Advice for Tyrants and the Possibility of the Good Life in Aristotle¡¯s Politics

 

By Andrew Lawrence Crown

 

March, 2016

 

Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

A close reading of Aristotle¡¯s The Politics presents the political theorist or student of political theory with a range of issues for contemplation and analysis, and consequently numerous issues worthy of research, study, and subsequent writing appear to the serious scholar who understands that the issues raised and discussed in The Politics continue to be of significance and import well after the more than two thousand years which have elapsed since Aristotle¡¯s book was completed. Most likely a collection of Aristotle¡¯s lectures delivered at the Lyceum, the school Aristotle founded in 335 b.c.e., the elegance and lucidity of Aristotle¡¯s analysis and arguments are well preserved in the renowned Jowett translation, edited by Stephen Everson, who was a lecturer in philosophy at St. Hugh¡¯s College, Oxford at the time Cambridge University Press published the version of Aristotle¡¯s treatise I will refer to in this essay. In the present essay I will focus on only a few, but still very crucial, issue examined, questions raised, and answers provided through Aristotle¡¯s clear prose and rational argumentation.

 

             First, I intend to examine the question of the good life, the life of excellence and happiness or eudemonia, which is to say the end or purpose of life in its highest form, and the life which is the best possible life for human beings. I will determine through my reading and analysis of portions of The Politics, whether this kind of life is available more readily to the philosopher who leads a life of deep thought and contemplation, and is therefore necessarily one or more steps removed from the turbulence and violence of political life, or rather, whether the best life is more fully realized and achieved through the active life, especially when this active life consists of public participation and deliberation among fellow citizens and peers in the political sphere of the state. Is the best man he who properly has an aversion to the daily vicissitudes, the striving and maneuvering of a public political life and so consciously removes himself from the public sphere in order to pursue a life of silent contemplation and elevated dialog with like-minded philosophers, or is the best man, in contrast, he who is deeply immersed within the public and political life of the polis, that is to say of the city or city-state?

 

             While the scope of The Politics is wider than my focus in this essay, and in fact presents one with a great many other issues of similar and crucial import which are worthy of our examination and analysis, I will focus next on Aristotle¡¯s advice for tyrants and how best the tyrannical ruler can preserve and stabilize his regime in order to remain in power. I intend to show how the somewhat Machiavellian passages concerning tyrants in The Politics, though written well over one thousand years before the world was introduced to the science of politics as this politics truly is in the real world in The Prince, reveal one of the dimensions or Aristotle¡¯s genius. This is his ability to meld together in the same work an overarching concern with the science of politics as the science of the possible in the context of real world, inescapable realities, without at the same time losing sight of the more idealistic quest for the good life, which is the highest and best life possible for human beings in this world. I intend to demonstrate how these seemingly disparate and unrelated issues in The Politics are in fact intricately related, the one brought to more lucid understanding by the other, and vice versa.

 

             Eudemonia, or happiness, according to Aristotle, is the end of life, which is to say the purpose of life in the sense that all human institutions do and should have as their aim, end, and purpose the attainment of happiness for the best citizens in the best state. As Stephen Everson explains in his introduction to the Cambridge Texts edition of The Politics, human institutions such as the polis, the city, the state, all of which were one in the same in ancient Greece, are natural institutions. They are natural in the sense that Aristotle conceived them, through his teleological reasoning, as the natural outgrowth of human nature and as an endpoint towards which human history aims when the conditions are right and enable this history to seek its natural course. The family and the household are the fundamental basis of human society and they exist to satisfy basic and fundamental material wants and needs such as the requirement for food and shelter. The village is a collection of families and an outgrowth of an extended family which aims at a more satisfactory realization of the necessities in life. The city, polis, or state is the final destination for human society, which in addition to more readily and easily providing for the satisfaction of the material needs of necessity and sufficiency, also makes possible the attainment of much higher ends. What the body and natural physical condition of humans beings require in order to exist is satisfied and attained with greater ease in a large community consisting of various classes of people – farmers, shepherds, carpenters, weavers, merchants, sailors, soldiers, slaves, women, children and the other categories of inhabitants. But the state goes beyond necessity and opens up the possibility of the satisfaction of much more than the needs of the body. The natural, teleological evolution of human society towards the state creates the possibility of politics and enables citizens to learn and engage in the art of ruling and being ruled in turn by their fellow citizens, opening up the possibility of the satisfaction of the needs of the soul and spirit, in addition to the body, through eudemonia, happiness, and the good life. Human beings initially band together in order to satisfy the fundamental needs of the body, but these bodily needs are inferior to the needs of the soul, and in fact, according to Aristotle, the body exists to give life and possibility to the soul, the body being in an important sense a vessel for the soul. The satisfaction of the bodily needs is essential to life itself, but in order to live well and attain excellence as well as the end towards which human nature is naturally predisposed towards as its aim and destination, the institution of the state is required.

