Literature Study GuidesPoliticsBook 4 Chapters 9 16 Summary

Politics | Study Guide


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Politics | Book 4, Chapters 9–16 | Summary



Book 4, Chapter 9

Governments use different methods to ensure citizen participation. Oligarchies may fine the well off if they do not participate in the regime. A democracy can provide resources for the poor to ensure they are able to participate politically. A polity, such as the government created by the Spartans, combines elements of oligarchy and democracy. In a polity, the poor and rich can educate their children in similar ways; there is no intentional separation between the two groups.

Book 4, Chapter 10

The discussion of tyranny involves all the previously discussed forms of government. Any government not kept in check can become a tyranny. A kingship may lead to multiple forms of tyranny. Kings can become dictators and create laws to turn the government into a tyranny. A monarchy can become a tyranny if it remains unchallenged. Tyranny is defined as rule over those who are unwilling to be ruled.

Book 4, Chapter 11

The best regime for a given region depends on the character of the people in that region. A happy life is one in which virtue can be pursued unimpeded. Cities include the well off, the poor, and those in between. Some are born with all advantages—good looks, strong morals, and intelligence—but become arrogant and perform acts of malice. Some are born without advantages and can also become malicious. Others can be wellborn but have no desire to rule. Contempt and jealousy can hurt the city community. For a city to thrive, residents need to be relatively equal. When there is an unequal distribution of resources, extreme forms of governing arise, like tyranny. Aristotle thinks the best legislators arise from the middle class.

Book 4, Chapter 12

The people in the city who want the regime to continue must be superior to those who don't want it to continue. Whatever character is the most common in the city will dominate it. This can bring difficulty when the dominant characteristic lacks virtue. If the farmers and workers dominate, they will likely form a democracy. If the rich dominate, it will likely be an oligarchy. To make balanced policies, legislators should always be in the middle in relationship to whatever is dominant in the regime. The most trustworthy person in the community should be the judge. The more power is balanced, the longer the government will last. This is not foolproof, because at times something pretends to be good but is evil.

Book 4, Chapter 13

Regimes must decide who can attend general assemblies and participate in policy decisions. Some regimes may allow only the well off; others are more open. Aristotle says the wealthy should be fined if they do not serve in the courts, but the poor should not be punished. Some regimes allow all citizens to register to adjudicate, or make judgments in disputes, but if they do not show up to meetings they are fined heavily; this encourages many people to become involved in government. Some democracies pay the poor to participate in government. Aristotle says regimes need to institute policies about arms possession. People who are poor may be reluctant to fight in a war for their regime unless they receive pay or sustenance.

Book 4, Chapter 14

A successful government encourages a variety of individuals to participate. Regimes need space and time to debate common manners, decide which offices have authority, choose people to occupy offices, and select adjudicators. Those who have power to deliberate governmental policy have authority over matters of war, peace, laws, and death; in some cases they also choose who will serve in office. Legislators should make decisions that maintain popular favor. These decisions can be made collectively among adjudicators, and in some cases citizens contribute to the decision-making process. Different regimes allow citizens more or less authority. Citizens chosen by election generally are given more decision-making power. These citizens should come from various parts of the city so others feel represented. An oligarchy may hold elections for some advisors so citizens feel they have a role in decision-making. It is also a sound idea to allow people to vote on measures. In some governments the multitudes cannot vote for measures, but they may have veto power. Such policies help ensure citizens have a political voice; this will help the regime last longer.

Book 4, Chapter 15

Regimes must make important decisions about political offices: how many officials are needed, how long terms should last, and how officials should be chosen. This can be very challenging. Some people may think priests should be officials; others may say an official is needed to manage markets. Some officials perform basic tasks, so almost everyone is qualified for such positions. In large cities an official may be devoted to a single, small task; but in smaller cities a single official may need to perform multiple tasks. Aristotle says offices should be separate and perform independently. Officials may be people who have distinguished themselves in some way, family members, or the virtuous. They can be chosen through voting or casting lots.

Book 4, Chapter 16

In this section, Aristotle discusses how courts work. Adjudicative bodies must have guiding principles. There are eight kinds of courts to address different issues: audits, common crimes, regime concerns, private disputes, private transactions, homicide, and aliens. The court for aliens serves multiple purposes: it adjudicates when aliens have disputes with other aliens or when aliens have disputes against citizens. Those in charge of the courts should be elected or chosen through casting lots. Of the eight courts listed, some can be conjoined or grouped depending on a city's size and needs.


This book continues with a discussion of regimes Aristotle has studied in the ancient world. He analyzes both their negative and positive qualities. Good governments have happy citizens, according to Aristotle—a stance hard to argue with. Happy citizens are those who are free to pursue virtue. Not all citizens need to be equal, he says, but it is helpful if similar individuals experience equality. Good governments have good leaders—also hard to argue with. Leaders should be chosen from virtuous families. Regimes should make decisions in small and grand measures; this will help them assert their power and gain citizens' reliance.

Aristotle points out that tyranny can arise from any regime. It is crucial for the majority of a city's citizens to be virtuous because the regime reflects the majority. Organized courts can help stabilize a regime and instill trust and a sense of fairness. To give people a stake in the regime, they should be allowed some decision-making power. The more people feel involved in a government system, the less likely it is to collapse. Citizens' attitudes toward the regime are crucial in ensuring its longevity. Different governing strategies can ensure that all citizens feel they have a voice, even if their power remains minimal.

Aristotle's emphasis on happiness still resonates in contemporary society. However, it's difficult if not impossible to measure how many citizens are happy. Aristotle discusses many large, rather vague concepts as the basis for government. But the concepts—morality, for example—remain important.

In this book, Aristotle also argues for the importance of the middle class, an enduring ideal in contemporary culture. Aristotle believes a person of moderate wealth is "readiest to obey reason," while for someone very wealthy or very poor "it is difficult to follow reason." A strong middle class is essential for a thriving government and also keeps the government more moderate.

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