integrity of character, but each citizen
must have his de. The government of the day should keep before the public the danger of
foreign attack in case of internal revolution. A revolution, to Aristotle, constituted more a political
than a legal change. It had the effect of reversing ethical, social and economic standards.

Aristotle on Tyrants
While dealing with revolutions Aristotle paid some attention to the tyrants and their
peculiar vices. These vices were common to all tyrants, whether Greek or barbarian. The

Aristotle
38
tyrants, according to Aristotle, maintained themselves in power by:- 1. The employment of a
large number of spies. An efficient system of espionage is most essential in a tyranny. 2. Pursuit
of a policy of military aggression abroad. A foreign war is the best means adopted by a tyrant to
divert attention of the people from the irregularities of home life and the ugliness of the domestic
policy of the government. 3. Promotion of distrust and of a spirit of hostility between different
classes of the community and maintenance of self-confidence. 4. An attempt to destroy the
intellectual life of the citizens because, otherwise, some would indulge in political speculation
which is dangerous to a tyrant. Death of intellectual life in the community is one of the most
characteristic signs of a tyranny. 5. The most efficacious of all the methods of a tyrant is his
successful disguise of the reality of his tyranny by a semblance of beneficent rule. A tyrant
shows concern for the people, respects art and religion and avoids display of regal
magnificence.

Aristotle on Democracy
Aristotle holds that two principles characterize democracy i.e. freedom and majorityrule. Democrats, says Aristotle hanker after equality. But equality of what? Aristotle condemns
the belief of the democrats that freedom and equality mean doing as one likes. People do not
want to be ruled or, else, they want to rule and be ruled in turn. Aristotle was not opposed to
democracy in the same measure as Plato was. To him, democracy is form of government in
which supreme power is in the hands of freemen. Aristotle believed that the aggregate virtue
and ability of the mass of the people was greater than the virtue and ability of a part of the
population. If the mass of people do not understand the technicalities of administration, they
have the sound commonsense of appointing right administrators and legislators and of checking
any misbehaviour on the part of the latter. Aristotle was, therefore, in favour of a vague soft of
democracy. He would vest ultimate sovereign power in the mass of citizens, though only the
best citizens would represent the actual governing authority and machinery. Aristotles
democracy means aristo-democracy of free-citizens, because the large body of slaves and
aliens can have no share in the government of the day. This means that direct democracy is
possible only in a small city-state. Modern representative democracy, to Aristotle, would mean
not democracy but oligarchy. Aristotle condemns only the extreme form of democracy i.e.
monocracy where the poor, led by demagogues, abuse political power. He is in favour of the
basic principle of democracy i.e. liberty. He puts democracy higher in his scale of preferences
than oligarchy and tyranny.

Aristotles Criticism of Plato


Aristotle devotes the first part of Book II of the Politics to a severe and unfair, even
hostile, criticism of Plato. He particularly criticizes the ideal state of The Republic with the help
of his sound commonsense and inductive method, though the Statesman and the laws of Plato,
also, do not escape his critical notice. He severely criticises Plato for the latters(1) conception
of the unity of the state,(2) communism of property and wives and (3) comparative neglect of
the lower classes in the ideal or the sub- ideal state.
Aristotle is a moderate who is more concerned with means than with ends. For
instance, he does not object to unity in the state but to the means adopted to achieve that unity
and the extent of that unity. Aristotle does not agree with the Platonic view that the greater the
unity of the state the better because such a unity may become so excessive as to destroy the
very character of the state which consists in plurality of composition and interests. Similar do not
constitute a state. Excessive unity would tend to reduce the state into a family and then into an
individual. A state, to Aristotle, must represent a plurality of dissimilar. Real unity arises, not from
levelling down distinctions and reducing things and men to a uniform pattern but from proper
organisation of relations among individuals, differently endowed and trained. Aristotles criticism
of Platos conception of the unity of the state was, obviously, a little too severe because Plato

