The writings of Aristotle are almost entirely wanting in the charm of style, and several of them cannot even be said to have the merit of clearness. In the Politics we are often unable to follow the drift of the argument; the frequent digressions and conflicting points of view which arise are troublesome and perplexing to us. We do not understand why the writer should again and again have repeated himself; why he should have made promises which he never fulfills; why he should be always referring to what has preceded, or to what follows. He sometimes crosses over from his own line of argument to that of his opponent; and then returns again without indicating that he has made a change of front. There are words and clauses which seem to be out of place; or at any rate not to be duly subordinated to the rest of the passage. No other work of genius is so irregular in structure as some of the Aristotelian writings. And yet this defect of form has not prevented their exercising the greatest influence on philosophy and literature; the half-understood words of Aristotle have become laws of thought to other ages.
With the causes of these peculiarities we are not at present concerned. The style of Aristotle runs up into the more general question of the manner in which his writings were compiled or have been transmitted to us. Are they the work of one or of many? Do they proceed from the hand or mind of a single writer, or are they the accumulations of the Peripatetic school? This is a question, like the controversy about the Homeric poems, which cannot be precisely answered. The original form of some of the Aristotelian writings will never be restored. We can hardly tell how or where they came into existence: how much is to be attributed to Aristotle, how much to his editors or followers,—whether his first followers, such as Eudemus, or later editors, such as the Alexandrians, or Andronicus of Rhodes, or Tyrannion, the friend of Cicero. We cannot by the transposition of sentences make them clearer, nor by verbal conjecture remove small flaws in the reasoning, or inconsistencies in the use of words. The best manuscripts of the Ethics and Politics, though not of first-rate authority, are not much worse than the primary manuscripts of other Greek authors. The disease, if it is to be so regarded, lies deeper, and enters into the constitution of the work. The existing form of the Aristotelian writings is at least as old as the first or second century b. c.; it is in the main the Aristotle of Cicero, though he was also acquainted with other works passing under the name of Aristotle, such as the Dialogues, which are preserved to us only in fragments. If we go back in thought from that date to the time when they were first written down by the hand of Aristotle, or at which they passed from being a tradition of the school into a roll or book, we are unable to say in what manner or out of what elements, written or oral, they grew up or were compiled. We only know that several of them are unlike any other Greek book which has come down to us from antiquity. The long list of works attributed to Aristotle in the Catalogues also shows that the Aristotelian literature in the Alexandrian age was of an indefinite character, and admitted of being added to and altered.
But although we cannot rehabilitate or restore to their original state the Politics or the Nicomachean Ethics or the Metaphysics, we may throw them into a form which will make them easier and more intelligible to the modern reader. We may 1) present the argument stripped of digressions and additions; 2) we may bring out the important and throw into the background the unimportant points; 3) we may distinguish the two sides of the discussion, where they are not distinguished by the author; 4) we may supply missing links, and omit clumsy insertions; 5) we may take the general meaning without insisting too minutely on the connection. We cannot presume to say how Aristotle should or might have written; nor can we dream of reconstructing an original text which probably had no existence. But we may leave out the interlineations; we may make a difficult book easier; we may give the impression of the whole in a smaller compass. We may be allowed, without violating any principle of criticism, to imagine how Aristotle would have rewritten or rearranged his subject, had our modern copies of the Politics fallen into his hands.
Many things become clearer to us when we are familiar with them. A sense of unity and power will often arise in the mind after long study of a writing which at first seemed poor and disappointing. Through the distinctions and other mannerisms of his school, the original thinker shines forth to any one who is capable of recognising him. Great ideas or forms of thought indicate a mind superior in power to the average understanding of the commentator or interpreter. We cannot be sure that any single sentence of the Politics proceeded from the pen of Aristotle, but this is no reason for doubting the genuineness of his works, if we take the term in a somewhat wider sense; for they all bear the impress of his personality. That which distinguishes him from Plato and the Neo-Platonists, from Isocrates and the rhetoricians, from the Stoics and Epicureans, from all Scholiasts and Commentators, is not the less certain because his writings have come down to us in a somewhat questionable shape. Even if they are the traditions of a school, the mind of the founder is reflected in them. The aim of the interpreter should be to simplify, to disentangle, to find the thought in the imperfect expression of it; as far as possible, to separate the earlier from the later elements, the true from the false Aristotle. The last, however, is a work of great nicety, in which we can only proceed on grounds of internal evidence and therefore cannot hope to attain any precise result. There may be said to be a petitio principii even in making the attempt, for we can only judge of the genuine Aristotle from writings of which the genuineness is assumed.
Any mere translation of Aristotle’s Politics will be, in many passages, necessarily obscure, because the connexion of ideas is not adequately represented by the sequence of words. If it were possible to present the course of thought in a perfectly smooth and continuous form, such an attempt would be too great a departure from the Greek. It is hoped that the Analysis or short paraphrase which follows may assist the student in grasping the general meaning before he enters on a minute study of the text; and that the reflections which are interspersed may enable him to read Aristotle in the light of recent criticism and history, and to take a modern interest in it, without confusing the ancient and modern worlds of thought. (Compare, in vol. ii, Essays on the Style of Aristotle, and on the Structure of certain of the Aristotelian writings.)
A criticism on Plato,—the origin of the household, village, state,—the nature of property and more especially of property in slaves,—the art of household management, and its relation to the art of money-making,—literature of the subject,—some further questions concerning the relations of master and slave, husband and wife, parent and child.
The great charm of the writings of Plato and Aristotle is that they are original. They contain the first thoughts of men respecting problems which will always continue to interest them. Their thoughts have become a part of our thoughts, and enter imperceptibly into the speculations of modern writers on the same subjects, but with a difference. The Ionian and Eleatic philosophers who preceded them were eclipsed in the brightness of their successors; they had not yet reached the stage of ethics or politics, and were little known to the ancients themselves. The ethical teaching of Socrates has been preserved and not been preserved; that is to say, it does not exist in any definite form or system. To us, therefore, Plato and Aristotle are the beginnings of philosophy. In reading them the reflection is often forced upon us: ‘How little have we added except what has been gained by a greater experience of history!’ Some things have come down to us with
‘Better opinion, better confirmation:’
they have acquired authority from age and use. But there are other truths of ancient political philosophy which we have forgotten, or which have degenerated into truisms. Like the memories of childhood they are easily revived, and there is no form in which they so naturally come back to us as that in which they were first presented to mankind.
For example, during the last century enlightened philosophers have been fond of repeating that the state is only a machine for the protection of life and property. But the ancients taught a nobler lesson, that ethics and politics are inseparable; that we must not do evil in order to gain power; and that the justice of the state and the justice of the individual are the same. The older lesson has survived; the newer is seen to have only a partial and relative truth. So for the liberty, equality, and fraternity of the French revolution we are beginning to substitute the idea of law and order; we acknowledge that the best form of government is that which is most permanent, and that the freedom of the individual when carried to an extreme is suicidal. But these are truths which may be found in Aristotle’s Politics. Thus to the old we revert for some of our latest political lessons. The idealism of Plato is always returning upon us, as a dream of the future; the Politics of Aristotle continue to have a practical relation to our own times.
But while we are struck with the general similarity, we are almost equally struck by the different mode in which the thoughts of ancient and modern times are expressed. To go no further than the first book of the Politics, the method of Aristotle in his enquiry into the origin of the state is analytical rather than historical; that is to say, he builds up the state out of its elements, but does not enquire what history or pre-historic monuments tell about primitive man. He is very much under the influence of logical forms, such as means and ends, final causes, categories of quantity and quality, the antithesis of custom and nature, and other verbal oppositions, which not only express, but also dominate his meaning. The antagonism to Plato is constantly reappearing, and may be traced where the name of Plato is not mentioned; the rivalry of the two schools never dies out. The sciences are not yet accurately divided; and hence some questions, which present no difficulty to us, such as the relation of the art of household management to the art of money-making, are discussed at great length, and after all not clearly explained. Some good guesses are made about the nature of money, and some obvious fallacies remain undetected. The lending of money at a fair rate of interest is not distinguished from the usury which is so severely condemned. The universal custom of slavery presents a difficulty which Aristotle is unable to resolve on any clear or consistent principle. The tendency to pass from the absolute to the relative, or from a wider to a narrower point of view, as in the discussion respecting the slave and the artizan, the good citizen and the good man, the art of money-making, the perfect state,—is another element of confusion. The connection is often tortuous and unnatural. It would seem as if notes had been parenthetically inserted in the rough draft of the argument; and here and there considerable dislocations of the text may be suspected. There are favourite topics to which Aristotle is always returning; such, for example, as the Lacedaemonian constitution, which, like the constitution of Great Britain or of the United States, was a powerful idea, and exercised a great influence on the speculations of philosophers, as well as on the laws and customs of cities and peoples.
In the Politics as well as in Aristotle’s other works, there are many indications that he was writing in an age of controversy, and surrounded by a voluminous literature. Had all the books which were written come down to us they would not have been scanned with the same minuteness, and they might perhaps have been studied in a larger and more liberal spirit. The excessive value set upon a small portion of them, and the fragmentary form in which they have been preserved, has given an extraordinary stimulus to the art of interpretation and criticism. Had there been more of them we should have seen them in truer proportions. We should not have spent so much time in deciphering them, and possibly they might not have exerted an equal influence over us. For the study of the classics has become inseparable from the critical method, which enters so largely into the mind of the nineteenth century. But this is a part of a great subject, which it would be out of place here to discuss further.
Every community aims at some good, and the state, which is the highest community, at the highest good. But of communities there are many kinds. And they who [like Plato and Xenophon] suppose that the king and householder differ only in the number of their subjects, or that a statesman is only a king taking his turn of rule, are mistaken. The difference is one of kind and not of degree, as we shall more clearly see, if, following our accustomed method, we resolve the whole into its parts or elements. For in order to understand the nature of things, we must inquire into their origin.
Now the state is founded upon two relations; 1) that of male and female; 2) that of master and servant; the first necessary for the continuance of the race; the second for the preservation of the inferior class or of both classes. From these two relations there arises, in the first place, the household, intended by nature for the supply of men’s daily wants; secondly, the village, which is an aggregate of households; and finally, the state. The parent or elder was the king of the family, and so when families were combined in the village, the patriarchal or kingly form of government continued. The village was a larger family. When several villages were united, the state came into existence. Like the family or household, it originated in necessity, but went beyond them and was the end and fulfilment of them. For nature makes nothing in vain; and to man alone among the animals she has given the faculty of speech, that he may discourse with his fellows of the expedient and the just; and these are the ideas which lie at the basis of the state. In the order of time, the state is later than the family or the individual, but in the order of nature, prior to them; for the whole is prior to the part. As there could be no foot or hand without the body, so there could be no family or man, in the proper sense of the words, without the state. For when separated from his fellows, man is no longer man; he is either a god or a beast. There is a social instinct in all of us, but it requires to be developed; and he who by the help of this instinct organized the state, was the greatest of benefactors. For man, when perfected by law and justice, is the best,—when estranged from them, the worst of animals.
But before we enquire into the state, we must enquire into the household. In a complete household there are three relations:— 1) that of the master to the slave; 2) of the husband to the wife; 3) of the parent to the child:—What is and ought to be the character of each of these? There is also another element which we shall have to consider, the art of money-making, which is sometimes identified with household management. [But this is an error.]
Concerning the relation of master and slave, two views are entertained: 1) there is the doctrine [of Plato] that the rule of a master is a science [and therefore natural]; and that all kinds of rule are essentially the same: and there is the other doctrine, 2) that slavery is contrary to nature; and that the distinction between freemen and slaves is made by law only and not by nature, and is therefore unjust. [Before determining the questions which thus arise we must enquire into the nature of the slave.]
The art of acquiring property is a part of the art of managing a household, and like other arts requires instruments; property is a collection of such instruments, living or lifeless. The slave is a living instrument, and the lifeless instruments are used by him; he is the first of a series. He is an instrument of action, not of production, for he does not produce; he only lives and serves his master, and life is action. But he is also a possession [and therefore the agent of another]; for he is intended by nature to belong to his master, though separable from him. He may be defined, ‘a human being who is a possession and likewise an instrument of action.’
But is there a slave by nature? There is: from the hour of their birth some are intended to command, others to obey; they work together, and the better the workman, the better the work. A ruling principle runs through the whole of nature and is discernible even in things without life, for example, in musical harmony. And in man there is a despotic rule which the soul exercises over the body, and a constitutional rule which the intellect exercises over the appetites. The higher principle has dominion whenever the soul and body are in their best state; the intention of nature is then fulfilled. The male rules and the female is ruled, for the good of both; and animals subjugated by man are better and better off than wild ones. For this rule of the superior by nature is the preservation of the subject or inferior. And the same principle applies to slaves, but there is a difference: for the animal is only guided by instinct, whereas the slave, though he does not partake of reason, can apprehend reason. Where, then, one class of men presents a marked inferiority to another, there slavery is justified. And nature probably intended to make a visible distinction between freeman and slave, but she has not always succeeded, for some slaves have the souls or bodies of freemen, and some freemen the souls or bodies of slaves.
On the other hand it has been argued that there is a slave by law as well as by nature. But this doctrine is indignantly denied by many jurists, who contend that to make the captive taken in war the slave of the victor is an act of great injustice. The question runs up into the wider question: ‘What is justice?’ Some say that virtue when furnished with external goods is power, and that justice is only the rule of a superior; while others distinguish between justice and virtue, and assert justice to be benevolence. If these two propositions are simply opposed, the result is an absurdity. For the truth of a third proposition [which combines them], viz. that the benevolent rule of a superior in virtue is just, can hardly be contested. Others again appeal to custom, which they identify with justice; but this is a view which cannot be consistently maintained. For a war which is justified by custom may nevertheless be an unjust war, or the person enslaved may be unworthy to be made a slave. ‘Hellenes never can be slaves;’ they are noble everywhere, even when taken in war; but the barbarians are noble only in their own country. Does not this use of language clearly imply that there are two classes of men, the slave by nature, and the freeman by nature? And where there is a marked superiority in one class and a marked inferiority in another, there the relation of master and slave springs up; and this relation, when arising naturally and not resting merely on law and force, is a kindly and beneficent one. [In slavery then the rule of the superior is combined with benevolence; and therefore on both grounds it is justice.]
The question respecting the different kinds of rule on which we touched before is now set at rest. The master has been shown to exercise an absolute rule over his slaves, unlike the constitutional rule which the statesman exercises over his fellow-citizens. And master and slave receive their name, not from any science or art which is possessed by either of them [as Plato imagined], but because they are of a certain character. (There might indeed be a science of another sort, which would teach the master how to give his orders and the slave how to execute them; this science would include cookery and other menial arts. And there might also be a science or art of slave-hunting, which would be a kind of war.—But enough of this subject.)
In the opening of the Politics there are many indications of the strife of opinion and uncertainty of language which prevailed in the time of Aristotle. In the first page the writer strikes a note of hostility against Plato, which is repeated at intervals throughout the treatise. Yet the views of Aristotle and Plato respecting the kinds or degrees of governments are not essentially different; the opposition between them was exaggerated, if not invented, by their respective followers. From this almost verbal controversy, he passes on to consider the intentions of nature in the creation of society. But the word nature was ambiguous in ancient no less than in modern times, and was variously used to signify 1) the undeveloped or inchoate, 2) the final or perfect nature. The state and the family are both said to exist by nature; but the state in a higher sense than the family. . . . The distinction between men and animals is seen to be the gift of language by which the sphere of human nature is enlarged and rendered capable of good and evil. This distinction is here limited by Aristotle to that part of language which is concerned with our moral ideas. We should rather say that through language man attains to the expression of general and universal conceptions not only in morals, but in all things (cp. Met. 1. 6. § 2). The true method of enquiry, according to Aristotle, is the analysis of the whole into its parts; but he does not see that the whole is more than the sum of the parts, and that the parts are changed by their relation to one another. As well might we suppose that we could analyse life into the chemical elements which are the conditions of life, or detect the mind in the nerves which are its instruments, as imagine that the state was only a compound of families and villages.
Yet there is likewise in Aristotle’s Politics a consciousness that the whole is prior to the parts, and that the synthetical method must be combined with the analytical. Though imperfectly expressed, the perfect image of the state in which ‘every means is an end, and the end the sum of the means,’ is already present to his mind. The two aspects of the truth are placed side by side, but they are not yet harmonised or brought into relation with one another. Aristotle is thought to have been the first who based knowledge on experience, but ever and anon the ideal or poetical image which was always latent in Greek philosophy, though clothed in an unpoetical dress, and reduced to a skeleton, returns upon him. It would have been a surprise to himself, and still more to his school, if he could have recognised how nearly he approached in reality to some of those conceptions on which he was making war. For example, when he speaks of a whole prior to the parts, what does this mean but the idea of the state prior to the existence of it in fact? The conception of the perfect man whose single virtue exceeds that of all other men put together, and who therefore has a natural right to rule, is even more extravagant than the rule of philosophers in the Republic of Plato.
The ‘accustomed’ method of dividing the whole into its parts is logical rather than historical: that is to say, they are the parts into which it can be dissected, not the elements out of which it has grown. ‘It is like the carving of some noble victim, according to the natural formation, where the joint is, not breaking any part, as a bad carver might.’ (Phaedrus, 265 E.) But it is not the historical method which resolves institutions and facts into their antecedent elements. Aristotle does not investigate the origins of states, but only divides a genus into species or a larger whole or form into the lesser parts or unities of which it is made up, or shows how an existing state may be preserved or destroyed. We must not expect him to give an analysis of primitive society, such as would be found in a modern writer on anthropology. His observation and experience were almost confined to Hellas. The earliest forms of property and society were unknown to him. He does not appear to have heard of ‘marriage by capture,’ and does not distinguish ‘endogamy’ and ‘exogamy.’ The horror naturalis, which forbids marriage within near degrees of relationship, was to him an established fact. He seems to have supposed that there existed from the first some rude form of the family, like that of the Homeric Cyclops, in which the individual savage gave the law to his own household. But he does not examine how this lowest form of human society passed into the village and the village into the state. Nor does he seriously attempt to gather the ancient customs of Hellas from the usages of the contemporary barbarians, although he occasionally lights upon this path of enquiry, which had been already indicated both by Thucydides and Plato. Nor does it occur to him that the ties of family or caste may be so strong, that the growth of the state is stunted by them; nor, on the other hand, that the life of cities may be so intense as to make any larger political unity impossible.
He tries to distinguish between instruments of production and action, and almost in successive sentences he implies that the slave is and is not both. There is a similar confusion in the opposition which he attempts to make between the artisan and the slave. Nor is the distinction between the slave who can only apprehend reason and the freeman who partakes of reason anything more than a verbal quibble. Both partake of reason in different degrees. He argues, again, that the slave being a possession and belonging to another is necessarily the minister of action. But the notion that a possession is a minister of action rather than of production is a fancy of his own; and he appears to forget at the moment that the artisan, who, if any one, may be termed a minister of production, was often a slave. Here, as in c. 13, he is contrasting the slave and the artisan on the ground that the true slave, not the artisan, derives an inspiration from his master. Such confusions we must admit to have existed in the mind of Aristotle, if we would attain any degree of clearness in the interpretation of his writings.
Respecting slavery, Aristotle arrives at a definite conclusion which, though unsatisfactory to us, satisfies himself. But he has not clearly separated his own view from that of his opponents. His conclusion is that slavery is right when intended by nature; and the manifest inferiority of certain races is regarded by him as the proof that nature intended them to be slaves. But the captive taken in war, unless he were of inferior race, was only accidentally a slave. The slavery of Barbarian to Greek was natural; the slavery of Greek to Greek was arbitrary and cruel. He implies, though his meaning is obscurely expressed, that the two opposite views, ‘justice is benevolence,’ ‘justice is the rule of a superior,’ must be combined.
We are interested to remark that in the age of Aristotle there were some Greeks who would have maintained that slave-hunting was a lawful employment, and that there were also anti-slavery philosophers or sophists in the days before the Stoics, who asserted freedom to be the birthright of all mankind. Either of these extreme views was repudiated by him; his sense of justice revolted from the former, and he probably regarded the latter as too much at variance with the actual condition of the world. How could the 400,000 Athenian slaves ever be emancipated? How could the Greek enjoy cultivated leisure, which was a necessity to him, when deprived of them? How could the barbarians of Illyria and Scythia be transformed into civilized beings? (‘If at all,’ he would perhaps have replied, ‘by subjection to the superior reason of an Hellenic master.’) The question which has been asked in modern times, whether society could exist without domestic service?—may illustrate the manner in which a moderate thinker of the school of Aristotle would have regarded the existence of slavery in ancient Hellas. The difficulties which existed in the management of slaves at Lacedaemon were sufficient to show that they were a dangerous element in the state, a ‘troublesome sort of cattle,’ as Plato calls them. It is however remarkable that neither at Athens nor at Corinth, notwithstanding their enormous numbers and their constant employment in naval and other warfare, do we find any attempt at organised revolt among them, nor does any mention occur of their ill-treatment by the state. It may be further noted that Aristotle, in the Seventh Book, proposes the emancipation of individual slaves as the reward of good conduct—the door of hope was never to be closed—this is a first principle to be always observed in the management of them. The attempt to open a career to slaves, whether practicable or not, is in advance of most modern countries in which slavery is or has been maintained, and may be compared with the principle upheld, not by the primitive, but by the mediaeval church, which led to the emancipation of the serfs. [See note in loco and Essay on Aristotle as a Political Philosopher.]
Having discussed the relation of master and slave, we will now proceed to the other question: How is the art of money-making related to household management? Is it the same with it, or a part of it, or subordinate to it? Clearly subordinate, because instrumental; and not the same; for household management uses the material which the art of money-making provides. How then are they to be distinguished? We reply that the acquisition of food is natural to man, and that when limited to natural needs this art of acquisition is a part of household management, which takes many forms; for nature has given many sorts of plants and animals for the use of man; and the differences, both in men and animals, are dependent on their food. Hence arise many employments which may be pursued either to a limited or to an unlimited extent. There are shepherds, husbandmen, fishermen, hunters, and the like. When limited these employments are natural and necessary; for the master of the household must store up the means of life, if they do not exist already. But when unlimited they are bad, and should not be included in household management, which, like the arts, has a natural limit.
The other sort of acquisition is the art of making money, or retail trade, which does not exist in the household but grows up with the increase of the community. Now all things have two uses, the one proper, the other improper; in other words, they may be either used or exchanged. Retail trade is the improper use of them for the sake of exchange only, and is not natural because it goes beyond the wants of nature and therefore has no place in the household. It grew out of simple barter, and was innocent enough until coin was invented. After the invention of coin it developed into money-making, and riches have been identified with a hoard of coin, a notion against which mankind rightly rebel. For money is a conventional thing and may often be useless. A man might be able to turn the dishes which were set before him into gold, like Midas in the fable, and yet perish with hunger.
True wealth is a means and not an end, and is limited by the wants of the household; but the spurious wealth has no limit and is pursued for its own sake. The legitimate art of money-making, which corresponds to the first of these, is a part of household management; the art which creates wealth by exchange is illegitimate. The two have been often confused, because the same instrument, wealth, is common to both; and the desires of men being without limit, they are apt to think that the means to gratify them should also be unlimited.
The whole question may be summed up as follows:—There is an art of money-making which uses the means provided by nature for the supply of the household; there is another art which exchanges and trades. The first is honourable and natural; the second is dishonourable and unnatural. The worst form of the latter sort is usury, or the breeding of money from money, which makes a gain not only out of other men, but out of the ‘barren metal.’
The last of the difficulties which are discussed by Aristotle in the First Book is the relation of money-making to household management. The sciences or subjects of knowledge which are concerned with man run into one another; and in the age of Aristotle were not easily distinguished. As we say that Political Economy is not the whole of Politics, so Aristotle says that money-making [χρηματιστική] is not the whole of household management [οἰκονομική] or of family life. But in either case there is a difficulty in separating them. Aristotle perceives that the art of money-making is both narrower and wider than household management; he would like to establish its purely subordinate relation. He does not consider that the property of individuals becomes in time of need the wealth of the state; or that one of his favourite virtues, magnificence, depends on the accumulation of wealth; or that Athens could not have been the home of the arts ‘unless the fruits of the whole earth had flowed in upon her,’ and unless gold and silver treasure had been stored up in the Parthenon. And although he constantly insists that leisure is necessary to a cultivated class, he does not observe that a certain amount of accumulated wealth is a condition of leisure.
The art of household management has to decide what is enough for the wants of a family. Happiness is not boundless accumulation, but the life of virtue having a sufficiency of external goods. The art of money-making goes further; for it seeks to make money without limit. According to Aristotle the excess begins at the point where coined money is introduced: with the barter of uncivilised races, with the wild life of the hunter, with the lazy existence of the shepherd, or the state of mankind generally before cities came into existence, he has no fault to find. He does not perceive that money is only a convenient means of exchange which may be used in small quantities, or in large; which may be employed in trade, or put out at interest; and that the greater the saving of time in production, the greater will also be the opportunities of leisure and cultivation. The real difference between the true and the false art of money-making is one of degree; and the evil is not the thing itself, but the manner of obtaining it,—when men heap up money at the cost of every other good;—and also the use of it,—when it is wasted in luxury and ostentation, and adds nothing to the higher purposes of life. Something of the prejudice against retail trade seems to enter into the whole discussion. Another prejudice is observable in the fanciful argument against usury, to which Aristotle objects, not on the ground that the usurer may become a tyrant, but because the money which is produced out of usury is a sort of unnatural birth. . . . Once more, he falls unconsciously into the error of preferring an uncivilised to a civilised state of society. The beauty of primitive life—that fair abstraction of religion and philosophy—was beginning to exercise a fascination over the Greeks in the days of Aristotle and Plato, as it afterwards did over the mind of modern Europe when it was again made attractive by the genius of Sir Thomas More and of Rousseau.
But now leaving the theory, let us consider the practice of money-making, which has many branches; the knowledge of live-stock, tillage, planting, the keeping of bees, fish, poultry—all these are legitimate. The illegitimate are 1) commerce, of which there are three subdivisions, commerce by land, commerce by sea, and selling in shops; 2) usury; 3) service for hire, skilled and unskilled. There are also arts in which products of the earth, such as wood and minerals, are exchanged for money; these are an intermediate kind. The lowest are the arts in which there is least precision, the greatest use of the body, and the least need of excellence.
But not to go further into details, he who is interested in such subjects may consult economical writers, or collect the stories about the ways in which Thales and others made fortunes. He will find that these stories usually turn upon the same point, the creation of a monopoly; which is also a favourite device of statesmen when they want to increase the revenue.
Enough has been said of master and slave. There remain the two other relations which exist in a family, that of husband and wife, and of parent and child. The master rules over the slave despotically, the husband over the wife constitutionally, but in neither case do they take turns of ruling and being ruled after the manner of constitutional states, because the difference between them is permanent. On the other hand, the rule of the father or elder over the child is like that of the king over his subjects.
The master of a house has to do with persons rather than with things, with human excellence and not with wealth, and with the virtue of freemen rather than with the virtue of slaves. For in the slave as well as in the freeman there resides a virtue which enables him to perform his duty. Whether he has any higher excellence is doubtful:—If he has, in what will he differ from a freeman? Yet he is a man and therefore a rational being. And a noble disposition is required in the natural subject as well as in the natural ruler. But, on the other hand, we say that the difference between them is one of kind and not of degree. What is the conclusion? That the virtue of the slave is the same with that of his master, or different? Not the same, nor yet altogether different, but relative to the nature of each, like the virtues of the soul and of the body, like the rule of the male over the female, who both partake of the same virtues but in different degrees. [Plato] was wrong in trying to comprehend all the virtues under a single definition; [Gorgias] was right in distinguishing them.
The artisan should not be confounded with the slave. He does not exist by nature, and is not linked to a master; whereas the slave is a part of his master, and receives from him the impress of his character.
The relations of husband and wife, of parent and child, will be more fully considered when we speak of the constitutions of states. For the family is a part of the state, and the virtue of the part must be relative to the virtue of the whole.
