Literature Study GuidesPoliticsBook 5 Chapters 1 12 Summary

Politics | Study Guide

Aristotle

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Politics | Book 5, Chapters 1–12 | Summary

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Summary

Book 5, Chapter 1

Governments often change based on acts by the people, like a revolution. After a revolution, some things are preserved and others are destroyed. After a revolution, oligarchies arise out of unequal societies in which the few think they are better at ruling over others. Democracies arise when citizens think they are equal. Each regime can create conflict even though both presume they are behaving justly. Sometimes factional conflict ends a regime. Conflict usually emerges during a debate about how to improve the current government. For instance, there can be debate over whether to make an oligarchy more or less oligarchical. If people view the society as unequal and unjust, there will likely be a revolution. Aristotle believes a democracy is generally more stable than an oligarchy. Revolutions create new governments that will better serve people's needs.

Book 5, Chapter 2

Aristotle discusses reasons for conflict, saying, "The lesser engage in factional conflict in order to be equal; those who are equal, in order to be greater." Factional conflicts arise for many reasons. Some engage in conflicts because they seek equality. Some conflicts are based on money, honor, arrogance, fear, contempt, disproportionate growth, electioneering, neglect, or dissimilarity. Factional conflicts can negatively affect a government.

Book 5, Chapter 3

Most conflict is based on fear. Some knowingly commit an injustice and are afraid to face the consequences; some fear injustices perpetrated by another. Contempt can cause conflict; for example, in an oligarchy people may feel the government disrespects and ignores them. Revolution can occur when there is disproportionate growth in a certain population. Sometimes important groups, such as the poor, are overlooked, fomenting discontent. Small changes in a regime can also lead to conflict. If small differences go unnoticed, they can also grow and become conflict. A diverse population is generally good for a city, but conflict can arise when people's needs are very different. Sometimes location leads to conflict; for example, territory divided by a body of water might lead to divisions within a city. There are limitless reasons cities may not function well.

Book 5, Chapter 4

When arguments arise between powerful people in a city or community, government leaders should take steps to contain them; otherwise such rancor—even when caused by personal issues such as adultery—can negatively affect the regime. A city may evolve into an oligarchy, a democracy, a polity, or another new type of government as it grows or undergoes other kinds of change. For example, regimes may change when different parts of the city become more similar. Sometimes regimes change through force and sometimes through deceit.

Book 5, Chapter 5

Democracies undergo revolution when leaders behave badly or seem indifferent to the people. Sometimes leaders banish nobles from a city; these nobles may then unite and return to the city to form an oligarchy. To gain popularity, nobles may slander other wealthy people and form divisions. Democracies invite trouble when they elect unfit leaders. Aristotle believes a board of tribal leaders, rather than the entire population, should vote for officials.

Book 5, Chapter 6

Oligarchies undergo revolutions for many reasons. Most often revolution occurs when leaders treat the multitudes unjustly or when the well off have internal conflicts. Oligarchies can undergo changes when people fight for popularity. Popular leaders emerge from a small pool of people; those not chosen may become resentful. The courts can also cause intergovernmental strife. In an oligarchy, revolution can occur when the wealthy are too ostentatious with their wealth. If an oligarchy's upper classes have a good relationship, it is harder to destroy the government. Revolutions can occur both in peacetime and wartime. Revolutions can also happen by chance.

Book 5, Chapter 7

In aristocracies, conflict emerges when too few people participate in decision-making processes. Some upper-class groups in aristocracies can foment a revolution based on personal arguments; for example, unrest can begin when one person insults another's virtue. Sometimes in an aristocracy, a great leader may wish to become greater and serve as the sole leader, causing a change in government. Polities can face problems if they mix elements of a democracy and an oligarchy in a less-than-optimal way. Aristocracies tend not to last as long as polities. If the well off in an aristocracy behave arrogantly—aggrandizing themselves and centralizing their power in ways the people object to—revolution may follow. Regimes can be overturned from within or without.

Book 5, Chapter 8

There is no perfect method for preserving a regime. Well-blended regimes should ensure that laws are respected and pay attention to all transgressions, even small ones; even the smallest transgression can cause strife. A regime's destruction usually starts in small ways. Lasting governments treat their constituents well and encourage people to be the best they can. In oligarchies and aristocracies, leaders easily can begin to act selfishly and disrespect the general population or move toward tyranny. Regime leaders must keep a close eye on such tendencies. Some regimes are preserved because nearby threats unite the people. Regimes should guard against factional conflicts between the well off and should not allow certain people to grow in greater proportional strength. Governments should establish an office to deal with those who flout the law or otherwise act against the regime's best interests. This office also should ensure that government leaders do not take an unreasonable portion of common funds for themselves; this can cause distrust.

