How Aristotle and Machiavelli Use the Middle Class and the Masses to Achieve Stable Political Organizations
Note: The copy of Politics used for this paper is not the standard copy. I have tried to be as specific about passages as possible.Aristotle and Machiavelli both extol the judgement of the masses on political affairs. Aristotle states that the “many…may surpass – collectively and as a body, though not individually – the quality of the few best” (1281a). Machiavelli believes similarly that “The populace is generally more prudent, more predictable, and has better judgement than a monarch” (156). The reasons for each man’s assertions on the lucidity and usefulness of the masses are grounded in different objectives. While Aristotle focuses a great deal on the importance of the masses and the middle class to a stable political organization, Machiavelli merely defends the collective wisdom of the populace, stating that “Everyone speaks ill of [the populace]…because they can do so without fear even when [the populace] are in power”. The contrasting ways of presenting the attributes of the masses strongly reflect the goals of each author. Politics is centered around Aristotle’s quest to find the “sort of Constitution which is possible for most cities to enjoy” (1295a). Machiavelli, however, makes it clear that his Prince and Discourses are meant more for the benefit and instruction of present and future rulers than for the enjoyment of cities, although he does not think the two are always mutually exclusive.Aristotle’s argument for the worth of the middle class has it’s roots in his belief that goodness is not necessarily an inherited characteristic. He states rather early on in Politics that men assume wrongly when they believe that “just as man is born of man, and animal of animal, so a good man is born of good men. It is often the case that nature wishes but fails to achieve this result” (1255a). By saying so Aristotle is blatantly stated that one can not pass goodness down through a hereditary line like one passes heirlooms, or, for that matter, leadership positions.The next pillar of argument that Aristotle uses to build up to his support of the middle class and the populace is his conviction that “those constitutions which consider the common interest are right constitutions, judged by a standard of absolute justice” (1279a). This statement reflects Aristotle’s goal to find a political situation in which “most people can live” and for most “cities to enjoy”. Since Aristotle believes that it is crucial for the city to be happy in order for the individual to be happy (1324a) it follows that in order for a city to be happy it must have a constitution that considers the common interest (which satisfies the greatest amount of people in a city, and thereby makes the city as happy as possible).1 It is important here to note that Aristotle’s goals for government are not necessarily the happiness of its citizens, but he strongly believes that the most stable governments will be comprised of at least some happy people. In his critique of Plato Aristotle questions the absence of happiness among Socrates’ guardian class.2 Aristotle argues that “If the guardians are not happy, who else is? Certainly not…the mass of the common people” (1264b).The importance placed by Aristotle on the happiness of the masses is explained best in Book IV of Politics wherein he explains the importance of the middle class in achieving a stable, desirable political organization. Like several other of Aristotle’s (and Plato’s) postulations on government, many of Aristotle’s beliefs and conclusions on the middle class are seeded in mathematics. He states, quite simply, “Since it is admitted that moderation and the mean are always the best it is clear that in the ownership of all gifts of fortune a middle condition will be the best” (1295a). Aristotle supports this assertion with arguing that the middle class neither arrogant like the rich nor criminal like the poor, and that the middle class is the class that embodies the ever-important rule of not seeking office nor refusing it (1295a), a quality that Socrates found equally, if not more important, than Aristotle.Another point that Aristotle makes in his praise of the middle class is that the rich never learn obedience while the poor never beget leadership skills. The result of the mixture of rich and poor is a slave/master relationship, which is not conducive to a political association which relies on friendship. Aristotle concludes that a city that is governed like a friendship, “composed of equals and peers, which is the condition of those in the middle” will be bound to have “the best constitution since it is composed of the elements which…naturally go to make up a city” (1295b).The reasons why Aristotle believes in the goodness of the middle class can be used to access what Aristotle sees as the main threats to political organizations in general. Aristotle states in his book on factions (Book V) that “Inferiors form factions in order to be equals and equals form factions in order to be superiors” (1302a). Where there exists a large middle class, however, Aristotle says that “there is less likelihood of faction and dissension than in any other constitution” (1296a). This improbability of faction combines with Aristotle’s belief that the middle class “enjoys a greater security than any other class” since they do not “desire the goods of others nor do others desire their possessions” (1295b) and yields Aristotle’s conclusion that “Where the middle class outweighs in numbers both the other classes it is possible for a constitution to be permanent” (1296b). In other words, the middle class can be used as a tool to obtain the ultimate self-sufficiency of a permanent, stable political organization in which the constitution best serves the majority, or common people.Machiavelli also recognizes the great importance of the masses; he states in The Prince that no ruler can be secure without the support of the masses, militarily or otherwise (32-33). Here it is important to make the distinction, however, between the masses and the middle class3, for they can be two very different groups. While Machiavelli does state that “A republic can only be established where there is considerable social equality or where men are made to be equal” (Discourses 153) he does not give the supreme importance that Aristotle does to the presence of a middle class. Like Aristotle, Machiavelli is writing for an audience of leaders, but Machiavelli is more concerned with political organizations from the leader’s point of view, more than any other. Since Machiavelli is writing more directly to leaders, he often suggests ruthless measures a leader must take to achieve a certain political goal, whether it be good for the many or not. For example, Machiavelli asserts that “anyone who wants to set up a republic in a place where there is a fair number of gentlemen can only do so if he begins by killing them all” (Discourses, 153).But even though Machiavelli is at least pretending to write toward an audience of present and future rulers, this does not mean