Literature Study GuidesPoliticsBook 4 Chapters 1 8 Summary

Politics | Study Guide


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The Politics | Book 4, Chapters 1–8 | Summary



Book 4, Chapter 1

Although the term political science does not exist yet, Aristotle studies politics like a science, examining different regimes to see what they are doing well and what is lacking. It is difficult for a government to assess itself. Aristotle believes people should study the best regimes as well as those with potential to be the best; this is the route to improvement. Improving a regime is just as hard as creating a regime. Scientific reasoning can help regimes understand what laws to pass. Each regime has different requirements, so it is essential to examine each individually to determine what works best.

Book 4, Chapter 2

According to Aristotle, there are three correct regimes: kingship, aristocracy, and polity. Each can include variations: tyranny from kingship, oligarchy from aristocracy, and democracy from polity. Aristotle believes tyranny is the worst deviation of government. The best type depends on the qualities of the city; for some a democracy may be best, and for others it is an oligarchy.

Book 4, Chapter 3

As Aristotle discussed earlier, cities are composed of many households with various makeups and needs. Different types of regimes arise to rule these cities. For example, some cities with a large supply of horses became oligarchies; they used their horse supply to invade their neighbors' land. Differences in family makeup and virtue in the population can change the resulting government.

Book 4, Chapter 4

Democracy is not simply a government in which multitudes have authority. Oligarchies sometimes are ruled by more than one person. Rule of the people means free people have authority. Rule of the people does not exist when a few people have power over a majority. Nor does it exist when a large number of wealthy people rule. In a democracy, the free and the poor are the majority, and they rule. In an oligarchy the few and the wealthy rule.

Cities are made up of many parts, with roles for many people. Each part of a city is necessary. Socrates said the most important figures in a city are the weavers, the farmers, the shoemakers, and the builders. Aristotle agrees these people are necessary, but contemporary growing cities require others as well, to provide more than basic necessities.

People who help a city advance include magistrates, who perform public services on behalf of the city; those who use their property to provide public services; and judges, among others. The poor and the wealthy have different roles in the city. Just as there are various kinds of oligarchies and democracies, there are also many kinds of people in each: fishermen, those involved in the arts, merchants, the wealthy, the educated, and the virtuous. An admirable democracy is based on equality. Some democracies have low offices anyone can occupy. In other democracies anyone can play a part, but lawmaking is left to notable people. In some democracies, elite leaders make most of the choices. Some democracies become tyrannies when certain people gain too much power and give resources or liberties to those who flatter them. When individuals become too powerful, laws no longer have authority over them, and the regime is damaged.

Book 4, Chapter 5

In an oligarchy, leaders may be chosen from a group of people (excluding the poor); a son may rule after his father; or an assessment may determine which officials are needed, after which a few elites allocate roles. When revolution topples this third type of oligarchy, new laws are likely to focus on the needs of general citizens rather than the elites.

Book 4, Chapter 6

Just as there are many kinds of oligarchy and democracy, there are many kinds of people these governments serve. Farmers possess much of the land, which gives them some power in the regime. They do not have leisure to participate in government, however, so they respect the authority of the law and do not contribute much to changing it. Lawmaking is reserved for those with the means, including leisure time, to take part in governance. In some democracies, citizen participation is limited for this reason. Oligarchies decide who is allowed to participate in government; if there are numerous rich property owners, some may still be excluded. When few own the wealth, the oligarchy is more centralized. If this oligarchy tightens its rule to include fewer people, it can become a sort of monarchy.

Book 4, Chapter 7

Aristocracies are purportedly based on virtue, giving power to good men and good citizens. There are two prominent kinds of aristocracy: those in which the most virtuous are chosen to rule and those in which the wealthiest are chosen to rule.

Book 4, Chapter 8

In this section, Aristotle discusses tyranny and polity. He sees tyranny as the worst of all regimes. Polity is a mixture of oligarchy and democracy; some polities tend more toward oligarchy and some more toward democracy. The wealthy already possess what unjust people crave. When not controlled by laws or the power structure, unjust people commit an injustice to take something possessed by another. It is difficult to run a city wherein the base doesn't agree with the rule. Good governance requires adherence to laws. Some obey only the laws they believe apply to them. Aristocracy is a distribution of power toward those deemed virtuous. Freedom, wealth, and virtue affect equality in a regime.


The main regime types are monarchy, aristocracy, tyranny, polity, oligarchy, and democracy. They all exist on a spectrum, and regimes may include elements of all these types. Democracies typically last longest because citizens are invested in their success. Aristocracies and oligarchies may dissolve more frequently because citizens often view their leaders as lavish or out of touch. For an aristocracy to last, people must perceive leaders as virtuous.

Democracy offers the most opportunities for citizen involvement. Democracies are defined by involvement of the poor, but if wealthy people control the government—as they often do because they have the leisure time to devote to such pursuits—poorer citizens may still feel unhappy and alienated. To counter this, the government can pass legislation to pay people for government service or provide leisure time so they can serve in the government.

Aristocracy gives power to the wealthy. Aristotle complicates the idea of wealth, arguing it may come in the form of money or virtue. All governments must consider their citizens and make changes to their regime accordingly to continue successfully.

Monarchy remained the most common type of government until the 19th century, when dictatorship and democracy overtook it. Many contemporary democratic governments are led by a kind of aristocracy—those few with the financial means as well as family and political connections to run for office. As Aristotle reflects, governments must have a little bit of many different ruling methods to succeed. The method Aristotle praises most, polity, is widespread, although the name is not commonly used. For instance, because much of the United States is ruled by the wealthy, many see it as a combination of an oligarchy and a democracy; however, based on Aristotle's definition, it is a polity.

Aristotle's argument in this section is blunt and realistic as he points out the down side of many forms of government. He is also open about the ways these forms can be successful, even if they don't reflect the morality he considers paramount. For instance, an aristocracy can be maintained through silencing dissent and providing infrastructure; this may convince citizens their government is working.

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