Ancient History & Civilisation


II i

The final sentence of Book I stated the main topic of Book II, a consideration of ideal states. The book contains also an account of some actual states which Aristotle considers to be good.

This essay in the comparative study of political institutions has a long tradition behind it. From the very earliest stages of Greek thought as we know it there was sustained controversy about what constituted good and bad government (see for instance Hesiod, Works and Days, and Herodotus III 80 ff.). But the debate was for the most part piecemeal and partisan; and although Aristotle has his prejudices, and axes to grind, his approach is by Greek standards systematic and detached. Like most of his extant work, it is also rather donnish in tone – and indeed in the opening paragraph of this chapter he seems to feel the need to apologize for a certain academic ‘pernicketiness’.

Aristotle starts from the point he had made at the beginning of Book I, that the state is an association. Now an association implies sharing of some kind; so the fundamental question seems to be, how far should sharing go in a state? This question prompts him to think of some of the most radical and celebrated proposals for shared life and property, those of Plato’s Republic.

1260b27 We have undertaken to discuss that form of association which is the state,1 and to ask which of all such associations would be best if we were in a position to live exactly as we would like. So we must look at the other constitutions too, for example those that are in use in states that have the reputation of being governed by good laws, or any others that have been sketched by writers and appear to be good. Our purpose is partly to see what in them is right and useful and what is not; but we also wish to make it clear that if we keep looking for something different from what we find there, we do not do so out of a desire to be clever: we have embarked on this investigation simply because in fact none of these existing constitutions2 is satisfactory.

1260b36 We must begin at the natural starting point of this inquiry. In a state, either all the citizens share all things, or they share none, or they share some but not others. It is clearly impossible that they should have no share in anything; at the very least, a constitution being a form of association, they must share in the territory, the single territory of a single state, of which single state the citizens are sharers.3 The question then becomes twofold: if a city is to be run well, is it better that all the citizens should share in all things capable of being shared, or only in some of them and not in others? It is certainly quite possible for citizens to go shares with each other in children, in wives, and in pieces of property, as in the Republic of Plato. For in that work Socrates says that children, wives, and property ought to be held in common.4 We ask, therefore, is it better to do as we now do, or should we adopt the law proposed in the Republic;?)

II ii

Plato’s proposal in the Republic that wives should be held in common is now attacked by Aristotle for a number of connected reasons. His fundamental objection in this chapter is that the purpose of the proposal, i.e. to help make the state as much of a ‘unity’ as possible, is in itself misguided: diversity of membership and functions, he argues, is essential.

Aristotle is often a puzzlingly unsympathetic and even obtuse critic of Plato, and the present chapter is a good example of his apparently rather perverse approach, (a) He ignores the fact that the community of wives in the Republic is not meant to be practised by the whole state, but only by the two upper classes (the ‘Guardians’), for special and particular reasons (eugenics, and to remove temptations of selfishness and rivalry from their path). (b) He misrepresents the kind of unity Plato advocated, which was not the literal unity of number or function, but of opinion and sentiment and moral standards – the agreement by all members of the state that certain political practices, social institutions and aesthetic standards were good, and others bad. Diversity of function (as between different occupations, and between ruler and ruled) was recognized and provided for as much by Plato as by Aristotle. Much of the criticism in this chapter therefore pushes at an open door.

But Aristotle’s relationship to Plato is a rich and complex topic, and it should be stressed that on the justice of his criticisms of Plato’s philosophy, and of the political theory in particular, more than one opinion is possible. For references to discussions (especially Morrow’s and Bornemann’s), see the Select Bibliographies. 1261a10 The proposal that wives should be held in common presents many difficulties of which these three are the chief: (a) Socrates’ arguments clearly fail to justify the purpose for which he claims such legislation is necessary; (b) further, the end which he says the state should have is, in the form described in that dialogue, unworkable;1 yet (c) it is nowhere laid down in what other sense it is to be understood. I am referring to the assumption made by Socrates, ‘It is best that the whole state should be as much of a unity as possible.’2 But obviously a state which becomes progressively more and more of a unity will cease to be a state at all. Plurality of numbers is natural in a state; and the farther it moves away from plurality towards unity, the less a state it becomes and the more a household, and the household in turn an individual. (We would all agree that the household is more of a unity than the state and the individual than the household.) So, even if it were possible to make such a unification, it ought not be be done; it will destroy the state.