that he writes in favor of leaders ruling over the common man. In fact he equates and even superiorizes the masses to the sole leader when he writes “The defect for which authors criticize the masses is a defect to be found in all men…above all in rulers” (Discourses, 154). In this sentiment he echoes Aristotle who wrote “When all meet together the people may this become something like a single person, who, as he has many feet…may also have many qualities of character and intelligence” (1281a). Machiavelli goes on to assert that the populace is no more fickle than the average ruler (Discourses, 156). Even more importantly, Machiavelli thinks that the difference in the behavior of the masses and the behavior of a ruler would not reflect a difference in character between the common man and the ruler (and if it did the common man would have the better character) but more likely reflect whether they had “respect for the laws under which both prince and populace are supposed to live (Discourses, 156). It is clear by these statements that Machiavelli believes that leaders should never brush off the voice of the populace for it will often give the leader the best advice on decisions.4 Machiavelli’s emphasis on the clear vision of the collective masses reflects his beliefs that not staying in tune with ones subjects can lead to the loss of one’s leadership position, and overconfidence is a principle threat to the survival of one’s republic (see The Prince, 9-11). It also illustrates an underlying idea throughout Machiavelli’s works that overconfidence in one’s actions or words most certainly leads to destruction (see Discourses, 210), and a leader who does not listen in some form to the word of the masses will never obtain success.Aristotle and Machiavelli’s both have a keen interest in the middle class and the masses which stems from their thoughts on how to create the ultimate self-sufficient government: the permanent political organization. While Aristotle thinks the middle class is the key to political equilibrium and stability, Machiavelli thinks it is enough for a leader to realize that the masses are usually right in their judgements.
The Final and Perfect Association
Aristotle’s reasoning as to why he believed the Greek polis to be superior to other forms of associations can be found in Book 1.2 of his teachings in Politics. It contains an analysis of the individual components which make up a polis, the household and village, and why these associations on their own are unable to satisfy the needs of the individual. This has to do with Aristotle’s concept of happiness; since all human beings strive for happiness and the end goal of the polis is a “good life”, he considers the polis to be the “final and perfect association” (Aristotle 281). What is interesting, however, is that Aristotle teaches that all associations are based on unions between those who cannot exist without the other (Aristotle 280), yet his idea of a perfect association is one that is self-sufficient. In this paper, I will argue that Book 1.2 of Politics shows that the idea of a polis was unique at the time, because it was not dependent on kinship structure, but was instead based on the concepts of self-sufficiency and justice. It can also tell us about the major forms of government at the time, as well as Greek attitudes towards barbarians and the importance of the family unit. To do this, I will examine why Aristotle rejects other forms of political associations that are not based on the polis system. I will also examine why Aristotle believed the polis to be superior to the associations that form it.
The first form of political association Aristotle rejects is that with no naturally ruling element. At the beginning of this chapter, Aristotle states that “first of all, there must necessarily be a union or pairing of those who cannot exist without one another” (Aristotle 280). This “first of all” is important, because it tells us that this is what he deems to be the most basic principle of what makes up a polis, in his attempt to break apart and analyze its individual components. He also states that there needs to be a union between the naturally ruling element and the element which is naturally ruled (Aristotle 280). Therefore, we can assume that the polis is made up of unions of these two types. Aristotle uses barbarians as an example of people who are unable to form these two unions. Since he states that barbarians have no ruling order, this must mean that, at the very most, the only union they are capable of forming is the first kind. They are only able to follow the most basic principle of associations. We know that these barbarians must be able to achieve the first, most basic, union because it has to do with marriage, about which Aristotle states that, “among the barbarians…conjugal union thus comes to be a union of a female who is a slave with a male who is also a slave” (Aristotle 280). Therefore, the first method of political association that Aristotle rejects is that of the barbarians who have no naturally ruling element because everyone would be considered a slave without some sort of ruling order. From this, we can infer that the polis must be different from barbarian groups in that they have some sort of ruling order based on the formation of these two unions between male and female and between master and slave.
Not only does Aristotle reject associations with no ruling element, but he also rejects monarchies. To understand why he does this, it is important to examine what Aristotle considers as building blocks for the polis: the household or family, and the village. He states that “households are always monarchically governed… just as villages, when they are offshoots from the household, are similarly governed in virtue of the kinship between their members” (Aristotle 281). He describes this kinship as “primitive”, indicating his belief that the monarchical structures found in households and villages are insufficient forms of associations. Aristotle uses the example of barbarians again, this time stating that the peoples of the barbarian world are still ruled by kings (Aristotle 281). Earlier in the chapter, he wrote that the barbarians have “no ruling element” (Aristotle 280), but a king would certainly be considered a ruler. This shows that Aristotle considered both associations with no ruling order and those under a centralized ruler, even though they are vastly different in structure, as barbaric. Based on this, we can learn that the polis must have had some sort of ruling order without a monarchy, so individuals living in the polis can avoid following the path of the barbarians. His use of barbarians as an example on two separate occasions can also tell us something about Greek cultural attitudes during this time period. For Aristotle to make the argument that people should not do what the barbarians are doing (e.g. having no ruling element or being ruled by a king), they must have some sort of negative connotation associated with the barbarians. That way, when Aristotle uses them as examples, they will compel his audience not to follow the same path.