 

             Aristotle¡¯s conception of the teleological origins and evolution towards the state is much different from the conception of the state as a product of a social contract which suddenly removes mankind from the state of nature and immediately places us into a state, the purpose of which is to protect and preserve our natural rights, chief among them being life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness or property. Aristotle¡¯s teleological conception of the state as a product and destination of human nature should be viewed in sharp contrast from the state of nature and social contract theories found in the works of Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, which to a significant degree form the basis of the theory of government underlying the American Declaration of Independence and its justification of revolution against the violator of natural rights. For Aristotle the state is the culmination of natural tendencies inherent in human society, not a more artificial and suddenly created agreement or social contract among citizens who trade in the absolute and unfettered freedom and liberty of the state of nature in exchange for the security of their persons and property protected and defended by the overarching power of an artificially created security state. According to the social contract theorists the state, by protecting life, liberty, and property, makes civilization and therefore happiness possible. For Aristotle, the greatest value of and achievement of the state is that it makes the good life attainable and transports humankind towards the final destination already inherent in human nature, with human nature conceived as the driving force which propels civilization forward towards the best life attainable for human beings.

 

             None of this is to say that Aristotle viewed every instance of the real constitutions of the variety of states existing in the real world as perfect. Far from it. Whereas Plato in The Republic seeks to propose as a ¡°city of words¡± an idealized perfect state which may or may not be attainable in reality, Aristotle in The Politics repeatedly critiques the impracticability of Plato¡¯s idealized perfect state and presents an incisive analysis of the variety of constitutions and forms of real world states which have actually existed in human history or in his own lifetime. Opposed to such institutions proposed in The Republic as the community of women and children and thereby the elimination of the family and household as the bedrock institution for all of humankind, Aristotle¡¯s critique of Plato, along with his analysis and categorization of the possible and real existing states is firmly grounded in the real world institutions which Aristotle had either observed in person or read about. Hence Aristotle¡¯s perfect state, the one which enables and facilitates the ideal life for the best citizens, is not some pie in the sky ideal which has never been and never will be in reality. The best life for the best citizens in the best state is a distinct and fully realizable possibility, and again, the natural end towards which history aims as it is driven and propelled forward in a teleological sense by the causal mechanism of human nature.

 

             To return briefly to the contrast between Aristotle¡¯s teleological state and the state of the natural law and social contract theorists, there is another important distinction between them which requires our attention. The social contract theorists viewed the state as having as one of its fundamental and primary functions the preservation of individual liberty, rights, and property and/or happiness. In this conception of the state the individual is prior to the state in importance because the very purpose of the state is to protect, defend, and preserve the rights of the individual. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the American Declaration of Independence, a document firmly grounded in natural law and social contract theory, when the state becomes destructive of the natural rights granted to humankind by the Creator (God), the citizens of such a state have the right to overthrow it and establish a new one which will once again preserve the natural rights of the individual. It is not difficult to see that according to this conceptualization of the purpose of the state, the individual citizen is by nature prior to the state. The state exists due to the freely given consent of the citizens to give up some liberties in order to preserve others; in other words the state exists to serve the individual and is a creature originating in his consent and is illegitimate the moment the priority of the individual is lost from sight.

 

             Aristotle¡¯s conceptualization of the relationship between the individual citizen and the state is much different. Here the individual citizen is viewed as a part or portion of the whole or the political society and state. As the part cannot properly exist without the whole, so the whole is prior to, and clearly more important than, the part. Hence the citizen exists to serve the state, and not the other way around. It is only through the state that the good life is theoretically possible and practically attainable. The individual citizen must fulfill his civic responsibilities and obligations towards the state and his fellow citizens, which consist of both ruling and being ruled in turn, as well as public deliberation in the assemblies and juries or courts, and also the fulfillment of military duties in times of war. Because it is the state which opens up the possibility of the good life, the good citizen will recognize that he is indebted to the state and understand his civic responsibilities.