1261a22 The state consists not merely of a plurality of men, but of different kinds of men; you cannot make a state out of men who are all alike. Consider in this connection the difference between a state and an alliance: the purpose of an alliance is military assistance, and its usefulness depends on the amount of that assistance, not on any differentiation in kind; the greater the weight, the greater the pull. (This sort of difference can be observed as between a state and a nation, when the people are not scattered in villages, but are like the Arcadians.) On the other hand, constituents which must form a single unity differ in kind. Hence, as I have already stated in my Ethics,3 it is reciprocal equivalence that keeps a state in being. This principle is essential even among citizenswho are free and equal; for they cannot all hold office simultaneously, but must do so for a year at a time or for some other appointed period. This does in fact ensure that all rule, just as much as if shoemakers and carpenters were to change places with each other instead of always keeping to the same kind of work.

1261a38 On this analogy, of course, it is better that those in charge of the political association4 should, if it is possible, not change places but always be the same people. But where that is not possible, since they are all by nature equal, and where it is at the same time just that all should share in the benefit (or burden) of ruling, then the principles (a) that equals should yield place in turn, and (b) that out of office they should all be similar, at least approximate to that practice.5 Some rule while others are ruled, and by doing this by turns it is just as if they became different persons every time. There is similar differentiation among those ruling, for they hold now one office, now another.

1261b6 It is clear from all this that the state is not a natural unity in the sense that some people think, and that what has been alleged to be the greatest good in states does in fact make for their dissolution; whereas that which is the ‘good’ of a thing makes for its preservation. And here is another indication that excessive striving for unification is a bad thing in a state: a household is a more self-sufficient thing than the individual, the state than the household; and the moment the association comes to comprise enough people to be self-sufficient, effectively we have a state. Since, then, a greater degree of self-sufficiency is to be preferred to a lesser, the lesser degree of unity is to be preferred to the greater.6

II iii

This chapter contains a number of related practical criticisms of Plato’s proposals for community of wives and children. Aristotle’s central point is, as far as it goes, perfectly fair: the scheme of the Republic would dilute strong emotional, sexual and family ties to a point at which no one would feel any attachment to or responsibility for anything or anyone; and such a state of affairs, besides being hardly ‘unity’, is harmful.

Has Aristotle missed the point? Or has he, at least, been unwilling to make Plato’s assumptions? Plato was as conscious as Aristotle was of the weakness and selfishness of mankind; yet he apparently judged there to be no reason in principle why men and women should not all regard other members of their community with the same degree of affection that they now lavish on their own wives or husbands exclusively, nor why the same should not apply to attitudes to children and property. What Aristotle does is to bring some sensible and powerful practical objections, and claim that Plato’s proposal is simply not ‘on’. Very probably; but Plato thinks the effort worth making. Two connected points seem fair: (a) Plato may be, and probably is, unrealistic or even misguided in his aims; but in the absence of experiment, Utopian ideals can hardly be invalidated by even the strongest doubts about their practicability, (b) Aristotle seems to assume that to divide affection among several persons is necessarily to dilute it, as if one had a sort of finite ‘fund’ of affection that has (as it were) to be shared round – that if I have (say) four brothers I must regard each with only half the affection I would lavish on each of two. But to regard all men as brothers has been the aim of more than one religion (to say nothing of secular movements), and a certain success seems possible. In the long run it may be achieved by education and habituation; meanwhile, Plato’s utopianism no doubt needs to be balanced by Aristotle’s sober scepticism.

