October 14, 2000
Intro to Political Philosophy
Paper Assignment #1, Essay 5
In Book II of The Politics Aristotle uses the examples of a number of political regimes in order to show the reader the nature of political life. In relating what is and what is not included in these regimes, discussing the problems associated with each of these, and by examining how well all of these regimes agree with Aristotle’s own theory, Aristotle provides the reader with a comprehensive view of political life with regard to the nature of regimes. Three of the accounts of political life that are discussed are most useful in understanding Aristotle’s own theory, as he thoroughly examines these regimes, recalling their mistakes and providing commentary on the correct ways in which to deal with such problems as are discussed. In discoursing on the problems inherent in the ideal regimes of Socrates, Phaleas, and Hippodamus, Aristotle is able to explain to the reader the reasons for these problems as well as come up with solutions that serve in part to comprise his own political theory.
Aristotle first examines Socrates view of political life in Plato’s Laws. One of the problems he has with the regime described is that one of Socrates main tenets is that man should live with moderation concerning the use of property, as possessions are made equal in this regime. While Aristotle feels that to simply live with moderation is “too general” a defining principle for this matter, he also asserts that, “Moreover, it is possible to live with moderation but wretchedly” (65). As a result, Aristotle believes it is necessary to define the best principle regarding property use as living liberally in addition to “with moderation.” Aristotle also finds problematic the fact that though possessions are equalized, there is nothing regarding the number of citizens that should live within the regime, nor does Socrates restrict reproduction in his state. He believes that by leaving the people to live without limits in this matter inevitably leads to poverty. More important than the poverty that is caused among the citizens is that “produces factional conflict and crime” (65). Aristotle further reasons on the regime of Socrates, taking issue with the manner in which it deals with rulers and their difference with those they rule. Aristotle seems to feel that it does not follow that, though an individual in Socrates’ regime is able to increase the whole of his property as much as fivefold, he is not able to increase his ownership of land in this way. Aristotle seems to advocate a more consistent approach to the ruler’s dealings with regard to property. The problems that Aristotle finds with specific details of the ideal regime of Socrates lead to trouble he sees in the organization of this regime as a whole.
Aristotle finds more problems with the description of the best regime in Laws. He considers the fact that Socrates’ regime is a combination of democratic and tyrannical regimes, “which one might regard either as not being regimes at all or as the worst of them all” (66). He goes on to reason that it is better to combine more of the regimes in order to create the best possible regime. Neither does Aristotle feel that the oligarchic means by which officials are elected in this regime is advantageous or characteristic of the best regime. The reason for this objection is his feeling that it is necessary for all to elect, rather than the dangerous prospect of a small group of easily corruptible people determining the elections with the ability to alter the outcome.
Aristotle next finds criticism for the regime of Phaleas of Chalcedon in a number of different aspects of his view of political life. Phaleas contends that disputes over property and possessions are the source of all factional conflict, and therefore reasons that these things should be held equally by the people. Aristotle sees that “It is clear, then, that it is not enough for the legislator to make property equal; he must also aim at a mean” (68). He further reasons that contriving to create an equal level of property for all would not be effective, as it is the desires and not the property that ultimately need to be leveled. Aristotle further recognizes that “factional conflict occurs not only because of inequality of possessions, but also because of inequality of honors”(68), with people creating conflict if honors are equal, just as when property is unequal. He also realizes that people might commit injustice for reasons other than the reasons previously mentioned, as some derive enjoyment from such things, enabling the reader to see the error in Phaleas’ assertion on the subject. Aristotle moves on to suggest remedy for some of the problems within the regime of Phaleas. He suggests that with possession there should be a minimum of property and work and that with honors moderation should be exercised, providing the reader with a notion of his political theory.
