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In the Politics, and the Constitution of Athens (Politeia), Aristotle lays out a number of ideas. In this short essay, the author will attempt to answer the question of whether or not man is a political animal." Further, if this is the cause, we will explore whether or not Aristotle's politics allow man enough room to live up to this nature. It is this author's contention that Aristotle answers that man is a political animal and then goes on to describe the ideal state so that man can realize this goal.
The Politeia was written in the late 4th century BCE by Aristotle or possibly by a student disciple at Plato's academy. This was a treatise where Aristotle expressed his view that the ideal of a perfect political government structure was a mixture of democracy and oligarchy. In this vein, he sees man as a political animal. In the Politeia, Aristotle "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...(Aristotle & Everson, 1996, 13)"
This being the case, Aristotle then goes on to define which type of political form best meets this need. To meet the above need, the franchise must be thrown open to all free men (women, slaves and foreigners did not count). Aristotle says that anyone in the entire citizen body in Athens can win an archai (office) by election. There were no preconditions. Anyone who was interested could gain political power. Aristotle states that the type of government that is simultaneously the most practical and most realistic is a constitutional government, were power rests in the hands of a strong middle class. Aristotle asserts that a life of virtue consists of finding the mean between two extremes (ibid, 117-118).
In the case of politics, the middle class is the middle ground between the rich and the poor. In a city that consists of rich and poor, the rich may feel contempt for the poor. The poor will feel envy and hatred. A spirit of friendship that is essential to a healthy city and is made only made possible by a strong middle class that bears no grudges and does not practice factionalism. Aristotle remarks, however, that a strong middle class rarely developsof its own accord. Rather, they must be nurtured and encouraged by cities as a middle ground (ibid, 106-110).
There is a system of checks and balances that Aristotle sees as functioning in the ideal constitutional and democratic state. In no office is there sovereignty over anything except the details that concerned that particular office. The Council (boul?) has no real rule of authority over all the essential issues. However, the Assembly has sovereignty over all affairs. This is one of the most genuine democratic attributes that the Athenian Politeia takes account of. In it, the common people are equal to the rich, when it comes to power in the government. There is no on that single-handedly has sovereign power. Rather, it is shared by all the people in the entire political system (ibid, 213).
Aristotle also addresses the pivotal question of which type of constitution is best suited to what sort of state. The foundation principle is that the a part of the city wants a certain constitution and must be stronger than the part of the city that opposes. In the areas where nobility, wealth and culture of the rich outweigh the numbers of the poor, then an oligarchy is desirable. Where the numbers of the poor are found to outweigh the rights of the rich, then a democracy is desirable and necessary. When the middle class is found to outweigh both, a politeia, is desirable. A middle class serves as the honest broker, but should always be a party to a constitution (ibid).
Aristotle maintains that oligarchies fine the rich for a lack of participation in the assembly, law courts, public office, athletics and army. Thus, the rich are encouraged to participate while the poor, on the other hand, have no motivation to do so at all. Democracies practice the opposite, paying their poor, but neglecting the rich for their lack of participation in the civic activities. A middle ground between democracy and…[continue]
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