 

             Throughout The Politics, Aristotle time and again returns to an examination of the possible regimes, constitutions, or forms of government. He discusses both the real world examples of actual existing and historical regimes in both the Greek and non-Greek past, without neglecting to also examine the ¡°pure¡± or more perfect forms of the regimes as they are capable of description and analysis through theoretical discussion of what are ideal forms. Again and again Aristotle reiterates that the three or four perfect regimes are constitutional government or polity, aristocratic government, and royal government or monarchy. Of these three ideal or unadulterated regimes, Aristotle believes that monarchy and aristocracy are the best, because they consist of the rule of the best and most excellent men. The best government, both theoretically and practically, must consist of the rule of the best and most excellent men. In fact, in his defense of monarchy or royal rule, Aristotle claims that if there is some lone individual whose excellence places him on a plane of superiority which all recognize is someplace beyond the reach of ordinary men, everyone in a state with such a superior man must recognize his obligation to submit to and embrace the monarchical or kingly rule of this superior man. This situation stands in sharp contrast to the situation within a democracy (one of the impure forms of government or regimes which I will discuss shortly) with the practice of ostracism and banishment of the truly superior man, a common practice embraced by the demos because ordinary men view the truly excellent one as a threat to the authority of and rule of the people who hold sway in a democracy.

 

             The three impure forms of government are forms commonly found in the real world and are adulterations or distortions of the pure forms. Constitutional rule and polity are transformed, often through the pernicious influence of demagogues who flatter the demos, into democracy. Aristocracy, the just rule of the most excellent and deserving of men, is degraded when it falls into oligarchy, the rule of the wealthy few. Monarchy led by the single superior leader of uncommon natural talent and excellence, is transformed into tyranny, the rule of the one selfish tyrant, often due to the fact that the excellence which is the just basis of the monarch¡¯s claim to power, is not always found to the same degree in the king¡¯s heirs and descendants. Furthermore, a great king, though just and good due to his noble birth, will often be challenged by selfish men who covet his power and act upon their desire to possess it for themselves through the overthrow of monarchy and establishment of tyranny.

 

             All of the impure forms of government Aristotle views as wanting and problematic because, whereas in the pure forms rulers and magistrates govern with the aim of satisfying the public interest and the good of everyone within the state, in the impure forms power hungry and avaricious men rule with a concern for only their own self-interests and/or the interests of their class. The order of regimes from least bad to most bad and intolerable and corrupted is the reverse of the ranking of the pure regimes. Democracy is the least bad of the bad regimes since the negative qualities in the seeking of the demos after its own interest are diluted by the sheer number of citizens participating in government. As a small amount of impure water is rendered less harmful when mixed within a larger volume of pure and healthy water, the negative influence of the common man who does not by himself possess excellence, is moderated by his requirement to share rule and the duties of citizenship with the great mass of the people. When such an undistinguished individual is united in ruling and being ruled with a great number of his compatriots, a kind of excellence of the many can exist in the whole even when it is negligibly apparent in the part.  

 

             Next in order of corruption and badness of the impure regimes is oligarchy, the rule of the few rich. Of the many problems which diminish the tolerability of such a regime is the greed for power and wealth which are the constant desire and object of the rulers. Greed brings the wealthy few in constant conflict with the people, as well as corrupting the relations of the rich with one another. Demagogues too, while more of a problem for democracy; also can transform an oligarchy away from stability and towards either an unstable and raucous democracy, or in another direction towards tyranny when the demagogue inserts himself into power and rules according to his selfish passions and self-interest.

 

             Tyranny is the absolute worst of the impure regimes. According to Aristotle, the body with its animal like needs and wants can control and afflict a man like a tyrant with selfish and unquenchable desires. In the excellent and good man, desire is rightly restrained, moderated, and controlled by the higher elements of human nature, the soul and the spirit and their partner, reason. While the body craves immediate satisfaction of its material and animal wants at any cost, reason in the good man, harnesses desire, making possible the quest for higher ends which include the cultivation of ethics and through this the elevation of the soul in its quest for excellence, happiness or eudemonia, and the good life. The tyrant is a prisoner and captive of his selfish desire and so he rules with a mind only to his own self-interest, without magnanimous concern for either the public good or the good of any of his subjects, be they rich or poor, few or many. The tyrant¡¯s rule of pure passion and selfishness is the furthest away from both the best ideal regimes of kingly and aristocratic rule, and also far removed for the best of possible regimes in this world which is democracy. Instead of providing his subjects with a path towards the realization of excellence, happiness, and the good life, the rule of the tyrant is the rule of unrestrained desire, terror, and even unchecked evil.