The two last chapters of the First Book seem to be a summary of the subjects which have preceded. Yet the writer, as if not wholly satisfied with his previous analysis of the relations of slave and master, and desirous of having one more ‘fling’ at Plato, returns to the discussion, which he illustrates by a new and not very accurate distinction between the slave and the artisan. The artisan is inferior to the slave, because he is not subjected to the civilising or inspiring influence of a master, nor does he stand in any natural relation to the person from whom he learns his art. The distinction, which is untenable (for many artisans were slaves), seems to be an afterthought and comes in out of place. Aristotle has already in view the education of the citizens, and he intends that it shall be relative to the state of which they are members. He concludes with an unfulfilled promise, one of the many which occur in the course of the work. The promise is, that he will discuss the virtues of husband and wife, parent and child, when he treats of the different forms of government. Whether he meant to compare particular relations of family life with particular forms of government, e. g. the relation of husband and wife to a constitutional government, and that of father and son to a monarchy; or only to say generally that the organisation of the family must correspond to that of the state, is left unexplained. His views of the state and the family are mutually influenced by each other; and he sees fanciful as well as real analogies subsisting between them. Yet at the beginning of his work he has expressly distinguished between them, and it is hard to say how a particular form of government can be supposed to depend upon the family.
There are many glimpses of higher truths presented to us in the First Book of the Politics: such, for example, as the remarks 1) that the state is prior to the individual; 2) that the lower is intended by nature to lead up to the higher, i. e. that the state is implicitly contained in the family and the village; 3) that in all men there is a social instinct which is matured by the wisdom of legislators, who are the great benefactors of mankind; 4) that there is a principle of government or law even in inanimate things; 5) that wealth is not the true end of human life; 6) that the virtue of the individual must exist in the state. These are noble thoughts, which, though entangled in some paradoxes and errors incidental to the age of Aristotle, may be regarded as the true lights of political philosophy in all ages. The individual, the family, the state, are all parts of a larger whole on which is impressed a final cause, dimly seen to be the harmony of the world.
The first half of the second book of the Politics is devoted to the controversy with Plato, who is criticised by Aristotle from an adverse point of view. His criticisms are not those of an admiring pupil who seeks to enter into the spirit of his master, but of a teacher who has revolted against his authority. The clouds and dreams of the Republic have many heavy blows dealt against them by the weapons of common sense, but like ‘the air invulnerable’ they come together again and are unharmed by the spear of criticism. For they can never be brought down to earth, and while remaining in their own element they are beyond the reach of attack.
In the criticisms of Aristotle on the Republic there is one leading thought:—the state, like the human frame, has many parts or members, but Plato reduces it to an unmeaning and colourless unity. He makes it into a large family in which there are unreal relationships and no bond, either political or social, holding them together. The unmeaningness of the conception becomes evident as soon as we attempt to realise it. If the ideal state were divided into tribes and phratries, hardly anything would remain of it. In Plato the correlation of the parts and the whole is lost sight of; and society, instead of being held together by a multitude of ‘little invisible pegs’ or threads, becomes thin and transparent.
The argument of chap. 4 is difficult to follow, because Aristotle, without making any regular transition, attacks Plato from different points of view in successive sentences. First of all he complains that the unity of the Platonic state is too great, and even suicidal. Then, again, he urges that this unity or friendship is really imaginary. For it has no organisation, and, like a drop of honey in water, is dissipated or lost in the mass through which it is diffused.
The arguments which Aristotle employs against communism are for the most part the same which may be found in modern writers. Though not a communist, he is of opinion that existing laws or usages are capable of improvement. Men cannot have all things in common, but they may have many more than at present. The instinct of ownership is a kind of self-love implanted by nature, not blameable, but it should be tempered by liberality and benevolence. The Spartan freedom of taking and using a neighbour’s goods is commended by Aristotle, and he thinks that such a custom might be carried further. The legislator should seek to inspire the ‘love which is the fulfilling of the law’; he should not by enactments take away the grace and freedom of virtuous actions. The sentiment might be thrown into a modern form:—More good will be done by awakening in rich men a sense of the duties of property, than by the violation of its rights.
Aristotle is dissatisfied with the vagueness of Plato. He wants to know more about the inferior classes: what is to be their education, and in what relation do they stand to the guardians? Are they to have wives and children in common? As if in a work of imagination which was intended to shadow forth great principles every particular must be consistent, or every detail filled up. Neither has Aristotle himself given any sufficient answer to the question, ‘What should be the position of the subject-class in a Greek state?’ Nor is it strictly accurate to say that the rulers in the Republic are always the same. For the ‘high-spirited warriors’ when they are qualified by age all take their turn of ruling: see Essay on Aristotle as a Critic of Plato in vol. ii.
A criticism on the Republic and on the Laws of Plato; the constitutions of Phaleas and Hippodamus; the states of Lacedaemon, Crete, and Carthage,—their similarities and differences; scattered remarks on Solon and other legislators.
Before entering on the search after a perfect state, we must pass in review those constitutions, whether ideal or actual, which are the most in repute. In seeking for something beyond them, we are animated by the love of truth, not by the desire of display.
Let us examine the nature of the social union. The members of a state must either have all things in common or nothing in common, or some things in common and some not. They must have some things in common, for they live in the same place. But should they have all things in common, as in the Republic of Plato, or some things only and others not? Which is better—the communism of the Republic, or the prevailing custom?
Plato believed that the community of women would promote the unity of the state. But 1) unity may be carried to such an extent that the state is no longer a state, and, in tending to greater unity, becomes first a family, and then an individual; such an unity as this would be the ruin of the state, and therefore the reverse of beneficial to it. 2) Moreover, a state must be large enough to be self-sufficing, and a family is more self-sufficing than an individual, and a state than a family. 3) A state is not a mere aggregate of individuals, like a military alliance of which the usefulness may depend on quantity only; nor yet a nation, which is a host of men ‘numero tantum differentes,’ like the Arcadians; the elements of a state differ in kind. Where the citizens are all free and equal, they rule and are ruled in turns; and this principle of compensation is the salvation of states. It might be better from one point of view that there should be a permanent division of labour and that the same persons should always rule. But where there is a natural equality and not enough offices for all the citizens, the continuance of one set of persons in office is found to be impossible; and so they hold office by turns, and upon the same principle pass from one office to another. 4) Even assuming the greatest unity to be desirable, it would not be attained, as Plato supposes, when all men say ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’ of the same thing or person at the same moment. For the word ‘all’ has two senses, a collective and a distributive; taken collectively it is unmeaning—all the world cannot have one wife or house; taken distributively it implies that every man’s wife or house will be the wife or house of every other man; but this arrangement will not conduce to the harmony of a family. The state is an unity in plurality; and the unity without the plurality, or the plurality without the unity, is absurd. Again, 5) that which is common to many is apt to be neglected. The children will belong to everybody and to nobody. They will have an infinitesimal share of parental affection:—moreover, when they were born many of their supposed fathers may have had no sons or daughters, or they may not have lived to grow up. Better to have a cousin in the ordinary sense of the word than a thousand sons in the Republic of Plato. 6) The children will often resemble their fathers or mothers, and inferences will be drawn about their parentage.
There will be other evils:—7) Unholy acts done against fathers and mothers are more likely to be committed if the relationship is unknown. And who will make atonement for them? 8) It was inconsistent of Plato to forbid intercourse between lovers because of the intensity of the pleasure, and yet allow familiarities between relations which are far more discreditable; for all the citizens will be relations. 9) The true effect of communism is disorganisation. It might therefore be allowed among the subject-class whom the legislator wants to keep down, but not among the rulers. 10) Such legislation is suicidal; while pretending to make men friends all round and to preserve them from revolutions, it really weakens the ties which bind them to one another; instead of unity so complete as to be self-destroying, there will be a watery friendship among them. 11) The transference from one class to another will be impossible; for how can secrecy be maintained? 12) And the citizens who are transferred will be restrained by no ties of relationship from committing crimes against their nearest relations.
Whether the citizens of the perfect state should have their property in common or not is another question. Three modes of tenure are possible:—1) private ownership of the soil and common use; 2) common ownership and private use; 3) ownership and use alike common. If the cultivators are the owners, they will quarrel about the division of the produce [‘chacun produit selon sa capacité’ et consomme selon ses besoins’], but if they are not their own masters the difficulty will be diminished. There is always an awkwardness in persons living together and having things in common. Fellow-travellers are often said to fall out by the way, and we are apt to take offence at our servants because they are always with us. The present system, if humanised and liberalised, would be far better. There might be private possession and common use among friends, such as exists already to a certain extent among the Lacedaemonians, who borrow one another’s slaves and horses and dogs, and take in the fields the provisions which they want. To Plato we reply:—1) When men have distinct interests, they will not be so likely to quarrel; and 2) they will make more progress, because every one will be attending to his own business. 3) There is a natural pride of ownership; and also 4) a pleasure in doing a kindness to others;—these will be destroyed by communism. 5) The virtues of continence and liberality will no longer exist. 6) When Plato attributes all the ills which states endure to private property, he overlooks the real cause of them, which is the wickedness of human nature. 7) He has a false conception of unity. The state should be united by philosophy, by a common education and common meals, not by community of property. 8) The experience of ages is against him: his theory, if true, would have been discovered long ago. 9) If his scheme were ever realised, he would be compelled to break up the state into tribes and phratries and other associations. And then, what would be left of the original idea? Nothing but the prohibition of agriculture to the guardians. 10) The plan is not worked out—even the general form of the community is indistinct. He says nothing about the lower classes who are the majority of the citizens. The husbandmen, if they have all things in common, do not differ from the guardians; but if they have wives and property of their own, they will form a state within a state, and the old evils arising out of property will reappear. Education is his panacea which is to take the place of law; but he has confined education to the guardians. 11) Or if the husbandmen own the land on payment of a tribute, is this desirable? will they not be even more unmanageable than the Helots? 12) If the wives of the citizens are common and the land private, who will see to the house? 13) And what will happen if the husbandmen have both lands and wives in common? 14) Once more, it is absurd to argue for the community of women from the analogy of the animals; for animals have not to manage a household. 15) There is a danger in the fixedness of the rulers, who are said to be made of the same gold always. For high-spirited warriors will want to have a turn of ruling as well as of being ruled. 16) The guardians are deprived of happiness, and yet the whole state is supposed to be happy: but how can the whole be happy unless the parts are happy?
Many of these objections apply to Plato’s later work, the ‘Laws,’ in which he intended to delineate a constitution more of the ordinary type; but he gradually reverts to his ideal state. The only differences are, that the women share in the common meals, that the number of the warriors is increased from 1000 to 5000; and that the community of women and property is abandoned. But 1) he has exceeded the bounds of possibility in making so large a state. 2) He has neglected foreign relations; yet a city must be provided against her enemies. 3) He has not defined the amount of property which his citizens may possess. He says a man should have ‘enough to live temperately’—meaning ‘to live well.’ Yet a man may live temperately but miserably. He should have said ‘enough to live temperately and liberally.’ 4) If he equalises property, he should limit population; he fancies that the fruitfulness of some marriages would be balanced by the barrenness of others, and so the number of citizens would remain about the same as in existing states. But if the lots are absolutely divided they could not be redistributed. There would then be supernumeraries, who would stir up revolution. 5) He does not say how the rulers are distinguished from the subjects. 6) If other property may be increased five-fold, why not land? 7) His two homesteads, one in the city and one on the border, will be very inconvenient. 8) The citizens are to be heavy-armed soldiers who will form a polity. This constitution, though it may be suited to the greatest number of states, is not the nearest to his ideal. There are persons who think that all the elements of the state ought to share in the government, and these would prefer the more complex constitution of Sparta, which is made up of king, elders, and ephors. According to Plato the best state is a combination of democracy and tyranny; but both of these are bad and can hardly be called constitutions at all; and the constitution which is actually proposed is nothing but an union of democracy and oligarchy, inclining rather to the latter, as may be seen from the mode of choosing the magistrates and the council, and the enforcement on the rich of attendance at the assembly. 9) He contrives the council in such a manner as always to give the predominance to the higher or richer classes. 10) The double election will tend to throw the power of choosing into the hands of a clique or cabal.
Most of the arguments which Aristotle employs against communism are the same which are employed among ourselves: he expresses in them the common sense of mankind. But some are peculiar to him, or characteristic of his age and country. For example, 1) the notion that the lower classes will be more easily retained in subjection if they have wives and children in common; which may be compared with the desire to suppress education and family life among slaves in some slaveholding countries of modern times; 2) the impossibility of expiating crimes committed against relations when relationships are unknown; 3) the supposed necessity of breaking up the state into tribes and phratries, which is maintained from the point of view, not of Plato, but of an Athenian citizen; 4) the remark that there is much more quarrelling among those who have all things in common than among the owners of private property; which probably refers to partnerships in business. Several of Aristotle’s arguments are unsatisfactory to us. First the attempt to show that the population in ordinary states is kept equal by the compensation of sterile and fertile unions, but that this compensation will not occur under the constitution of the Laws; whereas enactments are expressly made to preserve the equality of families; secondly, the assertion that, according to Plato, the best state is composed of democracy and tyranny: a statement which is nowhere to be found either in the Republic or Laws, though something like it occurs in Laws, vi. 756 E. Again, it is not true to say that Plato has not considered the question of population; for he has treated of it in Laws, v. 740, and provides against the difficulty by ‘preventive checks,’ by laws of marriage and adoption, and by colonisation.
The relation of the ‘Laws’ to the Republic is not such as it is represented by Aristotle. The words, that ‘Plato, having intended to adapt the “Laws” to an ordinary state, gradually returns to the ideal form,’ are not justified by anything found in the book of the Laws which has come down to us, and there is no trace of any other form of the work. He always intended that the constitution of the Laws should be that of a second-rate state, and the distinction, though only once explicitly noted (Laws, v. 739, 740), is present to his mind throughout. The point of which Aristotle makes light, when he says that the only difference between the Republic and the Laws is the community of wives and property, is really essential. He has omitted to mention the other difference, which, in Plato’s estimation, was even greater, the government of philosophers. There is little or nothing ideal or peculiar in what remains; for nearly all the other institutions contained in the Laws have their parallel in Sparta or some other Greek state. It can hardly be said that the Lacedaemonian constitution comes nearer than that of the Laws to the ideal state; nor is this remark of Aristotle consistent with his previous remark that the constitution of the Laws gradually reverts to the ideal state.
For this whole subject see the Essay in vol. ii. on the Criticisms of Aristotle upon Plato. Oncken (Staatslehre des Aristoteles, vol. i. p. 194 foll.) is of opinion that the Laws of Plato which were known to Aristotle were not the same with the extant work. He argues from the silence of Aristotle on many points, and from his misrepresentation of others. But Aristotle’s treatment of Plato in the Laws is not different from his treatment of him in the Ethics and Metaphysics. The hypothesis of Oncken is highly improbable. There is no example of corruption or interpolation on such a scale in a work of such excellence anywhere in the compass of ancient literature. An hypothesis against which so fatal an objection may be urged, would have to be supported by the strongest proofs, and not merely by a weak inference from the statement that Philippus of Opus copied the Laws from the original tablets. (See Introduction to the Laws; Translation of the Dialogues of Plato, vol. v.)
Yet the Plato or the theses of Plato which Aristotle or the diorthotes of the Politics had in his mind in an age when manuscripts were scarce and were not yet divided into books and chapters, may have been very different from the Plato which is known to us. Such a view is confirmed by an examination of Aristotle’s references not only to the Laws, but to Plato’s other writings, and by the general character of the citations in early Greek literature. The anti-Platonic theses of the Peripatetic school may often have had little foundation in the actual writings of Plato. The arts of interpretation and controversy were in their infancy. This is a more reasonable explanation of the want of correspondence between Plato and Aristotle than to suppose the wholesale corruption or interpolation of an ancient writer.
No constitution is so novel and singular as that of Plato; no one else has introduced the community of women and children, or the public tables for women. Other legislators have made the regulation of property their chief aim, deeming that to be the point on which all revolutions turn. Phaleas of Chalcedon saw this danger and was the first to affirm that the citizens of a state ought to have equal possessions. In a new colony he would have started with an equal distribution of property; in an old-established one he would gradually have attained the same end by an arrangement of marriage portions:—the rich were to give and not receive them, and the poor to receive and not to give them. 1) But if a limit of property is to be fixed, there should also be a limit of population; otherwise the law will be broken, and those who have nothing will stir up revolution. 2) And even where a limit of property is fixed, the amount should not be so great as to encourage luxury, or so small as to allow of poverty. 3) The desires of mankind must be limited as well as their possessions. 4) The equality of honour among unequals and the inequality of honour among equals are as dangerous as the equality or inequality of property. There are three motives to crime, a) want, b) ambition, c) the love of pleasure without pain. But want is far from being the strongest of these incentives, and therefore equalisation of property would only banish the lesser sort of crimes. The true remedy for want is to have a competency and something to do; for ambition, self-control; for the love of pleasure, philosophy. Phaleas probably intended to give equal education as well as property to all his citizens, and thereby to equalise their desires; but he has not told us what will be the character of his education. 5) He has regarded only domestic, and not foreign relations, into which the consideration of property likewise enters; for a state should have enough wealth to resist, but not enough to attract invaders [§§ 18-21 are partly a repetition of what has preceded, § 9 foll.]. 6) The greater evils which flow from ambition are not diminished by an equalisation of property, but by training the nobler dispositions of men to contentment, and by putting down discontent among the lower sort. 7) Phaleas should have equalised, not merely land, but moveables. 8) He wants to make all the artisans slaves, which would only be possible in a small city.
This and the following chapters show us how fertile was the genius of Hellas in devising forms of government. Already there were many treatises in existence, probably a large literature, relating to the subject of Politics. Yet we are also struck with the meagreness of Aristotle’s information and the feebleness of some of his judgments. Of Sparta he knows very little, of Crete even less, and his ideas respecting Carthage are fragmentary and also contradictory. Not having before us the writings of Phaleas or Hippodamus, we cannot say how far he misunderstood or misrepresented them: he may not have done them greater justice than he appears to have done to Plato. The reflections of Aristotle on Phaleas and Hippodamus, like so many of his criticisms, are made in the dialectical manner of the age; but we have reached a further point of view, and can judge in a more comprehensive spirit. It was impossible for him to do justice to his predecessors; he can only try them by formulas of his own and by the more advanced standard of his own time. But we know that the first steps in political philosophy, feeble and inconsistent as they may have been, are really the greatest; and the highest achievement of modern criticism is the power of appreciating such new and original thoughts in all their greatness.
It is no real objection to Phaleas that in treating of the equalisation of property he has said nothing of equality of population; he might have replied that the support of surplus numbers is not more difficult where there is equality than where there is inequality of property. Nor can he be blamed for neglecting to speak of foreign relations, except on the ground which is hardly tenable that every political treatise should be complete in every part. The subject was impressed on the mind of Aristotle by the history of Hellas; but it might not equally have occurred to an earlier writer on politics.
In ancient times men did not easily analyse the forms of government under which they lived. In reflections of this kind Polybius, who lived a century and a half later, though not a genius of the highest order, has made an advance upon Aristotle. His sketch of the Roman Republic is fuller and clearer than any of the constitutions described in the Politics. Yet even he, truthful as he was in the main, cannot be acquitted of partiality. His predecessor Timaeus is a bête noire to him, whom he is always attacking, but, as we should be inclined to infer from his virulence, not always with justice.
The first person, not a statesman, who framed a constitution was Hippodamus, the architect of the Peiraeus, a man affected in his dress and eccentric in his way of life, who was a political philosopher as well as an enquirer into nature. 1) His state consisted of 10,000 citizens who were distributed in three classes, husbandmen, artisans, warriors. 2) He divided the land into three parts, a sacred, a public, and a private part, the first for the maintenance of religion, the second for the support of the warriors, the third to be owned by the husbandmen. 3) He classified laws under three heads, insult, injury, homicide. 4) He instituted a court of appeal formed of elders chosen for the purpose. 5) He was of opinion that in the courts of justice the judges should use, not a pebble but a tablet, and in doubtful cases, instead of a simple acquittal or condemnation, they should write down on the tablet the degree of guilt which they attributed to the defendant. Unless they were allowed to draw distinctions, they must often commit perjury. 6) He enacted that rewards should be conferred on public benefactors. 7) He provided that the children of citizens slain in battle should be maintained by the state, as is customary at Athens; and 8) he had all the magistrates chosen by the people.
These proposals are open to many objections. 1) The artisans, the husbandmen, and the warriors are supposed to have an equal share in the government. But the first two will be the slaves of the last, for they have no arms; and for the same reason they are not fit to be magistrates: on the other hand, if excluded from the government, how can they be loyal citizens? And if the warriors are the stronger, why should the two other classes have any share in the government at all? The artisans have a natural place in the state, and the husbandmen, if they provided the warriors with food, might have a claim. The anomaly is that they have land of their own. Now if they cultivate the land of the warriors as well as their own, they will have too much to do: and the warriors, if they are engaged in cultivating their own lands, will become husbandmen; or if there are yet other cultivators, these will be a fourth class in the state for which no place is allowed. 2) The qualified verdict would turn the judges into arbitrators; it would cause confusion, and is unnecessary. If the charge is properly drawn, the dicast can always say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ without committing perjury. 3) The proposal to reward discoveries or improvements in the laws would encourage informers. But should laws be improved?—that is a controverted question. The example of the arts and the general experience of mankind is in favour of improvement. Men in general desire good and not merely what their fathers had. On the other hand, the authority of laws is derived from custom, and the habit of lightly altering them impairs their force. There must sometimes be changes, but great caution should be observed; else the evil of change may outweigh the gain of reform. The analogy of the arts is misleading.
Aristotle regards Phaleas and Hippodamus as he regards Plato, from the point of view of an adversary: he is their critic, after the manner of his age, and tells us, not what he approves, but what he disapproves in their writings. Yet it is evident that some of their political ideas had great merit. Phaleas attempted to deal with the evils of property, which he thought could most easily be remedied in an old country by a clever arrangement of dowries: we should say, probably, by restricting the power of settlement or bequest. A difficulty which pressed upon ancient legislators more than ourselves owing to the stationary character of the arts of production was the increase of population; of this difficulty Aristotle is very sensible. When men begin to feel the struggle for existence they are apt to be discontented with the government under which they live. Yet mere equality of property, even if it could be maintained, would not always content them. For all men cannot be reduced to the same dead level, even if there were enough for all. The ambitious will still commit crimes on a great scale; the possession of a competence takes away only the temptation to petty larceny. Nor can it be denied that great inequalities of property by giving a stimulus to increased production may give a larger share of the goods of life to the poor than could be obtained by any system of distribution however just.
It is an interesting question which Aristotle raises in his criticism of Phaleas. What amount of wealth may with advantage be possessed by a state? To which we may reply, That the value of wealth in a state depends not on the amount, but on the use and distribution of it. Men may talk about the meannesses and miseries which are caused by a highly artificial state of society. They may seek to throw off the restraints of law. But
This is the spirit which Aristotle here expresses, though an opposite thesis might be maintained with equal truth. For the miseries which arise from bad, and the blessings of good government, in which the blessings of peace are generally included, can hardly be exaggerated. He also expresses the feeling which is familiar to us in modern times, that want of morality, which is in fact weakness, lies at the root of the corruption in a state. Men are always crying out, Give, give, and are for dividing and subdividing the property of the rich. But while Aristotle acknowledges the inequalities of society to be natural and necessary, he insists on justice being done to the lower classes. Foreign relations are ever present to his mind. They could hardly be otherwise, since in the fourth and fifth centuries before Christ nearly every state in Hellas had become the friend and enemy of every other several times over.
The number 3 exercises a great influence on the constitution of Hippodamus. He built the streets of cities at right angles, and also gave an arithmetical or mathematical form to the fabric of his ideal state. Number and figure naturally became in his age guiding principles of the human mind. Yet he was also an original thinker, and already before the time of Plato had treated of a best or perfect state. His classification of offences, his institution of a court of appeal and a qualified verdict (for he was apparently the first author of them), are great legal inventions. The court of appeal was probably intended to amend the decisions of the popular assembly or of the ordinary law courts by the judgment of a court of elders. Whether Aristotle approved of the proposal or not, he does not say. The argument of Hippodamus against the unqualified verdict is really untenable. The difficulty is inherent in the nature of the case, and cannot be removed by the several jurors or judges giving their verdicts in different forms. Other objections of Aristotle’s appear to us rather trivial; for example, the argument that the husbandmen cannot be a fourth class, seemingly because a fourth class is contrary to the genius of the state, or, his notion that the artisans have a place in the state, but not the husbandmen unless they are entirely devoted to the service of the military class. We are also surprised at his digressing from the Laws of Hippodamus to the general question whether laws should or should not be changed.
The commonplaces of conservative and reformer are arrayed against one another for the first time in the Politics. Aristotle anticipates by his great power of reflection the lessons which the experience of ages has taught the modern world.
All governments may be criticised from two points of view: their relation 1) to the perfect state, 2) to the intention of the lawgiver. Under these two aspects we will now examine, first the Lacedaemonian, secondly the Cretan state. [N. B. This symmetrical plan is immediately forgotten.]
1) In a well-ordered state the citizens must have leisure, and therefore others must provide for their daily wants. But slaves are apt to rebel: the Spartan Helots and the Thessalian Penestae have constantly risen against their masters, though the Cretans have succeeded better in the management of their slaves, because they are islanders, and because when at war with one another, all having slaves, they do not encourage them to revolt.
2) The influence of the Spartan women is fatal to good order. They are half the city, and the other half has fallen under their dominion; in the language of mythology, Ares has been overcome by Aphrodite. They are disorderly and cowardly; in the Theban invasion they were utterly useless and caused more confusion than the enemy. Their way of life tends also to foster avarice in their husbands. The evil is of old standing. Lycurgus long ago wanted to control them, but they were too much for him. He found them more impracticable than the men, who had been schooled into obedience by their long wars against their neighbours, and he gave up the attempt. To their resistance this defect in the constitution is to be attributed.
3) Another evil is the inequality of property. This inequality is caused by the unlimited right of bequest, and is aggravated by the practice of giving large dowries; two-fifths of the land has passed into the hands of women. And so the population has diminished. The country was once capable of maintaining 1500 knights and 30,000 heavy-armed troops, and although at one time the Spartans themselves were as many as 10,000, the total number has now fallen below 1000.
4) The legislator ought to have kept the number of lots equal to the number of the people; but instead of equalising them, he encouraged large families, so that they have become more unequal and disproportionate. [Yet he did not succeed in increasing the number of his citizens.]
5) The high office of the Ephoralty has many defects. a) The Ephors are chosen out of all, and the office is often held by very poor men, who, being ill off, are open to bribes; b) their powers are so extravagant that the balance of the constitution has been disturbed by them; c) they are elected in a manner which is perfectly ridiculous; d) they are quite ordinary men, and are therefore unfit to decide great causes on their own judgment; they should be controlled by written laws; e) the laxity of their life contrasts with the severity of the ordinary Spartan régime. On the other hand, the office is popular; the common people are pleased because they share in it.
6) The Council of Elders, again, is ill-constituted:—a) they are judges for life and irresponsible; or at least only controlled by the Ephors, who are not fit for their high office: b) they are very corrupt; the legislator himself shows that he cannot trust them, for he places them under the control of the Ephoralty: c) the manner of their election is as ridiculous as that of the Ephors: d) the practice of canvassing, which the law encourages, should be forbidden.
7) The Kings should not be hereditary, but should be elected for merit.
8) The common meals, which are intended to be a popular institution, should be provided at the public cost, as in Crete; but they are not, and consequently the poor are excluded from them, and lose the rights of citizenship.
9) The office of Admiral sets up a rival to the Kings.
10) The state, as Plato truly says, is framed with a view to a part of virtue only, the virtue of the soldier, which gives victory in war, but in time of peace is useless or injurious.
11) The Spartans conceive than the goods of life are to be obtained by virtue, but are mistaken in preferring them to virtue. They have a right idea of the means, but a wrong idea of the end.
12) Lastly, their revenues are ill-managed. The citizens are impatient of taxation, and the greater part of the land being in their own hands, they allow one another to cheat. Instead of the citizens being poor and the state rich, the citizens are too fond of money, and the state is impoverished.
