The Politics Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Politics: Novel Summary: Chapter 2

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Next, Aristotle addresses the different forms of government. First he defines a citizen as "a man who shares in the administration of justice and in the holding of office." He goes on to describe definitions of citizenship based on varying governments. Soon, he begins to classify the types of constitutions. To Aristotle, the constitution is simply "the organization of a polis." It specifies which group of individuals has sovereignty. Yet every just constitution, he says, has the good of the community as its aim. He continues his description by dividing government into monarchy-- rule by one, aristocracy- rule by a few, and polity- rule by many. Here, Aristotle criticizes democracy, saying, "It is possible for one man, or a few, to be of outstanding excellence, but when it comes to a large number, we can hardly expect a fine edge of all the varieties of excellence." But he also cites the extremes of the other types of constitutions as well when he asserts, "Tyranny is the perversion of Kingship; Oligarchy of Aristocracy; and Democracy of Polity...None of the three is directed to the advantage of the whole body of citizens." Here, tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy are considered perversions of good constitutions.
The next major point concerns who should have sovereignty. Addressing this question, Aristotle first considers the purpose of the state. The state is more than an institution that guarantees the right of its citizens to pursue their animal instincts. The government, he says, has a duty to teach its people how to be virtuous. But at the same time, Aristotle recognizes the positive features of democracy. For he asserts, "Each individual may indeed, be a worse judge than the experts; but all, when they meet together, are either better than experts or at any rate no worse." Later, he even hints at capitalism when he says, "...it is to those who are better at the job that the better supply of tools should be given."
Though a special individual may possess a superior virtue, and therefore should be king, Aristotle believes that this does not often occur. Thus, he maintains the idea that in most cases, the rule of law, as interpreted by many rulers, should be sovereign. This is an important concept, since the United States constitution would later use this idea of the rule of law as a founding pillar of its republic.
Most importantly, Aristotle divides the polity into three major divisions: deliberative, executive, and judicial. These categories are intended to divide power between many social factions. Obviously America's founding fathers had been studying this part of The Politics very carefully. Here, the interests of the rich and poor, the oligarchic and democratic, are satisfied. To moderate the interests of these extremes, a powerful middle class should be present.


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