We can also learn a lot about Greek family structure from Aristotle’s discussion on kinship and associations. He states that the polis is based on an association of villages, and villages are offshoots from households (Aristotle 281). Since everything stems from the family, and the family is needed to satisfy “daily recurrent needs” (Aristotle 280), it can be inferred that there was a strong family structure at the time. In regards to the village, Aristotle notes that some have referred to the members of the village as “sucklings of the same milk” or “sons and the sons of sons” (Aristotle 280). This proves that, not only were there close ties between the family, but within the village as well. Since the village is based off the interaction between different family kinship structures, we can see that the family was a political unit in and of itself in ancient Greece and surrounding societies.
The idea of a polis is also very different from that of an empire. Aristotle argued that individuals are intended to live in a polis. Without it, they cannot achieve self-sufficiency (Aristotle 281). He states that “the man who is isolated – who is unable to share in the benefits of political association, or has no need to share because he is already self-sufficient – is not part of the polis, and must therefore be “either a beast or a god” (Aristotle 282). It is interesting that many individuals in association with each other form a self-sufficient polis, yet a single polis on its own is in isolation, much like the single individual. Like Aristotle states earlier, it is only natural for the smaller associations of households and villages to form monarchical structures through kinship. Since single individuals naturally form kinship ties, we can assume that individual poleis, which are made up of these same individuals, would naturally want to form ties with other poleis. We know that Aristotle believes that human associations lead to the formation of poleis, yet Aristotle never mentions what occurs if different self-sufficient poleis try to associate with one another. Since Aristotle claims that these poleis are already self-sufficient, it would not be necessary for them to interact with each other. This is contrary to the idea of an empire with a single ruler, which is made up of multiple regions, all part of a whole, under a centralized governing system.
Another concept that makes the idea of a polis unique is that it is based on the idea of what is just and unjust. According to Aristotle, humans are different from animals in that the human “alone possesses a perception of good and evil, of the just and the unjust, and of other similar qualities; and it is association in these things which makes a family and a polis” (Aristotle 282). He also states that “justice belongs to the polis” (Aristotle 282). This is significant because the word “belongs” indicates that justice is a crucial part of the polis – the two go hand and hand. Aristotle describes those living under monarchical rule or under no rule at all as barbaric. If everyone is under the rule of a single king, the concept of justice may be skewed in the king’s favor. If there is no ruling element at all, there would be no concept of justice at all, because everyone is a slave.
Aristotle’s idea of nature helps him explain why he considered the polis superior to its constituent elements, the household and village. He believed that “every polis exists by nature, having itself the same quality as the earlier associations”, which also exist by nature (Aristotle 281). It is important to note here exactly what Aristotle means by “nature”, otherwise there will be a contradiction between the statement that earlier associations exist by nature and a later statement that the polis is the nature of those same associations (Aristotle 281). This contradiction can be reconciled by taking the word “nature” to convey two different meanings. When he says that every polis exists by nature, he means that the polis forms through the natural association of humans into households, villages, and ultimately the polis. All of these associations exist by nature, so why does Aristotle consider the polis to be the best? This has to do with the second meaning of “nature”, which he refers to as the “nature of things”. He defines this as the “end or consummation” of a thing (Aristotle 281). Even though the polis grew from the smaller associations of households and villages, Aristotle considers it the nature, or “end”, of all forms of associations. He views self-sufficiency as the end goal of associations and it is the polis which achieves that goal. This is why Aristotle stresses the superiority of the polis over other forms of associations.
His audience, however, certainly needed convincing that the polis was superior. If they did not, Aristotle would not need to make arguments for the polis and against other types of associations. For example, he states that, “while [the polis] grows for the sake of mere life, it exists for the sake of a good life” (Aristotle 281). By “grow”, Aristotle is referring to the growth from the basic building blocks of the polis, beginning with unions between individuals, leading to the household, village, and finally, the polis. This growth is necessary to achieve self-sufficiency, and it is the existence of the polis which achieves that. Self-sufficiency is the “best” (Aristotle 281), and therefore, so is the polis. Aristotle considers self-sufficiency to be crucial for living a good life, and therefore, this becomes his most important point about the polis. The audience his teachings were intended for must not have all understood the superiority of the polis, which is why he emphasized the distinction between life and a “good” life as well as the notion of self-sufficiency to convince them.
