The Pathos of Politics (13-4) Aristotle


For as man is the best of all animals when he has reached his full development, so he is worst of all when divorced from law and justice. ~ Aristotle

Aristotle (384–322 bce) was one of history’s most influential men, including his political thought. Aristotle’s master work on the subject was a set of theses collectively called Politics.

Although Aristotle was a disciple of Plato, Politics differed both in tone and substance from that of his mentor. Unlike Plato, Aristotle had been embroiled in the politics of his day. Whereas Plato envisioned a wise leader as one with clear conceptual vision, Aristotle thought a good ruler worldly wise.

While Plato appeared a radical idealist, Aristotle posed as a conservative realist. Yet both came to same conclusion: that the ideal government was by an aristocratic few for the benefit of all.

Aristotle perhaps more keenly appreciated how difficult achieving that ideal would be, so he advocated a mixed form of government of rotating rulers, ensuring that none had a monopoly over political power. Ironically, history has shown such a notion to be as far-fetched as anything Plato envisioned for creating quality governance.

Both Plato and Aristotle shared a distaste of democracy. Unlike Plato, Aristotle was resigned to democracy as inevitable; a sentiment later shared by Alexis de Tocqueville.

Whereas Plato was strongly oriented toward community, Aristotle opted for individual freedom and property rights – the stance that the Romans took in their governing philosophy.

It is of the nature of desire not to be satisfied, and most men live only for the gratification of it. ~ Aristotle

Aristotle did not think through the implications of his position on political individualism in light of his acknowledgment of human materialist inclinations left unbridled: that unchecked greed would invariably drive economic inequalities that generate political instability.

Inequality is everywhere at the bottom of faction. Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime. ~ Aristotle

Aristotle’s thought that the state, through education, would inspire moral virtue: “to produce cultured gentlemen – men who combine the aristocratic mentality with the love of learning and the arts.” Aristotle suffered the hypocrisy common to intellectuals: his erudition failed to eradicate unjustified prejudices and moral vacuity.

Aristotle would have felt quite at home in the Old South. Aristotle defended slavery and found martial and paternal rule palatable, as women were weak-minded.

The slave is wholly lacking the deliberative element; the female has it but it lacks authority; the child has it but it is incomplete. ~ Aristotle