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An Advanced Handbook of Political Science
did recognise the need of diversity of functions and of functional specialization in the state. Plato
created three distinct classes in the state and the charge of excessive unity may, and that too
only to a limited extent, apply to the numerically very small upper two classes only.
Aristotle did not agree with Platos communism of property and wives as creative of
organic unity and harmony in the state. Spiritual medicines were needed for spiritual ills. Unity
of the state is best achieved not by abolishing the hoary institutions of private family and private
property but by organizing and training individuals of various types and capacities according to
the spirit of the constitution of the state. Every individual must be allowed a certain minimum of
possessions and of liberty of action to best express his individuality in the service of society.
Organic unity of the state needed, not a particular type or pattern of citizens through
communism, but proper utilization of individual differences in furtherance of social needs.
Aristotle criticized Platos communism as based on a wrong conception of human psychology. It
would lead to bad social ethics, loose morality and degeneration of the human race. Both
private property and private family were essential social institutions.
Property is necessary for the individual and the family. It is a natural institution based on
the natural instinct of acquisition. It is an instrument for good life. It enables a man to develop
the virtues of generosity and hospitality. It is means to a moral and but not an end in itself.
Pursuit of excessive property, therefore, is bad. Aristotle looked down on trade which wealth an
end in itself. Aristotle is against communism of property. He advocates private ownership of
property but common use. Common ownership is bad on economic and moral grounds. Private
ownership with common use combines the merits of both individualism and communism.
Aristotle expresses dissatisfaction regarding the vagueness of Platos references to the
non-guardian class i.e. lower classes representing the majority of the people in the state. Plato
does not formulate any system of education for them nor does he fix up their position in the
state. Will not Platos division of population into the guardians and the no guardians divide the
state into two mutually hostile parts with a hatchet? It must be realized, however that Aristotles
division of the population into the citizens and no-citizens represented hardly any improvement
on Platos position.
Aristotles criticism of Plato arises out of his disagreement with Plato on certain things.
Plato was an idealist whereas Aristotle was realist. To Plato, an ideal state could exist without its
concrete manifestation. One could conceive of Beauty without a beautiful thing. Plato proceeds
from the Universal to the Particular. Aristotle, on the other hand, believed that an idea could not
exist without its concrete manifestation. He proceeded from the Particular to the Universal.
Again, Aristotle disagrees with and criticizes Plato an the neglect by the latter of the rule of law
and custom in his ideal state. Law and custom represent collective wisdom of the ages and
should not be neglected.

Aristotles Indebtedness to Plato


In spite of Aristotles criticism of Plato, as given above there is a considerable similarity
of ideals in the laws of Plato and the Politics of Aristotle. This is because Aristotle inherited, as
Plato did, the whole philosophy of Greece from Homer to Socrates. Like Plato again, he was
profoundly affected by the prevalent political and moral degeneration in contemporary Greece.
Aristotle, like Plato was against Sophistic individualism. Both hold that man is a social animal
and must live in society. Both write on the basis of the city-state. Both are for the individual
placing himself at the service of the society. There is a similarity in the views about education
and the educational systems of the two Both are in favour of state regulation of education. Both
have an exalted notion of citizenship and disregard lower classes. Neither denounces slavery.
The classification of government of the two is very similar. Both portray an ideal state. Both
insist on unity and harmony of the state. Both denounce democracy and assign rule to virtue.

Aristotle
40
Both take on organic view of society. Both believe in a mixed constitution (in the Laws and the
Politics) as the most excellent. To both justice lies in the rendering of due. Both believe in the
natural origin of the state. Both believe that the state exists not only for life but for good life.
Both establish an identity between on the virtues of the individual and of the state and,
therefore, correlate Ethics and Politics. To Plato, the ideal is prior to the Actual; to Aristotle, the
end is prior to Being because the end represents the true nature of the thing. The reality lies in
the Ideal end of a thing. The nature of a thing is not what a thing is but what it is capable of
becoming. The community of views between Plato and Aristotle is because of Aristotles long
association with his teacher Plato. Aristotles theory of political ideals stands upon ground which
he had already occupied because of his association with Plato.

Inconsistencies of Aristotle
In spite of his scientific thought, Aristotle is guilty of many inconsistencies. At advocate
of scientific observation, he failed to notice the disappearance of the city-state under the weight
of Alexanders inspire and remained a city-state. Aristotle criticizes Platos mixed constitution in
the Laws on the plea that many bad elements mixed together will not make a good constitution
and yet his Polity which he declares to be the best practicable constitution for his Ideal state is a
mixed constitution. He believes in the naturalness and evolutionary growth of social institutions
and yet he puts a stop to his evolutionary growth of social institutions and yet he puts a stop to
his evolutionary process as soon as the city-state has arrived. His historical view of the state
having originated from the individual and his family goes counter to his teleological principle that
the state is prior to man. He affirms that marriage is a life-partnership between man and woman
and yet he believes that women are naturally inferior to men. He deplores the division or the
society into the rich and the poor but assigns his citizenship and therefore political power to the
rich landed gentry which is bound to perpetuate this division. Aristotle is a believer in unity in
diversity but his system of education is too uniform to bring about the desired diversity. All these
inconsistencies are really born of his wavering between the Ideal and Actual.