The constitutions of Sparta, Crete, and Carthage are said by Aristotle to be excellent, but against each of the three he brings rather a heavy indictment. Of all three the accounts are warped by the desire to compare them, and are not always consistent with themselves. The Lacedaemonian government did not aim at the best end, and did not succeed in attaining the end at which it aimed. The Spartans had not found out the secret of managing their slaves; the men were hardy and temperate; but they fell under the influence of their women, who were licentious and disorderly. Equality had been the aim of the legislator, but inequality had been the result. Their administration of justice, their common meals, their finances were ill-managed. Their great magistrates received bribes from foreign states; the Ephors were very ordinary men invested with tyrannical powers; the elders were corrupt and often superannuated. The spirit of suspicion and distrust reigned in their government; they regarded virtue as a means only and not as the great end of life. The inefficiency of the Spartan government, in almost every particular, is severely commented upon by Aristotle.
To what form of government the Spartan constitution is to be referred is a question which greatly exercises ancient writers; Aristotle inclines to think that it is three in one, a combination of royalty, aristocracy, and democracy.
(For a fuller consideration of the criticism of Sparta in the Politics, see vol. ii, Essay on the Spartans and their Institutions.)
The Cretan constitution resembles the Spartan, and in some respects is quite as good, but being older, it is less perfect in form. Lycurgus is said to have taken it as his model. The Cretan town of Lyctus is a Lacedaemonian colony, and he appears to have been attracted to Crete by the connection between the two countries. The situation of the island between Asia Minor and Hellas was favourable to the growth of a maritime power; and hence Minos acquired the dominion of the sea.
There are many similarities in the Cretan and Lacedaemonian constitutions. The Cretan Perioeci correspond to the Helots, and like the Spartans, the Cretans have common meals; the ten Cosmi answer to the five Ephors. There is a council of Elders which corresponds to the Lacedaemonian; and the Cretans formerly had kings. There is also an assembly, but it can only ratify the decrees of the Cosmi and of the Elders [as at Lacedaemon].
1) The Cretan common meals are supported out of the public revenues, so that no citizen is excluded from them; in this respect they are an improvement upon the Lacedaemonian. There is a common stock, in which the women and children share. The legislator has many ingenious ways of preventing his citizens from eating and drinking too much; and in order to check the increase of population, he separates men from women, lest there should be too many mouths to feed. 2) The Cosmi are like the Ephors, but they are even a worse form of magistracy; for they are elected out of certain families and not out of the whole people. The institution is not unpopular: but it has great evils, and the remedy for them is as bad. For the mischief can only be cured by a revolution among the nobles, or the violent expulsion of the Cosmi from office. And so the Cretan government, while possessing some constitutional elements, really becomes a close oligarchy. 3) The Council is formed of ex-Cosmi. The members of it, like the Spartan Council of Elders, are appointed for life, and judge by unwritten laws.
Crete has the good fortune to be an island, or the incessant factions would long ago have destroyed the state.
Aristotle compares the Cretan to the Spartan constitution—in some respects to the advantage of the former. Among the desirable aims which the Cretan legislator proposed to himself, he notices moderation in eating, the good arrangement of the Syssitia, the suppression of population. But the whole machinery of government was very rude and imperfect; although their insular situation preserved the Cretans from servile wars, they could correct political evils only by a periodical revolution. This anarchy of Crete contrasted with the stability of Lacedaemon.
The Syssitia, called Andria by the Cretans, were provided out of a public fund. They were not therefore exclusive, like the common meals of the Spartans. They would rather help to relieve the poverty of some of the citizens. The good principle which Aristotle praises among the Spartans of having some things in common was carried further by the Cretans. They all had a dinner at the expense of the state. Women and children also shared in the public stock, although it is not said by Aristotle that they partook of the common meals. And Aristotle himself observes that the presence of women at the common meals was a novelty first proposed by Plato. He also intimates that the intention of the legislator was to separate the sexes and not to bring them together. The similarity which Aristotle supposes to exist in the three states, Sparta, Crete, Carthage, is slenderly, if at all, confirmed by facts. It is an old remark that mankind observe similarities sooner than differences, and some general similarities may be expected to be found in all governments which are similarly circumstanced. The ancients, having a very limited knowledge of the world, were apt to regard these general similarities as proofs of a common origin. (Thus Herodotus, wherever he goes among his friends the priests, is apt to discover resemblances between the Greek and Egyptian religions.) In his criticism on the institutions of Crete Aristotle is expecting to find a similarity with Lacedaemon, derived from a common origin; but in the course of his enquiry he discovers more differences than points of resemblance. The one real similarity is the Syssitia, which may naturally have arisen out of the military necessities of a conquering race, and would easily lead to the invention of the various legends by which Crete is connected with Lacedaemon. The Cretan institutions had no revival, and the tradition of them had not the same hold on the mind of Hellas as the tradition of Lycurgus. The Cretans never attained to the power and importance in Hellas for which the situation of the great island seemed to intend them. There was not in their nature the capacity of adapting themselves to the changing circumstances of the Greek world. They did not exclude foreigners, but they were seldom visited by them. They remained in the background of the history of Hellas, and did not ever become a considerable maritime power. They were renowned as archers, but not as heavy-armed troops. Their naval fame was legendary, going back to the times of Minos, the sea king, who put down the pirates. In later legend he is also called the lawgiver, who received laws from Zeus as Lycurgus did from Apollo. No historical king of Crete is mentioned in antiquity: the office was not retained as at Sparta, but shared the downfall of the other kingships of Hellas in the age when the oligarchies grew powerful.
The Carthaginian constitution resembles the Spartan and Cretan: all three are like one another, but unlike any others. The Carthaginian, though containing an element of democracy, has lasted well, and has never degenerated into a tyranny. At Carthage there are clubs which have common tables: these answer to the Spartan pheiditia. There is also a magistracy of 104, which answers to the Ephoralty, but unlike the Ephors, the Carthaginian magistrates are elected for merit. Like the Spartans they have Kings and a Council of Elders, but, unlike the Spartan, their Kings are elected for merit, and are not always of the same family.
The deviations of Carthage from the perfect state are the same as in most other states. The deviations from aristocracy and polity incline both to democracy and to oligarchy. For instance, the people discuss and determine any matter which has been brought before them by the Kings and Elders (this is not the case at Sparta and Crete); and when the Kings and Elders are not unanimous, the people may decide whether the matter shall be brought forward or not. These are democratical features. But the election of the magistrates by co-optation and their great power after they have ceased to hold office are oligarchical features. The inclination to oligarchy is further shown in the regard which is paid in all elections, to wealth. (On this point however the majority of mankind would agree with the Carthaginians.) Once more, the appointment to offices without salary, the election by vote and not by lot, and the practice of having all suits tried by certain magistrates, and not some by one and some by another, are characteristic of aristocracy. The constitution of Carthage therefore is neither a pure aristocracy nor an oligarchy, but a third form which includes both, and has regard both to merit and wealth. 1) The over-estimation of wealth leads to the sale of offices, which is a great evil. True, the rulers must have the leisure which wealth alone can supply, but office should be the reward of merit, and therefore the legislator should find some other way of making a provision for the ruling class. The sale of offices is a gross abuse, and is a bad example to the people, who always imitate their rulers. 2) It is not a good principle that one man should hold several offices. In a large state they should be distributed as much as possible. 3) The Carthaginians remedy the evils of their government by sending out colonies. The accident of their wealth and position enables them to avail themselves of this outlet; but the safety of the state should not depend upon accidents.
Of the Carthaginian constitution Aristotle knows less than of Crete or Sparta. Though he is inclined to praise, his statements hardly justify his panegyric; nor does he make good the resemblance which he assumes to exist between the Spartan and Carthaginian constitutions. The purchase of the highest offices which prevailed among the Carthaginians, and their pluralism, are corruptions, which, as far as we know, existed nowhere in Hellas. These offices were without salary, and therefore those who bought them must have repaid themselves in other ways (§ 12).
The permanence of the Carthaginian government is to Aristotle the most striking feature of it. To Carthage, as to England, emigration was the great safeguard against political dangers. Aristotle seems to think that such a remedy is an evasion of the duties of the legislator. He strongly insists that there should be a constitutional or legal method of reforming abuses; this did not exist either in Crete or Carthage. As in some modern European states, revolution or assassination was the only remedy for them.
The defect of knowledge derived from other sources renders it difficult to form a judgement upon Aristotle’s account of Carthage or even to reconcile him with himself. We cannot venture to connect his statements with the later but still scanty accounts of Carthage which have been preserved by the Romans. Nor can we correct the inaccurate statements of later writers by comparing them with one another. We do not know of whom the assembly was composed at Carthage, nor whether the council of 100 is or is not the same as the council of 104, or in what sense Carthage had or had not an exemption from revolution, or how far the club dinners may have corresponded to the Syssitia of Sparta, or whether offices were put up for sale to the highest bidder absolutely without regard to his fitness for office. To raise conjectures about these and similar uncertainties, to say what may have been or might have been, in an unknown age or country, to find reasons ‘plentiful as blackberries’ for one hypothesis or another, is not to make a contribution to history, and tends rather to impair the clearness of the critical vision.
Political writers have been either private individuals or lawgivers. Of lawgivers some have framed constitutions, others have only made laws. Lycurgus and Solon did both. Of the Lacedaemonian constitution I have already spoken. There have been various opinions concerning the legislation of Solon. 1) He is thought to have produced a mixed constitution, but he did not—the addition of dicasteries appointed out of the whole people does not make the constitution mixed, and this was the only element due to Solon, for the Areopagus and the elected magistracies existed before his time. 2) He is thought to have created the democracy; but he did nothing of the kind. The power of the people began to increase after the Persian war, and was extended by Ephialtes and Pericles, who paid the jurors and curtailed the power of the Areopagus, as well as by other demagogues who succeeded them. Incidentally the institution of the law-courts led to the creation of the democracy. But Solon neither intended nor foresaw this result. He only gave the people a voice in the election and control of the magistrates, who continued to be taken from the three higher classes of citizens.
Zaleucus and Charondas were only legislators. Zaleucus legislated for the Italian Locrians, Charondas for the Chalcidian cities of Italy and Sicily. The latter was the first who instituted actions for perjury; he is very precise in the form of his laws. Onomacritus is thought to have been even older than these; and to have been contemporary with Thales, of whom Lycurgus and Zaleucus are supposed to have been disciples; but all this is an anachronism. Philolaus, a Corinthian, who settled at Thebes, enacted ‘Laws of Adoption;’ Phaleas would have equalised property. Some peculiarities of Plato’s legislation are the community of women and property, the common meals of women, the law that the sober should be rulers of the feast, and the training of soldiers to acquire equal skill with both hands. Draco’s laws are proverbial for severity. Pittacus was merciless to drunkards. Androdamas of Rhegium legislated for the Thracian Chalcidians.
The fragmentary chapter which concludes the Book and which is in part a repetition of what has preceded, contains an interesting criticism on Solon and Pericles. Aristotle (?) defends Solon against the charge of having introduced democracy. Although he admits that there was a seed of democracy in some of the institutions of Solon, he attributes the real growth of it to the course of events, especially to the increased power deservedly gained by the people after the great sacrifices which they made in the Persian War. Ephialtes, Pericles, and other demagogues, for in this class by implication he places them, gave too much encouragement to the democratic spirit, until Athens became what it was in later Greek history. (See also note on Text, p. 100.)
It may be observed that the writer is not quite consistent in his account of Solon; for he says, first of all, that he only introduced the dicasteries, and in a subsequent sentence that ‘he only gave the people power to elect and control their magistrates.’ How are these two statements to be reconciled with one another? He denies that Pericles [directly] created the democracy, but he admits that he did so indirectly by appointing the courts of law from all the citizens. It may be remarked also that he recapitulates what he had said about Phaleas without alluding to the previous discussion of him.
There is little or nothing in this chapter which need make us doubt its genuineness, that is to say, the degree of genuineness which we attribute to the rest of the Politics.
The writer seems rather strangely to suppose that in these few chapters he has told all that was worth telling either about the theories of philosophers or about ancient legislators. There are many matters of interest concerning which he is silent. But the beginnings of ancient criticism are fragmentary and always fall short of our wishes and expectations.
The question ‘whether the virtue of the good citizen is the same as that of the good man’ with which the third Book opens, is Aristotle’s way of discussing what is the relation of Ethics to Politics. The modern aspect of the question will be further considered in an Essay (Vol. II) on Aristotle as a Political Philosopher. (See also Note at end of Book III.)
A science which is not yet fully established must proceed tentatively in the use of words. It has to take them from poetry or common life and to set a new stamp upon them. A special meaning has to be elicited from a generic word or a new idea to be expressed through the medium of an outward object. Figures of speech are brought into use which gradually cease to be figurative. Abstract ideas have often to be explained by the concrete terms which correspond to them. It is easier to answer the question ‘Who is a man?’ than ‘What is the true idea of human nature?’ But these again, however familiar they may be, are perplexing when we attempt to define them. The specific use of words easily returns into the generic; the good sense passes into the neutral, or even into the bad; and what ought to be is confounded with what is. Many meanings grow out of the one (e.g. πολιτεία). Even the material substance and the idea associated with it are not always distinguished. Such variations in the use of words often occur in the same page. Hence we are not surprised that Aristotle, before enquiring into the nature of the state, should begin by asking, ‘Who is a citizen?’ or that the first and popular use of the words ‘citizen’ or ‘office’ should require to be modified under different forms of government: or that the term ‘polity’ should in the same paragraph or sentence be used to signify ‘a constitution’ both in the more general and the more precise sense, or that the word ‘city’ should mean a ‘town’ and also a ‘state.’
In ancient philosophy as well as in modern, and in the beginning quite as much as in the decline of either, there arose casuistical questions which often did not admit of a precise answer, although the attempt to solve them may have contributed to the growth of ethical and political science. ‘Is a citizen de facto also a citizen de jure?’ ‘What constitutes a state?’ ‘Should obligations incurred by one government be discharged by another?’ ‘Is the one best man to be a king or an exile?’ Aristotle is fond of raising such questions, which he sometimes cuts short by common sense and sometimes leaves without an answer. He exaggerates conflicting points of view, and also reconciles them. The art of dialectic had not yet attained to a system, but moved forward with irregular steps. Yet by the raising of objections and the contrast of opposites a real progress was made, and a higher stage of truth attained.
The definition of a citizen and of a state: several casuistical questions, of which the most important is, Whether the virtue of the good citizen is the same as that of the good man: the definition of a polity: true forms of polity and their perversions: should the few or the many or the virtuous be supreme? recapitulation: the five species of kingship.
‘What is a state?’ is the first question which the political philosopher has to determine. But a state is composed of citizens, and therefore we must further ask, ‘Who is a citizen?’—Not he who lives in a particular spot, or who has the privilege of suing and being sued (for these rights are not confined to citizens); nor yet one who is either too young or too old for office, or who is disfranchised, or an exile, or a metic; but he who actually shares in the administration of justice and in offices of state. And whereas offices are either limited by time, like special magistracies, or unlimited, like the office of dicast and ecclesiast, we are here speaking of the latter only, and we want to find some common term under which both dicast and ecclesiast are included. Such a term is a holder of ‘indefinite or unlimited office:’—those who share in office unlimited by time are citizens.
But since governments differ in kind and have a different place in the order of thought (for true forms are prior to perversions), the definition of the citizen will likewise differ in different states; and the definition which we have just given, strictly speaking, is suited only to a democracy. In aristocratic states like Lacedaemon and Carthage, which have no regular meetings of the ecclesia, the chief power is in the hands of the magistrates who decide all causes; and they are holders not of indefinite, but of definite offices. The words of our definition therefore, if they are to include aristocracies as well as democracies, will have to be amended: and we must say, That he is a citizen who shares in the judicial or deliberative administration of a state.
In practice, a citizen is defined to be one of whom both the parents, or, as others say, the grandparents or great grandparents were citizens. But here the difficulty is only carried a step or two further back. For who were the first citizens? As Gorgias said of the Larissaeans, They were an article manufactured by the magistrates. And what are we to think of those who hold office unjustly or after a revolution? The point is, not whether they are, but whether they ought to be citizens. We answer that they are included in our definition: the defect of right does not alter the fact. They hold office; and this is our criterion of citizenship.
The question suggests another question: when is an act the act of the state? In times of revolution persons refuse to fulfil their obligations: they say that they were contracted, not to the state, but to the governing body which has been deposed, and that the acts of the previous government, not having been established for the common good, were unlawful. But they should remember that their argument applies to all forms of government alike:—to a democracy which is founded on violence, quite as much as to an oligarchy or tyranny.
We are therefore driven to consider the question in a more general form: When is a state the same, and when different? It is not enough that the place and the inhabitants continue, or that a particular spot is surrounded by a wall. Nor does the city alter because successive generations of men come and go. The real identity is the identity of the constitution; not of the place, nor of the inhabitants. (This is true; but we must not go on to infer, that a state need not fulfil her engagements when the form of government changes.)
Connected with the question ‘Who is a citizen?’ there is a further question, ‘Whether the virtue of the good citizen is also the virtue of the good man?’ Before entering on this question, we must first ascertain what is the virtue of the citizen. Now different citizens have different functions, like sailors on board ship; but they have a common end, which, in the case of the sailors, is the safety of the ship, in the case of the citizens, the salvation of the state. And since forms of government differ, and the virtues of the citizens are relative to them, they cannot all have the perfect and absolute virtue of the good man. Even in the perfect state, though the members of it must all be good citizens, we cannot suppose them to be all good men unless we suppose them to be all alike. Again, the state, like the living being, has higher and lower elements, and the virtue of all of them cannot be the same.
But is there no case in which the virtue of the good man and of the good citizen coincide? There is; for the good and wise ruler is a good and wise man. (The rule of which I am speaking, is not the rule of the master over the slave, but the constitutional rule of freemen and equals.) Therefore, in some cases, though not in all, the good citizen coincides with the good man. And if the virtue of the good man is that which rules, and the virtue of the citizen includes both ruling and obeying, from one point of view the good citizen is not only the equal, but the superior of the good man. For every citizen in a free state should learn how to become a statesman by being first a simple citizen, just as he would learn the duties of a general by being under the orders of a general. Yet the two are not the same; the justice of the ruler differs in kind, or at any rate in degree from that of the subject. And there is another difference—the ruler has knowledge, but the subject true opinion only.
One more question:—Is the mechanic to be included among the citizens? No; for he holds no office and therefore cannot have the double virtue of ruling and obeying which makes the citizen. He can only obey and do his work: that is all. Therefore, he cannot be a citizen. But if not, what place has he in the state? The answer is, that like a slave or a freedman, he may live in the state and he may be necessary to the existence of the state, and yet not form part of it. In ancient times, the artisan class were not admitted to citizenship, and in well-ordered states they are still excluded. If they are admitted, our definition of the virtue of a citizen must be restricted to those who do not work with their hands. [For if they do, they cannot have leisure for the performance of their duties as citizens.]
The manner of treating the artisan and labouring class differs in different states. In an aristocracy, or government of the best, if such there be, they are excluded, for they are too busy to practise virtue: into an oligarchy, where only a money-qualification is required, the mechanic may often find his way, for many of them become rich; but not the labourer, who remains poor. In democracies, not only mechanics and labourers, but, when there is a dearth of population, even aliens and persons of illegitimate birth attain the rights of citizens.
Thus we see that there are different kinds of citizens, and that the virtue of the good citizen is not always the same with that of the good man, but only the virtue of the statesman [and this only in the perfect state].
[Having defined and discussed the citizen], we will proceed to consider constitutions or forms of government. The constitution is in fact the government; and governments vary as the governors are one, the few, or the many, and have ends higher or lower. Men are political animals, and they meet together in cities, not only because they need one another’s help, but with a view to mutual improvement and well-being. And even for the sake of mere life, in which there is an element of nobility and sweetness, they still continue to maintain the political bond until the evil is too much for the good.
There are many kinds of authority:—first, that which a master exercises over his slaves. He has in view primarily his own interests, among which is accidentally included an interest in the life and health of his slave. In household management the common good of the family is primarily considered, and only secondarily the good of the ruler or head. The case is like that of the pilot or trainer, who while he takes care of those entrusted to him also incidentally takes care of himself. And so in politics; [there is a common as well as a private interest], and in all forms of government when they are false the animating principle is the interest of the individual, when they are true, the public good. [In a constitutional government] the citizens rule and are ruled in turn; they come into office and see to the affairs of others for a time, and when they go out the others come in and see to theirs. This was the original intention. But now-a-days all men are seeking for wealth to which they make office a stepping-stone. They go hunting after places as if their lives depended upon them. . . . . . .
Some of the perplexities of language which beset the infancy of philosophy are the use of a generic term in its specific sense, or of a neutral term in a good sense and conversely, or the necessity of attributing to the same word a passive, active, and neuter sense. In the discussion which follows, the term πολιτεία is used of states in general and also of the state par excellence which, according to Aristotle, is the true form of a constitution. So in English the terms ‘constitution’ and ‘constitutional’ are used without a qualifying epithet to signify a moderate form of constitution. And in the Nicomachean Ethics, the want of a more copious vocabulary compels Aristotle in like manner to employ the word δικαιοσύνη in two or perhaps three senses for justice, honesty, and also for righteousness. The use of the term ‘justice’ applied to the performance of a right or to the punishment of a wrong action affords an instance of the perverse influence which cognate or paronymous words are liable to exercise upon thought. (Cp. N. E. v. 9. § 2.) The various meanings of words are generally settled by custom, and their use in each particular case determined by the context. But to the contemporaries of Aristotle the multiplicity in the meaning of words was often a source of fallacy and confusion which required to be cleared up.
The imperfection of logic in the time of Aristotle is likewise illustrated by the discussion of the question, What constitutes a state? To which the political philosopher, after rejecting the explanation of sameness of place or race, replies ‘sameness of government.’ But surely the sameness of a state consists in many things, and is consistent with many changes of government as well as of race or place. No one would deny that England and Sweden are the same nations or countries which existed 800 years ago; about France, Italy, Germany, or Poland, the answer would be more doubtful. The elements which constitute national identity may perhaps be reckoned in the following order, sameness of race, sameness of language, sameness of place, sameness of religion, sameness of government, sameness of character. But we must remember that the idea of sameness is relative, and in reality can never be equally applicable to the state and to the individual.
An analogous question not unconsidered by Aristotle has often been raised in modern times, Where in case of a revolution does lawful authority reside? To which we may reply that what is ordinarily a difference in kind has become a difference of degree, and that in a state of change we must not expect either to have an unchanging authority, or to pass by a jump from one government to another. Or we may say that society is being resolved into its elements, and that for a short time the sacredness of authority is overpowered by force. Or, that to whichever side in the conflict power distinctly inclines, there authority begins to exist. Such difficulties were answered in English writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by asserting a divine and unchangeable right of kings or of government and a corresponding duty of passive obedience; or on the other hand by an imaginary compact which, according to Hobbes, was made once for all in the beginning of society and was therefore unchangeable,—but according to Locke and others, might at any time be altered or reversed. Such a compact was a convenient figure of speech adapted to the understanding and wants of the age, just as the divine right of kings was once a convenient symbol of the sacredness of authority.
In the writings of Aristotle incongruous notions are often brought together by the accident of a common word. The rule of a king or statesman has to be distinguished from the rule of a master over his slaves. The position of the artisan, who has already caused us a good deal of trouble, is generally assumed to be outside the pale of political society. Yet we are surprised to find that there are some oligarchies, in which even the artisan, if he acquires property, may become a member of the state. And we end where we might have begun, with what to us appears to be rather a commonplace conclusion, that under different forms of government there are various kinds of citizens.
The question whether democracy and oligarchy derive their character respectively from wealth and poverty or from the fewness and multitude of the citizens, would hardly have occurred to a modern political writer. The majority, as at Colophon, or to take modern instances, in Australia or America, may be well-to-do, the poor may be a minority. Yet such a state will be a democracy, for every citizen equally shares in the government. But it might be argued that even in a Greek Republic, as in the United States, the real character of democracy would be greatly modified by the prosperity of the people. Aristotle has stated the possible combinations of the different elements; but in this passage he has not fairly balanced them with one another. It might with equal truth be affirmed that democracy was the government of the many or of the poor, oligarchy of the few or of the rich. But it would be truer still to say that in a democracy are commonly included the many and the poor, in an oligarchy the few and the wealthy; and this is in fact Aristotle’s own conclusion in the Fourth Book (c. 4. § 4), where he returns to the subject. Oligarchy and democracy may also be regarded as relative terms; and there is always a residuum of either in the other; for democracy is led by a few, and all the members of an oligarchy claim to be equal with one another. Nor can we say how strong may be the elements of conservatism which are latent in the mass of the people who are averse to many kinds of change, or how much of the revolutionary temper may lurk in ambitious members of an oligarchy who are attracted by contrast, or stimulated by private hatred or interest.
Another question is a source of still more serious perplexity to Aristotle,—it had been already discussed by Plato: Should men be governed by a law or by a person? By the law which cannot take cognizance of particular cases, or by the person who can? The practice of the Athenians, whose laws were written down on square or triangular lecterns (κύρβεις) placed in the agora, and of the Lacedaemonians, who for the most part decided causes without written law by judgments of the Gerousia and the Ephors, afforded conspicuous examples of the two opposite principles. All law must have been originally unwritten, though it is probable also that in primitive times cases may have been decided by precedent. The claims both of the law and of the individual judge are asserted by Aristotle. What law can have a right to limit the actions of the perfectly just man who is a law to himself, and yet, if there is to be equality among equals, how can all the other citizens be excluded from power? To which the answer is made that he is not an equal any more than Zeus among the gods. Aristotle wavers between these two points of view which he almost brings to an agreement; for the law must be executed by judges; and the one wise ruler will have other wise men to assist him in his judicial labours.
Throughout the Politics he is distracted between an ideal perfection and the actual conditions of human life, and often passes unconsciously from one to the other. The best state in the Seventh Book comes round to be little more than an ordinary Greek state which is placed under favourable circumstances. The aim of the state should be the highest virtue, yet virtue is also relative to the form of government; the virtue of a democracy is not the same with that of an oligarchy. Even the political virtues are not all equally required of all magistrates. In idea the one best man is to be lord and master of all; in fact he is to be ostracised. And it is intimated that there is a good deal to be said in favour of this latter mode of procedure. According to Plato in the Republic the true ruler was entrusted with power, not for his own good, but for the good of his subjects, and he distinguishes governments into true and false as they aim at the good of the governed or of the governors themselves. Aristotle in like manner lays down the principle that all true forms of government exist only for the good of the governed; all false ones for the good of the rulers. That he should have passed from the ideal to the actual, or that he should have clothed the ideal in fanciful forms, is not surprising.
We have next to consider how many and what forms of government there are and how they differ from each other. The supreme power must always be exercised either by one, or by a few, or by many. The true forms are those which regard the common interest: the perverted forms have in view only the private interests of the rulers. The rule of one is called royalty, the rule of a few, aristocracy, the rule of many, polity or constitutional government, when these forms severally aim at the good of the governed. They are called tyranny, oligarchy, democracy, when they have regard to the good of a single person or class only, of the king, of the wealthy or of the needy. The general term ‘polity’ is naturally applied in a specific sense, because the form of government designated by it is the most popular and comprehensive. For few are capable of every kind of virtue, and therefore there are few royalties or aristocracies; but military virtue is found in all classes, and is shared by the many. And thus arises polity or constitutional government, in which the heavy-armed soldiers have the supreme power.
But the differences in forms of government do not depend solely on number and quantity; the element of quality must also be included. Democracy, for example, is said to be the government of the many and of the poor. But what if the many are rich? does the form of government continue to be a democracy? Oligarchy again is defined to be the government of the few and of the rich, but if the few are poor, what becomes of the definition? In any case, how shall we describe those states in which a rich majority or in which a poor minority are rulers?
We answer that the number of the governing class in oligarchy and democracy is unessential. The true characteristic of oligarchy is wealth, of democracy, poverty. But in fact the two definitions generally coincide; for the wealthy are almost always the few and the many are the poor.
