Aristotle on Constitution - Dictionary of Arguments
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Constitution/Aristotle/Höffe: The constitution of Greek communities was highly unstable, which is why Aristotle reflects on the reasons for stability and instability. The relevant Book V(1), the first systematic treatment of this topic, contains a high degree of historical analysis.
Höffe: Of course, the historical material presented serves primarily to illustrate causal laws, which is why certain one-sidedness is inevitable. They do not, however, significantly limit the historical source value of the investigation, but Aristotle's inclination towards antithetical schemata is not without cause for concern.
Mixed Constitution: Book VI discusses the establishment of democracies and oligarchies. Against the tendency to establish their most radical form in each case, Aristotle recommends a corrective that will become influential as a "mixed constitution": a combination of institutional elements of different oligarchic and democratic constitutions adapted to the respective circumstances.
Common good: (...) the term remains peculiarly pale. It is only from the picture that Aristotle draws at the end, in Books VII to VIII, of an ideal
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polis, a "polis as desired", that the concept takes shape. First and foremost is national defence or military security.
Trade/Economy: Next, trade relations are important, followed by the division of arable land.
Property: Aristotle proposes a "mixed property system", rejecting both full nationalisation of land and purely private ownership. For the public duties, which are financed today by taxes, at that time for the ritual acts and the common meals, there should be a common property (state land), the "rest" should become private property. Each citizen is given two parcels of land, one towards the national border and one in the interior of the country, both for reasons of justice and to achieve unanimity against hostile neighbours.
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Aristotle's doctrine of three good and three degenerate forms of government (...) is already found (...) in Plato's Politikos(2) (...), [it] will become a basic pattern of political thought: A constitution that serves the common good is regarded as good and successful; bad or degenerate is that which pursues the interests of the ruling class.(3) Depending on whether one, a few or all of them rule, the positive side is the monarchy or kingship, the aristocracy and politics, the constitutional state as a civil state of free and equal citizens.
A. Depending on the type of citizenship
- aristocratic or
- political constitution must be natural.
B. The bad or degenerate ones, however, are "against nature"(4):
the tyranny that serves the interests of the sole ruler,
the oligarchy, which is concerned about the interests of the few (oligoi) and the wealthy, hence also called plutocracy, the rule of the rich, and democracy, which focuses on the interests of the demos, the mass of the poor who are not bound by any laws.
Aristocracy: excludes farmers, wage-earners, craftsmen and merchants from the circle of citizens with the argument that they lead a ignoble life instead of devoting themselves to that leisure (scholê) without which one could not form virtue and act politically;(5) in the background is the distinction between a form of life subject to the necessities of life and a life deprived of necessities and thus free. >Democracy/Aristotle.
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God State/Aristoteles: Not least Aristotle rejects three forms of constitution, against which also today's democracy sees itself as an alternative: Lordships by the grace of God, by a superior power or by superior birth. Moreover, since he favours a mixed constitution that combines oligarchic with democratic elements, commits them to the common good and has the important decisions made by the People's Assembly, Aristotle can be considered largely democratic in the modern sense. ((s) But see >Inequality/Aristotle.)
1. Arist., Politika
2. Platon, Politikos 291c ff
3. Arist., Politika III 7
4. III 17, 1287b37 ff.
5. VII 9, 1328b38 ff._____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
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