1261b16 Again, even if it is best to have maximum unity within the association, the suggested criteria of its achievement do not seem cogent. Socrates thinks1 that if all unanimously say ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’, this is an indication of the state’s complete unity. But the word ‘all’ is used in two senses: ‘all separately’ and ‘all together’. Used in the former sense this might better bring about what Socrates wants; for each man will always refer to the same boy as his son, the same woman as his wife, and will speak in the same way of his possessions and whatever else comes within his purview. But that is not at all how people will speak who hold wives and children in common. They may do so all together, but not each separately; and the same with regard to possessions. Thus there is a clear fallacy in the use of the word ‘all’; for words such as ‘all’ and ‘both’, and ‘odd’ and ‘even’, owing to their double senses, lead to highly disputable conclusions even2 in reasoning. So, while in one sense3 of the word it may be an admirable state of affairs where ‘all’ say the same thing, it is nevertheless impossible; whereas in the other sense4 it is not conducive to a feeling of solidarity. 1261b32 There is further harm in the doctrine: the greater the number of owners, the less the respect for common property. People are much more careful of their personal possessions than of those owned communally; they exercise care over common property only in so far as they are personally affected. Other reasons apart, the thought that someone else is looking after it tends to make them careless of it. (This is rather like what happens in domestic service: a greater number of servants sometimes does less work than a smaller.) Each citizen acquires a thousand sons, but these are not one man’s sons; any one of them is equally the son of any person, and as a result will be equally neglected by everyone.

1262a1 Moreover, when a man uses ‘my’ in this way with reference to a fellow-citizen, he is speaking only as a small fraction of a large number. In saying ‘my son’ or ‘X’s son’ is ‘doing well’ or ‘not doing well’, he is referring to each one of a thousand fathers (or whatever the number of the citizens may be), and even then with some dubiety, since it is uncertain whether any particular citizen is in fact the father of a son, and of one that has survived. Is not our ordinary use of the word ‘my’, in states as they are now, better than this use of it by two thousand or ten thousand individuals, all with reference to the same thing? In the ordinary way one man calls his own son the same person whom another calls his own brother, and whom a third calls cousin, or some other term of blood-relationship or of connection by marriage, his own in the first place, or of his own relatives; and yet another speaks of him as a member of his brotherhood5 or tribe. Anybody would rather be a cousin who really was someone’s own personal cousin, than a son in the manner described.

1262a14 Again, one could not prevent people from making assumptions about their own brothers, sons, fathers, or mothers. For the likenesses which exist between parents and their offspring would inevitably be regarded as sure signs of connection. And this is what actually occurs, according to reports of certain writers of travels round the world, who tell us that some of the peoples of Upper Libya have community of wives, but they can always tell whose children are whose by their resemblances. And there are some females, both human and non-human (like mares and cows), which have a remarkable natural power of producing offspring resembling their sires, like the one they called the ‘just mare’ of Pharsalus.6

II iv

At the end of the last chapter Aristotle had pointed out that recognition of identity on grounds of likeness would inevitably frustrate Plato’s intention to abolish private family ties among his Guardians. He now describes some awkward consequences of their notrecognizing each other: i.e. the removal of certain inhibitions on undesirable conduct, and of certain incentives to desirable conduct. The final paragraph is a complaint that this confusion about identity will be accentuated by the transfer of certain children from one class to another.

Aristotle makes no mention of certain elaborate safeguards that Plato prescribed (e.g. 457–61), and some of his objections seem rather captious. But in general he has a sharp eye for the practical difficulties of Plato’s scheme; and his criticism is the more telling in that he presents the drawbacks not merely as serious in themselves, from anyone’s point of view, but as actually militating against the very ideals of amity and unity of which Socrates makes so much.

1262a25 Here are some further evil consequences which could hardly be avoided by those who set up such a form of association: assault, homicide, both intentional and unintentional, feuds and slander. All these are unholy if they are committed against father or mother or other close relatives, just as they are when committed against non-relatives. Yet such things are even more likely to happen when people are not aware of any relationship than when they are aware. And when they do happen, those who know the relationship can at least make the expiations which religious custom demands; the others cannot.

1262a32 It is equally curious that Plato,1 while making sons shared by all, wishes to prohibit sexual intercourse between lovers, but not love itself, nor its most unseemly manifestations, as between brothers or between father and son,2 where the mere unindulged passion is itself unseemly. And why prohibit sexual intercourse that is otherwise unobjectionable, merely on the grounds of the excessively powerful pleasure it gives,1 and yet believe that it makes no difference if intercourse takes place between brothers, or father and son?

1262a40 Again, community of wives and children is prescribed for the Guardian class. It would seem to be far more useful if applied to the agricultural class. For where wives and children are held in common there is less affection, and a lack of strong affection among the ruled is necessary in the interests of obedience and absence of revolt.