Yet neither the claim of freedom nor the claim of wealth is really just: for justice is the distribution of the right thing to the right person. The self-love of the oligarch or of the democrat puts relative in the place of absolute justice:—the one thinks that inequality in wealth involves inequality in everything: the other that equality in freedom involves equality in everything. They both forget that the true end of the state is not wealth or freedom, but a good life. Mere life is not enough; if it were, slaves and brute animals would be citizens. Neither do community of place nor rights of intermarriage and trade constitute a state. Nor can commercial treaties or defensive alliances give a true political life; for there is no superior power which can enforce them, and the inhabitants of one state do not care about the virtues or vices of other states if only they keep faith with them. Even within the limits of a single state the prevention of crime and the promotion of trade are secondary objects. The life of virtue is the only true and sufficient end of the state. Men may live in the neighbourhood of one another, or even in the same place, and intermarry and trade and meet at festivals and form alliances. But these are means and conditions only; virtue is the end. Political society exists for the sake of virtue, and they who contribute most to this end have a greater right to power in the state than the rich or noble. But if so, those who make justice relative to a particular form of government speak of a part of justice only.
Yet another question: Who ought to have the supreme authority in the state? The many,—the wealthy,—the tyrant,—the good,—the one best man? Any of these alternatives may lead to bad results. If the poor rule, they may divide the property of the rich. Is not this unjust? ‘Nay,’ will be the reply, ‘the people did it.’ But if they go on and on, the poor majority dividing by force the wealth of the rich minority, the state will be ruined. And on the same principle the rich or the tyrant may rob the poor. Yet surely justice is the preservation and not the destruction of states. The people, if they plunder the rich, are no better than the tyrant; both make might prevail over right. ‘But ought not the good to rule?’ Then a slight will be put upon everybody else. ‘Or the one best man?’—that will make the number excluded still larger. Or, shall the law, and not the will of man, have the supreme power? And what if the law be defective?
The rule of many is upon the whole the best solution of these difficulties. The people, taken collectively, though composed of ordinary individuals, have more virtue and wisdom than any single man among them. As the feast to which many contribute is better than the feast given by one, as the judgment of the many at the theatre is truer than the judgment of one, as a good man and a fair work of art have many elements of beauty or goodness combined in them;—so the assembly of the people has more good sense and wisdom than any individual member of it. The good qualities which are scattered about in individuals are combined in it. But is this principle really applicable to bodies of men? To some, not to all; for there are assemblies of men who are no better than brutes. But there are men of another sort, whom union makes wise. And if so, our difficulties are at an end; this is our answer to the question, Who are to be the rulers of states?
But a new dilemma arises. The many are not fit to hold great offices of state, and yet if they are excluded, they will be dangerous. They had better therefore have some judicial and deliberative functions,—such a power as Solon gave them of electing the magistrates and calling them to account. Although they are not fit to form a judgment individually, they have sense enough when they meet. But some one will still argue that the magistrates should be elected and called to account by their peers, just as in the arts the expert must be judged by the expert, the physician by some one who understands medicine, whether he be a professional physician or not. Once more we reply that the people collectively have more wisdom than any individual among them. Besides, in many of the arts the user is a better judge than the artist.
Yet one more difficulty remains:—The election and calling to account of the magistrates is the highest of political functions; should such a power be entrusted to the people rather than to men of position and fortune? The old answer must be repeated. The power resides, not in the individual, but in the assembly or lawcourt; and collectively the wealth and the wisdom of the people are greater than that of any one or a few individuals.
The previous enquiry shows plainly that the people must govern, but they must govern according to law. The laws therefore, when good, should be supreme, and the magistrates should only speak when the laws are unable to speak.—But what are good laws? We reply generally that the goodness of the laws is relative to the goodness of the constitution: true forms of government have just laws, perverted forms have unjust laws.
[In the next chapter, after having disposed of the difficulty which he had suggested, Aristotle returns to the subject of Chap. ix.]
All arts and sciences aim at some good, and the good or end of the highest of all, the political, is justice, which is another name for the common interest. And justice is defined to be equality in relation to persons. But there arises the question: In what does this equality consist? Some will say that equality or superiority in any single respect gives a claim in all other respects. But this is absurd; no man can claim political rights on the ground that he is tall or good-looking. The skill of a flute-player is not more highly esteemed because he is richer or better born, but because he is the superior performer. How can there be any comparison of things so dissimilar as wealth and flute-playing or stature and freedom? Not every kind of superiority, then, gives a claim to office, but only wealth and rank and freedom; for these are necessary elements of a state. And we must add justice and courage; for courage is essential to the well-being, justice to the very existence, of a state.
First, and above all, if we take into account a good life, education and virtue have superior claims. These are the true bases of government; but the assertion of absolute equality among equals or of absolute inequality among unequals is mischievous and false. The relative claim does not give an absolute claim. The rich have a greater stake in the country; the free and the noble have inherited good qualities from their ancestors, and their claim is always recognised in their own country; the virtuous have a claim because justice is the virtue which unites men in states, and all the others are implied in it; the many, taken collectively, are stronger, richer, and better than the few. But let us suppose the rich, the free, the virtuous, to be living together in the same city, which of them ought to govern? (There is no difficulty at all in determining who should rule in a democracy or in an oligarchy.) But suppose all the elements to co-exist in the same state, how are we to decide between them? The virtuous will probably be too few to administer the state. And if men are to govern because they are more virtuous or richer or higher in rank, on the same principle the most virtuous, or the richest or the highest in rank, ought to rule over them all. If, again, the many claim to rule because they are the stronger, with equal justice the strongest of all will claim to rule over the others. Hence we infer that none of them have any claim to the exclusion of the rest.
A similar question:—Should the laws be made for the higher classes, or for all? We answer that the laws should be just, and that the just is the equal, and has regard to the common good of the citizens. The laws therefore cannot regard the good of one class only, but of all the citizens. The good citizen is both ruler and subject, not a member of one class only. [And he would be excluded from the operation of a law which related to a class only.] Once more [this is the old question repeated]: What if the virtue of any one citizen very far exceed the virtues of the rest,—is it not unjust that he should be only the equal of the others? for he is a God among men. Laws apply only to equals; and he is himself a law. Democracies feel the inconvenience which arises out of the presence of men who are pre-eminent by their wealth or influence, and they have recourse to ostracism. Oligarchs and tyrants are in the same difficulty. Nor can any form of government allow the existence of a person superior to itself. The argument in favour of ostracism is based on a political necessity. The painter does not allow any feature in the face, nor the shipbuilder any part of the ship, to be out of proportion to the rest; and the citizen must not be out of proportion to the state. But the legislator should, if possible, so order his state that the evil will not arise; that would be far better. Ostracism is liable to abuse and is essentially unjust; it has been employed for purposes of faction, and not for the good of the state. In perverted forms of government such a practice may be expedient; in the ideal state, who would think of expelling the one best man? But what is the alternative? If he cannot be a subject, he must be a king.
Thus from the consideration of the question,—Who is the true ruler in states? we are led to speak of royalty and to examine the kinds of it. They are five: 1. The Lacedaemonian, which is a perpetual generalship, either hereditary or elective, having the power of life and death, but, like the Homeric chiefs, only in the field. To the king matters of religion are also committed. 2. The despotic form of monarchy which prevails among barbarians and is exercised over voluntary subjects; for the people are willing to obey, because they are by nature slaves, and therefore such governments are hereditary and legal. In one sense they are tyrannies, because their subjects are slaves: but there is no danger of their being overthrown; for they are guarded not by mercenaries but by their own people. 3. The dictatorship or elective tyranny, which, under the name Aesymnetia, existed in ancient Hellas, and was legal but not hereditary; it lasted either for life or for a term of years, or until certain duties had been performed. Such an office was held by Pittacus at Mitylene, whom Alcaeus, the leader of the exiles, denounces in his poems. 4. A fourth kind of monarchy, that of the Heroic times, was hereditary and legal, and was exercised over willing subjects. The first monarchs were benefactors of the people in arts or arms; they procured lands or built cities for them, and the prerogatives which they acquired descended to their children. They were priests and judges and warriors, and had a supreme authority over all things. Afterwards their power declined; and at length the office of priest or general alone remained to them. 5. There is a fifth form of absolute kingship which exercises an universal power, like that of the state over the public property, or that of a master over a household.
Of these five forms the first and fifth alone need consideration; the rest differ from them not in kind but in degree. Thus two questions remain: 1. Is a perpetual generalship advantageous to the state? This question likewise may be dismissed; for a perpetual generalship is not a constitution, but an office established by law which may exist equally under any form of government. 2. Should one man have absolute power? Such a royalty is certainly a form of government; but many difficulties are involved in it.
Already we are engaged in the old controversy,—whether the best laws or the best man should rule. Both views are tenable. The advocate of royalty says that the law cannot provide for particular cases. To whom we may fairly reply: Neither can the ruler dispense with a general principle which is law; and the law which is passionless is to be preferred to the caprice of the individual. Says the advocate of royalty, An individual must advise in individual cases. [To whom we in turn reply that] There must be a legislator, whether he be called a king or not, who will make laws, and these laws will have validity as far as they are adapted to their ends. But there is still a question: When there is a defect in the law, who shall decide, the expert or the multitude? Our conclusion is that the collective wisdom of the many is to be preferred to the one wise man. They will not all go wrong together, and by reason of their numbers they are less corruptible, less liable to passion, and not more subject to faction than the individual. You will say: That they may be divided among themselves, but that he cannot be divided. Answer, They are quite as good as he. And are not many good men better than one? But if so aristocracy is to be preferred to royalty. The reason why ancient governments were monarchies is that in early times there were only a few good men who could confer benefits, and these benefactors were made kings. The reason why democracies are a necessity in our own day is that all men are pretty much on an equality, and no one is pre-eminent among his fellows. When good men increased in number, royalties passed into aristocracies; these degenerated into oligarchies. Oligarchies passed into tyrannies, and tyrannies became democracies, for the rich became fewer and fewer, and the poor more and more numerous. And democracy seems to be the only form of government any longer possible, now that cities are increased in size.
Two more questions: 1. Should monarchy be hereditary? No, for the next generation may be quite ordinary persons, and yet the king will be constrained by natural affection to bequeath his power to his sons, however ill-fitted they may be to succeed him. 2. Should he have a military force? Yes, but only such a force as will be sufficient to control individuals, not to overawe the mass of the citizens.
Absolute monarchy is held to be contrary to nature. Equals are deemed to have an equal right and worth; and therefore they must all have their turn of ruling and being ruled in an order of succession fixed by law. (For law is already implied, if there is an order of succession.) The law is preferable to the rule of individuals; wherefore judges should be only the ministers of the law, and when they take office they must judge according to law. But if the law cannot decide, what then? Then we must have recourse to skilled persons, who are expressly trained to decide causes which are omitted by the law; they may even go further and amend the law. But still they are its servants. The rule of the law is the rule of God and reason: in the rule of man there is an element of the beast. It is argued on the other hand that the physician does not cure his patients according to fixed rules which are found in a book, but then he is not liable to be affected by motives of party or interest. Men desire impartiality; the law is impartial. And even if there are cases in which the opinion of the one man is better than law, custom may be better still.
There is another point of view from which the subject may be approached. Every magistrate must have subordinates; ‘two going together’ and ‘ten such counsellors’ as Homer says; and it is desirable that they should be regularly appointed. Matters of detail cannot always be comprehended under laws; and therefore they are referred to the decision of individuals. But many are better than one, just as many eyes or hands or feet are better than a single pair. The eyes of kings are the friends who are their second-selves, and are therefore appointed to rule by them. Thus the two points of view tend to approximate, and royalty in seeking for instruments of government is converted into an aristocracy.
But is the doctrine that the law is better than the individual applicable to all forms of government? No, not to all, but only to those which are legitimate, such as that which a master exercises over his household, or a king over his subjects, or a free people over itself. For no man should be lord over his equals, whether there are laws or whether there are no laws, always excepting the case of the one best man.
A people capable of producing a superior race are fitted for monarchy, and a people who willingly submit to their superiors in virtue are adapted for aristocracy. To a warlike multitude of freemen who rule and are ruled in turn, and who select their officers according to merit, a constitutional government is best suited. When a family or a single person is pre-eminent in virtue, they are the natural kings and lords of the state. And the one best man or born superior in virtue cannot be ostracized or killed. Neither can he be a subject. He is the superior person; the ideal or whole of which the state is only a part. What is the inference? He must be the ruler of the state for life.
We see then that the true forms of government are three: 1) in which there is one man, or 2) a family, or 3) many men, of pre-eminent virtue, and both rulers and subjects rule and obey with a view to the best life. We have already explained that the virtue of the good man is the same with that of the citizen of the perfect state; and that the term good has the same meaning whether applied to states or individuals. The education therefore of the good man and of the good statesman or king will be the same.
The criticisms of royalty in the latter part of the Third Book are many of them unsatisfactory. It is not true that the kingship of Sparta was merely a generalship for life, and when Aristotle says that of such monarchies some are hereditary and some elective, he appears to be making a logical division not to be found in history,—at any rate we cannot tell to what or to whom he is referring. Neither is it true that of the five kinds of monarchy two only differ in kind; for there are essential differences between all the five. Still more unreasonable is the dismissal of the first kind on the ground that it is only a generalship for life, when we consider that the Spartan monarchy was the single monarchical institution in Hellas. The five kinds are thus reduced to one. Neither is the account of the origin of kingship given in this place really based upon the experience of history. In a few instances it is true that benefits conferred on a city or nation have raised men to power; but more often the power of a chief or king has originated in superior bodily strength or superior intelligence directed to a private end. Barbarous cunning has often founded kingdoms.
The favourite speculation which Aristotle has inherited from Plato, whether the law or the wise man is to be supreme, is represented by analogous questions in modern times: How much is to be common or statute law? what is the place of custom and precedent? how much is to be left to the direction of the judge? These are inquiries which are not without interest to the modern jurist. The problem is, What elements of law should be fixed and permanent, and what proportion should they bear to the floating and transient? Laws must be known beforehand, or the offender cannot justly be subjected to them. At first they are simple and general; then as society becomes more complex, the interstices of these general principles require to be filled up with details which are demanded by new occasions. But the new occasions are infinite; and hence at some point the individual must decide. How far he is to bring the question at issue under some existing law or analogy of law; how far in the absence of law he may freely use common sense, are points which will be determined differently by different minds and different schools of jurisprudence. Do what he will he cannot get rid of the past, nor can he always find there a solution for the present. Like Aristotle, he will be disposed to regard custom as a mediator between the two contending principles. And in modern times, where there are representative institutions, the power of determining causes, which the ancients gave either to the magistrates as in an oligarchy, or to a popular assembly as in a democracy, acting separately, will be transferred to the one and many acting together as judge and jury.
This book is characterized by great want of arrangement and frequent repetition. The paradox that the many are wiser than the few is affirmed again and again. The paradox of the one best man also occurs twice over. Such an ideal was evidently a notion common in the age of Aristotle; it culminated in the Stoical wise man. Several controversies seem to be protracted long after we ought to have finished with them.
But notwithstanding paradoxes and want of arrangement, this book contains many noble passages, such for example as the two declarations that the rule of law is the rule of God and of reason; and that the state exists for the sake of a good life, and without virtue has no true existence; or the favourite thesis that all true forms of government have regard to the good of the governed; or the final conclusion, arrived at after many tossings of the argument to and fro, that from the higher point of view and in the perfect state the good citizen, or at any rate the good ruler, is identical with the good man.
The Fourth Book of Aristotle’s Politics does not furnish many new ideas. The most original of them is the middle state, which will be discussed more at length in a separate Essay (vol. ii). The book contains some excellent remarks, and some things hard to be understood. Among noble and liberal sentiments may be reckoned the requirement that all should take part in the government; the reflections that political tricks and devices are foolish and useless; that the poor should receive gentle treatment; that there must not only be good laws in the state, but the spirit of obedience; and the fine observation (taken from Plato) that, even in states which do not make virtue the aim of the community, men of a noble nature may be found. Among difficulties may be mentioned the distinctions without a difference in the subdivisions of oligarchies and democracies; the distinction between the laws and the constitution, which elsewhere is forgotten (cp. iii. 15, § 2); the two combinations in the twelve forms of appointment to offices; the sudden transition in the enumeration of the different kinds of law courts to political cases, which are no sooner spoken of than the consideration of them is dropped; or the mention in c. 7. § 2 of ‘the form of government to which the term aristocracy is rightly applied in the first part of our treatise,’ a reference to which there is no antecedent, either in the previous Books, or, if the order is transposed, in the Seventh Book.
The absolutely, relatively, conditionally, and on the average best forms of government: why forms of government differ, and what are their component elements: the varieties of oligarchy and democracy: of aristocracy and policy: of tyranny: the forms taken by the deliberative and executive power under different constitutions.
Every art which embraces an entire subject must take in all the branches of that subject. Gymnastic, for example, includes 1) the training which is best absolutely; 2) which is best suited to different individuals; 3) which is not the best, either relatively or absolutely, though sometimes wanted, and must therefore be understood and taught by the training master; 4) which is best for the majority. So too the art of politics comprehends several forms of government,—1) the ideal state, 2) the state which is best relatively to circumstances, 3) the inferior state placed under inferior conditions and not making the best use of them, 4) the best average state.
We must aim at what is practicable; and not, like [Plato and other] political writers who have excellent but impossible ideas, seek after an unattainable perfection. Any change which we desire to introduce should be congenial as well as possible; for to reform is as difficult as to create, to unlearn as to learn. The statesman should not be a mere theorist; but he should have a true political insight into the evils of states and their remedies. And he should not fall into the error of supposing that there is only one kind of democracy and one kind of oligarchy; for there are many. He should know, not only which government is the best, but which is the best under the circumstances, and not only which laws are the best, but which are adapted to one form of constitution rather than to another. The laws are the rules according to which magistrates administer the state; but they vary under different governments, and are not to be confounded with the principles of the constitution.
We have said that there are three true forms of government—royalty, aristocracy, polity; and three perversions—tyranny, oligarchy, democracy. Royalty and aristocracy have been already (?) discussed, for they are included in the perfect state; both imply a principle of virtue provided with external goods.—Of perversions, tyranny, which is the perversion of the best and most divine, is necessarily the worst. Not so bad is oligarchy; and last and least bad is democracy. A certain writer [Plato] is wrong in saying that democracy, although the worst of good constitutions, is the best of bad ones; for there is no best; all perversions are bad.
Leaving this question we will proceed to describe, 1) the different forms of oligarchy and of democracy; 2) the constitution which is next best after the perfect, and best suited to states in general; 3) the people to whom each of the other constitutions is suited; 4) the manner in which these inferior forms of government are severally to be established; 5) the causes of the preservation or ruin of states.
There are many kinds of states, because every state contains many elements, [which are combined in many ways]. Differences of rank, wealth, merit, are found in them all. Some of the citizens are armed and some unarmed. The common people have their various employments. Even among the notables there are gradations of wealth, shown, for example, by the number of horses which they keep. And as the poor, or the middle class, or the notables predominate, they divide the government among themselves.
Hence arise various forms of constitutions. There are generally thought to be two principal ones, democracy, the rule of the many, oligarchy, the rule of the few; the rest are included under them, aristocracy being a kind of oligarchy, and polity a kind of democracy, as men say of the winds that there are two only, North and South, the West being a variation of the North, and the East of the South; and of the harmonies that there are two kinds, the Dorian and the Phrygian, other adaptations of the scale being comprehended under these. But it is better to distinguish one or two true forms, i.e. royalty or aristocracy, and to regard all the others, however many there may be, as perversions of these. And, adopting the language of music, we may compare oligarchy to the severer, democracy to the more relaxed harmonies.
Figures of speech in modern writers are only illustrations by which we seek to convey abstract ideas in a lively form. They provide a rest or refreshment in an argument, like the pictures in a book, and when we lay them aside, they leave the mind free from the associations of sense. We do not argue from them or allow them to influence our judgment. But among ancient philosophers, figures of speech and other picturesque forms of expression generally affect the ideas which are conveyed through them. The liveliness of the image is purchased at the cost of a certain amount of error. Although Aristotle contemptuously says of Plato, τον̂το δ’ ἐστὶ λέγειν μεταϕορὰς ποιητικάς (Met. i. 991. 22 a), he is himself often under the influence of language borrowed from sense.
The comparison of the state to the human body or to the living animal is one of the most fruitful of the images used by ancient philosophy. It represents to the mind the unity in plurality of the state, the complexity and interdependence of the parts, and the common life which animates them: ‘as there are many members in one body, and all members have not the same office, so we being many are one body.’ Many political as well as theological ideas have been suggested by this image. It is better than ‘a machine,’ to which the state is often compared in modern times. But it is far from ‘going on all fours,’ or furnishing an exact or scientific analogy. The unity and continuity of the state are different from the unity and continuity of the individual; the state has a longer life than the individual, but is less united; it has no consciousness or conscience, but only public opinion; and its freedom of action is more limited.
The variety in the organs of animals to which Aristotle refers below, is a laboured and imperfect image of the differences in forms of government. For neither do the differences in the forms of the organs constitute the differences of animals, nor the differences in the classes of citizens the varieties of states. It would be a truer supposition that both states and animals are made after different types or patterns, though there are some points in which they all resemble each other. We may say of nature what Aristotle says of the political society, that the whole is prior to the part. The comparison of the higher classes of the state to the soul and the lower classes to the body, though in one point of view elevating, is also degrading; for the lower classes have minds equally with the higher; nor is the relation between the two analogous to that of the soul and the body.
Democracy is not simply the rule of the majority, nor oligarchy of the minority; for in every form of government the majority rules. Neither is a rich majority a democracy, nor a poor minority an oligarchy. The prime and characteristic quality of democracy is freedom, of oligarchy, wealth. But the freemen must be poor and a majority; the oligarchs must be a wealthy and noble minority.
Besides the constitutions already mentioned, I have alluded to other forms of government, which vary with the variations of their component parts. Their differences may be illustrated by the varieties among animals, which likewise originate in differences of the essential organs, such as the stomach, mouth, eyes, organs of locomotion, and the like; for there are as many animals as there are possible changes and combinations of these organs. In like manner the state has various elements, husbandmen, artisans, traders, serfs, and the differences of states are caused by different combinations of these elements. A warrior class must be added; for they are as necessary to the state as any other. Plato was mistaken in saying that a state consisted of four persons only, 1) a weaver, 2) a husbandman, 3) a shoemaker, 4) a builder,—these are his four original citizens, to whom he afterwards adds, a smith, a herdsman, a merchant, and retailer. But there are other elements no less essential. The higher classes, such as 5) the warriors, or 6) the deliberative and judicial class, are more truly parts of the state than any other. 7) There are the wealthy, and 8) the magistrates. Some of these classes overlap, and the same persons fall under more than one of them. But two of them, the rich and the poor, exclude one another, and therefore furnish a basis for the classification of states. Hence there are supposed to be two kinds of government, democracy and oligarchy. These are the greater divisions of states, and there are subdivisions, varying as the classes vary out of which democracies or oligarchies are composed. The common people differ in their occupations and modes of life, and the notables differ according to their wealth, birth, virtue, education.
Of democracies there are five kinds: 1) the democracy in which nobody is poor, and nobody is rich or superior, but all are equal and equally share in the government; 2) in which a low property qualification is required for citizenship; 3) in which all who are not disqualified [by birth] share in the government; but in this, as in the preceding forms, the law is supreme; 4) in which everybody, without any scrutiny of his rights, has a share in the government; but the law is supreme as before; 5) the democracy in which there is no law, but the tyrant people, flattered by their leaders, set aside the law and the government is carried on by decrees. For in democracies, as in tyrannies, there are flatterers, and the extreme democracy is to other democracies what tyranny is to legitimate forms of monarchy. [N.B. It is difficult to distinguish 1), which seems to be a general description of democracy, from some of the other forms, or 3) from 4).]
The stages of democracy may be traced as follows: The government is administered according to law, 1) when the people are husbandmen moderately well off and are compelled to live by the labour of their hands but are not paid for the performance of political duties; for then nobody is excluded who has the required qualification; but they do not come to the assembly, because they cannot spare time, and so the law rules and not the multitude: 2) when every one whose parents are citizens has a share of power, and still, because there is no way of providing pay, the law rules: 3) when all freemen have a share, and still no pay: 4) but when, as in our modern overgrown cities, pay is given, the state is governed by the multitude who have nothing else to do, and not by the laws.
Of oligarchies there are four kinds: 1) in which there is a qualification high enough to exclude the masses: 2) in which there is a high qualification, and the vacancies in the governing body are filled up by co-optation: 3) in which the son succeeds the father: 4) in which there is an arbitrary rule of powerful families called a dynastia; this is among oligarchies what tyranny is among monarchies and the worst form of democracy among democracies.
The stages of oligarchy may be traced as follows: 1) The first form of oligarchy is based upon the possession of moderate property; and the owners of property being numerous and having to attend to their property admit the rule of law: in a second form 2) the properties are larger, and the owners fewer. In a third 3) the government is hereditary and passes into the hands of a small number of families. In all these three forms, as in the three corresponding forms of democracy, the law is observed, and is the instrument by which the rulers carry out their wishes. But there is a fourth form, 4) in which the law is set aside, and a few leading families take possession of the government, which thus approximates to a monarchy.
But in distinguishing different kinds of government, it must also be remembered that a constitution framed in one spirit may be administered in another, e. g. an oligarchy may be administered in a popular, a democracy in an exclusive spirit. This frequently happens after a revolution; old habits linger although the government is changed. The laws remain, but the victorious party keep the power in their own hands.
There are yet two other forms of government, 1) aristocracy and 2) polity; the first has been generally recognized, but the latter is often overlooked by writers on these subjects. Aristocracy or the government of the best, taken in the highest and first sense of the word, is the ideal state, or the state in which the good man is absolutely the same as the good citizen. But in a secondary sense it is applied to another kind of state, which is neither oligarchy, nor polity, but a mixed government taking three forms; 1) as at Carthage where regard is had to wealth, numbers, and merit; 2) or to merit and numbers as at Lacedaemon; and there is 3) that form of polity which inclines to oligarchy.
And now I have to speak of polity, which, like the above-mentioned aristocracies, is not a perversion, but only a falling short from the perfect state. This form of government is a fusion of democracy and oligarchy; it is usually called polity when inclining towards democracy, and aristocracy when approaching more nearly to oligarchy, the latter because birth and education are commonly accompanied by wealth, and the rich by their external advantages are placed above crime. Whence oligarchy and aristocracy are often confused; for they are both supposed to be a government of the best, and it is thought that the government of the best can never be bad. Now there are two things to be considered: the goodness of the laws, and the willingness of the citizens to obey them; for in an oligarchy there may be good laws which are never observed. And the citizen of a state may obey not the best laws, but the best which are attainable by them.
Polity or constitutional government is not like aristocracy based on merit; it only seeks to unite the freedom of the poor majority with the wealth of the rich minority. When it includes virtue, it is fairly entitled to be called aristocracy, not in the highest, but in the secondary sense of the term. It combines the characteristics of oligarchy and democracy. There are three ways in which the two latter may be united so as to form a polity: either 1) elements may be taken from both, e. g. the government may give pay to the poor as in a democracy for coming to the courts of law, and fine the rich as in an oligarchy for abstaining: or 2) there may be a mean between the two: instead of a high property qualification, or none at all, a moderate one may be imposed: or 3) [in the same public act] something may be borrowed by the government from both; e. g. the magistrates may be elected by vote as in an oligarchy, and without a property qualification as in a democracy. The fusion is most complete when the mixed state may be termed indifferently democracy or oligarchy, like the Lacedaemonian, which in the election of the Ephors by all out of all, and of the Elders by all, and in the common education of all the citizens and common meals and dress, has the character of a democracy; in the power entrusted to a few magistrates of inflicting death or banishment and in the election of them by vote, resembles an oligarchy. In a polity both should be present, and neither seen; and the government should depend for support not on foreign aid, but on the good-will of the citizens.
Tyranny must also be accounted a form of government. Two kinds of it have been already discussed, 1) the barbarian monarchy, 2) the Aesymnetia or dictatorship which existed in ancient Hellas. Both these, although they possess absolute power, may be said to be royal in so far as the monarch rules according to law and over willing subjects. But the true or typical form of tyranny is the arbitrary power of an individual crushing everybody alike, and governing only for his own advantage and against the will of his subjects,—a government which is detestable to freemen.
