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The Politics | Study Guide

Aristotle

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The Politics | Book 7, Chapters 1–10 | Summary

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Summary

Book 7, Chapter 1

There is no universal route to an ideal regime. Aristotle notes, "The life which is best for men, both separately, as individuals, and in the mass, as states, is the life which has virtue sufficiently supported by material resources to facilitate participation in the actions that virtue calls for." Regime leaders should begin by defining the type of life they want for the city's citizens. Leaders need to decide what is ideal and then pursue it. A strong government provides good for both the body and the soul of its citizens. Happiness should be available to everyone. Aristotle places the highest value on happiness at the soul level. Anyone can choose to be virtuous, he says. The best city is filled with happy, virtuous people, so cities must allow residents to pursue virtue.

Book 7, Chapter 2

Some think wealth is the key to living well, but Aristotle says there are other ways to attain happiness. Some find fulfillment through engaging in a political community. For this analysis, Aristotle considers how the city functions as a whole; even the most thriving city may have unhappy individuals. The best regime allows residents to act virtuously, and studying political and philosophical thought can help them do so.

Some nations revel in waging war or attaining power. Some celebrate those who have killed enemies. Aristotle is not opposed to war, but he says it is not people's highest purpose.

Book 7, Chapter 3

Aristotle doesn't believe having slaves is necessarily virtuous, but he does believe it is essential. He again praises the pursuit of virtuous actions and says it is noble to follow those who are most virtuous. A regime must offer what is best for both individuals and collectives.

Book 7, Chapter 4

The best regime requires the best people. Great leaders come from great multitudes. The ideal city also has a variety of different citizens with different skills. It is hard to manage cities with large populations, but a city cannot exist without a sufficient population. Law helps achieve order, but if there are too many citizens, a city may still find itself in chaos.

Book 7, Chapter 5

The city should be large enough for people to enjoy leisure and moderation. It should be difficult for enemies to enter but must also have enough space for residents to move about freely. It is helpful if the territory has plentiful environmental resources.

Book 7, Chapter 6

Aristotle notes that access to the sea can be both beneficial and harmful for cities. Cities must be ready to defend themselves from both the land and the sea. Cities should be able to import and export to gain revenue. Cities with ocean ports can benefit from this but should be fortified with walls and other infrastructure. Territories on the sea must also have naval power to defend themselves.

Book 7, Chapter 7

Different types of people make up a well-running city. Some people are spirited but lack the necessary education, or vice versa. Some are better at working collectively. Some hate outsiders, and others gladly accept them. All of these people can find a place within a successful government.

Book 7, Chapter 8

All people in a city should have at least one thing in common: "A state is an association of similar persons whose aim is the best life possible. What is best is happiness, and to be happy is an active exercise of virtue and a complete employment of it." Citizens may embrace the value of existence with others and the idea of working collectively to ensure the best life. Everyone in a community shares one or more ideals to various degrees. To make an ideal a reality requires many people and sufficient funds. A city can also be unified through a relationship with the divine, embracing the ideals of a higher purpose.

Book 7, Chapter 9

Aristotle complicates the issue of shared ideals by questioning whether everyone needs to share a single ideal. It may be that only people practicing similar trades need to share commonalities. Aristotle notes that politics has two main aspects: military and deliberation. Power should be distributed among many people and should be redistributed over time. For instance, youths could participate in the military and then, as they get older, join politics. Possessions should be assigned to these different groups.

Book 7, Chapter 10

Aristotle again says a city's power should be divided among many people. Farmers' responsibilities should be separate from those of the military and politicians. Officials should designate what farmers grow to ensure sustenance. Some of the city's territory should be given to the public for religious ceremony. Citizens who live close to opposing territories should not participate in debates on whether to go to war with those territories; they cannot remain unbiased.

Analysis

Aristotle continues his explanation of what works in certain regimes. He again says there are no perfect methods, but there are superior ones. He gives specifics; for example, those who live close to opposing territories should not be allowed to debate whether to go to war with the neighboring territory. This rule reflects the closeness and volatility of many of the regimes in ancient Greece.

Although there are myriad opinions about the best type of government, Aristotle says what's most important is for citizens to share a common ideal. This will unite everyone and create a solid base of understanding. Often Aristotle says this common ideal should be goodness and virtue. When people have a shared ideal, participating in a group despite the difficulties becomes the focus. If citizens believe they can achieve their goals, they are more likely to support their regime. Many believe that without shared race or family history there are few ways to connect citizens. Furthering Aristotle's argument on the need for shared cultural elements, historically homogenous countries like Ireland or Sweden have struggled governing as their populations became more diverse. Aristotle believes there needs to be only a few commonalities to unite, but he advocates making the route to citizenship difficult, ensuring that those from a city maintain power.

Cities should allow citizens freedom to pursue what they deem virtuous. When citizens have a sense of freedom, a regime is likely to endure. Leaders should consider each citizen's happiness.

Aristotle continues his discussion of slavery, which he deems necessary for the regime, and he begins to explain his perception of morality, the basis of most of his arguments. A regime's morality is controlled by the men in power. This morality stands apart from religion, but it still carries a great deal of weight. Aristotle's imagined best city is one in which a happy life "is available to those who ... behave moderately in respect to the external acquisition of good things." In this ideal scenario, morality continues to play a central role. Aristotle's emphasis on morality resonates today, as politicians continue to stress their moral goodness.

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