Based on what Aristotle wrote in Book 1.2 of the Politics, we can see that the concept of a polis was unique at the time, due to its self-sufficient nature and the important role played by justice. In his argument, we can learn about the other forms of government that were popular at the time: those with no ruling element, monarchies, and empires. These are the ones that Aristotle devotes the most time arguing against. Everyone is essentially a slave in societies with no ruling element, which is why he rejects those types of barbarian societies. We can infer that the idea of a monarchy was popular because monarchies are based on natural kinship ties – there is a clear hierarchical structure – and, by nature, the most basic unions between humans are based on this same structure. Furthermore, the installation of a king fulfills Aristotle’s principle that a “naturally ruling element” must exist as one of the fundamental building blocks of associations. Finally, it is natural for individuals and groups to want to associate with each other, but an empire, which involves groups of people associating with each other, would go against Aristotle’s idea of self-sufficient city-states.
Classics of Social and Political Thought (Aristotle’s ‘Politics’): Who Should Rule the City?
Aristotle contends that the good man is dissimilar to the good citizen in ways he goes a great length to illustrate. He distinguishes the two for the purpose of facilitating his later arguments concerning the appropriate allocation of sovereignty to the rightful ruler, who he subsequently claims is the good man who excels all others in each and every aspect. Aristotle’s distinction further prompts the notion that he advocates a monarchial form of constitution, for the rule of a single good man is equivalent to a constitution of kingship. This can be derived through the following reasoning. Aristotle is convinced that the good citizen can so be defined only in relation to the constitution he is an element of: ‘The excellence of the citizen must be an excellence relative to the constitution (1276b16).’ The good man on the other hand, ‘is a man so called in virtue of a single absolute excellence (1276b16).’ He further asserts that the good citizen ‘must possess the knowledge and capacity requisite for ruling as well as for being ruledÖa good man will also need both (1277b7~1277b16).’ From these conclusions of Aristotle, it is evident that the good man and the good citizen differ in the manner of their excellence, but not in their capacity for ruling or being ruled. It should therefore follow that there should not exist impediments to the ruling by the good citizen in the city as opposed to the ruling by the good man due to the fact that they are identical in their competence to rule. However, Aristotle in his later arguments, crowns the good man as ruler: ‘in the best constitutionÖthere is someone of outstanding excellence. What is to be done in that case? Nobody would say such a man ought to be banished and sent into exile. But neither would any one say that he ought to be subject to othersÖthe only alternative leftÖis for all others to pay a willing obedience to the man of outstanding goodness. Such men will be permanent kings in their cities (1284b22).’ This passage gives rise to several deductions. Aristotle assumes the existence of the good man in the best constitution which would implicate the fact that the city in context is composed entirely or mainly, of good citizens. Drawing from the earlier conclusion that according to Aristotle’s logic, there should be no preference for rule to be designated to either a good man or a good citizen, there is no explanation for Aristotle to award rule to the good man over countless good citizens. The flow of logic would therefore imply that Aristotle prefers the rule of the good man despite his earlier arguments and since the rule of a single good man is the same as the constitution of kingship, he advocates the monarchy as the best form of government. This fact is reiterated in the last sentence of the passage: ‘Such men will be permanent kings in their cities.’ Before arriving at the illation that the good man should rule in a city with a monarchial constitution, Aristotle lists the claims of various parts of the city that claim to merit ruling, and one by one states their faults and dismisses them. Through this process, he arrives at the rule of the good man as being the best form of rule, but he fails to consider in certain (not all) claims, various circumstances which would make his dismissal of those claims to rule, hasty and baseless, and therefore make his conclusions concerning the rule of the good man as being the best, doubtful. Aristotle considers the following parts of the city as those laying claim to rule on the basis of merit: the poor majority, the tyrant, the wealthy minority, the better sort of people, the single best man and also, not of the type of citizen but nevertheless, he examines the rule of law. The problem that arises with the rule of the poor majority, according to Aristotle, is that they would ‘proceed to divide among themselves the possessions of the wealthy (1281aII)’ justified by their notion of the virtue of them being the majority. This in his view is unjust. But the question can be asked, ‘what if the wealth of the rich was accumulated unjustly at the cost of the poor majority from the beginning?’ In this instance, would it still be unjust to redistribute the wealth amongst the poor majority? The answer would surely tend to the negative, though Aristotle fails to consider this aspect of the rule of the poor majority. Furthermore, with regard to his notion that the goal of the city is the common good for all, would it not be fairer if not absolutely fair (since the rich are disadvantaged) that the majority became wealthier? Aristotle claims that the tyrant’s claim would also be unjust ‘for he too uses coercion by virtue of superior power in just the same sort of way as the people coerce the wealthy (1281aII).’ In this case, the tyrant’s despotism cannot be classified as anything but unjust because he solely benefits himself and not, to even a close degree, the entirety of his subjects, the citizens. The notion of a just tyranny would be a contradiction in terms, for Aristotle claims that tyranny is the perversion of kingship, and any perversion cannot be just due to its virtue of being perverted. Therefore in this manner, Aristotle’s dismissal of tyranny as a good form of rule is unflawed. What of the claim of the wealthy minority that they should rule? Aristotle declines their claim on the basis that they would ‘plunder and confiscate the property of the people (1281aII)’ which would plainly be unjust for the identical reason as attributed to tyranny. This further consideration can be made which Aristotle neglects. He assumes that the wealthy minority will strive for greater prosperity whence given rule, but could it not be thought that they would simply be interested in maintaining their advantage over the majority and not increasing it? If so, their rule will bring about the virtue of stability. Stability would surely benefit the city as a whole for it erases factions and revolutions. In this case, would the rule of the wealthy minority still be unjust? It would not seem so. Next, Aristotle considers the rule of the better sort. He sees a problem with this type of rule because besides the rulers, ‘the rest of the citizens will necessarily be deprived of honor, since they will not enjoy the honor of holding civic office (1281aII).’ This dismissal of the claim for ruling is similar to his next consideration, the claim of the single best man. Aristotle believes that his rule would be unjust ‘because the number of those deprived of honor is even greater (than the rule of the better sort) (1281aII).’ Aristotle’s branding of both these claims as unjust is incorrect due to his following inaccurate (not necessarily always true) assumptions: first, that the citizens would seek rule for honor, and secondly, the honor of holding civic office is only obtained through supreme rule and not through other offices such as those involving administration and judiciary functions. Keeping in mind these inaccurate assumptions that Aristotle makes, it can be viewed that the claim for the rule of the best sort and the best single man is acceptable, if not rather difficult to assert one over the other (it is asserted that the former is better than the latter in the final analysis of this paper). This is true because only in the best form of city, which is not under consideration by Aristotle at this juncture, would citizens desire office for honor, and when they did, they would not be only be content with the honor gotten by supreme rule, rather they would be content with any form of civic office, regardless of its social significance. The last claim for rule that Aristotle considers is not one made by a part of the civic body, but that of the law. He claims that while the claim of the law may appear to be desirable because it excludes human deficiencies such as ‘the passions that beset their souls,’ it is ultimately not worthy due to the fact that it might ‘incline either towards oligarchy or towards democracy (1281aII),’ in which case it will be no better than all the previous claims discussed before. This notion reveals the fact that the claims dismissed by Aristotle thus far have been done so because of their nature being of democracy or oligarchy, both according to him, perversions of the pure forms of government (oligarchy being a perversion of aristocracy and democracy being a perversion of constitutional government) as no form of perversion can be just. The rule of law can be denounced in the following manner as well, which escapes Aristotle’s notice in this instance; because law is not set down for every possible situation, it is necessary to have a court of law to decide upon cases beyond its realm. These courts of law would invariably involve the participation of humans as judges and jury, in which case the passions that beset the human soul that is illustrated by Aristotle would come into play, and thus undermine the rule of law. Upon analysis of Aristotle’s various dismissals of claims for rule from various parts of the city, it can be seen that his dismissal of the claim of the poor majority, the wealthy minority, the better sort and the single best man may have been expeditious due to the stated avenues of consideration that Aristotle failed to examine, and therefore his claim that the good man should rule inferred from the initial scrutiny of his distinction between the good citizen and the good man, may be erroneous. At this point, it can be considered what alternatives there exist if as Aristotle conceived, a man of complete virtue (the good man) arose in the city. Aristotle gives thought to three possible courses of action that could be taken in this instance: first, this good man should be subject to ostracism and thus exiled from the city, second, this good man should be subject to the rule of others, and thirdly and in his opinion quite justly, the good man should be made ruler: ‘such men will accordingly be the permanent kings in their cities (1284b22).’ Aristotle definitively criticizes the policy of ostracism as he states that ‘nobody would say that such a man ought to be banished and sent into exile (1284b22).’ He also condemns the notion of subordinating the good man under any form of rule in no uncertain terms, ‘but neither would any one say that he ought to be subject to others (1284b22).’ Aristotle seems to be content with the justification that the good man, solely with the virtue of possessing a ‘single absolute excellence (1276b16),’ should rule over others in a manner similar to his notion that ‘if one man is stronger than all the rest, or if a group of more than one but fewer than the many, is stronger, these should be sovereign instead of the many (1283b13).’ However, several problems arise with Aristotle’s assertion that the good man should be made ruler. For example, it can be can be questioned how Aristotle defends and justifies the rule of this good man against the very faults he claimed would ascend in his dismissal of the claim of rule of the single best man, that being the problem of the civic body being deprived of honor from holding office? A possible explanation was suggested in discussion of the claim of the single good man, but it should be noted that that suggestion was not raised by Aristotle. Furthermore, he never directs his attention to the fact that the rule of a single good man would prompt widespread discontent due to the following reasoning. The best rule is one which looks out for the well being of all. Then the good man, since he is already absolutely excellent and superior to all others in the city, would look after the interests of his subjects and not his personal interests. But is a good man just when he rules over the citizens in the manner in which they wish to be ruled, in other words, in a manner in which they think is in their best interest, or is he just when he rules according to what he believes is in the best interest for the citizens, in a manner not dissimilar to that of a father ruling his young son? The answer will be found in the latter because surely the good man, by virtue of being superior to all the citizens, knows what is best for them better than they do. So if the good man were to rule in this paternal manner keeping in mind that he wishes to rule justly, would there not be discontentment among the citizens, much in the same manner as a son is discontent when his father forbids him to stay up late? If the city were to be ruled by the best of men (not a single good man), would there not be less faction and more integrity of rule in the city due to the fact that the citizens would not direct their anger toward one single ruler but to many? In this regard, wouldn’t the rule of the best of men be more advantageous than the rule of the single good man? It would seem from the previous reasoning that it would be so. In essence, Aristotle has a lot to answer for his belief that a good man should solely rule over the city. It seems that the good man, in accordance with Aristotle’s belief, should not be exiled from the city, for the excellence of his character is something that there is a lot to be learned from. A further alternative course of action when a good man should come into being in a city would be to make him the supreme educator of the city rather than ruler (for reasons presented as being problems of his ruling have already been discussed). The justification of the good man in becoming the supreme educator can be made in the following way. Since all absolutely excellent men (good men) arrive at their excellence through the process of education, that is, they are not innately excellent, their efforts should be directed toward the emulation of their excellence in the children of the city, for they are the ones who know best the process of becoming excellent. In this manner of education, the children (being future citizens) will grow up to become good men and good citizens, and thus the future city will comprise of many potential rulers. The good man through education, will contribute towards the ruling of the city indirectly in such an instance, and not directly as Aristotle claims he should do.