The want of arrangement in the Politics is nowhere greater than in the Fourth Book. There is a pretence of order which increases the confusion. The elaborate preface has hardly any relation to what follows. After dividing governments into 1) the best absolutely, 2) the best relatively, 3) the best on the average, 4) the inferior sort, the writer sets aside the first ‘because it has been already (?) discussed under the subject of monarchy,’ and silently drops the fourth. The two which remain are formally distinguished, but are not really very different from each other. But he partly identifies them with the actual forms of government, which are discussed at disproportionate length. Such is the confusion of style, that while in the Fourth Book he seems to consider this middle or average form of government to be the only preservative of states, in the Fifth Book, where the subject is treated of more at length, many instructions are given by which all varieties of government may be preserved.
In the enumeration of the states which are best relatively to circumstances, that is to say, the ordinary Greek states, he passes in Chap. 6 from oligarchy to democracy, and from democracy back again to oligarchy. He then proceeds to speak of polity, which he describes as a fusion of the two. The best state for the average of mankind seems to be the same or nearly the same with what he has already called polity, and what he afterwards calls the ‘middle constitution,’—i.e. not the best actual state, but the best practicable under ordinary conditions. Then returning to oligarchy and democracy, he reckons up the devices by which they respectively seek to get the better of one another; and having gained what he calls an appropriate basis of discussion, which is only a recital of the different forms of oligarchy and democracy, he proceeds to enumerate the parts of states. But in this enumeration he is far from showing that different forms of government are made up of the same component elements differently modified, which seems to be implied when he says that the kinds of states as of animals are formed by variations of the same organs. It is not clear whether here, as in Book III, he would include in his definition of offices dicasts and ecclesiasts; nor does he distinguish satisfactorily between deliberative and judicial offices. The term ‘office’ he is here disposed to confine to magistrates. The above-mentioned transitions, the incomplete treatment of subjects which have been introduced with a sort of flourish and are quickly dropped, the tendency to let the meaning of words slide, such as aristocracy, office, polity, give rise to further difficulties in this part of the work. The twelve modes and the two combinations according to which officers or magistrates are to be appointed, and the parallel list of the law-courts, though standing in some relation to actual facts, are for the most part a logical fiction.
The idea of the middle constitution, that form of government which one legislator alone, and he unknown to us, sought to establish in Hellas, is also indistinct. Aristotle describes it as a combination of democracy and oligrachy; for his tendency is to regard forms of government as running into one another. To us it rather appears to be intermediate between them. It is allied both to aristocracy and to democracy; but is not a fusion of them. The conception of aristocracy is hazy to us. It is said to be a government of the best men or of virtue; but we know of no Hellenic state in which such a government existed; nor is a hint given of any method by which the government of the virtuous only could be secured. Strictly speaking, it only applies to the ideal state. Oligarchy, democracy, tyranny, had a real life, and were at different periods of Greek history in conflict with one another. They were more or less moderate or just in the administration of the state; but the other governments, polity and aristocracy, were a shadow only, in which the ideal of philosophy mingled with a tradition of an earlier time, when the government of one or a few had been more natural and just than in the later ages of Hellas. Aristotle never distinguishes these two elements; nor does he apply the term aristocracy, except in the sense of an aristocracy of birth, to any Hellenic state. In the traditional meaning of the word, Sparta is called an aristocracy, but at the same time a democracy. His aristocracy, when not used in the ideal sense, really comes back to the ‘bad’ and ‘good’ of Theognis and Alcaeus.
There is a similar verbal difficulty about oligarchy: was it really a government of the few rich or of the few noble? Many prejudices would have to be got over in a state before the nouveaux riches would be admitted into the ranks of the nobility; nor, except at Athens, under the Solonian constitution, do we certainly know of any Hellenic state in which rights of citizenship depended upon wealth, although this arrangement is frequently alluded to by Aristotle; v. c. 3, §§ 8, 10; vi. c. 6, §§ 16-18; c. 7, § 9, etc. Both by Aristotle and Plato oligarchy is described as the government of the wealthy, in Plato rather of those who have remained wealthy, when the rest of the governing class have become impoverished; but in Aristotle clearly those who have made, as well as those who have inherited their wealth, even the artisans, are admitted to the government. The truth seems to be that oligarchies were originally founded upon birth; the oligarchs were the ancient houses of the city, or the leaders of the new settlement, in whom wealth and birth generally coincided. The colony, like our own colonies, was of necessity less exclusive than the mother state. In later times the oligarchs were regarded as the wealthy rather than as ‘the good;’ and in some instances, probably when their own numbers were failing, they admitted to their ranks other wealthy persons, who became united to them in the brotherhood of arms. But it is not likely that a property qualification was originally the basis of an ancient state.
The idea which more than any other is present to the mind of Aristotle in this part of the Politics is the relativeness of government. We do not seek always for the best, or even for the best under the circumstances. We must think of the average man and the average conditions, and sometimes acquiesce in a very bad form, because no other can be carried out in practice. Therefore the statesman must know not only what are the leading kinds, but also the subdivisions of them, and how they are created. They are apt to run into one another. And many states may be administered in a spirit opposed to their constitution. They may be nominally oligarchies or democracies; but the democracies may be governed oligarchically, or the oligarchies democratically.
Underlying all this part of the treatise, there is a latent antagonism to Plato. For Plato has four forms of government only; he has omitted the single true one. Aristotle maintains that there are different sorts of oligarchies and democracies; by Plato one form of each is recognized and no other.
[Enough of forms of government.] We have now arrived at the question, What is the best state and the best life for men in general? Most of the so-called aristocracies assume a standard of virtue which is too high; others hardly differ from the constitutional government, and therefore need no separate discussion. [In all these forms we are seeking for the mean.] Virtue was said in the Ethics to be a mean, and the same principles apply both to states and to individuals. Happy is the state which is ruled neither by the very rich who are reared in luxury, nor by the very poor who are too degraded, but by the middle class who are equal and similar. The rich know not how to obey, nor the poor how to rule; and thus arises a city of masters and slaves; the slave envying his master and the master despising his slave. But the middle class are to be trusted. They do not covet other men’s goods and nobody covets theirs; they neither plot nor are plotted against; and therefore they are the very best material of the state. And where they outnumber one or both the other classes, the state will be safe from extremes, and will be free from faction. Large cities are more populous than small ones, and are therefore safer, because they rest upon the basis of a large middle class; and for the same reason democracies are safer than oligarchies. But in democracies and oligarchies the middle class is often small, and where rich and poor are in naked antagonism the balance is destroyed. [This appears to be in partial contradiction with what has preceded, or at least to be ill expressed.] Whichever wins, sets up an oligarchy or democracy, as the Athenians and the Lacedaemonians did in the days of old, regarding only their own advantage and not that of Hellas. The middle state is the best, and of other states that is the best which is nearest to the middle state. Yet one man only of all who ever ruled in Hellas thought of establishing this middle constitution.
There arises another question: to what peoples are different forms of government suited? We may begin by assuming as a general principle common to all governments that the desire of permanence should be stronger than the love of change. Now in every state there is a qualitative and a quantitative element. Under quality is to be included freedom, wealth, education, birth; under quantity superiority of numbers. And there must be a comparison or balance of the two. Where the poor exceed in numbers more than the rich in quality, there will naturally be a democracy; where the rich exceed in quality more than they fall short in quantity, there will naturally be an oligarchy. And therefore in every state the middle class should be included by the legislator if he desires to avoid extremes and to have a stable government. The rich and the poor cannot trust one another, but the middle class is the arbiter between them whom both parties are willing to trust. The more perfect the fusion of elements, the more lasting will be the state. Yet even in the better forms of aristocracy [which are akin to polity] the single element of wealth is often allowed to predominate; and a foolish attempt is made to overreach the people by various devices. Out of the false good there arises a true evil; for the rich encroach, and their encroachments are ever more fatal than the excesses of the people.
Oligarchies and democracies have their devices and counter-devices: the devices of oligarchies apply 1) to the assembly; 2) to the magistracies; 3) to the law-courts; 4) to the possession of arms; 5) to gymnastic exercises. 1) The assembly is open both to rich and poor but the rich only are fined for non-attendance, the poor may do as they like. 2) The rich cannot refuse office, but the poor may. 3) They both serve in the law-courts, but the poor are let off easily, or the fine inflicted upon them is smaller; and in some states the poor do not register themselves that they may be exempt from public duties and not incur a fine. 4, 5) The rich are obliged to have arms and to attend the gymnasium, but the poor are not obliged. In democracies there are counter-devices: The poor are paid for attending the law-courts and the assembly, and the rich incur no penalty if they are absent. He who would duly mix the two principles should both pay the poor for attendance and fine the rich for non-attendance. In a well-balanced state the government should be confined to the heavy-armed soldiers, and the qualification imposed should be such that the number of the citizens may just exceed the number of those who are excluded. (‘But where are the poor to find a place?’ They will not complain if they are kindly treated. Nor are they unwilling to fight when they are well fed. But how to secure gentle treatment for them is a problem; for the rich are not always humane.) [And so this government of the middle class naturally took the place of the oligarchy.] After the overthrow of the kings, the warriors became the ruling class, and their arm of war was cavalry; for without discipline infantry are useless, and there was no art of war in ancient times. But afterwards, when the art of war had been invented and the heavy-armed increased in strength, the middle-class had a larger share in the government.
Once more let us renew the whole discussion in due order, now that we have gained a sound basis. In all states there are three elements: 1) the deliberative, 2) the executive, 3) the judicial; these three take different forms in different constitutions. In democracies all things are decided by all, but there are various ways in which the democratic principle may be carried out. a) The citizens may deliberate in the assembly, but by turns; and the boards of magistrates may come into office by turns until every citizen has held office, while the body of the people meet only to hear edicts and to pass laws. b, c) In another form of democracy the citizens all meet, but only to elect magistrates, to pass laws, to decide about peace and war, and to make scrutinies. The ordinary administration is entrusted to the magistrates, who are elected either by vote or by lot. [This form of democracy is given under two heads, but the second appears only to be a repetition of the first.] Or again, d) the whole power of the executive is in the hands of the assembly, and the magistrates only prepare the business for them: — this is the last and worst form of democracy. In oligarchies some deliberate about all things. If a) the ruling class are a numerous body, having a moderate qualification attainable by any one, and they observe law, there arises a form of oligarchy which inclines to a polity. But b) when only selected persons have the power of deliberation, although they still observe the law, the state is a pure oligarchy; and is of necessity oligarchical when c) the government is hereditary or co-optative. On the other hand, d) when the whole people decide the most important questions, but the executive is in the hands of the magistrates who are elected by lot or by vote, there the constitution is an aristocracy or polity. And e) when the magistrates are partly elected by vote and partly by lot, [the whole people having still to decide about peace and war and retaining the power of scrutiny,] then the government is partly aristocratical and partly constitutional.
As an oligarchy should have some democratical, so a democracy should have some oligarchical elements; the rich should be compelled to attend the courts of law. The deliberative body should be chosen by vote or by lot in equal numbers out of different classes; and pay should be given only to so many of the people as will balance the notables. In oligarchies, on the other hand, the people should share to a certain extent, but only vote after a previous deliberation of select persons, who should also retain in their hands the final decision.
About the executive many questions arise. 1) What is an office? 2) How many shall there be? 3) How long shall they last? 4) How shall the holders of them be appointed? The question 1) What is an office?—is partly verbal; those offices have the best right to the name which are concerned with deliberating, superintending, judging, commanding, especially the last. Much more important is the second question, 2) how many shall there be? To which we reply that in larger states they should be numerous and special,—that in small states there are not many persons qualified to take them, and therefore one man may hold several, for they will not interfere with one another. We must ascertain what offices are necessary or useful, and then see which of them can be combined. Some other points have to be determined: When should authority be localized and when centralized? Should offices be arranged according to subjects or according to the persons with whom they deal? Should they be the same under different constitutions? Some offices, like that of counsellor, are clearly democratic; others, like that of censor of boys or women, aristocratical; others, like that of probuli, oligarchical. [Question 3), relating to the term of office, appears to be forgotten.] As to question 4) How shall officers of state be appointed? three cases arise. a) Who shall elect the magistrates? b) Out of whom shall they be elected? and c) In what manner? The answer to any of these three questions may take three forms, and each of these three forms admits of four variations, twelve in all, besides two further combinations. The result may be summed up as follows: All or some, or all and some, elect out of all or some, or out of all and some, by vote or by lot; or partly out of some and partly out of all, and partly by vote and partly by lot. In extreme democracies the choice is made by all out of all; in extreme oligarchies by some out of some, both admitting of certain imitations or extensions which bring them nearer respectively to aristocracy or constitutional government.
Three similar questions arise about courts of law. 1) How many are the kinds of law-courts? 2) Out of whom are the judges to be appointed? And 3) in what manner? 1) There are eight law-courts: a) a court of audits; b) a court for the trial of [ordinary] offences against the state; c) for the trial of treason; d) of disputes respecting penalties; e) of important civil suits; f) of murder and homicide; g) of disputes with and among strangers; h) of minor suits. Of these courts the most important is that which tries political cases. [Of political cases he proposes to speak, but at once drops them and returns to his former subject.] 2) Judges may be appointed either wholly or partly out of all or out of some. 3) They may be appointed by vote or by lot, or by a combination of the two. When the judges are chosen from all and deal with all cases, the court is democratical; when from a few only, oligarchical; when mixed, aristocratical and constitutional.
Two or three more remarks are suggested by the study of this book. We may note 1) the real enthusiasm with which Aristotle speaks of the middle class, and of the constitution which is based upon it: no other government is equally praised by him. It seemed to him, not like the Republic of Plato to be out of the reach of human nature, but well adapted to a Greek state which was unwilling to be at the mercy of every invader and to be the true remedy for the evils of Hellas. Of the invidious connotation attaching in modern times to the term ‘middle class,’ which has been equally obnoxious to those above and those below them, there is no trace in Aristotle. 2) When he speaks of the middle class as in a mean between the rich and the poor, he hardly seems to recognize that the rich are included in the middle class: he probably intended to say that the power of the oligarchy would be merged or lost in the larger body to whom the government was entrusted: but it might also be argued that the rich and the middle class together would be too much for the poor, and would unite in oppressing them. The spirit of Aristotle’s ‘polity’ is more truly expressed in the statement that the heavy-armed citizens should at least exceed in number the rest of the city. But the idea is not worked out; it is impossible to conceive a state in which the very poor and the very rich are alike excluded. Some other characteristics of polity are introduced in c. 14. § 10, for the first time. But there is nowhere any clear statement of the relation in which the πολιτεία and the μέση πολιτεία stand to one another. The middle class and constitutional government are elsewhere spoken of separately; in this passage only they are combined. The different ways in which Aristocracy and Polity are explained in different passages, the obscurity in which they are involved, and the manner in which they slide into one another, are worthy of remark.
3) The absence of illustrations from Greek history in this part of the work is striking, nor are we able to supply them for ourselves. The reason is that the different forms of government described by Aristotle, with the exception of tyranny and extreme democracy, do not correspond with known facts; and though implying a general notion of Greek history, there is no sufficient evidence to show whether they are or are not the result of historical research. The numerous divisions and subdivisions of the modes of appointment to offices are enough to prove that many of the distinctions of Aristotle are purely logical, and are not drawn from the history of Hellas.
4) Thus far there is no reference to contemporary history, nor any distinct allusion to the great historians of Hellas, any more than there is a trace of their phraseology. Neither is there reason to think that the revolution effected by Philip and Alexander had any influence upon the speculations of Aristotle. He lives in the world of political philosophy, which in his view, however surprising the fact may be to us, hardly appears to stand in any relation to the facts which were passing before his eyes.
The fifth is the most valuable and interesting of all the books of the Politics. It embraces a wide field. It contains a picture of Greek political life; it is a ‘bazaar’ of states and governments. But it is defective in order and arrangement. It draws illustrations indiscriminately from all parts of Hellas, and from all times of Greek history. The period before the Persian War, and the age of Epaminondas and of Philip, alike furnish examples of political philosophy, which are placed side by side in successive sentences. To us these examples stand in no relation to the course of history, and therefore we are unable to make use of them. Still they have an interest, not only as a picture of Hellenic life, but as showing that the political philosophy of Aristotle, if partly resting on divisions of logic (see above), was also based on historical facts.
We shall hereafter discuss in an Essay which will be found in the second volume the value of Aristotle as an historian, and shall endeavour to show that his greatness was not less, but of a different kind from that which has generally been attributed to him. He saw far and wide; he had cast his eyes over Hellas from Cyrene to Miletus and Rhodes; from Massalia to Chios; from Sybaris and Syracuse to Apollonia and Heraclea on the Pontus; from Crete to Amphipolis. Over the whole Hellenic world and to some extent into the barbarous regions beyond his inquisitive spirit had penetrated. We know not whence his information was obtained; whether from Peripli or other geographical works of writers such as Scylax and Hecataeus; or whether an oral tradition of Greek history was collected and taught in the Peripatetic School. He lived in a hearing and not in a reading age, and therefore much of his information must have come from merchants and travellers, or may have been collected in places to which he himself had travelled. But he hardly anywhere indicates his sources, and it would be vain for us to try and discover them.
The motives, objects, and occasions of revolutions: they begin in small matters, but are concerned with great: they are accomplished by force or fraud: revolutions in democracies: in oligarchies: in aristocracies and mixed governments: how to avoid them: how tyrannies and monarchies may be preserved: the beneficent despot: short duration of tyrannies: a word about Plato’s cycle.
Our design is now nearly completed. We have only to speak of the causes of revolution in states,—out of what and into what they mostly change,—what are the conservative, what are the destructive elements.
In all governments there is a recognition of justice and equality; but they often fail in the attainment of them. Democracy is based on the equality of equals, oligarchy upon the inequality of unequals. The democrat argues that those who are equal in one respect (freedom) should be equal in all; the oligarch that those who are unequal in one respect (wealth) should be unequal in all. Both these forms of government have a kind of justice, but it is a relative and imperfect one; and therefore either of the two parties in the state, when dissatisfied, stirs up revolution. (The virtuous, from whom the nobility claim descent, have the best right to rebel—for they are in a position of far greater inequality; but they are not inclined.) And thus revolution arises, taking two forms, 1) changes in the government, and 2) changes in the persons who administer the government. The change in either case may be one of degree, or of a part only, and the revolution may be only directed against some office or institution; as at Sparta, when Lysander attempted to overthrow the monarchy, and at Epidamnus, where a council was appointed to supersede the heads of tribes.
I should explain that equality is of two kinds, 1) numerical, and 2) proportionate,—sameness of number and size, and sameness of ratios. Democracy answers to the first, oligarchy to the second. Although there may be other differences, these are the principal; for virtue and good birth are comparatively rare, but the opposition of wealth and numbers exists everywhere. Both kinds of equality are bad and come to a bad end if taken alone; they should therefore be combined; and the equality should be partly numerical, and partly proportionate.
Still the less dangerous form of government is democracy: oligarchy is threatened both from within and from without; democracy only from without, for the people rarely, if ever, quarrel among themselves. Also democracy is akin to a government of the middle class, which is the safest of all the imperfect forms of government.
The equality of mankind is an idea of the greatest power and efficacy. It begins with the beginnings of abstract thought; it is the expression of a natural sentiment: it has long been made in all civilized countries the foundation of ethics and of civil rights:—Men, as we say, are equal in the sight of God and in the eye of the law. To this also the world seems to be tending in politics: it is the ideal of the future that all men may be equal in political powers and privileges, and equally fitted to exercise them. Nor would Aristotle have dissented from this latter view if the saving clause were added, and equality in political power were accompanied by equality of personal fitness. And several times in the history of the world, in the Middle Ages as well as at the Reformation and the French Revolution, premature attempts have been made to grasp at this equality and to anticipate what in future ages may prove to be the course of history. The philosopher advises caution: he tells us that mankind never ‘are,’ or have been, but always ‘are to be,’ upon an equality; and that equal rights and privileges imply equal education and equal capacities. He warns us against the confusion and perhaps destruction which an idea at present so impracticable and so incapable of being confined by law as equality among unequals may bring upon the world. He tells us that equality if for a moment attained will speedily be lost, or rather is always in a process of being demanded and being refused.
To the Greek mind the idea of equality had a sort of arithmetical necessity derived from the Pythagorean philosophy. Not that the Greek thought of applying the argument from numbers (‘every man to count for one and no man for more than one’) to slaves or barbarians. It was the equality of peers, ἴσοι καὶ ὅμοιοι, which he pre-supposed whether they included the people or a select class only. Yet no doubt the Pythagorean idea of equality, though derived from an aristocratical society or school, gave a great impulse to the conception of democracy in Hellas. Aristotle, like the modern philosopher, is aware of the dangerous character of this formula when applied indiscriminately to all stages of society and to all sorts of men. He is aware too that democracy can no longer be resisted, and that equality among unequals had become the prevailing principle of Greek politics. But he would add, as far as he can, checks and limitations. The arithmetical symbol which he opposes to equality is proportion; the citizen is to have power or to have the franchise in proportion to his wealth, education, and capacity. The distinction between mere numerical and proportionate equality is analogous to the geometrical and arithmetical ratios upon which justice is based in the Nicomachean Ethics. Such arithmetical or geometrical expression gave men a formula for aristocracy as well as democracy, which was a ‘most gracious aid’ to their conception of a higher notion of the state. Ideas must be given through something, and if we may parody Aristotle’s own language there are two things which mankind require, true thoughts, and true expressions; and the one cannot exist without the other.
In order to ascertain, Whence revolutions arise?—we must consider 1) the tempers of those who make them; 2) the motives from which they are made; 3) the causes and occasions of them. [It is difficult to distinguish the first from the second, or the second from the third of these general causes or kinds of causes. They do not exactly correspond to internal and external, which would have been an intelligible division. Indeed Aristotle himself implies, infra § 5, that the second is not distinguishable from the third.] 1) They are made by equals who desire, or by unequals who disdain equality. 2) The motives from which they are made are gain and honour, or the avoidance of loss and dishonour. 3) The causes of them are altogether eleven in number: a) love of gain; b) love of honour—both have been already noted; they are here explained to mean indignation at the undeserved gain and honour of other men; c) insolence; d) fear; e) the love of superiority; f) contempt; g) unequal increase of a part; also h) election intrigues; i) carelessness; k) neglect of trifles; l) disparity of elements. [The order is not exactly preserved in the description which follows.]
a) Insolence and b) avarice induce the magistrates to conspire against one another and the state; c) disregard of merit in the distribution of honours is another cause of revolution; d) the consciousness of superiority in some person or persons leads to an outbreak which ends in the triumph of an individual or of a family; e) fear of wrong or punishment is another cause; f) contempt is a cause; g) revolutions also arise out of disproportion in any part of a state, e. g. in an oligarchy when the rich are reduced in numbers by a great defeat, as at Argos after the battle of Hebdome, or in a democracy when their wealth and numbers become excessive; or h) they are due to election intrigues; or i) to carelessness which has allowed traitors to find their way into the highest offices; or k) they may be caused by the neglect of an apparently small matter such as the qualification for office; or l) may arise out of disparity of elements, as aa) when different races meet in new colonies, like the Achaeans and Troezenians at Sybaris, or the Sybarites and their fellow colonists at Thurii; or again bb) disunion is produced by separation of place, as at Colophon and Notium, or as at Athens and the Peiraeus. There are also cc) oppositions of virtue and vice, which are the greatest of all, and next to them in importance is the antagonism of poverty and wealth; and there are others, e. g. the difference of place.
Trifles may be the occasions of revolutions, but they are not the true causes of them. Trifles are most important when they concern the rulers; we should be especially on our guard against the beginnings of strife among great men, for they quickly involve the whole state. ‘Well begun is half done,’ says the proverb; and to an error at the beginning may be attributed half of all the evils which follow. A quarrel about a love affair at Syracuse, about an inheritance at Hestiaea, about marriages at Delphi and Epidamnus, about heiresses at Mitylene, about an heiress in Phocis, were the causes of revolution and ruin in those states.
Sometimes the magistrates or some part of the state increase in power by the credit which they gain for their services. The noble conduct of the Areopagus in the Persian War strengthened the oligarchy, the victory of Salamis which was gained by the common people, the democracy. At Argos the notables, having distinguished themselves at the battle of Mantinea, tried to overthrow the democracy; at Syracuse the people, after the defeat of the Athenians, overturned the constitutional government. From similar causes revolutions occurred at Chalcis and Ambracia. And generally any one who has done great service to the state is very likely to cause revolution; for either he is ambitious himself, or others are drawn into rebellion by envy of his greatness. When one of two parties is a minority like the good (who are always a minority), there is a disposition to submit; but when the two are nearly balanced, then revolutions break out. They are accomplished either by force or by fraud—force practised either at the time or afterwards—fraud which is often succeeded by force (as in the case of the Four Hundred at Athens), or continued and repeated.
‘Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!’ And so we sometimes speak metaphorically of a match applied to a powder magazine, or we are inclined to think that there was a sleeping volcano which would have awakened and come to the surface at some other time, if not when it burst forth through an accident. These are figures of speech which from time to time we apply to the states of Europe. The history of nations is supposed to have a majestic onward march whether favoured by accident or not. For example, in the French Revolution democracy is believed to have gathered irresistible force from the corruption of the court, from the oppression of the grands seigneurs, from the omnipresent tyranny of the bureaucracy, and at last to have broken its bonds and to have swept over the continent of Europe. Philosophy was in the air and seemed for the moment to inspire the poor creatures who were crawling upon the earth. But the genius of a great soldier and statesman turned back the flood which looked so giant-like and made it return to its underground channels.
It is a curious enquiry, how far small occasions have contributed to great events. When we analyze them, it is difficult to distinguish the small from the great. The birth or death of a royal infant, the unskilfulness of a physician, the fancy of a king’s mistress, the arrow shot at a venture in the wars of the Jews, the chance ball striking down a great commander, the mole-hill which caused a king’s horse to stumble (‘the little gentleman in velvet’), the spilling of a drop or two of water on Mrs. Masham’s gown, the dishonesty of a maker of arms, a runaway carriage, a minute too late on the field of battle,—these and similar accidents have overthrown dynasties and changed the governments of countries. Aristotle seems to be thinking of the inadvertencies or carelessnesses of politics or of war, such as the slight matter of the qualification at Ambracia or the impediment of a ditch however small in a battle, but more especially of private occasions which have public or national consequences. Insults to the honour or to the person of individuals, quarrels about marriages and betrothals, a dispute about an heiress, or a mistress,—causes such as these have often whetted the dagger of the conspirator, or have stirred up a party in the state.
The trifles will be generally such as affect distinguished persons. But it is impossible to draw a line between the trifling occasions of great events and the real causes of them. Was the hurling of the stool by Jeannie Geddes at the head of the clergyman when reading the liturgy in St. Giles’, Edinburgh, a real cause of the overthrow of Episcopalianism in Scotland, or only the trifle which was the occasion of it? Must it not rather be regarded as a symptom of the temper which pervaded the whole country? There is doubtless an element of accident in human affairs; that is to say, there are small events of which the causes are absolutely unknown to us. And these small events, affecting as they may do the lives of persons on whom the world seems to depend, or occurring in a great conflict or at some other critical moment of history, may have an effect, going far to upset what we are pleased to term the philosophy of history.
Revolutions in democracies are generally caused by the arts of wicked demagogues who wrong the notables in various ways; either they inform against them that they may confiscate their wealth, or they diminish their income by the services which they impose upon them, or they drive them into exile; but, after a while, the notables in self-defence combine and conspire; or the exiles come back in a body and overthrow the democracy, as at Cos, Rhodes, Heraclea, Megara, Cyme, and other places. Anciently democracies changed into tyrannies; either the tyrant had been a great magistrate, or he was a demagogue; but, unlike our present demagogues, he was a general, not an orator; and if he had any military talent and could persuade the multitude that he sincerely hated the rich, he easily gained over the scattered rustic population and usurped the government. Our modern democrats do not attempt coups d’état, because they are not soldiers. Democracies also change from a more moderate to an extreme form. For the representatives of the multitude when they have been elected, in return set the people above the laws.