The Hellenic and the Universal in Aristotle


THE HELLENIC:- The Political philosophy of Aristotle essentially based on a detailed and
systematic study of temporary. Hellenic thought and practice. His inductive method and his
realism contributed powerfully to give a Hellenic colouring to all that he thought and wrote. The
basic principles of his thought, namely, the superiority of the city-state over other forms of
government and of the Greeks over other races of mankind, the justice of slavery as a
necessary social institution, the importance of leisure in public life, the exclusion of working
classes from citizenship, the necessity of a state-directed and state-controlled system of
education and his hatred of commerce and usury are typically Hellenic in conception. The Politic
of Aristotle is really an attempt to rationalize existing Greek ideas and institutions.
THE UNIVERSAL:- A deeper study of Aristotle, however, reveals a series of concepts of abiding
interest and universal application. The eternal problem of the reconciliation between liberty and
authority was properly emphasized by Aristotle. True liberty lay in obedience to law. Both the
individual and the state were bound by law. The modern notion of the sovereignty of law is
clearly traceable to Aristotle, to whom law represented the rule of ripe and dispassionate reason
and was necessary for the proper working and stability of the state. Aristotles advocacy of the
sovereignty of law and of a mixed constitution has developed into modern constitutionalism.
Aristotle is refreshingly modern in his emphasis on the value of public opinion. The mass of the
people had sound commonsense and were good judges of the people had sound
commonsense and were good judges of public policies. Aristotle also realized the importance of
a determinate human superior and was thus the forerunner of the Austin Ian theory of legal
sovereignty By dividing the functions of the government into the deliberative. The legislative and
the judicial, he gave support to the theory of separation of powers. Aristotle also showed the
theory of separation of powers. Aristotle also showed the eternal relationship between

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economics and politics and was, thus, the source of inspiration to writers like Montesquieu and
Kari Marx. His doctrine of golden mean finds its development in the modern notion of political
checks and balances. Aristotle may also be said to be the father of modern Individualism as well
as the modern theory of popular sovereignty. Aristotles idea that a state comes into existences
for the sake of life but continues for the sake of good life leads to the modern notion that is the
function of the state to provide to the individual all the media and environment for good life. This
points to the modern welfare theory of the state. Whereas Plato was in favour of the rule of
philosophers, Aristotle pointed out that a government is most stable and is best if it is ruled by
the Middle class. This observation is as valid today as it was in the days of Aristotle.

A pure Conservative
If Plato was the father of political idealism and radicalism, Aristotle is responsible for
realism and conservatism in politics. Aristotles treatment of the subject is, to a large extent,
inductive and empirical. He bases his views on politics, like a good conservative, not on a priori
considerations but on respect for existing customs, institutions and material. He shows
remarkable political sanity in his political observations and conclusions, and is the father of sane
conservatism.
Aristotle shows impatience for Platos idealism and lack of touch with reality. In Book II
of his Politics, e subjects the ideal state of Plato to a severe criticism. With his robust
pragmatism and strong commonsense, he finds many lacunae in Platos theories and shows
their impractical nature. He attacks Plato for his attempt to achieve too much unity in his ideal
state. He denounces Platos communism of property and women as unnatural, and
unrealizable. Like a true conservative, he opposes the Root and Branch methods of Platos
communism and suggests that real unity of the state was to be created not by the abolition of
the time- honoured institutions of private property and private family but by organizing and
training individuals of various types and capacities according to the spirit of the constitution of
the spirit of the constitution of the state. Like a conservative, Aristotle sets great store by private
property. Property, to Aristotle, is a natural and normal instrument and extension of personality
and to deny it to anybody is to dwarf his personality.
Aristotles conservatism is shown also in his belief in the natural inequality of men as
well as in his attitude of indifference towards the lower classes. Aristotle held that manual work
deliberalised the soul and rendered it unfit for enlightened civic virtue. He, therefore, takes a
very aristocratic and conservative view of citizenship. His citizen is the head of a household with
enough of property and leisure to be able to devote himself to public affairs. This is like a typical
British conservative of today. Aristotle excludes women children, slaves and aliens from his
citizenship.
The same conservatism of Aristotle as well as his realism, is clearly born out by his
views on slavery. Slavery was rampant in his days, not only in Greece but everywhere in the
world. In Greece, it was a necessary part of national economy. There was a large slave element
in every city-state. Repudiation of slavery and emancipation of slaves would have not only upset
the balance of power in the city-state but might have bought down the whole social fabric. The
free- born Greek wanted leisure to be able to perform his civic duties for which slavery was
necessary. Aristotle defended slavery as a social necessity but insisted on the reformation of the
institution. He defended natural but not legal slavery resulting from war. He was against
enslavement of whole people. He advocated emancipation of individual slaves.
Like a true conservative, Aristotle views revolutions with disfavour and suggests
remedies to prevent a revolution from taking place. His principle of distributive justice as a
preventive against revolutions is in conservative traditions. It assigns offices and rewards on the
basis of social merit and social contributions and not on the basis of numbers or absolute
equality of men. Like a conservative, again. Aristotle denounces extreme democracy and fixed
on polity as the best practical form of government. He is for aristo-democracy in which the best

