A Treatise on Government, By Aristotle

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A Treatise on Government, By Aristotle
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  A   TREATISE   ON   GOVERNMENT   TRANSLATED   FROM   THE   GREEK   OF   ARISTOTLE   BY   WILLIAM   ELLIS,   A.M.   LONDON   &.TORONTO   PUBLISHED   BY   J   M   DENT   &   SONS   LTD.   &.IN   NEW   YORK   BY   E.   P.   DUTTON   &.   CO   FIRST   ISSUE   OF   THIS   EDITION   1912   REPRINTED   1919,   1923,   1928   INTRODUCTION   The   Politics   of    Aristotle   is   the   second   part   of    a   treatise   of    which   the   Ethics   is   the   first   part.   It   looks   back   to   the   Ethics   as   the   Ethics   looks   forward   to   thee   Politics.   For   Aristotle   did   not   separate,   as   we   are   inclined   to   do,   the   spheres   of    the   statesman   and   the   moralist.   In   the   Ethics   he   has   described   the   character   necessary   for   the   good   life,   but   that   life   is   for   him   essentially   to   be   lived   in   society,   and   when   in   the   last   chapters   of    the   Ethics   he   comes   to   the   practical   application   of    his   inquiries,   that   finds   expression   not   in   moral   exhortations   addressed   to   the   individual   but   in   a   description   of    the   legislative   opportunities   of    the   statesman.   It   is   the   legislator's   task   to   frame   a   society   which   shall   make   the   good   life   possible.   Politics   for   Aristotle   is   not   a   struggle   between   individuals   or   classes   for   power,   nor   a   device   for   getting   done   such   elementary   tasks   as   the   maintenance   of    order   and   security   without   too   great   encroachments   on   individual   liberty.   The   state   is   a   community   of    well ‐ being   in   families   and   aggregations   of    families   for   the   sake   of    a   perfect   and   self  ‐ sufficing   life.   The   legislator   is   a   craftsman   whose   material   is   society   and   whose   aim   is   the   good   life.   In   an   early   dialogue   of    Plato's,   the   Protagoras,   Socrates   asks   Protagoras   why   it   is   not   as   easy   to   find   teachers   of    virtue   as   it   is   to   find   teachers   of    swordsmanship,   riding,   or   any   other   art.   Protagoras'   answer   is   that   there   are   no   special   teachers   of    virtue,   because   virtue   is   taught   by   the   whole   community.   Plato   and   Aristotle   both   accept   the   view   of    moral   education   implied   in   this   answer.   In   a   passage   of    the   Republic   (492   b)   Plato   repudiates   the   notion   that   the   sophists   have   a   corrupting   moral   influence   upon   young   men.   The   public   themselves,   he   says,   are   the   real   sophists   and   the   most   complete   and   thorough   educators.   No   private   education   can   hold   out   against   the    irresistible   force   of    public   opinion   and   the   ordinary   moral   standards   of    society.   But   that   makes   it   all   the   more   essential   that   public   opinion   and   social   environment   should   not   be   left   to   grow   up   at   haphazard   as   they   ordinarily   do,   but   should   be   made   by   the   wise   legislator   the   expression   of    the   good   and   be   informed   in   all   their   details   by   his   knowledge.   The   legislator   is   the   only   possible   teacher   of    virtue.   Such   a   programme   for   a   treatise   on   government   might   lead   us   to   expect   in   the   Politics   mainly   a   description   of    a   Utopia   or   ideal   state   which   might   inspire   poets   or   philosophers   but   have   little   direct   effect   upon   political   institutions.   Plato's   Republic   is   obviously   impracticable,   for   its   author   had   turned   away   in   despair   from   existing   politics.   He   has   no   proposals,   in   that   dialogue   at   least,   for   making   the   best   of    things   as   they   are.   The   first   lesson   his   philosopher   has   to   learn   is   to   turn   away   from   this   world   of    becoming   and   decay,   and   to   look   upon   the   unchanging   eternal   world   of    ideas.   Thus   his   ideal   city   is,   as   he   says,   a   pattern   laid   up   in   heaven   by   which   the    just   man   may   rule   his   life,   a   pattern   therefore   in   the   meantime   for   the   individual   and   not   for   the   statesman.   It   is   a   city,   he   admits   in   the   Laws,   for   gods   or   the   children   of    gods,   not   for   men   as   they   are.   Aristotle   has   none   of    the   high   enthusiasm   or   poetic   imagination   of    Plato.   He   is   even   unduly   impatient   of    Plato's   idealism,   as   is   shown   by   the   criticisms   in   the   second   book.   