Aristotle’s Critique of Plato’s Republic
In book two of Aristotle’s Politics, Aristotle defines his ideal state by criticizing the values put forward in Plato’s The Republic. In doing so, Aristotle censures Plato’s idea of state unification through sharing as much as possible, including wives, children, and property. Aristotle counters that Plato’s concept is detrimental to the state’s unity because it prevents the individual citizen from achieving his or her maximum role in society and being as happy as possible. In critiquing Plato’s constitution, Aristotle provides solutions of his own that promote the diversity of function within the state and allow for each citizen to achieve his maximum role in society. Throughout book two of Politics, Aristotle’s discrepancies with Plato’s ideal state revolve around the idea of communal sharing. Aristotle first attacks Plato’s suggestion that men must share the women of the city and that their children be taken from their mothers at birth and raised in state nurseries. Aristotle argues that Plato’s reasoning behind his claim (to unify the state) is illogical because, in time, all citizens will become the same, which is detrimental. Instead, Aristotle contends that diversity in terms of experience and specialty is essential. He believes that as a state moves toward total unification, it loses its identity as a nation, making the analogy of the unified state as a household rather than a nation. Second, Aristotle argues that the practicality of Plato’s concept would inevitably lead to a weakened sense of attachment by the citizen. This diluted sense of attachment would without doubt prohibit the citizen from feeling any responsibility toward his fellow citizen or the state and would lead to harmful results. Aristotle is of the opinion that since man is naturally selfish, it would be unlikely for man to innately respect his fellow citizen, as it is not directly beneficial to him. Furthermore, Aristotle combats Plato’s concept by affirming the fact that the greater number of owners, the less likely one is to respect the common property. This idea relates back to man’s natural selfishness, as Aristotle says, “[people] exercise care over common property only in so far as they are personally affected.” (p. 108) Finally, Aristotle refutes Plato’s idea of communal property, as he believes that this principle not only leads lack of responsibility with regard to property, but also abandons the virtues of generosity and mutual respect. Although Aristotle finds many flaws in the policies of Plato’s Republic, he is able to propose logical solutions that are built around the principle of allowing the each within the nation’s population to achieve his maximum function as a citizen. Aristotle first addresses the issue of the overwhelming similarity between citizens, stating that a nation must consist of different types of citizens in order to function and be unified. He validates this by stating that different citizens’ duties compliment the other citizens of the state. By saying, “It is reciprocal equivalence that keeps a state in being,” Aristotle is showing that for each and every citizen’s duty, there is an opposite and complimentary duty. The succeeding solution applied to the placement of the communal wives and children, but does not offer an outright solution. Instead, Aristotle claims that a community of wives and children should be in place for the agricultural class rather than the Guardian class. This, he argues, would be supremely more beneficial to the state because this concept undoubtedly leads to a lack of attachment within the society. Aristotle states that “A lack of strong affection among the ruled is necessary in the interests of obedience and absence of revolt.” (p. 110) Finally, Aristotle immediately responds to Plato’s communist-like theory on property by insisting that property should be owned privately but its yield shared amongst the community. Aristotle adds to this concept by proposing a different work theory in which land is worked on by others, and since the produce of the work is divided equally, it prevents animosity. Aristotle justifies privatizing property by claiming that it promotes individual work efficiency by creating individual responsibility. Moreover, Aristotle relates back to man’s natural selfishness and asserts that owning private property offers immense pleasure and oftentimes leads to benevolence. Aristotle’s criticisms of Plato’s ideal state lay waste to the proposed constitution of the Republic by effectively pointing out impossibilities that are a result of natural human behavior. Plato’s Republic outlines a Utopian society that is the result of the government’s suppression of functional growth. The society does not allow any fragment of freedom, as people are assigned jobs based on their specialty. Furthermore, all ambition is restricted by the noble lie, in which citizens are organized by their presumed potential, which is determined in early youth. In addition, property and family is communal, which essentially transforms the state into one single entity that prevents citizens from associating with one another. On the other hand, Aristotle takes a more modern approach that allows for individual happiness while promoting that of the state simultaneously. Aristotle’s solutions accommodate human behavior by promoting the citizen’s ability and encouraging him to achieve his utmost function in society. Plato’s Republic would seem to be the most logical form of government, as it proposes an incorruptible ruling class and an obedient labor class, but it fails when taking into account ambition, the desire for happiness, and greed. The overall flaw in The Republic is that Plato assumes that if the state is happy, its citizens must be happy, and this is certainly not true. Aristotle reverses this structure and focuses on satisfying the citizens in order to create a happy and unified state. Politics’ solutions to the overall flaws in The Republic allow for a healthy, satisfied government while concurrently advocating the happiness of the citizen. Works CitedAristotle., and Trevor J. Saunders. The Politics (Penguin Classics). New York: Penguin Classics, 1981.
