Literature Study GuidesPoliticsBook 6 Chapters 1 8 Summary

Politics | Study Guide

Aristotle

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The Politics | Book 6, Chapters 1–8 | Summary

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Summary

Book 6, Chapter 1

In this short chapter, Aristotle makes a few claims about the different kinds of democracies. People are different; this is why different types of democracies arise. Democracies can be combinations of various representational modes.

Book 6, Chapter 2

The basic idea of a democracy is freedom. "One principle of liberty is for all to rule and be ruled in turn." Every democracy aims at ideals of freedom. Freedom comes from taking turns being ruled and ruling. Popular justice means equality is achieved through the power of the multitudes, with all citizens having an equal share. In a democratic regime, people should be able to live as they want. Successful democratic regimes have elections in which all citizens can choose officers. People should be paid for time spent contributing to the government as representatives, serving in the courts, or performing other roles. None of the offices should be for life. No specific class group should hold more proportional power than others.

Book 6, Chapter 3

In a successful democracy, justice is rule by the majority. A democracy must consider how many representatives should serve in the government, based on the size of the population. The majority is not always just. If a city experiences class disparity, it must make provisions to ensure one group doesn't take over the democracy. For instance, if poor people constitute the majority, the government must ensure that they don't take away wealth from the rich. In these instances, representation can be proportional to ensure equality.

Book 6, Chapter 4

The best democracies are those in which farmers make up most of the population. Farmers do not have much leisure time for assemblies, for one thing. Also, historic farming laws state that no one can possess land, so living is automatically more collective in a farm-rich democracy, which helps the government succeed. It is important for people to have ambition but not too much ambition; otherwise, the democratic government can become too difficult to maintain. People should be assessed for their ability to hold government positions. Elected officials should seek to do what is advantageous for the general population. Not every city can support an entire population participating in a democracy. As many people as possible should serve in government offices. A larger number of people participating in government will increase confidence in the system.

Book 6, Chapter 5

It is easy enough to institute a regime; the hard task is preserving it. The courts are important forces for preservation of the regime. The populations should not abuse the court system through making frivolous charges against one another for financial gain. The longest-lasting democracies are those with large populations, including people who cannot afford to participate in the government. The majority of a city's population should live above the poverty level; governments should provide financial assistance to ensure this. Nobles should work to provide for the poor.

Book 6, Chapter 6

Polity is a way to blend an oligarchy and a democracy. Leaders blend forms of government based on assessment of the people of what elements work for them. Democracies are generally preserved if they have large populations. Oligarchies last only if they are well governed and adopt positive policies.

Book 6, Chapter 7

The multitude is made up of four parts: farmers, workers, merchants, and laborers. It is useful for a city, when involved in war, to have horses, arms, and seafaring elements. If the city is suitable for horses, oligarchies often arise because keeping horses requires the possession of large properties. For the multitudes to take part in government, they should be given time to participate. Constituents of oligarchies should be rewarded for their service with new buildings and other important infrastructure amenities.

Book 6, Chapter 8

As Aristotle discussed earlier, for a city to exist, it needs support from necessary offices. They should be organized and administered in positive ways. Small cities need fewer offices than do large cities. Markets (buying and selling) are essential for the working and growth of cities, so there should be an office to oversee the market. An office should oversee orderliness of the city and infrastructure needs, like maintaining roads. This is often referred to as "town management." An office should deal with the fields, and another should be in charge of public and private agreements, working with the courts. There should be an office regarding prisoners and punishment. These are the most necessary offices for the beginning of the city. Military offices and protection of the city should also be established. Since these offices will likely handle public funds, there should be an additional office to oversee the financial matters of the different offices. A city may also choose to have a government office pertaining to spirituality. There may be cities that need offices to oversee leisure opportunities.

Analysis

New governments pop up all the time. Especially in ancient Greece, conquerors abounded, and governments were frequently overthrown. The overthrow is typically the easy part; but to continue to rule, leaders must consider many issues. Aristotle explores some specifics. In addition to its main leaders, a government must have offices, or agencies, for support services. These offices include the military and finances. This same structure keeps governments running today. It is unclear how Aristotle imagines these agencies to be funded, but in many cases the wealthier citizens provide for others. For instance, wealthier people serve as volunteers in government agencies. This form of government begins to unravel if citizens are greedy or if populations grow too large.

During Aristotle's time, governments were much smaller than many are today. Aristotle believes each office should have a singular purpose in a large city, and for some smaller cities duties can be combined. He also outlines relief for the poor to ensure they will not gather and fight against the regime. Although welfare doesn't seem like something Aristotle would argue for, he feels it is important to prevent cultural unrest. He believes some should be poor and others wealthy, but no poor person should suffer. The idea of wealth was also different in ancient Greece because there was generally less income disparity. Aristotle believes the richest person should have only five times the wealth of a poor person. Ideas of wealth and poverty have changed, but Aristotle's believe in welfare has widely persisted.

Aristotle doesn't focus on punishment. In ancient Greece, policing was sometimes done by publicly owned slaves. Citizens had a lot more responsibility in seeking justice for crimes committed against them. Many investigated crimes independently. Overall, in the vision Aristotle presents of good government, citizens have agency in making their own changes. Today, despite Aristotle's warnings about the challenges of governing large groups of citizens, governments have grown in size and must serve millions of people. This means the justice process is slow and difficult.

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