But   he   has   a   power   to   see   the   possibilities   of    good   in   things   that   are   imperfect,   and   the   patience   of    the   true   politician   who   has   learned   that   if    he   would   make   men   what   they   ought   to   be,   he   must   take   them   as   he   finds   them.   His   ideal   is   constructed   not   of    pure   reason   or   poetry,   but   from   careful   and   sympathetic   study   of    a   wide   range   of    facts.   His   criticism   of    Plato   in   the   light   of    history,   in   Book   II.   chap,   v.,   though   as   a   criticism   it   is   curiously   inept,   reveals   his   own   attitude   admirably:   Let   us   remember   that   we   should   not   disregard   the   experience   of    ages;   in   the   multitude   of    years,   these   things,   if    they   were   good,   would   certainly   not   have   been   unknown;   for   almost   everything   has   been   found   out,   although   sometimes   they   are   not   put   together;   in   other   cases   men   do   not   use   the   knowledge   which   they   have.   Aristotle   in   his   Constitutions   had   made   a   study   of    one   hundred   and   fifty ‐ eight   constitutions   of    the   states   of    his   day,   and   the   fruits   of    that   study   are   seen   in   the   continual   reference   to   concrete   political   experience,   which   makes   the   Politics   in   some   respects   a   critical   history   of    the   workings   of    the   institutions   of    the   Greek   city   state.   In   Books   IV.,   V.,   and   VI.   the   ideal   state   seems   far   away,   and   we   find   a   dispassionate   survey   of    imperfect   states,   the   best   ways   of    preserving   them,   and   an   analysis   of    the   causes   of    their   instability.   It   is   as   though   Aristotle   were   saying:   I   have   shown   you   the   proper   and   normal   type   of    constitution,   but   if    you   will   not   have   it   and   insist   on   living   under   a   perverted   form,   you   may   as   well   know   how   to   make   the   best   of    it.   In   this   way    the   Politics,   though   it   defines   the   state   in   the   light   of    its   ideal,   discusses   states   and   institutions   as   they   are.   Ostensibly   it   is   merely   a   continuation   of    the   Ethics,   but   it   comes   to   treat   political   questions   from   a   purely   political   standpoint.   This   combination   of    idealism   and   respect   for   the   teachings   of    experience   constitutes   in   some   ways   the   strength   and   value   of    the   Politics,   but   it   also   makes   it   harder   to   follow.   The   large   nation   states   to   which   we   are   accustomed   make   it   difficult   for   us   to   think   that   the   state   could   be   constructed   and   modelled   to   express   the   good   life.   We   can   appreciate   Aristotle's   critical   analysis   of    constitutions,   but   find   it   hard   to   take   seriously   his   advice   to   the   legislator.   Moreover,   the   idealism   and   the   empiricism   of    the   Politics   are   never   really   reconciled   by   Aristotle   himself.   It   may   help   to   an   understanding   of    the   Politics   if    something   is   said   on   those   two   points.   We   are   accustomed   since   the   growth   of    the   historical   method   to   the   belief    that   states   are   not   made   but   grow,   and   are   apt   to   be   impatient   with   the   belief    which   Aristotle   and   Plato   show   in   the   powers   of    the   lawgiver.   But   however   true   the   maxim   may   be   of    the   modern   nation   state,   it   was   not   true   of    the   much   smaller   and   more   self  ‐ conscious   Greek   city.   When   Aristotle   talks   of    the   legislator,   he   is   not   talking   in   the   air.   Students   of    the   Academy   had   been   actually   called   on   to   give   new   constitutions   to   Greek   states.   For   the   Greeks   the   constitution   was   not   merely   as   it   is   so   often   with   us,   a   matter   of    political   machinery.   It   was   regarded   as   a   way   of    life.   Further,   the   constitution   within   the   framework   of    which   the   ordinary   process   of    administration   and   passing   of    decrees   went   on,   was   always   regarded   as   the   work   of    a   special   man   or   body   of    men,   the   lawgivers.   If    we   study   Greek   history,   we   find   that   the   position   of    the   legislator   corresponds   to   that   assigned   to   him   by   Plato   and   Aristotle.   All   Greek   states,   except   those   perversions   which   Aristotle   criticises   as   being   above   law,   worked   under   rigid   constitutions,   and   the   constitution   was   only   changed   when   the   whole   people   gave   a   commission   to   a   lawgiver   to   draw   up   a   new   one.   