In the wake of last night's election, it is time to reexamine our ideas about what makes a legitimate government, and our relationship to the state. Joseph W. says that we're down to persuasion or secession; persuasion is more desirable, because there is less danger of bloodshed, but clearly no extant arguments have been persuasive to the many. We must think again on why we have a state, and what kind of state is desirable. If we are to persuade, we must be persuasive; if we are to secede, we must know what we want to build.
For that reason, for a little while, we will be working through Aristotle's Politics -- just a bit every day, a workable amount that you can fit in to your lives. I want to say a few things about the book to put it in context.
Aristotle was writing at the last hour of a grand political experiment that had little precedent in human history. The Greek city states had been organized in every possible way, from the pure democracy of Athens to the Spartan experiment to turn men into pure warriors. There had been kings, there had been states ruled by a small group of aristocrats, and there had been democracies of different kinds.
Here as elsewhere in his thought, Aristotle was empirical: this is a book about describing the kinds of government based on observation of how these governments have worked out in practice. You will find that he doesn't have a clear answer to what kind of government is best. The book is a taxonomy of kinds of governments, and the particular problems related to them. It happens to be the case that the particular problem related to our current form, by the way, is just the one we currently observe: the tendency of members of a democracy to vote themselves wealth, to be taken from others within the same state.
Although he does not finally prefer one system to another, Aristotle does have a standard against which he judges any form of government. Aristotle's politics is linked to his ethics: a state is righteous to the degree that it permits and encourages virtue in the individual. The point of a good state is to permit a good man to live a good life.
Note that the state does not require virtue. Plato's famous political works, the Republic and the Laws, were built around the question of whether and how the state could compel people to be better than they were inclined to be. That is the Spartan project, more or less. It led Plato to interesting places -- he was the ancient world's only advocate of complete female equality with men, for example, for reasons he spells out in the Republic. On the other hand, he was also advocating complete government control of every aspect of life, including the breakup of families, in order to compel what he thought was the best kind of life.
That isn't what you'll find in Aristotle. It's a different kind of book. By coincidence, Aristotle's tutoring of Alexander the Great made this work irrelevant for centuries. For that reason, throughout the middle ages, the Politics remained one of Aristotle's lead-read works, because no one was really thinking about the question of what kind of state to want. It was only in the modern era that the question of designing a state from scratch became of interest again.
With that said, let's begin. Remember that this is a voice from the ancient world, with very different assumptions about human and animal nature -- but with a great empirical insight into how men have organized societies, and what perils face each form of organization. It happens to start with the issues most likely to cause intellectual rebellion in a contemporary American, questions of sexuality and slavery. Struggle with those now, so you can see the value in what he is saying in spite of the cultural chasm. What follows will be more interesting, the more you succeed in the opening struggle.
We'll read a few chapters every day. Talk about whatever interests you in the comments.
Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always act in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at good in a greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.
Some people think that the qualifications of a statesman, king, householder, and master are the same, and that they differ, not in kind, but only in the number of their subjects. For example, the ruler over a few is called a master; over more, the manager of a household; over a still larger number, a statesman or king, as if there were no difference between a great household and a small state. The distinction which is made between the king and the statesman is as follows: When the government is personal, the ruler is a king; when, according to the rules of the political science, the citizens rule and are ruled in turn, then he is called a statesman.
But all this is a mistake; for governments differ in kind, as will be evident to any one who considers the matter according to the method which has hitherto guided us. As in other departments of science, so in politics, the compound should always be resolved into the simple elements or least parts of the whole. We must therefore look at the elements of which the state is composed, in order that we may see in what the different kinds of rule differ from one another, and whether any scientific result can be attained about each one of them.
He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them. In the first place there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other; namely, of male and female, that the race may continue (and this is a union which is formed, not of deliberate purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves), and of natural ruler and subject, that both may be preserved. For that which can foresee by the exercise of mind is by nature intended to be lord and master, and that which can with its body give effect to such foresight is a subject, and by nature a slave; hence master and slave have the same interest. Now nature has distinguished between the female and the slave. For she is not niggardly, like the smith who fashions the Delphian knife for many uses; she makes each thing for a single use, and every instrument is best made when intended for one and not for many uses. But among barbarians no distinction is made between women and slaves, because there is no natural ruler among them: they are a community of slaves, male and female. Wherefore the poets say,
"It is meet that Hellenes should rule over barbarians; "
as if they thought that the barbarian and the slave were by nature one.