1262b3 So, taken all round, the results of putting such laws as these in practice would inevitably be directly opposed to the results which correct legislation ought to bring about, and moreover to those that Socrates regards as the reason for ordering matters in this way for children and wives. For we believe that the existence of affectionate feelings in states is a very great boon to them: it is a safeguard against faction. And Socrates is emphatic in his praise of unity in the state, which (as it seems, and as he himself says) is one of the products of affection. In another of Plato’s dialogues, one which treats of love, we read3 that Aristophanes said that lovers because of the warmth of their affection are eager to grow into each other and become one instead of two. In such an event one or other must perish, if not both. But in a state in which there exists such a mode of association4the feelings of affection will inevitably be watery, father hardly ever saying ‘my son’, or son ‘my father’. Just as a small amount of sweetening dissolved in a large amount of water does not reveal its presence to the taste, so the feelings of relationship implied in these terms become nothing; and in a state organized like this5 there is virtually nothing to oblige fathers to care for their sons, or sons for their fathers, or brothers for each other. There are two impulses which more than all others cause human beings to cherish and feel affection for each other: ‘this is my own’, and ‘this is a delight’. Among people organized in this manner5 no one would be able to say either.

1262b24 One further point, about the suggested transfer of children at birth from the farmers or skilled workers to the Guardians, and also the transfer in the opposite direction:6 there is the greatest confusion as to how such transfers shall take place. Those who hand over and transfer the children must be aware which children they are, and to whom they are being handed over. And such transfers would add greatly to the already mentioned risks – assault, homicide, love affairs; for those handed over to the other citizens will no longer use the terms brother, son, father, mother, of the Guardians, nor will those transferred to the Guardians so speak of the other citizens, so as to take precautions against any such act because of their kinship.

That concludes our discussion of community of wives and children.

II v

In this long chapter Aristotle discusses ownership of property and the right to its produce, first in very general terms and with wider reference than to Plato’s Republic. Of the various possibilities, Aristotle recommends, broadly, private ownership combined with common use, and an ungrudging distribution of produce. ‘Ungrudging’ is important: Aristotle sees much merit in the spontaneous distribution of goods by customs of generosity, as against enforced distribution by regulation. This suppression of the virtue of generosity is one of several disadvantages he pinpoints in the community of property recommended by Plato for the Guardians in the Republic. In particular, the economic and constitutional position of the rest of Plato’s state is, he complains, left in obscurity; but so far as they can be ascertained, he thinks they are inimical to the unity Plato wishes to achieve.

The justice of Aristotle’s criticisms of the Republic in this chapter provides further matter for debate (see bibliography). ‘Practical men’ of Aristotle’s astuteness never find it difficult to punch holes in Utopian schemes; yet here again, has Aristotle entered into the spirit of what he criticizes? At the end of the chapter, for instance, he claims that Plato deprived the Guardians of ‘happiness’ (eudaimonia), apparently quite unaware that Plato himself had in fact taken trouble to meet this objection. Aristotle may simply have read the Republic with insufficient care; on the other hand, he has made it perfectly plain that his assumptions are quite different from Plato’s. That is, whereas Plato believed that if the Guardians fulfilled the role he allots them they would be happy, Aristotle just cannot see how men and women deprived of the normal and ‘natural’ satisfactions (private property, etc., see 1263a40 ff.) can possibly be anything but miserable; and that therefore the whole state cannot be happy either.

There are very many other points of interest in this chapter, for example (i) the working out of the implications of extreme unification for the accepted virtues, (ii) the shrewd observations on the psychological effects of common ownership, and (iii) the deft adducing of examples of actual practice in Greek states.

1262b37 Connected with the foregoing is the question of property. What arrangements should be made about it, if people are going to operate the best possible constitution? Should it be held in common or not? This question may well be considered in isolation from the legislation about children and wives. A possible answer is that while they should belong to individuals, as is the universal practice, it would be better that either property or its use should be communal. In the latter case the plots of land are in private hands and its produce pooled for common use (as is done by some foreign nations); in the former, the land is communally held and communally worked but its produce is distributed according to individual requirements. This is a form of communal ownership which is said to exist among certain non-Greek peoples. There is also the alternative that boththe land and its produce be owned communally.