Such   was   the   position   of    the   AEsumnetes,   whom   Aristotle   describes   in   Book   III.   chap,   xiv.,   in   earlier   times,   and   of    the   pupils   of    the   Academy   in   the   fourth   century.   The   lawgiver   was   not   an   ordinary   politician.   He   was   a   state   doctor,   called   in   to   prescribe   for   an   ailing   constitution.   So   Herodotus   recounts   that   when   the   people   of    Cyrene   asked   the   oracle   of    Delphi   to   help   them   in   their   dissensions,   the   oracle   told   them   to   go   to   Mantinea,   and   the   Mantineans   lent   them   Demonax,   who   acted   as   a   setter   straight   and   drew   up   a   new   constitution   for   Cyrene.   So   again   the   Milesians,   Herodotus   tells   us,   were   long   troubled   by   civil   discord,   till   they   asked   help   from   Paros,   and   the   Parians   sent   ten   commissioners   who   gave   Miletus   a   new   constitution.   So   the   Athenians,   when   they   were   founding   their   model    new   colony   at   Thurii,   employed   Hippodamus   of    Miletus,   whom   Aristotle   mentions   in   Book   II,   as   the   best   expert   in   town ‐ planning,   to   plan   the   streets   of    the   city,   and   Protagoras   as   the   best   expert   in   law ‐ making,   to   give   the   city   its   laws.   In   the   Laws   Plato   represents   one   of    the   persons   of    the   dialogue   as   having   been   asked   by   the   people   of    Gortyna   to   draw   up   laws   for   a   colony   which   they   were   founding.   The   situation   described   must   have   occurred   frequently   in   actual   life.   The   Greeks   thought   administration   should   be   democratic   and   law ‐ making   the   work   of    experts.   We   think   more   naturally   of    law ‐ making   as   the   special   right   of    the   people   and   administration   as   necessarily   confined   to   experts.   Aristotle's   Politics,   then,   is   a   handbook   for   the   legislator,   the   expert   who   is   to   be   called   in   when   a   state   wants   help.   We   have   called   him   a   state   doctor.   It   is   one   of    the   most   marked   characteristics   of    Greek   political   theory   that   Plato   and   Aristotle   think   of    the   statesman   as   one   who   has   knowledge   of    what   ought   to   be   done,   and   can   help   those   who   call   him   in   to   prescribe   for   them,   rather   than   one   who   has   power   to   control   the   forces   of    society.   The   desire   of    society   for   the   statesman's   advice   is   taken   for   granted,   Plato   in   the   Republic   says   that   a   good   constitution   is   only   possible   when   the   ruler   does   not   want   to   rule;   where   men   contend   for   power,   where   they   have   not   learnt   to   distinguish   between   the   art   of    getting   hold   of    the   helm   of    state   and   the   art   of    steering,   which   alone   is   statesmanship,   true   politics   is   impossible.   With   this   position   much   that   Aristotle   has   to   say   about   government   is   in   agreement.   He   assumes   the   characteristic   Platonic   view   that   all   men   seek   the   good,   and   go   wrong   through   ignorance,   not   through   evil   will,   and   so   he   naturally   regards   the   state   as   a   community   which   exists   for   the   sake   of    the   good   life.   It   is   in   the   state   that   that   common   seeking   after   the   good   which   is   the   profoundest   truth   about   men   and   nature   becomes   explicit   and   knows   itself.   The   state   is   for   Aristotle   prior   to   the   family   and   the   village,   although   it   succeeds   them   in   time,   for   only   when   the   state   with   its   conscious   organisation   is   reached   can   man   understand   the   secret   of    his   past   struggles   after   something   he   knew   not   what.   If    primitive   society   is   understood   in   the   light   of    the   state,   the   state   is   understood   in   the   light   of    its   most   perfect   form,   when   the   good   after   which   all   societies   are   seeking   is   realised   in   its   perfection.   Hence   for   Aristotle   as   for   Plato,   the   natural   state   or   the   state   as   such   is   the   ideal   state,   and   the   ideal   state   is   the   starting ‐ point   of    political   inquiry.   In   accordance   with   the   same   line   of    thought,   imperfect   states,   although   called   perversions,   are   regarded   by   Aristotle   as   the   result   rather   of    misconception   and   ignorance   than   of    perverse   will.   They   all   represent,   he   says,   some   kind   of     justice.   Oligarchs   and   democrats   go   wrong   in   their   conception   of    the   good.   They   have   come   short   of    the   perfect   state   through   misunderstanding   of    the   end   or   through   ignorance  
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