Aristotle's Politics: Oligarchy and Democracy

Topics: Oligarchy, Democracy, Constitution Pages: 6 (1952 words) Published: November 14, 2013

In Aristotle's Politics, he focuses much on the regimes of an oligarchy and of a democracy. Democracies exists when the free and poor, being a majority, have authority to rule, and have an equal share in the city. Oligarchies exists when the few wealthy and better born have authority and grant benefits in proportion to a person's wealth (1280a:10-30;1290a:5-10).

Within each regime, there are the farmer, the working element and craftsmen, the marketing element and traders, the laboring element, the warrior element, the priests (Aristotle skips this sixth element but suggests this possibility), the rich, and the magisterial (1290b:40; 1291a:5-35). Within regimes are two distinctive classes and forms of government which are the well off and the poor. While the well off are few and the poor are many, these parts of the city oppose the other. Regimes are instituted accordingly on the basis of the sorts of preeminence associated with these which holds to be two sorts of regimes: democracy and oligarchy (1291b:5-10). Within the two regimes, there are several kinds of both the people and of the notables. Within the people there are the famers, those engaged in the arts, the marketing element, the element connected with the sea, the menial elements having little property, and the free element. Within the notables there are kinds distinguished by wealth, good birth, virtue, education, and whatever is spoken of as based on the same sort of difference as these (1291b:20-30).

Aristotle defines five different kinds of democracy. First, everyone is equal by law regardless of wealth and majority rules. Second, there is a modest minimum property qualification to hold public office. Third, only the nobly born hold public office, but the law rules. Fourth, anyone can hold public office, but the law rules. Lastly, anyone can hold public office and the multitude rules, not the law. The last form is vulnerable to becoming a demagoguery of the majority (1291b:30-40;1291a:5-10).

In addition, he defines four different kinds of oligarchy. First, there is a minimum property qualification for holding public office. Second, there is a high property qualification for holding public office and they themselves elect in filling vacancies. Third, public office is hereditary and the son succeeds the father. Fourth, public office is hereditary and those in power rule, not the law. The last form is vulnerable to becoming a dynasty (1292a:40;1292b:5-10).

Aristotle then goes on to discuss a constitutional government known as a polity, which can mix democracies and oligarchies by either becoming a combination of the two, a mean between the two, or a mixture of elements taken from each (1294a:35-40;1294b:5). In a democratic regime, public offices are chosen by lot and not on a basis of assessment. In an oligarchic regime, public offices are elected and on the basis of assessment. The defining principle of a good mixture of a democracy and oligarchy is a polity in which each of the extremes is revealed in it and is held to be both and neither (1294b:5-35).

In addition to the well off and the poor, there is also a third element known as the middling class. While some of the well off only know how to rule, some of the poor only know how to be ruled and be slaves. Thus, the middle class is the most stable and best of all as they do not desire the things of others, as the poor do, nor other their things, as the poor desire those of the wealthy. As a result of not being plotted against or plotting against others they remain free from factionalism (1295b:5-30).

In a oligarchy, the rich are fined for not participating in the assembly, public office, law courts, army, and athletics. Thus, the rich are encouraged to participate while the poor have no motivation to do so. Democracies practice the opposite by paying the poor but not the rich for participating in civic activities. A mean between the two would be to fine the rich and reward the poor in...
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