How Aristotle and Machiavelli Use the Middle Class and the Masses to Achieve Stable Political Organizations

May 7, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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