 

             This brings us to the next topic I would like to examine in this essay; Aristotle¡¯s advice for tyrants. Given that tyranny is the worst possible of both the pure and impure regimes, what sort of advice does Aristotle have for the tyrant, the worst of possible rulers? In The Politics Aristotle offers two lines of advice for such a ruler. I hope my analysis will not be misconstrued as ahistorical when I claim the first line of advice can be viewed as Machiavellian even though it predates the publication of The Prince by well over one thousand years. The second line of advice from Aristotle to the Tyrant is a masterful inversion of the first line of advice, turning the conventional definition of a tyrant on its head by suggesting that the tyrant will be more likely to preserve his rule and remain in power if he sheds the vestiges and prerogatives of tyranny in order to adopt many of the fundamental characteristics of kingly or royal rule. My analysis will lead finally to a consideration, given what we learn about the nature of politics from Aristotle¡¯s discussion of tyranny, of the question of who best can attain the excellence and happiness of the good life. Is the best man the man of action who is deeply immersed within the public and political life of his state, or is it the philosopher who is more happy and who of necessity must exist apart and divorced form the life of politics in order to pursue, in both solitary silent contemplation and dialog among the community of like-minded philosopher friends and companions, the pursuit of philosophical wisdom?

 

             Tyrannies are preserved in two opposite ways. The old traditional method in which most tyrants have administered their governments follows what I have referred to as the Machiavellian method outlined below.

 

             The tyrant should lop off those who are too high and put to death men of spirit who could potentially rise up in greatness and challenge and destroy the tyrant. He must not allow common meals or clubs, nor will education be common in a well preserved tyranny. The tyrant must be on guard against anything which is likely to inspire either courage or confidence among his subjects. Schools and other meetings for discussion should not be allowed as the tyrant must take every means to prevent people from knowing one another, for acquaintance begets mutual confidence (135-136).

 

             All persons staying in the city must be compelled to appear in public and live at his gates, enabling the tyrant to know what they are doing. If the people are always kept under, they will learn to be humble (136). In short, the tyrant should practice these and the like Persian and barbaric acts which shall have the same object (136).

 

             Using spies in order to know what each of his subjects says or does will prevent people from speaking their minds and make them more easily found out if they do, for the fear of informers keeps the people silent (136). Sowing quarrels among the citizens, friends will be embroiled with friends, the people with the notables, and the rich with one another (136).

 

             By impoverishing the subjects, the maintenance of a guard by the citizens will be prevented. Hard at work due to their poverty, they will be prevented from conspiring against the tyrant (136). The building of great works keeps the people occupied and poor, so the tyrant must direct the inhabitants of his city to build great temples and pyramids and other magnificent works. In order to pay for these monuments he must increase and multiply taxes to ensure the mass of citizens remain poor and working (136). Tyrants should also be fond of making war in order that his subjects may have something to do and be always in want of a leader (136).

 

             The power of a just king is preserved by his friends, but the tyrant must distrust his friends because he knows all men want to overthrow him, and friends above all have the power to do so (136).

 

             The practices of the last and worst form of democracy are all found in tyrannies. Women are given the power to inform against their husbands, while at the same time license is allowed to slaves in order that they may betray their masters. Slaves and women do not conspire against tyrants, but are in contrast friendly to tyrannies and also to democracies, since under them they have a good time (136).

 

             The people would fain be a monarch, and by the people, as well as by the tyrant the flatterer is held in honor. In democracy the flatterer is the demagogue, but with the tyrant those who associate with him in a humble spirit are the ones who practice flattery (137). Hence tyrants are always fond of bad men, because such men know how to flatter the tyrant who likes to be flattered by bad men as much as the people in a democracy desire to be flattered by a demagogue. No person who has the spirit of a freeman in him will lower himself by flattery, since good men love other good men with integrity, or at any rate do not flatter them (137). The bad are useful for bad purposes: ¡°nail knocks out nail¡± as the proverb says (137).

 

             A tyrant dislikes everyone who has dignity or independence since he wants to be alone in his glory. Anyone who claims equal dignity or asserts his independence encroaches on the prerogative of the tyrant and he is consequently hated by him as an enemy to his power (137). This is why a tyrant likes foreigners better than citizens and lives with foreigners and invites them to his table. Great citizens are natural enemies of tyrants, but foreigners enter into no rivalry with them (137).