Revolutions in oligarchies arise 1) outside the governing class: either a) the oligarchs are oppressive, and then the people take anybody for a leader, especially if he be a member of the oligarchy, as at Naxos; or b) they are exclusive; and then i) the notables who are excluded make a rebellion and force their way into the government, as at Massalia and elsewhere; or ii) at a time when the ruling class is attacked by the rest of the notables the people strike in and establish a democracy, as at Cnidos; or iii) although the state is well managed, the people take offence at the narrowness of the government and bring about a revolution, as at Erythrae. Or 2) within the governing body; from the personal rivalry of the oligarchical leaders who either a) intrigue against the other oligarchs, like Charicles in the Thirty and Phrynichus in the Four Hundred at Athens, or b) some of their members turn demagogues and appeal to the people. This is a result which commonly occurs either i) when the oligarchical leaders are magistrates elected by the people and are therefore under their control, no matter what be the qualification for office, and even though they are supported by a political club; or ii) when the law-courts are independent of the government; or iii) when an attempt is made to narrow the oligarchy; or iv) when the oligarchs are extravagant in their way of living, for then they want to innovate, and sometimes they rob the treasury and afterwards fall out either among themselves or with the rest of their party. But an oligarchy is seldom overthrown when it is at unity with itself. But when there is a state within a state it is otherwise; in time of war, because the government is obliged to call in mercenaries, and the general who is in command of them often ends in becoming a tyrant, as Timophanes did at Corinth; and in time of peace, the two parties, from their mutual distrust, are likely enough to hand over the defence of the state to the general of an army, who in the end becomes the master of both, as at Larissa and Abydos. Love-quarrels and law-suits also lead to revolutions in states. Many oligarchies have been destroyed because they have become intolerable to some members of the ruling class, as at Cnidos and Chios. Both constitutional governments and oligarchies may be changed by an accidental lowering of the qualification.
We may remark generally, both of democracies and oligarchies, that they do not always change into their opposites, but sometimes only into another variety of the same class.
Aristocracies are a kind of oligarchies, and are often confounded with them. They are both the government of a few; but the few in an oligarchy are the wealthy, in an aristocracy the virtuous. The revolutions which arise in aristocracies, as in oligarchies, are caused by their exclusiveness, and by the diminution of their numbers. When a section of the people, like the Partheniae at Sparta, or when individuals, like Lysander, fancy themselves dishonoured; or, like Cinadon, are excluded from the government; when a great man, like Pausanias, wants to be greater; or when there is an extreme inequality of classes,—a state of society generally created by war,—then revolutions are likely to arise.
Both constitutional government and aristocracies are overthrown when the two elements of democracy and oligarchy, or the three elements, democracy, oligarchy, and virtue, are ill-combined. Constitutional governments are safer than aristocracies because they rest upon a broader basis. The rich in an aristocracy are often insolent and greedy, and the government has a natural tendency to oligarchy. But it may also pass into a democracy or into a constitutional government, or a constitutional government may change into an oligarchy. Thus at Thurii, where the qualification for office was at one time high, the notables acquired the whole of the land. But a reaction speedily set in; the qualification was lowered, and the people who carried arms quickly resumed possession of the land which had been taken. In Lacedaemon, too, the land has passed into the hands of a few rich men, and they are able to do much what they like.
Trifles, as I have already remarked, often lead to great changes. Thus the government at Thurii became a family oligarchy after the repeal of the law which forbad their generals to hold perpetual commands. The magistrates yielded to the youth of the city, thinking that no further change would ensue: but a revolution followed and the state passed into the hands of a dynastic oligarchy. And besides these changes from within, there may be compulsion from without, such as the Athenians of old exercised towards the oligarchies and the Lacedaemonians towards the democracies.
The balance of classes or of parties has been hitherto deemed to be the best or only mode of regulating the internal affairs of a state. Yet a government constructed on such a principle is attended by many drawbacks; there is a waste of the governing power. The principle of ‘a balance,’ which in our own age is beginning to be discredited both in home and foreign politics, was a favourite doctrine of ancient philosophers. To Aristotle it was a leading idea that one political party or institution must be checked by another. He does not remark that whatever makeweight is thrown into the scale against either party is so much deducted from the whole power of the state. If we suppose the two parties to be in diametrical opposition, then it is only the surplus of them, possibly a small fraction, which represents the national will. These checks or balances directly affect the strength and consistency of the state. In the Spartan and Roman constitutions they were carried to the greatest extent. The Ephors are regarded by Aristotle as providing a security against the encroachments of the Spartan kings, and therefore as rendering the power of the king himself more permanent. The double kingship is supposed by him to have a similar effect. But we remember how in the Peloponnesian War the policy of Sparta alternates from year to year as the Ephors change, or the king or the Ephor is in the ascendant; and how weakening to the state were the quarrels of the two kings with one another. In modern times we perceive such oppositions of party or of powers in a state to be due not to the wisdom of our legislators, but to the natural growth of institutions. We try, seemingly in vain, to bring them to an understanding with each other, ne quid detrimenti respublica capiat; and at any rate to preserve the unity of the Executive. They may be necessary, but whether necessary or not, we find that they tend to diminish our national vigour, and to impair our reputation in dealing with foreign countries. There are some who would argue on the other side that the antagonism of parties is not so absolute as has been supposed; that they often act as a stimulus to one another, and therefore, instead of impeding, quicken progress; that they are a necessary consequence of political activity; and that as there are differences of character, there must also be differences of opinion among men. They certainly give a distinct form to opposing forces, instead of dissipating them in personality; and in critical times there may arise mediators or benefactors among them, and, like the Greeks in the Persian War, they may forget their quarrels and vie with one another in the service of their country. Aristotle notices a phenomenon which may be observed in modern as well as in ancient politics: the representation of one class by another. He thinks that an oligarchy is doomed to fall when the members of a governing body are elected by the whole people, for they will always be at the mercy of those who elect them. So in some of the countries of modern Europe a great change is being silently wrought, not by the physical force of the people, but by the wealthy who are their representatives and do their bidding. ‘The poor have not the leisure to go to the Assembly;’ and therefore they elect some member of the higher or richer classes to assert their rights, who expresses partly his own opinions and partly theirs; or his own opinions in private and theirs in public.
Having now explained the chief causes of revolutions in states, we have next to consider the means of preserving them.
The knowledge of opposites is one and the same; if we know the causes which destroy states, we shall also know the causes which preserve them. We must in the first place maintain the authority of the law and not be careless about little things, for the whole is made up of them (as the saying is, ‘Many a mickle makes a muckle’); neither must we rely upon arts and devices. Evils creep in unperceived, and we must watch the beginnings of them; or they will increase and overwhelm the state. Even an oligarchy, though inherently weak, may be long preserved if the ruling class are just and considerate to one another and to their fellow citizens, and are willing to receive into their own body any who are deserving of honour. As in a democracy, so in an oligarchy there must be equality; for equals in rank where they are numerous are a kind of democracy, and demagogues are very likely to arise in both. And many of the safeguards of democracy are equally useful in an oligarchy. One of these safeguards is the short tenure of office; the magistrate whose term lasts only for six months will not be able to usurp.
Another cause of the preservation of states is the fear of an enemy near at hand, which may often unite and waken up the citizens. The cautious ruler will seek to create salutary terrors in the minds of the people: he will also endeavour to restrain the quarrels of the notables. He will need the gift of foresight if he aspires to the character of a statesman.
The census should be periodically revised and the qualification raised or lowered as the value of property increases or diminishes. It is better to give moderate honour to a citizen for a long time than great honour for a short time. But when once given it should not be suddenly withdrawn. The magistrates should have an eye to the lives of the citizens, and should bring them into harmony with the constitution of the state. The growth of prosperity and power in any one person or part of the state should be carefully watched. Rich and poor should be combined in one body, and the middle class increased. Above all, the magistrates should not be allowed to make money from their offices; nothing is so provoking to the common people as corruption of this kind.
Democracy and aristocracy might come to an understanding if offices brought no profit; for then the rich and the poor would both obtain their desires; the poor would not wish to hold them; —they would rather attend to their own business;—and the rich, who do not want money, would take them. The public accounts should be regularly audited at a general assembly of the citizens, and duplicates of them put up in the tribes and demes. Honest magistrates should be rewarded. In an oligarchy the poor should be well treated, and in a democracy the rich should not be required or allowed to waste their money upon useless liturgies; their income should be protected as well as their property. Estates should pass by inheritance, and no person should have more than one. The poor should be allowed to share in all the lesser offices of state, and a member of the aristocracy should be more severely punished for insulting them than for insulting one of his own class.
[If we proceed to ask, How far the character of chief magistrates is preservative of a constitution, it may be answered that], Three qualifications are required in them: 1) loyalty, 2) administrative capacity, 3) virtue of a kind suited to the constitution. But when all these qualities do not meet in the same person, which is better,—a virtuous and dull man, or a vicious and clever one? We reply,—different qualities are required in different offices; honesty is the first qualification of a steward, military skill of a general; and we must consider what qualities are rare and what are common; military skill, for example, is less common than honesty. But will a statesman who is loyal and patriotic have any need of virtue? Yes, surely; for without self-control he will be incapable of managing either his own affairs or the affairs of the public.
Among the preservatives of states may be mentioned laws which are for the interest of the state; and the great preserving principle of all is that the loyal citizens should outnumber the disloyal. The mean which is often lost sight of in the extremes of party violence, should also be regarded. Some disproportion, as in the human body, may be pardonable; but great excess in limb or feature is the caricature and destruction of either. He who pushes the principle either of democracy or of oligarchy to an extreme, will begin by spoiling the government, and will end by having none at all. Neither oligarchy nor democracy can exist unless a place is found in them for both rich and poor. They are equally in fault, and their feelings towards one another are the reverse of what they should be; for the oligarchs should maintain the cause of the poor, the democrats of the rich; whereas the demagogues are always cutting the city in two by their quarrels with the rich, and the oligarchs even take an oath that they will do the people all the harm which they can.
The great preservative of all is education; but it must be adapted to the constitution: when properly educated the people will become neither violent oligarchs nor democrats, but good citizens under either form of government. For the true oligarch or democrat is not he who does the most oligarchical or democratic actions, but he who provides best for the continuance of oligarchy or democracy. Among ourselves the ruling class are reared in luxury, while the children of the poor are hardened by labour, and therefore more than a match for the rich in time of revolution. On the other hand, in extreme democracies there is a false idea of freedom: men think only of the supremacy of the people, which means that they may do as they like; this is contradictory to the true interests of the state. They do not understand that obedience to law is the salvation of states.
The two leading forms of government, democracy and oligarchy—for, in Hellenic politics, monarchy, aristocracy, timocracy, need hardly be considered—are both regarded by Aristotle as good enough when well administered. But they must live and let live: the oligarch must find a place for the poor; the democrat must leave room for the rich. The sense of patriotism should prevent them from disorganizing the state by their quarrels; the sense of justice should leave them in the possession of their respective properties. They should both avoid extremes; for he is not the best democrat who is most of a democrat, or the best oligarch who is most of an oligarch. But that is the best form, whether of democracy or oligarchy, which is the most lasting. The true test of governments is their permanence. Although the tendency of Greek history was setting in towards democracy, yet oligarchies were still existing, and Aristotle seems to have thought that, if there were humanity, public spirit, and consideration towards the lower classes, they might continue to exist. The people should spare the rich, and not impose unequal taxes or burdensome duties upon them: the poor should be treated kindly, and the wrong done to them by a person of breeding or education should be regarded as more discreditable than a similar offence against one of his own class. There is a fine spirit of courtesy in this last regulation. Measures should be taken to prevent the accumulation of inheritances, lest the poor should always be growing poorer, and the rich richer; and the poor should receive a preference in the lesser offices of state.
Next come the two forms of monarchy,—royalty and tyranny; the first, like aristocracy, based upon merit, the second a compound of democracy and oligarchy in their worst form. The two differ in their very origin; for kings were the benefactors of their people, but tyrants were usually demagogues who gained the favour of the demos by their accusations of the notables; or they were the presidents of oligarchies; or, in the old times, kings or great magistrates who usurped despotic power. A king is appointed by the better class to protect them against the people; the tyrant is the favourite of the people who takes their part against the notables. The king benefits all classes; the tyrant no one but himself; the one desires honour, the other pleasure and gain; the one is guarded by the citizens, the other by mercenaries. The tyrant combines all the vices of democracy and oligarchy; he robs and suspects the people, he oppresses and exiles the notables, ‘he cuts off the tallest ears of corn.’
The motives of revolutions in royalties and tyrannies are similar to the motives of revolutions in other states. The rest of mankind desire the wealth or rank of the king or tyrant; or some one is stirred up to avenge an insult. Sometimes the office of the monarch is attacked, sometimes his life. Insults to the person have been frequently fatal to the sovereign who offered them. Fear and contempt have also been the motives of conspiracies. The probability of success is another motive. Tyrants have been attacked by their familiars who know their weakness; or by generals whom they have trusted with power. The desire of gain is yet another motive; love of glory another. There are a few who, regardless of their own lives, have sought to immortalize themselves by the assassination of a tyrant; they wish to acquire not a kingdom, but a name. Few, however, are willing to set their life upon such a cast.
Tyrannies are also destroyed, from without, by the hostility of opposite forms of government; from within, by dissension in a ruling family. There are two chief motives which induce men to attack them, hatred and contempt; to these must be added anger, which is all the more ready to strike because it is painful. In a word, all the causes by which the worse forms of oligarchy or democracy are affected, also affect tyranny. Royalty is less liable than tyranny to be overthrown by a revolution; it is generally destroyed from within—either members of the royal family quarrel with one another, or the king himself grows tyrannical. But there are no kings in our own days; no one has a natural superiority, and therefore he who aspires to rule over his fellows becomes a tyrant. Hereditary monarchies run the greatest risk of all, for the king is apt to play the part of a tyrant, forgetting that he has not the power. When the king is not wanted, he is dethroned, but the tyrant maintains himself whether men like him or not.
These are the causes destructive of monarchy; and the preservatives are the opposites to these. Royalty is preserved by the limitation of its powers, as at Lacedaemon by the double kingship and the institution of the Ephoralty; tyranny by the traditional policy of lopping off the tallest shoots, by the prohibition of education, common meals, clubs, meetings for discussion, in short by a policy of suspicion and repression. The tyrant must take every means of keeping the people under; he must know what they are doing; he must employ spies and eaves-droppers; he must sow quarrels and dissensions among them. He should engage them in great public works, like the Pyramids of Egypt or the temple of Olympian Zeus at Athens, and should multiply taxes after the manner of Dionysius of Syracuse; he should keep his subjects busy and poor, and make them pay for his guards; he should stir up war that they may need his services as a general. He cannot, like a king, trust his friends; for he knows that the hand of every man is against him, and they have him in their power. Tyranny, like the extreme form of democracy, gives influence to women and licence to slaves, in the hope that they may inform against their husbands and masters; hence both women and slaves are partial to tyrannies and democracies because they have a good time under them. Like the people, the tyrant loves flatterers, who are bad themselves and are used for bad purposes. Independent spirits are distasteful to him; and he prefers foreigners to citizens. There is nothing too bad for him. In short, he has three principal aims:—1) to sow distrust among his subjects, 2) to deprive them of power, 3) to humble them. Good men cannot be made his tools; and therefore he is their enemy.
But tyranny may also be preserved by an entirely opposite method. Although the tyrant must in self-defence keep his power, yet he may use it like a constitutional monarch. He ought to be a model of virtue and economy, not squandering on courtesans and artists the public revenues, but using them in the service of the state, as if he were the trustee and not the owner of them. This will be far wiser than to keep a hoard which there will be no one to guard when he is away from home. He should inspire reverence rather than fear; whatever vices he may privately practise, he should be dignified in public, and maintain the character of a ruler. He should avoid immodesty or sensuality, or at any rate he should not parade them in the face of the world. He should adorn and improve the city; he should be religious, that he may be thought a good man and a friend of the gods—men will then be less afraid of suffering injustice at his hands, and they will be less likely to conspire against him, for they will think that he has the gods fighting on his side; but he should not make himself ridiculous by superstition. He should honour men of merit. Yet neither should he make any one person great, but if one, then more than one; and if he has to take away honour, he should proceed gradually. He should be tender of other men’s reputation, kind to the young; his attachments should seem to be inspired by affection, and not by the insolence of power. Assassination is his greatest danger, and he should therefore be careful of insulting or seeming to insult others. ‘For,’ as Heracleitus says, ‘a man will buy revenge with life.’
He will keep the peace between the rich and poor, and will conciliate to himself the stronger of the two, whichever that may be. He will not then need to emancipate the slaves or to disarm the citizens. He will be moderate and gentle, the friend of the upper classes and the hero of the multitude. His rule will thus be nobler and better, because he will rule over nobler and better men, whom he does not fear, and to whom he is not himself an object of hatred. His power, too, will be more lasting. Let him be virtuous, or at least half-virtuous; and if he be wicked, let him be half-wicked.
Aristotle, proceeding by the method of opposites, contrasts the king and the tyrant, and the modes in which royalty and tyranny are destroyed and preserved. To the Greek the king could hardly appear a reality: of the semi-barbarous Macedonian and Thracian monarchs he had heard at a distance only. But in Hellas properly so called all other kings except the kings of Sparta had disappeared. The tyrant, although he hardly existed except in Sicily between the days of Themistocles and Alexander, was deeply impressed on the mind of Hellas. The traditional portrait of him, exaggerated by the genius of Plato, is preserved in Aristotle; it had come down like the story of the Trojan War, from an unknown antiquity, and had been recently revived by the oppressions of Dionysius and his son.
From the ordinary Greek conception of the tyrant we pass to a better sort of despot, who seems to have not much more reality than the one best man of Book III. We may fancy that Hermias, the tyrant of Atarneus, suggested the thought to Aristotle’s mind; but he has scarcely found his way into Greek history, except by his connection with Aristotle.
It is said that there have been two perfect princes only among all who have held sway over the civilized world, the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, the French King who is also a Catholic Saint, Louis IX;—perhaps together with these two our own Alfred might be ranked. Their lives, though not spent in vain, supply an historical proof that the beneficent ruler is by no means absolute in his power of doing good. It is an observation of Buckle’s that the high character and intelligence of several of the Spanish monarchs in the last century, altogether failed to arrest the degeneracy of the people. The truth is, that although the spirit of a king may sometimes animate his people, a nation is too heavy a load for any man to carry on his shoulders or elevate by the force of his own will.
The other sort of tyrant described by Aristotle is a good way removed from the ideal; like Peisistratus in Thucydides, he professes virtue, but at the same time keeps a firm hand on power. He has learnt the lesson of Machiavelli, that ‘there are many virtues which would certainly prove ruinous to kings if they practised them.’ He maintains arbitrary power that he may make a good use of it; he sets up authority against the rights of men. He is perhaps the only solution of a great political difficulty. Many questions are stirred about him. They run up into the wider question, What are the moral conditions of political action? And they would probably have received from Aristotle his favourite solution, namely that politics are relative to persons and circumstances.
Plato and Aristotle alike indulge in the fancy of a virtuous tyrant: ‘there is no shorter way,’ says Plato, ‘in which men can be made virtuous than by obedience to a wise and virtuous tyrant.’ (Laws, iv. 709.) And Aristotle himself is characteristically willing to believe that like all other forms of government, even a tyranny, if well administered, may be for the advantage of the subjects of it. But the tyrant is to be prudent rather than virtuous. He must keep up appearances and give mankind the good government which they so much want. Such governments may be the only ones possible in certain stages of society; and certainly men would not be justified in overthrowing them, unless they could set up a better in their place. Aristotle would have acknowledged that they depend upon accidents, for, as in the case of the Roman Emperors, many a good father may have a bad son; and modern writers would make the further reflection, that by giving people good government, we take from them the power of governing themselves.
Tyrannies and oligarchies are short-lived. The tyrannies which have lasted longest are those of Orthagoras and his sons at Sicyon, which continued for a hundred years, of the Cypselidae at Corinth, who reigned seventy-three years and six months, and of Peisistratus at Athens, which lasted, not including sixteen years of exile, seventeen years, or adding in the eighteen years which his son reigned, thirty-five years. Their greater duration may be attributed to the personal character of the tyrants. Cypselus was a popular man; his son and successor, Periander, a great soldier: Orthagoras and his family were gentle and careful of their people; his descendant, Cleisthenes, was also a great soldier; the latter is said to have crowned the judge who decided against him at the games, as Peisistratus is recorded to have submitted to the court of the Areopagus. Of other tyrannies, that of Hiero and Gelo has been the most enduring, but their combined reigns only lasted eighteen years.
In the Republic, Socrates gives a fanciful account of the first step in the decline of states. He says that they change according to a certain cycle which depends upon a base of number. When this cycle comes to an end, bad men will be born and education will be neglected. Very likely; but why in the perfect state more than in any other? And why should the perfect state change into the Spartan, or the Spartan into an oligarchy, or an oligarchy into a democracy, or a democracy into a tyranny? Had the cycle been completed, tyranny should have reverted to the perfect state. But the truth is that there is no regular order in the changes of states; both tyrannies and oligarchies may pass into any other form of government, as is proved by numberless facts. And when he says that the decline of the Spartan government is due to covetousness, he should rather have said that it is due to the jealousy which the rich entertain towards the poor. Nor is the tale of two cities in one, peculiar to oligarchy: it might describe any state in which there is great social inequality. The indebtedness of the poor is not the only cause of revolution in oligarchies, but far more the impoverishment of great men. Finally, Plato fails to discriminate the various kinds of revolution which arise out of the various forms of democracies and oligarchies.
Aristotle has a fling at the Platonic number of the state. We may observe that he does not regard this curious symbol as a mere arithmetical or geometrical puzzle. He only says that such a cause of change would apply equally to all states; and while he treats the number seriously he does not remark that he has omitted two or three steps in the calculation. He makes an assumption in saying that the perfect state degenerates into the Spartan; of this no mention is made by Plato, though some of the characteristics of the timocratic man recall to us the Spartan. His common sense told him that there was no law or order in the succession of states. It could hardly be supposed that tyranny returned to the perfect state. Yet this was the conclusion which logically followed if the cycle was to begin again.
There are numerous repetitions in the Sixth Book of the Politics, but there are also a few subjects which are more fully worked out and appear in a clearer light than elsewhere. To these we will confine ourselves in the remarks which follow.
Aristotle’s views about Democracy are set forth more in the concrete and less in the abstract. Leaving the general idea, he proceeds to consider the various forms of Democracy which arise out of the complication of the different elements which are combined in them. Democracy is a necessity rather than a good, and therefore the form which is least of a democracy is the least of an evil. The people are nominally to have their rights, but, if possible, they are to be deprived of them; that is to say, they are to be placed under circumstances in which only a few can ever exercise them: what he gives with one hand he takes away with the other. He is far from having any confidence in the people; he devises many expedients in order to minimize their power. They are generally paid, but it would be better if they were not paid, because then they would not have leisure to take part in the government. In the interests of the upper classes, who have to conduct the government, the meetings of the Assembly and of the Law Courts should be few and short. The reflection naturally occurs to the mind, How is all this reconcileable with another dictum of Aristotle’s that ‘political devices are useless’? Neither is he consistent with himself; at any rate traces of different views appear in successive chapters.
Two confusions often arise about democracy. First, it is supposed that the form of a democracy which is the most extreme, is the most truly democratic; but this is an error; permanence is the true test whether of democracy or of any other form of government. Secondly, we should observe that in all forms of government there is an element of democracy within the governing body, for the will of the majority must prevail, and there may be persons who play the demagogue in it, or who use the demos in furtherance of some oligarchical design.
Aristotle’s favourite notion that the greater offices should be confined to the rich, while admission to the assembly and to the lesser offices is granted to the poor, will be found to be an impossible combination. At least the only way in which we can suppose such an arrangement to be carried out, would be by the great magistrates retaining independent command of the army. But then why should they allow the power of the people to exist at all? They can rarely be brought to think that they and the people have a common interest. In several modern European countries, such as Germany, Russia, or France in the time of the emperors Napoleon I and III, this near connection, or perhaps natural affinity, between the army and the throne has alone rendered the Imperial form of government possible.
To us in England who are always considering the question of parliamentary representation, the doctrine of Aristotle that the right of voting should be extended only so far as will provide a bulwark against democracy, is curious and suggestive. The greater number, though only a little greater, if including the upper and heavy-armed classes, would evidently be many times as strong as the rest of the citizens. Had a form of constitution, like that called by the Greeks timocracy, in which all men voted, but the numbers of the poor were compensated by the wealth of the rich, been adopted by the authors of the American constitution or of the first English Reform Bill, it is possible that such a settlement of the representative question might have driven back the tide of democracy for many generations.
The nature and characteristics of democracy; the better and worse kinds: how democracies may be created and preserved: the various kinds of oligarchies: the organization of offices under different forms of government.
We have discussed the various elements of states in their various forms, the supreme or deliberative power, the law-courts, the offices; we have also spoken of the destruction and preservation of states. And now we have to consider in what manner different forms of government are organized, and what various combinations of their parts or elements are possible. [The latter is an unfulfilled promise; cp. iv. 7-9.] I mean, for example, how an oligarchical council may be combined with aristocratical law-courts, and any similar disharmony in the composition of the state. We have also to enquire how the forms of government which are adapted to different states may be established.
First let us describe democracy, of which there are several varieties. These varieties depend upon two causes, 1) differences in the character of the population, which may consist of husbandmen, or of mechanics and labourers, either singly or mingled in various proportions; 2) differences in the combinations of the characteristic features of democracy. All the elements should be studied, but it would be a mistake to suppose that every democratic element should exist in every democracy; there should be an admixture of different elements, and they should be balanced against one another; proportion should be observed.
The basis of democracy is liberty, and one principle of liberty is that all should rule and be ruled in turn. Democratic equality is not proportionate, but numerical: every man counts for one, and therefore the will of the majority is supreme. Another principle of liberty is non-interference—every man should live as he likes, if this is possible; or, if not, then he should rule and be ruled in turn—this also is a kind of equality.
Such is the nature of democracy; its characteristics are as follows:—all officers are elected by all out of all; all to rule over each, and each in his turn over all; by lot, unless the office be one for which special knowledge is required; with little or no qualification; for a short period only; rarely if ever twice to the same office, except in the case of military offices. All men or judges selected out of all sit in judgment on all matters, or on the most important; the assembly, and not the magistrates, is supreme. Even the council, which is generally the most popular of institutions, falls into the background and loses power when the citizens are paid; for then they draw all business to themselves. And in a democracy everybody is paid when there is money enough, but when there is not, then at any rate the principal officers, such as the judges, ecclesiasts, councillors, are paid. No magistracy is perpetual; any such which have survived from ancient times are stripped of their power, and, instead of being specially elected by vote, the holders of them are appointed by lot. Poverty and vulgarity are the notes of democracy; wealth, education, and good birth of oligarchy. The most extreme form of democracy is based upon the principle of numerical equality. And in this way men believe that true freedom will be attained.
But in what manner is this equality to be secured? Besides simple equality there is an equality of proportion, which may be obtained in two ways. 1) Five hundred rich may be reckoned equal to a thousand poor, [in other words, the rich man will have two votes where the poor has only one]; or 2) preserving the same ratio of rich and poor [i.e. 10:5], both may choose an equal number of representatives. Now which, according to the true idea of democracy, is the better?—some form of proportionate equality such as either of these, or the bare equality of numbers? The former, say the oligarchs; the latter, say the democrats. Yet upon the oligarchical principle, if one man were richer than all the rest, he would be a lawful tyrant; or if the democratic principle prevail, it is probable that the majority will confiscate the wealth of the minority.
All agree in saying that the rule of the majority is law. But numbers and wealth should both be included; and whichever side, when the qualifications are added up, has the greater amount, should prevail. The real difficulty is not in finding a principle of justice, but in making the strong respect the rights of the weak.