1263a8 As to its cultivation, a different system will run more smoothly, i.e. if the land is worked by others, because, if they themselves work for their own benefit, there will be greater ill-feeling about the ownership. For if the work done and the benefit accrued are equal, well and good; but if not, there will inevitably be ill-feeling between those who get a good income without doing much work and those who work harder but get no corresponding extra benefit. To live together and share in any human concern is hard enough to achieve at the best of times, and such a state of affairs makes it doubly hard. The same kind of trouble is evident when a number of people club together for the purpose of travel. How often have we not seen such partnerships break down over quarrels arising out of trivial and unimportant matters! In the household also we get most annoyed with those servants whom we employ to perform the ordinary routine tasks.

1263a21 These then are some of the difficulties inherent in the common ownership of property. Far better is the present system – provided that it has the added attraction of being a matter of habit and of being controlled by sound laws. If so, it will have the advantages of both systems, both the communal and the private. For, while property should up to a point be held in common, the general principle should be that of private ownership. Responsibilty for looking after property, if distributed over many individuals, will not lead to mutual recriminations; on the contrary, with every man busy with his own, there will be increased effort all round. ‘All things in common among friends’ the saying goes, and it is the personal virtue of individuals that ensure their common use.

1263a30 And such an arrangement is by no means impossible: it exists, even if only in outline, in some states already, and in well-run ones particularly, where to a certain degree it is in actual operation and could be extended. Each man has his own possessions, part of which he makes available for his friends’ use, part he uses in common with others. For example, in Sparta they use each others’ slaves practically as if they were their own, and horses and dogs too; and if they need food on a journey, they get it in the country as they go. Clearly then it is better for property to remain in private hands; but we should make the use of it communal. It is a particular duty of a lawgiver to see that citizens are disposed to do this.

1263a40 Moreover there is an immense amount of pleasure to be derived from the sense of private ownership. It is surely no accident that every man has affection1 for himself: nature meant this to be so. Selfishness is condemned, and justly, but selfishness is not simply to be fond of oneself, but to be excessively fond. So excessive fondness for money is condemned, though nearly every man is fond of everything of that kind. And a further point is that there is very great pleasure in helping and doing favours to friends and strangers and associates; and this happens when people have property of their own.

1263b7 None of these advantages is secured by those who seek excessive unification of the state.2 And, what is more, they are openly throwing away the practice of two virtues – self-restraint with regard to women (for it is a fine practice to keep off another’s wife through restraint), and liberality with regard to property. The abolition of private property will mean that no man will be seen to be liberal and no man will ever do any act of liberality; for it is in the use of articles of property that liberality is practised.

1263b15 Such legislation might well on first hearing sound attractive and humane;3 it would seem to promise exceptionally warm affection of everyone for everyone, and to have a particular attraction for those who blame the prevalent evils of constitutions entirely on the absence of communal ownership of possessions.4 I refer especially to charges and countercharges of broken contracts, trials for false witness, and sucking up to wealthy owners. But none of these things is due to the absence of communal ownership; they arise out of the depravity of human character. In fact we find more disputes arising between those who own and share property in common than we do among separate holders of possessions, even though, as we can see, the number of those who quarrel over partnerships is small as compared with the great multitude of private owners.5 Again, it would be only fair to count not merely the evils of which sharing would rid us but also the advantages of which it would deprive us. Such a count shows that to live in the way suggested would be really impossible.

1263b29 The cause of Socrates’ fallacy lies in his incorrect principle. Certainly there must be some unity in a state, as in a household, but not an absolutely total unity. There comes a point where the state, if it does not cease to be a state altogether, will certainly come close to that and be a worse one; it is as if one were to reduce concord to unison or rhythm to a single beat. As we have said before,6 a state is a plurality, which must depend on education to bring about its common unity. It is strange that Plato, whose intention it was to introduce an education which he believed would impart a sound character to the state, should think that he could obtain good results by such methods, which are no substitute for the training of the habits and of the intellect,7 or for using the laws to that end. For example, at Sparta and in Crete the legislator effected a sharing of goods by means of the common meals.