Aristotle
42
citizens rule under the ultimate control of the mass of citizens. To prevent the abuses of
government and of popular sovereignty, Aristotle places above all the sovereignty of law. Law
represents the rule of dispassionate reason. It is because of his sane conservatism that Aristotle
became a source of inspiration to later ages.
The conservatism of Aristotle is not reactionary. It is progressive. There is a touch of the
democrat in him. He is not a proletarian democrat and does not believe in mob democracy. He
is a liberal democrat opposed to all form of dictatorship, even of the philosopher-rulers. He does
not believe in the class rule of Plato or Marx. He realizes the soundness of the political
judgment of the common man. Even when he assigns the actual machinery of government to
the select few, he realises that the Many, of which each individual is not a man of talent, are still
collectively superior to the few best persons . Aristotle avoids extremes and sticks to the
principle of the golden mean. This is like pure, progressive, conservatism of today.

Estimate of Aristotle
It is no exaggeration to say that practical political philosophy in the West began with
Aristotle. While Plato soared in the heights and aimed at the ideal, Aristotles objective was not
the ideally best but the best attainable. By his keen and practical political insight and systematic
treatment of the subject, Aristotle laid the foundations of real political science. Politics, with him,
assumed the character of an independent science. Undoubtedly, he like Plato, combined the
ethical and the political but he always gave the pride of place to the political. Aristotle was more
individualistic than Plato as shown by the fact that whereas the latter dealt with both ethics and
politics in one treatise, Aristotle dealt with the two in two separate treatises i.e. the politics and
the Ethics. He considered the individual important enough to be a subject of treatment in a
separate work.
In spite of his, sometimes, severe criticism of Plato, Aristotle differs from his master
more in the form and method than the content of his political philosophy. He is analytical and
logical and realistic and his theories represent definite and clear-cut dogmas. He may be called
the scientist of Politics because of his empirical study of and his method of approach to a
problem. He collects his data with infinite care and minuteness, categorises and draws
rationalistic conclusions therefore.

Influence of Aristotle
Aristotles philosophy has exercised tremendous influence in the Middle and Modern
Ages and of all of his books this has been due principally to his politics. As Zeller says, the
Politics of Aristotle is the richest treasure that has come down to us from antiquity. The Politics
of Aristotle came to Western Europe through Latin translations and by the 13 century. A.D. had
permeated Medieval thought. Aristotle was adopted by the Medieval Church and was known as
the Master of those who knew. St. Thomas Aquinas was Aristotelian in his method and much of
the content of his thought, borrowing as he did extensively from the Politics of Aristotle. To both
Aristotle and Aquinas, law identical with reason. To both, the best governments were monarchy
and aristocracy, based on the rule of virtue. Both favoured mixed governments. Aquinas
harmonized the political theory of Medieval Church with that of Aristotles Politics.
Aristotles Politics influenced the Imperialists as much as the Ecclesiastical thinkers in
the Middle Ages. The Averroist Movement represented the secular adaptation of Aristotle
without the necessity of moulding Aristotle to suit Christian theology. It was a purer version of
Aristotle and Marsiglio of Padua was one of the best representatives of this Movement.
Marsiglio borrowed extensively from Aristotle and believed with the latter that the state was a
natural organic whole, originating with the family. De Monarchia of Dante shows definite traces
of indebtedness to Aristotles Politics. Machiavelli too borrowed from the politics. His prince is
opened to be a commentary on Aristotles theory of revolutions. But, whereas, Aristotle

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established a close relationship between ethics and politics, Machiavelli divorced his politics
from ethics.
In the Modern, Age, Aristotles Politics has exercised a steady influence. There are
traces of Aristotle in the writings of Bodin and of Harrington. Montesquieu, in the form as well as
the content of his philosophy, is evidently indebted to Aristotle. His theory of separation of
powers is inspired by Aristotle. His classification of government on the basis of law is
Aristotelian. Like Aristotle, he upholds monarchy as the best form of government. His method,
like that of Aristotle, is empirical.
The Hegelian theory of the constitution of a country representing the expression of the
self-consciousness of the state, is, some measure, in agreement with Aristotles views on the
subject. The close relationship between economics and politics established by Karl Marx is also
traceable to Aristotle. In the Modern period, Aristotle has been a beacon-light to the realist and
the pragmatist. Both the historical and sociological schools of political thought borrow
extensively from his Politics. The conservative critics of egalitarian democracy are inspired
substantially by Aristotle. The Constitutionalists draw upon Aristotle as also all those who
believe in the sovereignty of law and value of public Opinion. The Politics of Aristotle still
remains one of the greatest classics on political science because it contains much of universal
validity.

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