 

             There is no wickedness too great for a tyrant. Such as the above are the marks of a tyrant and the arts by which he preserves his power (137). To summarize the aims of a tyrant, he must first and foremost seek the humiliation of his subjects, because he knows that a mean-spirited man will not conspire against anybody. The creation of mistrust among his subjects also serves to preserve the power of the tyrant since he will not be overthrown until men begin to have confidence in one another (137). Tyrants are at war with the good; they are under the idea that their power is endangered by good men, not only because good men will not submit to being ruled despotically, but also because good citizens are loyal to one another  and to other men and consequently do not inform against one another or other men (137). The tyrant desires that his subjects shall be incapable of action. Since no one is predisposed to attempt what is impossible, humbled subjects who have no power and are powerless, and who distrust their fellow subjects, will not attempt to overthrow a tyranny (137).

 

             Such are, according to Aristotle, the traditional methods of preserving a tyranny. Following this discussion of the harsh and cruel means which have been used to preserve tyrannies in the past, Aristotle next offers a diametrically opposed solution to the problem of stability and preservation of tyrannical rule. The method of preservation of tyrannical rule presented next advises the tyrant to adopt an almost opposite principle of action (137). Aristotle¡¯s advice is related by comparison to the causes which destroy kingdoms, for as one mode of destroying kingly power is to make the office of king more tyrannical, so the salvation of a tyranny is to make it more like the rule of a king (137).

 

             The tyrant must keep enough power to rule over his subjects, whether they like him or not, for if he once gives up his power he thereby gives up his tyranny (138). He must retain power as a foundation, but in all else the tyrant should act or appear to act in the character of a king.

 

             He must have a concern for public revenue and should not waste money on presents lavished on courtesans, foreigners, and artists since the people become upset by this use of their hard earned money. He should give account of what he receives and what he spends in order to seem to be a steward of the public instead of a tyrant. If he takes such steps as these he will never fear that while he is the lord of the city he will ever be in want of money (138). The tyrant must not leave a hoard at home when he goes abroad, for the guardians of treasure are more to be feared than the citizens when the tyrant is absent from home (138). If he follows this piece of advice he will have less fear from a garrison left behind (138). He should collect taxes and require public services, only for state purposes, and so as to form a fund in case of war. In general he should make himself the guardian of his treasure as if it belonged, not to him, but to the public (138).

 

             The tyrant should strive to appear dignified instead of harsh. When men meet him they should look upon him with reverence and not with fear (138). However, since it is hard to be respected, he should maintain the character of a great soldier and produce the impression that he is one (138).

 

             Neither should he associate with or assault the young of either sex who are his subjects. He should control the women of his family, because according to Aristotle, women lack self-control and ¡°the insolence of women has ruined many tyrannies¡± (138). The tyrant should not indulge in pleasure. He should be moderate, or at any rate he should not parade his vices to the world. A drunken and drowsy tyrant is soon despised and attacked, but he who is temperate and wide awake has less to fear. ¡°His conduct should be the reverse of nearly everything which has been said before about tyrants¡± (138).

 

             To continue, he should adorn and improve the city as a guardian of the state, being earnest in service of the gods, or at least appearing to be so. If men think that a ruler is religious and reveres the gods, they are less afraid of suffering injustice at his hands, and are less disposed to conspire against him since they will believe he has the very gods fighting on his side (138-139). At the same time his religion must not be thought foolish, as this will lead to the peoples¡¯ contempt.

 

             Men of merit should be honored by the tyrant so they do not think they would be more esteemed by the citizens if they had a free government. The tyrant should distribute honor himself, but punishment should be inflicted not by him, but instead by officers and courts of law. The tyrant should not make any one person great, but if he does, he should raise up one or two others as competitors in order that they will all keep an eye on one another (139). Should any one become great, he should not be a man of bold spirit; for such dispositions are ever most inclined to strike (139).

 

             When depriving others of power, the tyrant should do it slowly and not all at once in order not to create a cause for great resentment (139). He must abstain from all outrages; in particular from personal violence and from wanton conduct towards the young (139). Any questionable conduct with the young should be supposed to arise from desire and not from the insolence of power. He must be careful of behavior towards men who are lovers of honor, and towards all citizens he should strive to exhibit fatherly correction without trampling upon the rights of others. When he acts in such a manner he will compensate the appearance of dishonor by the increase of honor (139).

 

             Assassins are most dangerous who do not care to survive if they effect their purpose (139). The tyrant should therefore take precaution about anyone who thinks he or those who he cares for have been insulted (139). Quoting Heraclitus, Aristotle tells us that ¡°It is difficult to fight against anger, for a man will buy revenge with his soul¡± (139). When men are led away by passion to assault others, they are regardless of themselves and their own safety, and hence more of a threat to the tyrant.