Averroes and Alfarabi on Gender and the State
The Alfarabi and Averroes texts take unique approaches to topics discussed by Aristotle in Politics and by Plato in his Republic. It is important to understand these approaches in relation to each other because it is the similarities and differences between all four texts that provide the reader with a real understanding of what “good” government was perceived to be during those time periods. While contemporaries Alfarabi and Averroes both have ideal states in mind, their differences lie in what each considers the appropriate means through which to achieve them.With regard to the body and soul, women and men have differences and similarities that are inconsistent among the philosophers. Plato approaches the physical differences by saying, “in these duties the lighter part must fall to the women, because of the weakness of their sex” (Plato 155). In her article “The Philosopher and the Female in the Political Thought of Plato,” Arlene Saxonhouse writes, “Socrates makes his apology by suggesting that men and women differ only as much as bald men differ from those with long hair, that is, superficially and not with regard to their natures” (Saxonhouse 71). Plato also refers to their unique assignments in wartime, perhaps in relation to their physical differences: “And if their womenfolk went out with [men] to war, either in the ranks or drawn up in the rear to intimidate the enemy and act as a reserve in case of need, I am sure all this would make them invincible” (Plato 176). This demonstrates how the interpretations of the feminine body affect women’s places in each philosopher’s conception of an “ideal” society.However, their primary disagreement seems to lie in the question of the equality of the soul. Alfarabi does not consider women to be potential leaders, because the first characteristic he attributes to an ideal leader is that he be sovereign over himself. This sovereignty, according to Alfarabi, was simply not possible when it came to women. In a way, then, their souls could never receive a complete analysis beyond their material status as male supplements. When Plato entitles women to be Guardians in his Republic, he assumes that their souls are rational like those of men, and Averroes agrees: “We say that women, in so far as they are of one kind with men in respect of the ultimate human aim, necessarily share in it and only differ in degree…it is already evident from an investigation of the animals, that it is proper that there should be female Guardians” (Averroes 164-165). If women and men share human aims, their souls, according to Plato, must be congruent on some level. The emergent nature of these observations secures the plot of the film Destiny, which details the struggle to replicate and preserve the writings of Averroes.Despite these implications, Alfarabi plainly states that “in the case of the faculty of sense, the faculty of sense, the faculty of representation and the faculty of reason male and female do not differ” (Alfarabi 197). This idea is further supported by Plato’s assertions that Guardians must be reasonable, and that some women have that potential “because these were the qualities for which we selected our men Guardians” (Plato 153). If male Guardians were selected based upon their possession of rational souls, women Guardians must be evaluated in the same fashion.To understand the ideas behind the seeming contradictions inherent in the four philosophers’ belief systems, gender identity seems the next logical area to examine. Alfarabi implicitly offers a commentary on gender and sexuality by barely mentioning women at all. He discusses women only in the context of men, biology, and procreation. He fails to philosophize about gender and sexual identity any further than his detailing of human conception. He discredits the vitality of the role of women by concluding that women provide the matter for conception of life, but more importantly, that men provide the form. “Thus the blood prepared within the womb is the matter of man, whereas the semen is the mover of that matter towards the development of the form in it” (Alfarabi 189). Therefore, the male faculty of form is what gives matter a reason for being.Alfarabi briefly alludes to female sexual pleasure, but refers to the clitoris as a failed expression of a masculine form. “There are also some among [animals] which have a perfect female faculty, but some kind of defective male faculty is joined to it, which performs its function up to a certain limit and then turns out to be too weak and to be in need to some outside help…” (Alfarabi 195). The function which is performed to a limit is orgasm; because female orgasm is less “utile” that male ejaculation, he writes the process off as some sort of mistake.Averroes seems to similarly disregard female sexuality, except in relation to the arranged procreation “marriage festivals” outlined in the Republic. He curiously says that “necessity would undoubtedly bring women to desire sexual intercourse” and does not attribute desire solely to men in the least (Averroes 167). This suggests that desire, which is only seen in the Republic as a foundation for complications, is a weakness. Averroes further implies any weakness is less likely to be found in men than in women. Averroes begins his discussion of Plato’s ideas about equality for women by saying that men are in most ways more efficient than women, but that it is nevertheless possible that women could surpass men in some areas. He accepts Plato’s female Guardians, but then goes into detail about their procreation arrangements. The principles of common wives and children seem of great importance to Averroes, and he goes into detail about the benefits of arranged unions. He compares the peace found in common families to that found in societies with collective belongings. “In