Aristotle then becomes further engaged in discussing the faults found in the regime of Phaleas. He reasons that since the goal of Phaleas in the institution of his regime was to “enable [the people] to engage in politics finely among themselves” (69), to do so while considering all people within the regime requires some military influence, something that Phaleas neglects to address. Aristotle returns to the subject of possessions in providing another “best defining principle” with regard to them. He gives more insight into his own political theory in asserting that, concerning property, “there should be just so much that those who are superior will not gain if they go to war because of the excess, but will go to war only under such circumstances as they would even if their property were not so great” (69). Aristotle further reasons on the property of the citizens, coming to the conclusion that while there is indeed an advantage to property being equal, it is a small one, and will not remedy all factional conflict. He continues with his criticism of the regime of Phaleas in addressing the fact that with the property of the citizens equal, other problems leading to factional conflict will arise. Among these are the issue that there will be those who feel that they do not merit equality, as well as the reality of the sometimes evil nature of human beings, both of which have been known to cause factional conflict. Aristotle gives the reader another piece of his own political theory in suggesting how to rule such persons. He contends that such rule “requires not so much leveling property as providing that those who are respectable by nature will be the sort who have no wish to aggrandize themselves, while the mean will not be able to, which will be the case if they are kept inferior but are done no injustice” (69). Aristotle, in concluding his discourse on Phaleas, discredits the entire philosophy of Phaleas’ regime in making the allegation that not even his view concerning what constitutes equality of property is correct. While Phaleas equalizes only land possession, Aristotle shows that if land is equalized, so too do all other possessions in order the create the best possible regime in this situation. In providing more of his own theory, he reasons that “equality is to be sought in all these things, or some moderate arrangement, or all are to be left alone” (70). Aristotle next discusses the merits of the regime of Hippodamus in his accounts of political life.
In looking at the regime of Hippodamus, Aristotle first outlines the principles of the regime and then moves on to the problems that he finds with many of these principles. The ideal regime of Hippodamus was to include ten thousand men, one third artisans, another farmers, and a third of military arm-bearing men. He also divided the property into places public, private, and sacred, and further reasoned that there should be three kinds of laws, those concerning arrogant behavior, injury, and death. Hippodamus went on to suggest that jurors should have other options rather that to condemn or acquit, among various other assertions regarding law and rulers. Aristotle first takes issue with Hippodamus’ division of the citizens, reasoning that because the farmers have no arms and the artisans have neither arms or land, that “they become virtually slaves of those possessing arms” (71). Aristotle finds that many problems regarding the regime arise from this matter, among them the fact that all rulers and figures of authority within the regime will be drawn from those possessing arms, and if the other classes do not share in the regime in this way, they would not be likely to remain loyal to it. He also finds problematic the way in which the land is divided, making the land of the farmers private, not enabling them to provide the other parts of the regime with sustenance and forcing public land to be used for the purpose of providing food for the rest of the regime.
With regard to the law concerning judging in the regime of Hippodamus, Aristotle asserts that “to require the one judging to make distinctions when the indictment in a case is simple, thus making the juror an arbitrator” (72). He feels that this is not possible in courts as the judgements of the jury in this manner will not be able to provide a clear verdict. Finally, Aristotle finds a problem with the legislation requiring one who discovers something advantageous for the city to be honored, believing it is not safe. He reasons that it would likely lead to harassment and possibly changes of regime. From what Aristotle has said regarding this regime and the two regimes previously discussed, it is evident that they do not conform very well to the ideal regime in his mind. In avoiding this mistakes that he outlines in these three regimes Aristotle shows the reader the characteristics of his political theory, and describes how to avoid such mistakes.
The political philosophy of Aristotle is mainly derived from the fact that it avoids the mistakes made by other leaders of regimes as describe in The Politics. While much of his theory of political life can be seen in the solutions he gives to the problems encountered by other regimes, there is another important reason that he is able to avoid the mistakes of others. Instead of a view of politics that stresses the importance of regime legislation, Aristotle seems to favor a view of politics that stresses statesmanship over legislation. Aristotle appears to be more interested in the preservation of a regime than the implementation of a new one. In criticizing the regimes of others he does not endeavor to change their regime entirely as he concedes that there are some good elements in many regimes. Rather, he discourses on the changes that could be made within different regimes in order to make the closer to the best regime possible. He seems to think that the task of preserving a regime is greater than the task of founding one and requires a higher capacity of wisdom and political expertise. This view is supported by a quote of Aristotle early in book three, “since to reform a regime is no less a task than to institute one from the beginning” (119). The reader is able to see that the reason that Aristotle is able to avoid the mistakes made in other regimes is that he has studied them intensively, as evidenced by his extensive discourses on the subject. Through his reasoning on the problems of previous regimes and the ways in which they could have been better preserved, Aristotle forms a theory of political life that is able to avoid these problems and therefore defines the characteristics of his ideal political regime.