 

             Both the poor and the rich should be lead to imagine they are preserved and prevented from harming one another by the tyrant¡¯s rule (139). Whichever is stronger (the rich or the poor) the tyrant should attach to his government. With this advantage he has no need to emancipate slaves or disarm the citizens, since either party added to the force he already has will make him stronger than his assailants (139-140).

 

             ¡°Enough of details¡± writes Aristotle. The tyrant¡¯s general policy should be to show himself to his subjects in the light not of a tyrant, but of a steward of the people and a king (140). Ruling as a guardian, he must not appropriate what is the people¡¯s. He should be moderate, not extravagant in his way of life, and win over the notables by companionship and the multitude by flattery (140). ¡°For then his rule will of necessity be nobler and happier, because he will rule over better men whose spirits are not crushed, and who do not hate and fear him¡± (140). His power will be more lasting, his disposition more virtuous, or at least half-virtuous. He will not be wicked; but half-wicked only (140).

 

And yet, Aristotle closes the discussion with the following observation. No forms of government are so short-lived as oligarchy and tyranny (140). Aristotle¡¯s analysis and discussion of the worst possible ruler of the worst possible regime has a specific function within the larger work which is devoted to the discovery of the best possible man who rules within the context of the best possible regime. The citizen of leisure who has the free time to participate in ruling as well as in being ruled by his fellow citizens is much closer to the life of happiness than the tyrant. It is only through the incorporation of elements of the method of rule of the excellent man, the one who rules as a royal king, that the merely half-good and half-wicked tyrant can preserve his regime and make it somewhat tolerable for his subjects and consequently not short-lived. Even the tyrant can offer to his subjects in his city, at least a semblance of the good life if he rules less like a tyrant and more like a king.

 

This should be viewed as more than simply practical advice from Aristotle to the half-good ruler who desires to preserve himself in power. Aristotle¡¯s advice for tyrants can be understood as one more confirmation from him that the purpose and end of human life, even for the life of the subjects of a tyranny, remains as eudemonia. Happiness and fulfillment of the purpose of life is most fully realized when the excellent man or men rule subjects and citizens who are both permitted and required to partake and participate in public life through ruling and being ruled in turn. Public discussion and debate among men of sophistication and leisure in the pursuit of a common political destiny remains, even under tyranny, the path to the good life and the best life possible for humankind.

 

What then is the status of the philosopher in relation to the political community in the light of Aristotle¡¯s discussion of tyranny? One of the purposes of philosophy, and particularly of political philosophy is, through contemplation, discussion, debate, and dialog with other philosophers, to arrive at a superior understanding of the nature of political life and the manner in which politics has the potential to uplift humankind and move it closer to the good life. But the philosopher is not necessarily the same man as the politician. Far from being Plato¡¯s philosopher-king, Aristotle, who lived, studied, taught, and philosophized in Athens, was denied by his adopted city the complete political rights of a citizen because he was born outside of Athens, in Stagira in Macedon. Perhaps it was his status as resident foreigner, and therefore something of an outsider, that enabled him to comprehend and explain, with both profundity and precision, the variety of possible regimes and their rank order from worst to best in both their pure and impure manifestations. Denied the right to participate directly in Athenian politics, Aristotle was well positioned to observe the political life of Athens and other Greek and non-Greek cities with a kind of scientific detachment and objectivity unavailable to the citizen deeply immersed in the political life of the polis. It is perhaps left for us, who encounter Aristotle¡¯s writings and thought well over two thousand years after they were formed and preserved for posterity, to decide whether or not Aristotle¡¯s achievement as the political philosopher who gave us The Politics, is or has ever been matched in its value to humankind by the achievements of any political leader either from our ancient past or more contemporary in our history. Students of political theory will more than likely be biased in favor of viewing The Politics as the superior achievement. Our appreciation of Aristotle¡¯s achievement reveals much about our fundamental disagreement with the more practically minded men and women of our modern world who search for the answers to life¡¯s problems and dilemmas through a devotion to the active life of politics. While the latter seek solutions to the enumerable problems which beset humankind, the quintessential social and political animal, we philosophically minded ones will more often than not content ourselves with the quest for political wisdom, ever one step removed from the real world and its over-abundance of moral, ethical, and political quandaries.

 

 

Works Cited

 

Aristotle. Steven Everson, editor. The Politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988, 1989, 1990.

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