Of the four kinds of democracy the first and oldest is also the best; I mean, that of which the material is a rural population who are always at work, and therefore do not attend the assembly. They are too busy to care about office, unless money can be made out of it. They are well enough off, and their ambition is satisfied if they may deliberate, and elect, either by themselves or their representatives, and can also call to account, the principal magistrates. In such a democracy a high qualification is commonly required from the holders of the greater magistracies; or, if there is no qualification, special ability. Such a form of government is excellent. The notables are satisfied because they are not governed by their inferiors; and the persons elected rule justly, because they are liable to be called to account. The superiority of this form of democracy is due to the fact that the people are owners of land. The ancient legislators were sensible of the gain, and endeavoured in every way to encourage an agricultural life. Either they limited the quantity of land which might be held by individuals, or forbade the original allotment to be sold, or required some part of it to be preserved free from mortgage, or they granted political rights to the owners of very small portions of land.
The next best material 2) out of which a democracy can be formed, and even better for the making of soldiers, is a pastoral people. The trading classes 3) who live in towns are far inferior in moral qualities; and being always on the spot they are always attending the assembly and interfering with the government. The last and worst form of democracy 4) is that in which all share alike,—legitimate, illegitimate, citizens by one parent or by both; nothing comes amiss. To increase their own power the demagogues include as many as they can. Whereas they should stop when the number of the commonalty exceeds that of the middle class or of the notables. Another practice of demagogues is to break up old associations and to form the citizens into fresh wards and tribes, as Cleisthenes did at Athens. Under democracies as under tyrannies great licence is allowed to slaves and women; and generally there is more liberty. Such governments are popular, for most persons prefer disorder to order.
The creation of a democracy is not so great a difficulty as the preservation of it. Any government may last a few days, but not longer, unless well regulated by laws and customs. The legislator must employ all known preservatives; against all known dangers he must guard. He should remember that the truly democratic policy is not the most extreme, but that which makes democracy last longest. He must not allow the demagogues to attack the wealthy that they may confiscate their property; confiscated property should go, not to the people, but to the state. Heavy penalties should also be inflicted on those who bring groundless accusations.
Where there are no revenues and the people can only be paid by a tax upon the notables, the sittings of the law-courts and of the assemblies should be few and brief. The rich will then be able to attend; they will not mind the expense, and causes will be better tried. The revenues, where there are any, should not be wasted in largesses to the poor, who are always wanting more and more; they should be economized, and the money distributed among the people in such quantities as may enable them to purchase a small farm, or to make a beginning in trade. It is the interest of all classes to promote their prosperity. The rich should pay the fee for the poor who attend the assemblies, and should themselves be excused from useless services. In their treatment of the poor the Carthaginians and Tarentines furnish an excellent example. The former send them to their colonies, the latter share the use of their property with them. It is worthy of a generous and sensible nobility to divide the poor among them and give them the means of going to work. The Tarentines further elect to offices by lot as well as by vote; by lot, that the poor may not be excluded; by vote, that the state may be well governed.
The language of Aristotle about the poor expresses a truly modern sentiment. He has a human feeling for them, such as is hardly to be found elsewhere in ancient philosophy. Cp. Plato, Laws, 761 C. As in Book V (c. 2. § 19), the philosopher deigns to think about the miserable earnings of the poor; he sympathizes with their indignation at the extortions which are practised upon them; he is aware how much harm may be done to them by indiscriminate charity, which is like water running through a sieve; he would help them to help themselves; he would give them, not doles, but the means of stocking a shop or of purchasing a small farm. He thinks that the public revenues may with advantage be used for such an object; because the contentment of the poor is the common good of the state. In forming an estimate of such proposals, we must remember that the number of citizens in the ancient Greek states was far more manageable than in any modern European country. Aristotle would wish this comparatively small number to be divided among the rich, so that every poor man might look to some one among the notables for his maintenance. We too know the importance of dividing large districts into parishes and townships, in which the clergy and gentry or leading inhabitants may be expected to attend to the wants and interests of their poorer brethren. He is sensible that the poor require the help of the rich, and on the other hand that no class can be entirely trusted to protect the rights and interests of any other. It has been sometimes thought that an enlightened sense of their own advantage would lead the rich to provide for the poor; but, according to Aristotle, whose words cannot be said to be wholly inapplicable to our own age and country, the relations between the rich and the poor are too often of another kind. The nobles are indifferent to the sufferings of the poor, and are often oppressive. Instead of making a princely use of their money, and erecting public works which would redound to their honour, they accumulate only that they may spend upon themselves.
In Book II Aristotle is disposed to think that a liberal and common use of property would be better than communism. In a similar strain we might ask two or three questions respecting the use of property. Has not property duties as well as rights, and is it not a trust to be used for others rather than for ourselves? Or if such a standard of conduct is too exalted, may we not ask whether the greatest gainer by such liberality would not be the giver, and whether the discovery of the way to do good without doing harm is not one of the noblest exercises both of the head and heart? Whether, lastly, property can ever be so well administered as by private persons possessing a measure of public spirit?
Oligarchy is the opposite of democracy, and we may argue from one to the other. The best form of oligarchy has two qualifications, a higher for the important, a lower for the unimportant offices. In this form of oligarchy, which is the first and best and is akin to polity, care should be taken that the entire governing body is stronger than those who are excluded. A second form is similar but narrower. The worst and last is the family clique, which is the most tyrannical and also the weakest, and therefore liable to be ruined by the very smallest mistake. The salvation of an oligarchy depends chiefly on good order; of a democracy on numbers.
[The preservation of oligarchies is closely connected with their military arrangements.] Now there are four kinds of military forces, cavalry, heavy infantry, light-armed troops, sailors; of these the first two are adapted to oligarchies, the last two to democracies. But often the light-armed are too much for the heavy infantry; and to provide against this danger, in every army there should be a contingent of light-armed troops. In an oligarchy, instead of raising such a force out of the lower classes who will some day rise against the government, fathers should train their own sons, while young, to the service. Another mode of preserving oligarchies is that deserving persons or those who have a property qualification or have given up mean employments should be adopted into the ruling class. The highest offices should be expensive, and then the people will not desire them; and the magistrates should signalize their accession to office by some public work. But how unlike is all this to the practice of our modern oligarchs!
The next point which we have to consider is the right arrangement of offices in a state. Some will be necessary under all forms of government. First among these there will be 1) a warden of the market, who will inspect contracts and regulate the relations of buyers and sellers; 2) a warden of the city, who will superintend buildings, harbours, roads, houses, and the like; where the city is large, this office should be shared by several persons; 3) a warden of the country, having a similar jurisdiction outside the walls; 4) there will be the office of treasurer, who will take charge of the revenue; 5) the recorders, who will register all contracts and legal decisions; 6) an executioner, who has duties very important, yet so invidious that one man can hardly sustain the odium of them, and they should therefore be distributed among many. The custody of prisoners is often, as at Athens, separated from the execution of sentences, and it is well to divide them, and so to diminish the unpopularity of the jailor. In general such duties should be assigned to the youth organized in bands, and the magistrates acting in turns should preside over them. Higher offices 7) are those of generals and admirals, who have their subordinates. Again, there are officers 8) who audit the public accounts. Besides these, 9) there are the officers called ‘councillors,’ or ‘a council,’ who summon the assembly and introduce all measures, and also ratify them. Once more, there are 10) priests and other officers attached to the temples; 11) offerers of sacrifice—the latter called archons, kings, or prytanes. Specially characteristic of aristocratic states are guardians of the law, of women, of children; and also directors of gymnastic and Dionysiac contests.
There are three forms of the highest elective offices of the state; these are guardians of the law, probuli, councillors; the first aristocratical, the second oligarchical, the third democratical.
The analysis of governments into their parts or offices, like the analysis of the human mind into the intellectual and the moral, and the subdivision of these into their respective faculties, was first made in ancient Greek philosophy. The idea of organization is not found in a primitive society, ‘for among barbarians all men are slaves alike;’ nor in the despotisms of the age which succeeded. In the Homeric poems there are hereditary chiefs in peace and war, sons or descendants of the Gods; and there is a faint indication of the assembly of the people. There are also priests and heralds and different classes of warriors, soldiers and captives of the spear; but further than this, organization did not reach. There is no distinction between kings and nobles, between generals and judges, or between a ruling and a subject class. Such was the poetical idea which the Greeks conceived of their own past history. It was a long time before the need of offices was recognized or there began to be a division into classes, and still longer before the opposition between them arose, and a method of reconciling them had to be devised. The earliest distinction is that made between the general and the legislator or judge. Later the ecclesia is separated from the dicastery. Yet according to our notions there is no real difference between them; for they are both popular assemblies: they both decide causes, and the same kind of rhetorical arguments, taking sometimes an ethical form, are addressed to both of them. A further distinction is made in Aristotle between the deliberative and executive, but their relation to one another is not clearly defined. One of the most peculiar and characteristic features of an Hellenic state was the calling of magistrates to account after their term of office had expired.
The division of governments into their political and judicial elements, and into their legislative and political functions, must necessarily exist in all civilized countries. Aristotle insists strongly upon the necessity of adapting offices to the constitution. But he can hardly be said to view the question in a comprehensive manner, and the examples which he gives of such adaptations are feeble and trifling. First among them is the adaptation of judicial to political institutions. If the government is exclusive, then the law-courts should be exclusive: if all are represented in one, then all should be represented in both. The power of the one should not be capable of checkmating or overthrowing the other. Though there is some recognition of offices which require special skill, the idea of a single skilled person, the great jurist of the Romans, who has made the laws of his country the study of a life, is not to be found in Aristotle. The deeper study of law did not exist among the Greeks of his time. In the judicial, as Aristotle would say, the voice of God and reason should prevail; in the political there is a mixture of the beast. How are these two to be adjusted? It is not by accident but by a natural connection that in the government of the United States an elective judiciary is combined with the extreme form of democracy; yet it seems hardly possible that judges who are ill-paid and have a precarious tenure of office should resist considerations of party and interest (cp. ii. 9. § 19). So much independence as is not absolutely inconsistent with democracy should therefore be granted to them. There is a natural sense of justice in mankind which makes this possible, if the people are educated to see that moral principles are the basis of any true form of politics. The sphere of law is more limited than that of politics, but also higher, for it is concerned only with truth, which is the foundation of all justice; and the legal element of society is or ought to be conservative, not only because it appeals to precedent and authority, but because it maintains right which is the surest basis of a government or state.
Aristotle places in a long series all the officers of state from the king or general down to the executioner, but he does not treat of the relation of the rulers or ruling class to the popular assembly. In modern states the power of the nobles has been always tending to encroach upon that of the monarch, and the power of the people upon both. Sometimes reactions have occurred and reactionary forms of government have been restored when democracies have become imbecile or shown themselves incapable of governing. The distinctions of ancient times have been more clearly defined, and some new ones have been added. Individual judges dividing their power with juries have for the most part taken the place of judicial assemblies. Civil and military functions have been more separated; by the side of the army the Civil Service has grown up to an almost equal power, the one cutting through with the sword the knots of the world, the other throwing a network, from which there is no escape, over a whole country. Both have a certain independence, and yet are responsible to the great Assembly or Parliament of the Realm. If the ministers of state or the generals of an army unduly seek to extend their powers and duties or Parliament to absorb them, the administration of the state will become weakened or disordered.
Great offices of state should have each their own sphere divided according to the subjects with which government is concerned. Those who hold them should be capable of acting together, and yet not liable to interfere with one another. We should not have the Minister of War asking for money; the Minister of Finance refusing it. Both should be subject to a higher power which would generally leave them to perform their duties independently, but would at times arbitrate between them. The great secret of administration is to combine what is local and individual with the uniformity of a system, to leave every man to himself, and yet to prevent his getting into the way of others. The higher power in a free state should represent the will of the nation. There should be a main-spring, and larger and smaller wheels by which the required force is regulated and diffused. Among the Romans when special danger was apprehended, or when there was a conflict of parties or offices in the state, a Dictator was appointed. All the powers of the state were thus brought under the direction of a single mind; they were suddenly stopped, and at the same moment a new life was communicated from the centre to the extremities of the state. In some modern countries there have been times when the nation seemed to be equally divided into irreconcileable factions, and then the only way of saving society has been Imperialism.
In modern, as well as in ancient times, the relations of great officers, or, as we should say, of the Ministry, to the Parliament or public Assembly have been peculiar. The greater part of the business to be submitted to the Parliament or representative Assembly has been prepared by them; and all their public acts have been subject to enquiries or resolutions of the House. Where should this control stop, and what liberty should be allowed to them? No precise answer can be given to this question. But it is clear that a minister should seek to guide the members of the Assembly in matters of which he is better informed than they are, and that he should resist unnecessary interference with the executive. His influence over them depends upon his power of evoking in them that nobler principle in men which is the better self of the political society.
The Seventh Book is not more regular in structure than those which have preceded it. The thread is tolerably evident, but is often dropped and taken up again after a digression. This irregularity may be in a great measure due to the form in which the Aristotelian writings have been transmitted to us. But we must not complain of some disorder in ancient authors; the habit of arrangement was not easily acquired by them; even the greatest among them have not moulded their works into an artistic whole. Such an overruling unity of idea is not always found in Plato himself: they follow ‘whither the argument leads:’ they pass from one subject to another, and do not impose upon themselves that rule of symmetry or consistency which is demanded of a good modern writer. (See Essay on Structure of Aristotelian Writings, vol. ii.)
The book opens with an eloquent panegyric upon the life of virtue, which is the same both for individuals and states, and which is not confined in either to outward actions. But this life of virtue requires material conditions, a given number of citizens, a situation near but not too near the sea, a territory not too large, suitable walls and buildings, a national character in which spirit and intelligence are combined. It is also made up of parts, and the principal parts are the two governing classes, warriors and counsellors. Throughout the book we trace the connection with difficulty, and some favourite speculations, such as the question whether the life of the freeman is better than that of the ruler, the right of the one best man, the opposition of the practical and speculative reason and the classes of actions corresponding to them, are introduced by the way. The greater part of the discussion has no more reference to the perfect state than to any other. The character of the state, though essentially aristocratic (for the husbandmen are excluded from it), is nowhere precisely defined, and nothing is said about its relation to any other form of government. There are several incorrectnesses of style and expression, for example, the mention of the freeman who is substituted in c. 2 for the contemplative philosopher; or in c. 6 the words ‘all the citizens are virtuous,’ meaning not all, but only the higher classes; or the use of the term ‘ruling in turn’ (c. 14) in a new sense, for the succession of the young to the old, not for the alternation of one section of the citizens with another; or the seeming confusion of contemplation with leisure (c. 14). Nor can the writer resist the temptation to discuss the antiquities and geography of Greece and Italy. After describing in detail the buildings of the city, he returns to the nature of virtue, its absolute and relative character, the means toward it, the elements which constitute it, the priority of the mind to the body. He is thus led on to speak of education, first, before birth, and secondly, after birth. With this great subject, which is very imperfectly handled, the treatise comes rather abruptly to an end. Nowhere else in his writings has Aristotle borrowed so freely from Plato, yet he, or the writer of this part of the treatise, has only alluded to him where he disagrees from him: cp. vii. c. 7, § 5-8; c. 11, § 8; c. 17, § 6; viii. c. 7, § 9. For some of the similarities, cp. vii. c. 7, § 23, and Rep. iv. 35 E: vii. c. 9, § 3; Laws, xi. 919: vii. c. 10, § 7; Laws, iii. 676: vii. c. 10, § 11; Laws, v. 745, &c.
The best life both for individuals and states is a life of virtue, not of war or conquest: the conditions of the perfect state: national character: distinction between the conditions and the parts of a state: caste: syssitia: cultivation of the land: walls and buildings: happiness is the realization of virtue: marriage: education.
In enquiring into the best form of a state we have first to determine which is the most eligible life, and, secondly, whether the same life is or is not best for the individual and for the state.
The division of goods into external goods, goods of the body, and goods of the soul, is generally accepted; and no one will deny that the happy man must have all three. But there is a difference of opinion about the relative superiority of different classes of goods. Some think that a little virtue is enough, but set no limit to their desire of power, wealth or reputation. To whom we reply that virtue is not acquired or preserved by external goods, but external goods by virtue. Where they are in excess they are harmful or useless, but the goods of the soul are never in excess. And as the soul is higher and nobler than the body, so the goods of the soul are higher than the goods of the body; and the goods of the body and external goods are to be chosen for the sake of the soul, not the soul for the sake of them. The happiness of a man is proportional to his wisdom and virtue. Of this truth God is a witness to us, for he is happy in his own nature. Whereas external goods are gifts of fortune—they are due to chance, but no one was ever just or temperate by chance. In like manner the state which is happiest is morally best and wisest; and the courage, justice, and wisdom of a state are the same qualities which make a brave, just, and wise man.
The true relation of the individual to the state was not clearly understood by Plato and Aristotle, because the limitations which are imposed upon common or collective action were not perceived by them. Hence they appear to us, more frequently than modern political writers, to fall into the error of confounding Ethics with Politics. A good simple man is apt to believe that a state can be as easily reformed as an individual: he will often repeat the aphorism that ‘what is morally wrong cannot be politically right.’ He does not see that the changes which he deems so easy are limited by the condition of what is possible. There are many opposing winds and conflicting currents which interfere with the good intentions of statesmen and the progress of politics. The wills of men counteract one another: and the minority must be deducted from the majority before the force of any given movement can be ascertained. The will of a state is the balance or surplus of will; the conscience of a state is that higher opinion or judgment of men acting collectively which can make itself felt in the world.
But if the analogy of the state and the individual has been a cause of error, it has also had an elevating influence on the science of Politics. In the pursuit of material interest men are always losing sight of the true and the good. The infusion of Ethics into Politics tends to restore them, and this ethical element is derived chiefly from ancient philosophy. In modern as in ancient times there are some statesmen who think that Politics are entirely concerned with finance (i. 2. § 13). The formula that the state is only ‘a machine for the protection of life and property,’ though rather worn out and discredited in our own day, had a great hold on the last generation of statesmen. When the pendulum has swayed long enough in the other direction the world may return to the saws of political economy, for the recovery of some truths as well as errors which are contained in them. At present we are living in an age which is averse to such formulas; which feels that more is needed; and the study of ancient political philosophy has helped to restore a more elevated conception of society. In Aristotle and Plato we have different types of ideal states,—a perfect state on the ground, and a perfect state in the air to which we may look as the form or example of a higher political life. Such ideas are apt to become unreal, and may even be injurious when they supersede the natural machinery of government, but when rightly infused into the mass of human motives, they seem to be worth all the rest. They must be clothed in circumstances, and then they become to the state what the mind is to the body, what the higher thoughts of men are to mere habits and fashions.
We may assume, then, that the happiness of the state and of the individual are the same. But two questions remain to be determined: 1) Is a political or a contemplative life to be preferred? 2) What is the best form or condition of the state? As we are engaged, not in an ethical, but in a political enquiry, the latter is to us the main question. But the former is also not without interest. Is the life of the philosopher or of the statesman the more eligible? For the wise man, like the wise state, will seek to regulate his life according to the best end. Some say that the exercise of any rule over others, even of a just rule, is a great impediment to virtue; while others maintain that the political is the only true life, and that virtue may be practised quite as well by statesmen as by private persons; others will even affirm that despotic power is the only true happiness. And the laws of many nations make power and conquest their aim. Yet to the reflecting mind, it must appear strange that the statesman should be always considering how he can tyrannize over others. A physician does not deceive or coerce his patients, nor a pilot the passengers in his ship. Nevertheless, despotism is thought by some to be a true form of government: and men are not ashamed of practising towards their neighbours what in their own case they would declare to be neither expedient nor right. Yet they cannot suppose that they have a right to rule over their equals; but only over those who are by nature intended to serve. Other men are not wild animals whom they may hunt and eat. And so far from war being the true object of a state, there may be states which, having no neighbours, have no enemies, and are nevertheless happy in isolation. Hence we see that warlike pursuits are means, not ends; for they are not essential to the happiness of a state. The good law-giver will enquire how men and cities can attain happiness, and how they can do their duty toward their neighbours if they have any, and he will vary his enactments accordingly.
And now let us address those who agree that the life of virtue is the most eligible, but differ about the manner of practising it. Some renounce political power; they think that the life of the free citizen is better than the life of the statesman. Others think the life of the statesman the best on the ground that virtuous activity is happiness. Both are partly right and partly wrong. The first are right in saying that the life of the freeman is better than that of the despot, but wrong in supposing 1) that all rule is despotic, for there is a rule over freemen as well as over slaves; 2) wrong again in thinking that the life of the freeman is necessarily inactive. The upholders of the statesman’s claim see clearly enough that activity is preferable to inactivity, but they think that virtue is power, because the greater the power of a man the more noble actions he will be able to perform, and that he should therefore regard neither family nor any other obligations, but the acquisition of wealth and power only. Not so; for if this were true, the life of a thief or a highwayman would be the best of all. Rule is only honourable where the ruler is manifestly superior to his subjects. No success, however great, can justify a violation of principle. Evil is not to be done that good may come. He only has a right to rule who is superior in virtue, and this superiority in virtue must be accompanied by the capacity for action. Nor is the life of action necessarily relative to others or confined to external acts; there are thoughts and contemplations perfect in themselves, as well as actions which have practical results; and there may be an inward energy, like the divine, both in states and individuals, and in the world at large.
Thus much by way of preface; from the abstract we may now pass to the concrete, and having reviewed other states, may proceed to enquire into the conditions of the ideal or perfect state.
The legislator, like any other artist, must have materials upon which to work. We may presuppose for him imaginary conditions, but nothing impossible. First he will have to consider 1) the numbers, but far more 2) the character of the people, and then 3) the size and character of the country. The greatness of a state is to be estimated, not by the numbers, but by the quality of the citizens. It has a work to do; and that is the greatest city which accomplishes the greatest work. Great is a relative term, and is here used in the sense in which we speak of a great man. A city in which there are many artisans and few soldiers is not really great. We know from experience that a very populous city can seldom be well governed; and we may reasonably assume that a great multitude cannot be orderly; nothing short of Divine Power can impart law to infinity. The beauty of a state, as of a ship or of anything else, depends upon proportion: magnitude must be combined with good order.
A state begins to exist when the population is self-sufficing, and it must not be increased to such an extent that the administration breaks down because the citizens cease to know one another, or that foreigners and metics can creep undiscovered into the rights of citizens. The entire multitude should be taken in at a single view.
The Greeks were averse to any considerable extension of the size or population of a state. The citizens were to know one another, they were to be accustomed to act together, they were to live within the same walls. When the city began to increase in population, the Greeks instead of allowing it to grow indefinitely sent out a colony to some other place. There seem to have been many causes of this limitation. First, 1) there was the fact; the early Greek populations were not large, and the ruling class were not upon the average more than a third or fourth of the whole; the valleys in which they were located were not capable of sustaining great numbers, any more than the valleys of Cumberland or Switzerland in England and in Europe. 2) There were the necessities of self-defence; when war was almost the constant state of man, and nations were not yet organized, the country population could not extend very far from the city which protected them. What had been the fact thus became the principle. To the Greek the cities of Assyria or of Egypt, built in vast plains, seemed to have a monstrous and unmeaning greatness. The Greek races had quickly become diversified by circumstances into lesser tribes, and the configuration of the country tended to maintain and strengthen the subdivisions. A distinct and peculiar life was stamped upon each of them. The city soon became all in all; the country nothing. The fewness of the aristocracy and their constant struggles with the rising democracy also tended to prevent their free expansion. The intensity of their inner life rendered it impossible for them to amalgamate great masses of men. Besides, the idea itself was repugnant to the Greek mind. ‘The good was of the nature of the finite,’ in politics as in other departments of knowledge. Hence the saying of Aristotle that ‘the state which consists of 100,000 men is no longer a state.’
The territory of the state should likewise be moderate in size, but large and fertile enough to enable the citizens to live temperately and liberally in the enjoyment of leisure. It should be difficult for an enemy to get into it, and easy for the citizens to get out of it. The country and the inhabitants should be taken in at a glance. The city should be well situated for the protection of the country both by sea and land, and should be a centre of inland as well as of maritime commerce.
Whether a communication with the sea is beneficial or not is a disputed question; much may be said on both sides. The influx of strangers and the increase of population are adverse to good order. But on the other hand, the citizens should be able to act at sea as well as by land against an enemy; and they will require imports and exports. It may not be well that they should seek to be a market for the world, but still they will find the advantage of having a port near the town and dependent on it. The possession of a moderate naval force is therefore advantageous. The citizens require such a force for their own needs; they should also be formidable to their neighbours, and on the other hand they should be able to assist them, if necessary, by sea as well as by land. The number of this naval force should be relative to the size and character of the state. No increase of population is required to maintain it. The marines who will be the officers must be citizens taken from the infantry, and the large populations of perioeci and husbandmen will supply abundance of common sailors.
We have next to speak of the character of the citizens, a subject which leads us to consider national character in general. The gifts of nature are variously distributed among different races. The northern nations are courageous but stupid; capable of preserving their freedom, but not capable of political life or of command. The Orientals are intelligent but spiritless, and always in a state of subjection. The Hellenes, who dwell in an intermediate region, are high-spirited and also intelligent; they are well governed, and might, if united, rule the world. But this combination of qualities does not exist equally in all of them, and both intelligence and courage are required in those whom the legislator is training to virtue. We do not agree [with Plato when he says] ‘that the guardians of a state should be gentle to those whom they know and fierce to those whom they do not know.’ For passion is the quality of the soul which begets friendship, and our anger is stirred more by the contempt or ingratitude of friends than by the injuries of enemies. Both the power of command and the love of freedom are based upon this quality.
The middle position which the Greek occupies between the over-civilized Asiatic and the under-civilized Gaul and Thracian is a central fact in the philosophy of History; for from the Greek the political life of the modern world and the very form of the human mind may be said to be inherited. In the Asiatic a feeble and fanciful intelligence has become separated from character, in the barbarian, character from intelligence. In the Greek at his best they are assimilated or harmonized, and such a balance or harmony never existed in any other ancient nation. The great empires of the East were slowly decaying or had already crumbled beneath the sand which buried their cities. The Egyptians, except from the impact of Greeks, during two thousand years and more, had ‘learnt nothing,’ and they ‘had forgotten nothing.’ They were ‘hoary with time,’ and the old age of the world was no match for the youth Alexander. Far in the North and the South, but reaching to the fair shores of the Mediterranean, there were barbarous tribes, creatures of impulse and of violence, who gathered something from the civilization which they touched. In the centre of them all dwelt the Greek, seeming to differ from them in beauty of form and enlightenment of mind almost as much as gods from men. But this greatest and least among the nations only for a short time, scarcely more than the length of two human lives, retained this happy mixture of earth’s best elements. Aristotle hardly recognizes that he saw the Greek world already in decay. But the life which had departed was after a time to rise again in a new form. ‘That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.’ The real greatness of Hellas is the influence which she has exercised on humanity. New forms of government, new admixtures of race were to arise after many ages, in which a small seed of Greek literature, not a hundredth or thousandth part of the whole, was to flourish and abound under the altered circumstances of modern Europe.
There are conditions as well as parts of a state; [means as well as ends]. And two things of which the one is an end, the other the means, have nothing in common except the relation. The conditions of a state must not be confused with the organic parts of it. The builder requires tools and materials; they are the conditions of the house, and the art of the builder is for the sake of the house, but the house and the builder have nothing in common. And so states require property, but property is no part of a state, which aims at the best life possible, and is not merely a community of living beings. [The end is the highest good, and] men seek after this best life or highest good in various modes, out of which arise the various forms of government. We are seeking for the parts of a state, and these are to be found somewhere among the conditions of it.
First there must be food; secondly, arts; thirdly, arms; fourthly, money; fifthly, or rather first, a care of religion; sixthly, political and judicial administration. Without these the community will not be self-sufficing; and therefore the state must contain husbandmen, artisans, soldiers, capitalists, priests, and judges.