general,” Averroes concludes, “there is nothing which brings more evil and confusion to the State than when its citizens say of something ‘this is mine and this is not mine'” (Averroes 166-171). He implies here that disputes like these are the ruins of otherwise healthy States. To support his argument that women can be more efficient than men in some areas, Averroes begins by suggesting that women are better than men in the fields of music and art. “For this reason it is said that melodies are perfect if men invent them and women perform them” (Averroes 164). He compares the Guardians to defensive animals, saying that women are capable of fighting like female dogs and hyenas; they lack strength, not passion (Averroes 165). He asserts that women are labeled “burdens” because they are “twice the number of men,” although their lack of training makes them unable to contribute in ways recognizable to men. “Because women in these States are not being fitted for any of the human virtues, it often happens that they resemble plants” (Averroes 166). To argue the cause for the selective breeding of Guardians, he mentions a man “who wants to breed hunting dogs or game birds” (Averroes 167). He takes care to breed the best of what he desires, just as Guardians should do to ensure quality rulers. Averroes justifies Guardian apprenticeship by citing smiths and craftsmen as examples, but notes that this system may not work under every circumstance (Averroes 173). He says that Greeks enslaving Greeks “resembles the strife that springs up between members of one household or between lovers” (Averroes 175). In these ways, he backs up Plato’s ideas with examples gleaned from his own surroundings. However, even with all of his practical examples, his work is lacking in empirical support. Averroes strives to reiterate and exemplify Plato’s strongest points, but his examples are mere observations, summaries and analyses at best. Homosexuality is another important topic to address in this literature because the concept sets up societal standards that might otherwise be difficult to understand. Averroes doesn’t say very much about homosexuality, but what he does say is straightforward and supportive of Plato’s points in the Republic:Plato allows these Guardians when in camp to exchange kisses as they please, for this will lead them to fight [well]. [Plato] said: it is fitting to honour the distinguished among these Guardians by special honours in the State and to bring them sacrifices and offerings and to compose on their behalf orations and songs. (Averroes 174) On the other hand, Plato’s examples of homoeroticism are more explicit. He talks about appreciating young men like wine, and compares philosophers to connoisseurs of knowledge and truth. He says to Glaucon, “You ought not to have forgotten that any boy in the bloom of youth will arouse some sting of passion in a man of your amorous temperament and seem worthy of his attentions” (Plato 181). Aristotle takes that notion further when he says that Plato “should think it a matter of indifference that the lovers may be father and son, or again that they may be brothers” (Aristotle 44). This quote suggests a societal acknowledgement of candid homosexual – and even incestuous – relationships. Averroes’ ideas connect with Plato’s in a number of obvious ways. He uses many examples to further illustrate his points, but he never questions or digresses from Plato’s ideas. These illustrations of Plato’s alarming position on women in leadership and the abolition of the traditional family are some of the reasons why the film Destiny depicted the fatwa in an attempt to undercut Averroes’ works. He connects with Aristotle on a more basic level; he writes in a similar fashion, and uses examples in the same manner as Aristotle. In their methods of argumentation, however, Aristotle and Averroes have very little in common, largely because Aristotle’s Politics focuses so heavily on criticizing the Republic. Alfarabi, conversely, shares Aristotle’s ideas about the city as a healthy body and believes that women should be prioritized. Both philosophers almost completely exclude women from their discussions, but Alfarabi’s failure to trust women as intelligible or capable of thoroughly developing the three intellects resembles Aristotle’s perceptions of Spartan women:The defects in the position of women in Sparta, as we have already suggested, seem not only calculated to produce some lack of harmony in the constitution, if we take that by itself, but also to foster the growth of avarice. Officers for the maintenance of order among women and children and other officials charged with similar duties of supervision, are aristocratic in character… (Aristotle 173)When compared to each other, Alfarabi and Averroes seem as different as Politics and the Republic. Alfarabi is interested in getting to the heart of the question of what makes an acceptable philosopher and leader, but Averroes, like Plato, is more focused on the end result: a just city. Alfarabi was able to describe the best means towards the development of great leadership, while Averroes seems to realize that while one or a few great men may make for great leaders and philosophers, even great leadership cannot guarantee a just city. These are the innate differences that make the writings of Averroes more realistic and timeless than those of Alfarabi, while allowing Alfarabi the details he thinks necessary to achieve felicity.Works CitedAlfarabi, Abu Nasr. On the Perfect State. Oxford UP, 1985. 187-259.Aristotle. Politics. London: Oxford UP, 1995.Destiny. Dir. Youssef Chahine. Videocassette. 1997.Rushd, Ibn. Averroes’ Commentary on Plato’s ‘Republic’ 164-177.Plato. Republic. London: Oxford UP, 1973.Saxonhouse, Arlene W. “The Philosopher and the Female in the Political Thought of Plato.” Feminist Interpretations of Plato (1994): 67-85.