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Aristotle's Politics

In his Politics Aristotle recognized that neither oligarchy nor democracy was a form of constitutional government free of the threat of tyranny. According to his definition, "democracy exists wherever the free-born are sovereign, and oligarchy wherever the rich are in control" (Aristotle 163). In the former, the wealthy could tyrannize over the poor and, according to the logic that assigns a powerful role in government to people on the basis of their wealth, it could be plausibly argued that "a single person who owns more than all the other owners of property put together will have a just claim to be the sole ruler" (Aristotle 261). This would, of course, be tyranny. But he worried as well that in a democracy, the will of the many (i.e., the poor) would tyrannize over the minority (i.e., the wealthy). His solution was to design a combination of democracy and oligarchy in which the claims of the free-born to a role in their own governance was balanced against the claims of the wealthy to special consideration.

What Aristotle did, in effect, was to compare apples and oranges. The first half of this argument says that everyone (including the rich) has a right to some degree of involvement in the state). But the second half puts economic interests (the things the wealthy have in common) on a par with the interests all citizens have in good government. It implies, without meaning to, that the poor have no economic interests--though they probably think more about access to essentials and desirables than the wealthy do.

Essentially, of course, Aristotle infers that other qualities are inherent in the long-term possession of wealth. As he says, "we have to remember that quality and quantity both go to the making of every state" (184). But, instead of applying quantity to the difference in wealth between his classes he applies quantity only to the relative numbers of poor and wealthy people. Quality, on the other hand, means ...

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Aristotle's Politics. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:30, January 20, 2019, from