But should these pursuits be common to all? or divided among different classes? or some common to all and others not? In democracies all share in all: in oligarchies the opposite principle prevails. In the best state, which is also the happiest, the citizens are virtuous, not relatively but absolutely; and they ought not to lead the ignoble life of mechanics or tradesmen. Neither should they be husbandmen who have no leisure, and therefore cannot practise virtue or fulfil political duties. But when mechanics and husbandmen are excluded, there remain only the two classes of warriors and councillors, and our enquiry is therefore limited to the question whether the functions of these two shall be discharged by the same or by different persons. It is a provision of Nature that the young shall be warriors, the old councillors; and the young will be willing enough to wait for their turn of office. Such a distribution will be both expedient and just, and will contain an element of proportion, for the duties of the two will be relative to their respective ages. Besides, the rulers should be in easy circumstances, and should have leisure to be virtuous; for without virtue, happiness cannot exist; and the city is happy when the citizens are happy. The meaner sort will be mechanics, the slaves and perioeci husbandmen. As to the priests, they too must be citizens; for only by citizens can the Gods be duly honoured. They should be men who have grown old in the service of the state as warriors and councillors, the eldest of the elders. To sum up: there must be husbandmen, craftsmen, and labourers of all kinds—these are necessary to the existence of a state; but the parts of the state are councillors and warriors.
The division of the population into warriors and husbandmen is not an invention of political philosophers, but a very ancient institution still existing in Egypt, which is the oldest of all countries, and in Crete, established, as we learn from tradition, by a law of Sesostris in Egypt and of Minos in Crete. Common meals are also of great antiquity; according to the learned among the Italians they were first introduced into Hellas from Italy. But these and many other things have been invented several times over in the course of ages.
There is a general agreement in favour of common meals. But they should be furnished at the public cost, so that even the poorest may not be excluded from them. To this extent I agree with those who maintain that property should be common. The expense of religious worship should also be defrayed by the state. To meet such charges the land should be divided into two parts, the one public, and the other private. Of the public land half should be appropriated to the service of the Gods, half to defray the common meals. Of the private land, half should be near the border and half near the city. Where there is not this arrangement, those at a distance who are not immediately affected will be too eager to strike, while those who are on the border will be ready to purchase peace at any price. The cultivators should be slaves of an inferior sort, and not all of the same race; or they should be perioeci of foreign race and of a like inferior nature. Some of them should be employed on private lands, the remainder on the property of the state. Slaves should be well treated, and should be encouraged by the hope of freedom. But I shall return to this subject [a promise unfulfilled] at some other time.
Nothing is less like Aristotle’s political ideal than a state in which all men are free and equal. On the contrary, he is quite satisfied that the land should belong to a ruling and be tilled by a subject class. He would keep the rulers thoroughly united among themselves, and weaken the subjects by dispersing them. So far is he from approving entirely of the pure democracy which he elsewhere describes. He accuses Plato of indistinctness in his account of the lower classes; but is he much clearer himself? What he says hardly amounts to more than this, that the poorer classes should be treated humanely by the rich, and that whatever political privileges they may possess, they should be deprived as far as possible of the opportunity of exercising them. The ancient institution of caste is regarded by him as the natural beginning of society. Syssitia should always exist in a well-ordered state. He is going to explain his reasons for taking this view, but, as in many other passages, the intention is no sooner formed than it seems to be forgotten.
In what follows we are interested to observe the external conditions which he requires in the state. First, good air and good water; for these are the elements which we use oftenest, and on which our health is most dependent. The principles of sanitation have never been stated more clearly or concisely. The separation of drinking water from water used for other purposes is an ingenious idea which has been adopted in some modern cities. The walls and buildings of the state illustrate the military character of Greek society. The priests have a feeble place among the other classes. As in Plato (Laws, vi. 760), they are to be aged citizens who are no longer useful in war or politics. Man when he has done his duty and is passing out of life is transferred to the service of the Gods.
The city should be open to the sea and to the country. With a view to health, 1) it should be exposed to the east and sheltered from the north: 2) there should be a good natural supply of water: 3) the situation should be convenient for political, and 4) for military purposes. The supply of water and air is most important, for these are the elements which we use most. In wise states, if the supply is insufficient, a distinction is made between drinking water and water used for other purposes; and in addition to the natural springs and fountains, reservoirs are established to collect the rain.
Different positions are suited to different forms of government,—an acropolis to a king or oligarchy, a plain to a democracy, many strongholds to an aristocracy. The houses should be built upon a regular plan; but a part also in the old irregular fashion, that beauty and safety may be combined. The city should be fortified; the notion [of Plato] that walls had better be left to slumber in the ground is an antiquated fancy; they should be made as strong as possible, especially now that siege engines have been brought to such perfection. To have no fortifications would be as foolish as to level the heights of a country, or to leave a house unwalled lest the inmates should become cowards. The walls of a city should be ornamental as well as useful, and they should be adapted to resist the latest improvements in war. ‘Si vis pacem, para bellum.’
There should be guard-houses in the walls, and as the citizens are to be distributed at common meals, common tables for the guards should be set up in them. The temples and government buildings should occupy a site towering over the city, as becomes the abode of virtue. Near this spot let there be an agora for freemen, from which all trade should be scrupulously excluded. There the gymnastic exercises of the elder men may be performed in the presence of some of the magistrates, while others superintend the exercises of the youth in another place. There must also be a traders’ agora in some other spot—this should be easily accessible both by land and sea. The magistrates who deal with contracts and have the care of the city and the agora should be established near the agora. Nor must the priests be forgotten; public tables will be provided for them in their proper place near the temples.
A similar order should prevail in the country. There too the magistrates must have guard - houses and common tables; and temples dedicated to gods and heroes will be scattered throughout the land.
Enough of details. The well-being of the state, like all other well-being, consists first in the choice of a right end and aim of action; secondly, of the right means. In life, as in the arts, a man may mistake or fail to attain either or both. The physician may not always understand the nature of health, or he may use the wrong means for the restoration of it. All men desire happiness, but many, through some accident or defect of nature or of circumstances, fail to attain it; for even the highest virtue has need of some portion, however small, of external goods. And as we are enquiring into the best government of a state, and since the happiest state is that which is best governed, we must enquire into the nature of happiness. As we ventured to say in the Ethics, happiness is the perfect exercise of virtue; and this not conditional but absolute. I use the term ‘conditional’ to express that which is necessary, like punishments and chastisements, which are lesser evils and therefore relative goods. But actions which aim at honour and advantage are the foundation and creation of good. A good man will make the best use of poverty and disease, but he can only be happy when he has health and wealth. [In like manner the good state will be patient of adversity, but can only attain happiness when blessed with favourable conditions.] The absolute good is the true good, but by a confusion of ideas we are apt to argue that the external conditions are the end, which is just as if we were to say that a musical performance is due to the instrument and not to the skill of the performer. The goods of fortune are often matters of chance,—we can only pray for them; but the virtue and goodness of a state are the result of knowledge and purpose. A city is virtuous when all the citizens are virtuous; and therefore we must enquire how they may become such.
There are three elements of virtue—nature, habit, reason. Every one must be born a man, and he must have a certain character or habit. The animals lead a life of nature, and they are also influenced by habit. But man, and man only, has reason in addition to nature. And these three, nature, habit, reason, must be in accord; and reason should control both nature and habit.
But there still remains a question which has not been fully answered: Should rulers and ruled be always the same, or are they to interchange? And upon the answer to this question the education of the citizens will depend. If there were men as clearly superior to their fellows in body and mind as the Gods are to men, there could be no doubt; the one class would always rule and the other obey. But since there is no such marked superiority, it is just that the citizens should rule and be ruled in turn. [We note that the words ‘ruling and being ruled in turns’ are here used to describe not, as elsewhere, a constitutional but an aristocratical government, like the Republic of Plato.] In regard to education, Nature herself has made a difference, for she distinguishes between old and young, and has appointed the one to rule, the other to be ruled. The rulers and the ruled are the same, yet also different; and therefore their education, although the same, will differ in some respects. Those who are ruled, by obeying learn to rule; [how or what the rulers learn is not said, unless the meaning is, that they learn by experience]. There is a just and an unjust rule; the former for the sake of the ruled, to which the citizen may honourably submit; the latter tyrannical, existing for the good of the rulers only. Under a rule which is just and gentle many apparently menial duties may be honourably performed by the younger citizens.
The virtue of the citizen and of the ruler is the same with that of the good man, and the legislator has to consider how his citizens may become good. Now the soul of man has two parts, one, the rational, having reason in itself, the other, not having, but obeying reason. And he is good who has the virtues of both; yet clearly the virtues of the part which has reason are the superior, and the end is more likely to be found in them, the higher in the higher. The reason too is subdivided into the practical and the speculative; and the actions of the speculative, which is the superior part, are higher and better than those of the inferior. And the whole of life is divided into two parts, business and leisure, war and peace, and actions are divided into those which are useful and necessary, and those which are honourable. And in all, the useful is for the sake of the honourable, the lower of the higher. These are the principles in which the statesman should train his citizens. Yet even the best law-givers have framed their laws only with a view to what is gainful and profitable. The Lacedaemonian constitution, although greatly eulogized, aims at nothing higher than war and conquest, which is deemed happiness. But surely the Lacedaemonians are not a happy people now that their empire has passed away; they continue in the observance of the old laws, but the better part of life has departed from them. And the desire of dominion in nations is really a crime of the same sort as the usurpation of power in individuals. The law-giver should implant in his citizens the love of the best; for the same things are best both for individuals and states. Men should not study war for the sake of enslaving others, but they should provide against their own enslavement; they should rule for the good of the governed, and they should rule over none but those who are by nature slaves. Military states are safe only in time of war; they fall asunder in peace.
Leaving the external conditions of the state, Aristotle now proceeds to consider the higher aspects of it. The same moderate principle which he had already enunciated in the Nicomachean Ethics, namely that happiness is not altogether separable from external goods, is here repeated, though less clearly and with a certain degree of confusion. The state must have a fair share of material prosperity, and there may be conditions under which the life of a society, like that of an individual, becomes no longer endurable. But although the state is not absolutely independent of external circumstances, the higher principle of politics is virtue, which is given by reason working through education.
After what has been told us in Chap. x., that there is a distinction between the owners and cultivators of land, we are surprised to find that all, whether rulers or subjects, are to have their share of governing. The cultivators, then, would seem to be a class inferior to the subjects. The censure passed on Hippodamus may be retorted,—Surely there is a great deal of confusion in all this.
Aristotle and Plato were well aware that the Spartans and the Hellenic world generally had exalted too much the military ideal. They saw that the virtues of war could not be separated from the virtues of peace. But they were equally strenuous in maintaining that an individual or a state must be able to defend themselves. Courage founded upon animal spirit was held by them to be the safeguard of every virtue. But they had not attained to the distinction of physical and moral courage; nor had they determined the relation of the reason to the desires. They had not yet made a study of the virtues, but had only taken them in the rough, without clearly distinguishing them. Their analysis was imperfect and often accidental, derived as much from the associations of a word as from the observation of facts. Nor are we ourselves aware how much in all mental investigations we are under the influence of language and of crude ideas inherited from the ancients.
It may be observed that Aristotle in the latter part of this Book is describing, not a democracy or a timocracy, but an aristocracy in which the relation of classes is the same, or nearly the same, as in the Republic of Plato. He has told us that democracy is ‘a necessity, not a good;’ he is here speaking of the good, not of the necessity;—of the state which is based, not on numbers, but on virtue, ‘and provided with a fair share of external goods.’ His old formula of ‘ruling and being ruled in turn’ he still retains, but in a different sense; the alternation is not the artificial interchange of citizens of the same age, but the natural division of them into old and young. The injustice of one class ruling and the other being ruled is supposed to be remedied by the class which is governed looking forward to being governors; they are willing to wait until their turn comes. This is called ‘justice according to proportion;’ all the old are to rule, all the young are to obey. How such an arrangement is possible in a great city or how the education of the old and young differs is not explained.
The city should possess the virtues of peace as well as of war, of leisure as well as of business. Her citizens should be temperate, brave, just,—qualities which are especially needed by the rich and well-to-do. The dwellers in the Islands of the Blest, if such there be, will above all men need philosophy and temperance and justice. War is compulsory, but in peace a man is his own master. It is therefore peculiarly disgraceful to him not to be able to use aright the goods of life in time of peace.
We have already determined that nature and habit and reason are required in man; but we have not said whether early training should be that of reason or of habit. The training must not be of one only, but of both; for the two must accord; and will then form the best of harmonies. Either reason or habit may be mistaken, and fail to attain the ideal of life. Now every end has a beginning in some former end. But reason and mind are the final end towards which human nature strives [they have their beginning in habit and nature], and to this education should be directed. The care of the body should precede that of the soul; and the training of the appetitive part should follow, but always the body for the sake of the soul; the appetites, of the reason; the lower, for the sake of the higher.
It will be the first care of the legislator that the population are strong and healthy; and therefore he will begin by regulating the marriages of his citizens. He must provide 1) that the time of reproduction in men and women should correspond; 2) that the parents should be of suitable ages relatively to the children when they grow up; 3) that the frames of the children should from their birth be moulded to his will. The parents should marry at the right time, that is to say, the men at 37, and the women at 18. For since the limit of generation in men is 70 and in women 50, they will then marry in their prime; and the children will succeed them at a suitable age. When persons are married too young, their children are apt to be small or ill-developed; in childbirth the younger women suffer more, and more of them die; such early unions are apt to make them wanton, and in men the bodily frame is stunted. Marriages should take place in winter, and, if the natural philosophers are right, during the prevalence of a north rather than of a south wind. The constitution of both parents should be strong and inured to labour, not the temperament of an athlete any more than of a valetudinarian, but in a mean between them. Women who are pregnant should take exercise and have a nourishing diet; their minds should be at ease, for children derive their nature from their parents. Deformed offspring should not be reared; and if there are too many children, abortion must be procured,—a practice which is not criminal if life has not yet begun in the embryo. The parents should not continue procreation too long: it should cease when the fathers have reached the age of 50 or 55. For the children of the very old, like the children of the very young, are weakly both in body and mind.
Adultery should be deemed disgraceful, and if it occur during the time of cohabitation, should be punished with loss of privileges.
Young children should be fed on milk,—the less wine the better. Motion of every kind is good for them; in some countries mechanical appliances are used to straighten their limbs. They should be accustomed to bear cold from the first. The cries of a child should not be restrained, for they have an excellent physical effect. Up to five years the children must learn nothing, but only play; and their games should be miniature representations of after-life. They should not be left too much with slaves, and should not be allowed to hear improper stories. Indeed, all indecency of speech must be banished from the city; for shameful words are the parents of shameful actions. A freeman who says or does anything unseemly shall be beaten if he is young; or if he be an older person, he shall lose the privileges of a citizen.
All indecent statues and pictures must be prohibited, except in the temples of certain Gods; and the young must not go to the theatre until they are old enough to take their place at the common meals. Children while they are growing up should only see what is good; for their first impressions colour their whole life. What men hear first at the theatre, or anywhere else, has the greatest effect upon them. And therefore youth should be strangers to vice in every form.
The poets who divide the ages of men by sevens are not always right; we had better adhere to the distinctions which nature makes, and divide education into two periods of equal or unequal length, from seven to the age of puberty, and onwards to the age of 21.
The precepts about early education are chiefly taken from Plato. Yet we observe that there is no acknowledgment of the source from which they come. Plato is only mentioned to be censured, when he has first been misinterpreted. We are surprised to find how high a place in the state is assigned to education both by Plato and Aristotle; whereas in modern treatises on politics it is generally banished as being part of another subject, or a subject in itself. At their birth, and even before their birth, the children of the state are to be the special care of the legislator, and their whole life is to be regulated by him. This idea is deeply impressed upon ancient political philosophy. And though, as Aristotle truly says, he has treated this subject in a very cursory manner, and never fulfills the promise that he will elsewhere return to it, yet, following closely in the footsteps of Plato, he has discussed it with a breadth of view scarcely to be found in modern writers. He sees that the body must come before the soul, because in the first years of life the child is the creature of bodily impressions; yet all for the sake of the soul, which gradually takes possession of the bodily frame. There is a mystic tie by which they are linked together, and by which the human reason is connected with the divine.
Very little in this short tractate upon education can be deemed original. The greater part is to be found in the Laws and the Republic. And the claim to originality might be further diminished if we had more of the contemporary literature.
There is no break or division between the Seventh and Eighth Books. A very imperfect notion of the subject which they profess to treat is given in them. The education of after-life, whether political or speculative, seems never to have been seriously considered by Aristotle. Of mathematics and of literature he says little or nothing. His main ideas about education are that it should be public or national, and adapted to the constitution of the state,—an education which, as far as we know, existed nowhere in Hellas except at Sparta, and there only in an imperfect form. In other respects he does not depart from the ordinary type of Greek education.
The Eighth Book contains a very imperfect sketch of education, in which a few fragmentary though sagacious remarks on training and gymnastics, and a more elaborate discussion of the place of music in the studies of youth, are introduced. It has been sometimes said that Aristotle could never have intended these few remarks to be his whole account of education which had already been treated of by Plato in a fuller and more perfect form, and therefore that he must be supposed to have left that part of the treatise unfinished. The same remark applies to other writings of Aristotle, notably to the Poetics. Has Aristotle no more than this to tell us about poetry?—is the reflection which naturally arises in the mind of the modern reader. But the comparison of these two examples, to which many others might be added, makes us hesitate in applying this favourite commonplace of an ‘unfinished work,’ and we are led to think that what appears to us a meagre and imperfect treatment of a subject may have worn a different appearance in the age of Aristotle. To plan out a treatise so that every part should throw a light upon every other part was a rare achievement in ancient Greek literature. At any rate we may remark that the Poetics of Aristotle and the last book of the Politics, whether finished or unfinished, perfect or imperfect, have exercised a vast influence on all succeeding writers. The truth is that unity or completeness was the last quality which an ancient writer attained, partly from the dearth of materials, and also from the meagreness of thought in the beginnings of philosophy. His conceptions were rough-hewn. The original force of them was not yet completely subdued by the art of rhetoric; and when rhetoric became the form of Greek literature, the originality disappeared.
Education should be national and should be liberal: two chief branches of it, music and gymnastic: how leisure should be employed: the effects of music and the mode of studying it: the lower and the higher kinds.
Every one will admit that education is the chief business of the legislator; and that he has to adapt his citizens to the form of government under which they live. They must be all trained in virtue; and the training should not be individual or private, but public and the same for all. No one of the citizens belongs to himself; each of them is a part of the state, and the care of each part is inseparable from the care of the whole.
That education should be an affair of state is denied by no one; but mankind are not equally agreed about the things to be taught:—should education be intellectual or moral? should the useful in life, or should virtue, or should knowledge of the higher sort be our aim? Neither are they any more agreed about the means [as indeed might be expected when they differ so widely about the ends]. Some useful things should be taught, but not those vulgar arts which deform the body, nor yet those paid occupations which absorb and degrade the mind. Even the liberal arts should only be carried to a certain extent. The object too makes a difference; a man will perform a menial office for himself or his friends which he would not do for other people (cp. vii. 14, § 7).
Education is commonly divided into four branches, 1) reading and writing, 2) gymnastic exercises, 3) music, to which some add a fourth, 4) drawing. Reading, writing, drawing, all have some practical purpose, and gymnastics are said to impart courage. Music is cultivated in our own day chiefly for the sake of pleasure, but was formerly included in education, and rightly. Nature demands that we should both work well and use leisure well, and leisure is better than work. But we ought not to be idle; and the question arises—‘How shall we employ our leisure?’ Not in mere amusement, clearly. Yet he who works hard must have relaxation. Therefore we should at suitable times introduce amusements, and they should be the medicines of the soul by which we obtain rest. This kind of relaxation varies according to the habits of individuals; the pleasure of the best man is the best and springs from the best. It is clear, then, that there are branches of study which add to the enjoyment of leisure, and these are to be valued for their own sake. And music was admitted by our fathers into education, not, like reading and writing, on the ground either of necessity or utility, but with a view to intellectual enjoyment in leisure. The practical branches of education, such as drawing, reading, and writing, ought not to be neglected, but they should be studied with a higher purpose; for example, drawing may give the learners a sense of beauty. To be always seeking after the useful does not become free and exalted minds.
The atmosphere of perplexity and controversy which envelopes Aristotle’s other writings upon Ethics and Politics and is characteristic of his age and school, also surrounds his discussion of education. He cannot advance a step without stumbling upon a dispute. Is education to be moral or intellectual, useful or noble? Is the received education the best, or are we to seek for a more excellent way? How are leisure and work related to each other? No distinct answer is given to these questions, which are almost immediately superseded by other questions. We are still in the stage of enquiry, and have not attained to order and light. We gather as the final result that education must be noble as well as useful, and that these two are not absolutely divided; for things which are useful may be taught in a spirit which ennobles them.
The education of the body should precede that of the mind, and therefore young boys must begin with the trainer and wrestling-master. [Here Aristotle diverges from Plato, who thinks that the mind must be trained before the body.] But we should avoid the error of the Lacedaemonians, who brutalize their children by laborious exercises, thinking to make them courageous. They forget that education is not directed to any single end, and that true courage is always associated with a gentle and noble character. Their system has been a complete failure. There was a time when the Lacedaemonians were the first people in Hellas; and this pre-eminence they won by their superior training, but now that others train, they are beaten both in war and in gymnastics. They must be judged from what they are, not from what they have been. That the young should be trained in light exercises is a principle generally admitted, but they should not be overtasked. The evil of too much early training is proved by the example of the Olympic victors, who have rarely gained the prize both as men and boys. When boyhood is over, three years should be spent in other studies; the period of life which follows may then be devoted to hard exercises and strict regimen. Care should be taken not to work mind and body at the same time.
There are many striking observations scattered up and down in the Eighth Book. What can be better than the remark that to be always seeking after the useful does not become free and exalted souls? Or that in education habit must go before reason and the body before the mind? Or the idea of noble dangers, and a courage to be associated with a gentle and lion-like temper? Or the acute remark that the evil of excessive training in early life is proved by the example of the Olympic victors, for not more than two or three of them have gained a prize both as boys and men? Or the common-sense rule that men ought not to labour at the same time with their minds and with their bodies?
Music is commonly supposed to be learnt either for amusement, or for the training of the mind and character, or for intellectual enjoyment in leisure. But learning is a serious business, and therefore music cannot be taught to youth simply as an amusement, and the intellectual employment of leisure is only suitable to full-grown men. It may be asked why in any case should we learn to play and sing ourselves when we can hear professional musicians who sing and play far better? Like the Lacedaemonians, we may be good judges of music and yet not performers. Zeus does not play or sing to the Gods; and no gentleman would play or sing [in public] unless he were intoxicated.
Not to enlarge further on this controversy, we will consider the other question: Is music an amusement, or an instrument of training, or an intellectual enjoyment? All men agree that music is a solace and refreshment; a noble pleasure which they may enjoy when, engaged in some high pursuit, they would rest by the way. And with a view to relaxation, as well as to some further good, the young should be trained in it. Yet it may also happen that the means may be converted into an end, because the end contains an element of pleasure, and so the lower takes the place of the higher. Now music is both a solace and a recreation. And who can say that, having this use, it may not also have a higher one? For it enters into and forms the soul; virtue and vice are represented by melody and rhythm, and the feeling aroused by the imitation is not far removed from the same feeling about realities. No other sensations are expressive of character equally with those of hearing, although objects of sight, such as paintings and statues, exercise in a lesser degree the same power. Each of the modes affects the soul in a peculiar way; the Mixolydian makes men sad and grave,—the relaxed harmonies slacken and weaken, the Dorian compose and strengthen, the mind; the Phrygian mode inspires passion. Rhythms, too, have a character, some of rest, others of motion; and of the latter some have a more vulgar, others a nobler, movement. Seeing the great power of music, we cannot afford to neglect the use of it in education. It is suited to the time of youth; we have in us an affinity to harmonies and rhythms which makes some philosophers say that the soul is, or contains, harmony.
But the question has not yet been determined 1) whether youth should be taught to sing and play themselves or not? Clearly their characters will be more influenced if they can play themselves; they will be better judges of music, and while they are growing up, music will be to them what the rattle is to very young children, and will keep them out of mischief. But they must not continue the study too far into life. A gentleman should not aim at acquiring the marvellous execution of the professor of music. But he should know enough to feel delight in simple and noble rhythms.
Musical instruments should be simple and adapted to a simple style of music. The flute and the harp must be rejected. The flute requires too much skill, and has not a good moral effect; it is too exciting; it also prevents the use of the voice, and is therefore an impediment to education. The ancients were right in forbidding it, although about the time of the Persian War, when a great educational movement arose in Hellas, the flute came into fashion. But soon a reaction took place, and the flute, together with various oddly-shaped, old-fashioned instruments, was again banished. There is truth in the old myth which tells how Athene, after inventing the flute, threw it away, not approving of an instrument which distorted the features. That was a pleasing fancy of ancient mythology. But with still more reason may the wise goddess be supposed to have rejected it because it contributed nothing to the mind.
Professional music, then,—that is to say, the music which is performed in contests and is adapted to the taste of the audience, who are vulgar themselves and vulgarize the performers,—is unsuited to education, and should therefore be prohibited by us.
Lastly, we have to consider what melodies and rhythms shall be employed in education. Melodies have been divided into ethical melodies, melodies of action, and inspiring melodies. Accepting these divisions, we further maintain that music should be studied with three objects,—1) education, 2) purification (of which we will explain the meaning when we treat of poetry), 3) intellectual enjoyment. And in education ethical melodies are to be preferred, but we may listen to the others. For men are variously affected by pity, fear, enthusiasm, and the various melodies corresponding to these feelings lighten and deliver the soul. The freeman will desire to hear the nobler sort of melodies at the theatre, but for the amusement of artisans and slaves the lower kinds may be also admitted. Plato in the Republic wishes to retain only the Dorian and Phrygian modes, although he rejects the flute, which is to other musical instruments what the Phrygian is to other modes. He is wrong in retaining the Phrygian, which is exciting and emotional; he is equally wrong in excluding the Lydian, which is better adapted to old men and to children of tender years than the severer melodies; and he is inconsistent with himself in keeping the Phrygian mode when he rejects the flute. The Dorian is grave and manly, and therefore especially suited to education. Two principles should be always kept in view, What is possible and What is becoming; yet even these are relative to age, the relaxed song of the old will naturally differ from the severer strain of youth. These two principles, to which may be added a third, viz. the mean, lie at the foundation of education.
One of the Aristotelian ideas which we have a difficulty in translating into English words and modes of thought is σχολὴ or ἡ ἐν σχολῃ̂ διαγωγή. To us leisure means hardly more than the absence of occupation, the necessary alternation of play with work. By the Greek, σχολὴ was regarded as the condition of a gentleman. In Aristotle the notion is still further idealized, for he seems to regard it as an internal state in which the intellect, free from the cares of practical life, energizes or reposes in the consciousness of truth. To such an elevation of the soul, music, in which the mind through the ear receives the mathematical proportions of harmony and rhythm, lends the greatest aid. Some old Pythagorean feeling, exaggerated by fancy and tradition, enters into all this; but we also know by experience how, when listening to the tones of the organ, strange but undefined thoughts arise in our minds,—we feel better than ourselves, and are caught up into a sort of heaven,—and we know also that those who have learnt in their youth to play on an instrument are much better able to realize the power of music than the uninstructed listener, who nevertheless, like the Lacedaemonians, may not be a bad judge of the style of music. We agree with Aristotle that marvels of execution may very well be dispensed with, if simple and noble rhythms are retained. The ancient Greek music was devoid of harmony in the modern sense, but the beauty of music, as of poetry, lies not only in subtle adjustments of notes or words, but much more in simplicity, in purity, in sweetness. There was a nearer connexion between poetry and music than among ourselves; for the metre of the words coincided with the time of the music. The instrument was secondary, not primary; the human voice was the dominant or prevailing tone in the performance. The choric lays of Æschylus or Sophocles were heard above the Dorian and Phrygian modes which kept measure with them. There was some combination of mind and sense, some sweet influence falling melodiously on the ear, and ‘finding a way to the inner place of the soul’ (Plato), which we fail to conceive. And since Greek music can no longer be performed, ‘married to immortal verse,’ with its accompaniments of dance and song, and the modes of it are unfamiliar to us and not ennobled by national and religious associations, we shall always continue to think that the language of the Greeks about music is exaggerated and unreal.
Last modified April 10, 2014