Book 5, Chapter 9

For an authoritarian regime to be successful, the authoritarian figure needs to have public popularity, the personality traits necessary to rule, and virtue. Without all three, the regime will likely be unstable. An authoritarian figure who lacks self-control can cause instability. A sound regime will preserve advantageous laws, keep a close eye on others who are gaining power, and avoid becoming too extreme in any direction, because this can cause unrest. Political advisors should keep close watch on what happens in the regime so popular leaders do not make errors that can lead to unrest. Education is key in keeping a regime functioning. General education can ensure people support the regime and understand how it operates.

Book 5, Chapter 10

Monarchy can lead to both destruction and preservation. A monarchy can include both kingships and tyrannies. A king needs to be a virtuous guardian to stay in power. When a monarchy becomes a tyranny, people will suffer: "A tyrant, as has often been repeated, has no regard to any public interest, except as conducive to his private ends; his aim is pleasure." By seeking wealth, a monarch loses the public's respect. Banishing nobles who impede the tyranny can lead to distrust. Injustice, fear, and contempt generally cause the end of a monarchy. Suspicion can cause the murder of a monarchical figure. Contempt or personal ambition can cause an attack on a leader. Tyrannies can be destroyed within themselves if they fall into factional conflict. Kingship lasts longer than tyranny because the general population often likes the leading figure; thus, a kingship is most often destroyed through internal strife.

Book 5, Chapter 11

Regimes are preserved if they move toward moderation. Tyrannies are preserved by eliminating those who gain power or who have high thoughts and are not permitted education or to meet in groups. For a tyranny to last, the government must seek to make the population ignorant and unaware of the power they potentially have as a group. Spies can also be helpful to eliminate dissent before it grows. Kingship is preserved by trust, but tyrants distrust their friends and associates. According to Aristotle, flatterers may be successful leaders because women, slaves, and others appreciate their rule. He adds, "Another mark of a tyrant is that he likes foreigners better than citizens, and lives with them and invites them to his table; for the one are enemies, but the others enter into no rivalry with him." Tyrants want their citizens to maintain modest thoughts, distrusts one another, and be incapable of political action. For a tyranny to last, people must feel awe rather than fear of their leader. A tyrant may last if he puts resources toward the common good—for example, beautifying common spaces and spending funds on new buildings. For a monarchy to last, several people should have power so they can monitor one another's actions. A tyrant should not attach his rule to either the poor or the wealthy but should instead treat them equally. If leaders consider these matters, they will have a longer-lasting rule.

Book 5, Chapter 12

Oligarchy and tyranny are the shortest-lived regimes. Popular leaders generally last longer. Socrates discusses revolutions but forms a different argument, believing revolutions are natural and occur in a cycle. Aristotle believes actions can be taken to preserve a regime for as long as possible. He thinks Socrates lacks nuance when describing revolutions; Socrates neglects many of the reasons revolutions occur, focusing on the false idea that poor people were once rich and squandered their wealth, causing jealousy and unrest.

Analysis

This book focuses on the many ways regimes are destroyed and the few ways a government can be maintained. Different forms of regimes emerge for different reasons. An oligarchy can be an effective form of rule for people who are natural followers. Democracies emerge when citizens are more educated and motivated to have a say in their government. Polity, which lies between democracy and oligarchy, has many of the qualities Aristotle seeks in an ideal government.

The quick regime changes Aristotle discusses in these sections can be seen in world history leading up to World War I and following World War II. Aristotle says unstable regimes collapse more easily. In the modern era, Germany exemplifies this idea. In 1919, Germany had an unstable democracy, the Weimar Republic, which allowed the rise of Hitler's leadership. East Germany opted for socialism, and today Germany is a democracy. Because of instability, one form of government quickly gave way to another.

Moderate regimes are the most successful and enduring. Those at the extremes, such as tyranny, seldom last long because they provoke citizens. When citizens are angry with their government, they are more likely to gather together to oppose it. For this reason, tyrannies last only if citizens are uneducated and isolated from each other. Lasting tyrannies utilize spies and remove dissidents.

Regime leaders must consider how constituents see them; they must work hard to appear moderate, not profligate, if they want to endure. Aristotle believes good forms of government last longest, but this isn't always the case. Sometimes governments maintain power by suppressing dissent; Aristotle often argues in favor of this approach, although many would frown on it today. But Aristotle sets up a hierarchy in which the moral should rule and the amoral should be ruled over; in this kind of government, he feels, it is acceptable for the moral to silence dissent.

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