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Lecture 5

POLB70 - Lecture 5 Aristotle.pdf

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Political Science
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POL B70: Classic Texts of Political Theory I: Professor Lee Lecture 5: Aristotle (continued) Readings for this lecture: Aristotle, Politics Book IV: Chapters 1 – 3 and 7 – 12 Book V: Chapters 1 – 6 and 8 – 9 Book VII: Chapters 1 – 3 Review Polis – an association [koinonia] to cultivate virtue [arête], to live the good life [eudaimonia] which is its end/purpose [telos]. The early books of The Politics deal with assorted fundamental questions about the polis, which we have already studied: -How the polis differs from others kinds of association, such as the household [oikos]; -Who the members (the ‘citizens’) of the polis are; -Who governs the polis; -Whether we should value the rule of law in governing the polis. Ideal & Non-Ideal Political Theory At the end of Book III, Aristotle promises to ‘describe how the best constitution naturally comes about.’ But he postpones this until Books VII and VIII. Recall (Nic. Eth.) that politics is an ethical matter for Aristotle. Political life should be designed to make people virtuous and ‘better.’ What counts as a ‘good constitution’ then really depends on what counts as the ‘good life.’ Book VII.3 is one of the most famous discussions in the Politics. What counts as a ‘good life’ – is it a ‘contemplative life’ or an ‘active life’? Happiness is an ‘activity in accordance with virtue’ – but even contemplation can be ‘action’ of a certain kind, when it is directed towards living-well. Why the break in the text from III to VII? From Books IV – VI, Aristotle does not talk about the ideal constitution, but instead talks about non-ideal constitutions. Political theory can’t be just about understanding the best forms of constitution, but also understanding the vast majority of constitutions that are not the best – just as other arts and sciences treat not just ideal conditions, but also less than ideal conditions. This is the core of Aristotle’s political science at work: 4.1: ‘We must consider not only the best constitution but also the possible, and likewise that which is easier and more within the reach of all states.’ (notice the difference from Plato) 1 Having already handled Kingship in Book III, Aristotle, therefore, focuses on the remaining constitutional forms: Oligarchy, Democracy, Aristocracy, ‘Polity.’ And Tyranny [remember that ‘polity’ or politeia has a double-meaning] Explaining why there are so many different varieties of constitutions Why are there so many different forms of constitution? Answer: Because there are so many parts within a polis. This is almost like an axiom in Aristotle’s political theory – he assumes that every polis will have these different parts or classes. Many different categories to analyze the parts of a political community: Different ways to categorize the parts of the polis Poor – Middle Class – Rich Armed – Unarmed Agricultural – Commercial – Mechanic 4.3: ‘Sometimes all these parts have a share in the constitution [politeia], sometimes a large number of them, sometimes fewer. It thus becomes clear that there must be several constitutions differing in kind from each other, since the parts differ in kind among themselves.’ Biological metaphor: The identity of an animal depends on the make-up or constitution of its organs; similarly, a political constitution depends on the make-up of its political organs or parts. Two major forms of constitution Given this background analysis, Aristotle thinks, in most cases, there are two chief types of constitution (from Book III, the importance of rich and poor in political constitutions) Democracy – a regime where those who are free, not wealthy, and in the numerical majority are in control of the government. Oligarchy – a regime where the wealthy, the higher family status, and in the numerical minority are in control of the government. Most existing constitutions (Aristotle thinks) fit into one of these two forms, or are deviations or combinations of these two. - Note how much more refined Aristotle thinks this approach is than the simplistic 6-fold classification in Book III - Political analysis is not simply about counting heads, but about assessing the inner relationship between the different parts of the polis Many different kinds of democracy and oligarchy. For example, Aristotle (in 4.6) thinks there are several different kinds of democracy: - property qualification – only those with a specified amount of property or money can participate in politics 2 - universal participation – the very poor and very wealthy alike, as well as the low-born and the well-born, can all participate in politics Same with oligarchy: - many small property-owners – so the citizen-body can potentially be quite large - hereditary – so the citizen body is hereditary and exclusive, where power is concentrated in the hands of a few leading wealthy families, sometimes forming factions You might think of democracy and oligarchy as two poles along a sliding scale that maps onto the socioeconomic classes within the polis: DEMOCRACY OLIGARCHY |_______________________|_________________________| poor middle class wealthy When the poor are dominant, you will have some sort of democracy. By contrast, when the wealthy are generally in control, you will get some form of oligarchy. In both arrangements (democracy and oligarchy), notice that the ‘middle class’ gets left out of power. The special cases of Polity and Aristocracy Up to now, Aristotle has mentioned ‘polity’ and ‘aristocracy’ without really saying much about how it is organized and governed. He now begins to tell us more starting at 4.8. For Aristotle, polity and aristocracy are actually not separate kinds of constitution – rather they are merely different mixtures of democracy and oligarchy . They are ‘mixed’ because they contain elements of both democracy and oligarchy – no one is excluded from government, both the rich and the poor participate in politics. - E.g., the wealthy assemble in one body, while the common people assemble together in another body; the two bodies then might jointly try to govern together. So there is a bit of constitutional ‘engineering’ or ‘chemistry’ involved. If you ‘mix’ the different elements of polis you’ll actually get a new constitutional form. But this means that no one class or group within the state can have a monopoly over power – there is no single center of power, but multiple centers. Power has to be shared overlapping across the different ‘parts’ of the state. In 4.8, Aristotle tells us that if the mixed form resembles an oligarchy, it is an aristocracy. If it approximates a democracy, then it is a polity. (not clear in practice what Aristotle means specifically but his case studies may shed some light) But the major point is that 3 the middle class now begin to have a major vo
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