Out of these two relationships between man and woman, master and slave, the first thing to arise is the family, and Hesiod is right when he says,
"First house and wife and an ox for the plough, "
for the ox is the poor man's slave. The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men's everyday wants, and the members of it are called by Charondas 'companions of the cupboard,' and by Epimenides the Cretan, 'companions of the manger.' But when several families are united, and the association aims at something more than the supply of daily needs, the first society to be formed is the village. And the most natural form of the village appears to be that of a colony from the family, composed of the children and grandchildren, who are said to be suckled 'with the same milk.' And this is the reason why Hellenic states were originally governed by kings; because the Hellenes were under royal rule before they came together, as the barbarians still are. Every family is ruled by the eldest, and therefore in the colonies of the family the kingly form ofgovernment prevailed because they were of the same blood. As Homer says:
"Each one gives law to his children and to his wives. "
For they lived dispersedly, as was the manner in ancient times. Wherefore men say that the Gods have a king, because they themselves either are or were in ancient times under the rule of a king. For they imagine, not onlythe forms of the Gods, but their ways of life to be like their own.
When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end. For what each thing is when fully developed, we call its nature, whether we are speaking of a man, a horse, or a family. Besides, the final cause and end of a thing is the best, and to be self-sufficing is the end and the best.
Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal. And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the
"Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one, "
whom Homer denounces- the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts.
Now, that man is more of a political animal than bees or any other gregarious animals is evident. Nature, as we often say, makes nothing in vain, and man is the only animal whom she has endowed with the gift of speech. And whereas mere voice is but an indication of pleasure or pain, and is therefore found in other animals (for their nature attains to the perception of pleasure and pain and the intimation of them to one another, and no further), the power of speech is intended to set forth the expedient and inexpedient, and therefore likewise the just and the unjust. And it is a characteristic of man that he alone has any sense of good and evil, of just and unjust, and the like, and the association of living beings who have this sense makes a family and a state.
Further, the state is by nature clearly prior to the family and to the individual, since the whole is of necessity prior to the part; for example, if the whole body be destroyed, there will be no foot or hand, except in an equivocal sense, as we might speak of a stone hand; for when destroyed the hand will be no better than that. But things are defined by their working and power; and we ought not to say that they are the same when they no longer have their proper quality, but only that they have the same name. The proof that the state is a creation of nature and prior to the individual is that the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing; and therefore he is like a part in relation to the whole. But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature, and yet he who first founded the state was the greatest of benefactors. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.
Seeing then that the state is made up of households, before speaking of the state we must speak of the management of the household. The parts of household management correspond to the persons who compose the household, and a complete household consists of slaves and freemen. Now we should begin by examining everything in its fewest possible elements; and the first and fewest possible parts of a family are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children. We have therefore to consider what each of these three relations is and ought to be: I mean the relation of master and servant, the marriage relation (the conjunction of man and wife has no name of its own), and thirdly, the procreative relation (this also has no proper name). And there is another element of a household, the so-called art of getting wealth, which, according to some, is identical with household management, according to others, a principal part of it; the nature of this art will also have to be considered by us.
Let us first speak of master and slave, looking to the needs of practical life and also seeking to attain some better theory of their relation than exists at present. For some are of opinion that the rule of a master is a science, and that the management of a household, and the mastership of slaves, and the political and royal rule, as I was saying at the outset, are all the same. Others affirm that the rule of a master over slaves is contrary to nature, and that the distinction between slave and freeman exists by law only, and not by nature; and being an interference with nature is therefore unjust.
Property is a part of the household, and the art of acquiring property is a part of the art of managing the household; for no man can live well, or indeed live at all, unless he be provided with necessaries. And as in the arts which have a definite sphere the workers must have their own proper instruments for the accomplishment of their work, so it is in the management of a household. Now instruments are of various sorts; some are living,others lifeless; in the rudder, the pilot of a ship has a lifeless, in the look-out man, a living instrument; for in the arts the servant is a kind of instrument. Thus, too, a possession is an instrument for maintaining life. And so, in the arrangement of the family, a slave is a living possession, and property a number of such instruments; and the servant is himself an instrument which takes precedence of all other instruments. For if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet,
"of their own accord entered the assembly of the Gods; "
if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves. Here, however, another distinction must be drawn; theinstruments commonly so called are instruments of production, whilst a possession is an instrument of action. The shuttle, for example, is not only of use; but something else is made by it, whereas of a garment or of a bed there is only the use. Further, as production and action are different in kind, and both require instruments, the instruments which they employ must likewise differ in kind. But life is action and not production, and therefore the slave is the minister of action. Again, a possession is spoken of as a part is spoken of; for the part is not only a part of something else, but wholly belongs to it; and this is also true of a possession. The master is only the master of the slave; he does not belong to him, whereas the slave is not only the slave of his master, but wholly belongs to him. Hence we see what is the nature and office of a slave; he who is by nature not his own but another's man, is by nature a slave; and he may be said to be another's man who, being a human being, is also a possession. And a possession may be defined as an instrument of action, separable from the possessor.