1264a1 We must not forget another point that ought to be considered: simply the immense period of time during which this form of organization has remained undiscovered, as it surely would not have remained if it were really good. Pretty well all possible forms of organization have now been discovered, though no complete collection of them has been made, and many are known but are not practised. The force of our arguments would become clearer if we could see such a constitution being put together in practice: it will prove impossible to construct it without keeping its parts separate, dividing it either into messing-groups, or into brotherhoods and tribes. Consequently, new legislation will have boiled down to this, that the Guardians should not engage in agriculture – which is exactly the rule which the Lacedaemonians are now trying to introduce.

1264a11 But what of the arrangements of the constitution as a whole, and how do they affect participant members? In the absence of any positive statement by Socrates it is very hard to say. Certainly the bulk of the other citizens will make up almost the entire population of the state; but no decision was taken as to whether the farming class are to have communal or individual private possession, whether of property or of wives and children. Suppose that they too are to have all these in common, what will there then be to distinguish them from the Guardians? And what good will it do them to submit to their rule, or what inducement will there be to accept it? (Perhaps recourse might be had to some such device as the Cretans use, who allow to their slaves all privileges except those of training in gymnasia and possessing weapons.)

1264a22 If on the other hand we assume that they arrange such things8 exactly as in other states, how will they associate at all? The inevitable result would be two states within one,9 and these in some degree in opposition to each other. For on the one side he puts the Guardians, like a garrison, on the other the farmers, craftsmen and the rest, as citizens.10 This can only lead to disputes and litigation and all the other evils that he speaks of as arising in other states.4 And yet Socrates says11 that, thanks to education, there will be no need for a large number of regulations such as those governing the wardenship of the city and the market, and the like, and this while giving that education only to the Guardians. Again, he makes the farmers owners of their property but requires them to pay rent; but in that position they are likely to be much more troublesome and bumptious than the helots, serfs and slaves in some places nowadays.

1264a36 In any case no final decision was reached as to whether there is the same12 necessity for such arrangements, nor yet about closely related questions, such as the type of constitution they will live under, and the nature of their13 education and laws. This is not easy to discover; and yet the quality of these people will make all the difference to the maintenance of the association of the Guardians. But if he means to make wives shared and property privately owned, who will look after the house, as men tend the fields? And what if both the wives and the property of the farmers are held in common? To argue from an analogy with wild animals and say that male and female ought to engage in the same occupations is futile: animals have no household-management to do.

1264b6 Risky too is Socrates’ way of appointing the rulers: they are to be always the same people. This is a sure source of faction, even among those of no standing – to say nothing of those he calls warlike and spirited.14 But clearly it is unavoidable that the same persons should always rule; for that divine ‘golden’ element in the soul does not vary in its incidence but is present always in the same people. It is, according to his own statement,15 immediately at birth that the admixture takes place, of gold in some cases, of silver in others, and, for those who are going to be farmers or skilled workers, of bronze and iron.

1264b15 Again, though he denies to the Guardians even happiness,16 he maintains that it is the duty of a lawgiver to make the whole city happy. But it is impossible for the whole to be happy, unless the majority, if not actually all, or at any rate some, parts possess happiness. For happiness is a very different thing from evenness: two odd numbers added together make an even number, but two unhappy sections cannot add up to a happy state. And if the Guardians are not happy, who will be? Certainly not the skilled workers and the general run of mechanics.

These are some, but by no means the most serious, of the drawbacks inherent in the kind of constitution described by Socrates.

II vi

Aristotle devotes this single chapter to the Laws, the last and longest of Plato’s works, in which he depicts in considerable detail a practical utopia, second-best to that of the Republic. It is by no means certain that the version of the Laws Aristotle consulted coincided with the Laws as we have it today: certainly he ignores large parts of it, and sometimes seems unaware of certain passages that would go some way towards meeting his criticisms. The main speaker in the Laws is an elderly ‘Athenian Stranger’; Aristotle, however, apparently thinks, though he does not quite say this, that it is ‘Socrates’, a celebrated slip presumably induced by reading many other Platonic dialogues, in which Socrates is indeed usually the central character. (Or is it an ironic joke, the ponderous lecturing of the Stranger being a poor replacement for the scintillating conversation of Socrates? Compare Aristotle’s wry remark that ‘the greater part of it (the Laws) islaws’.)

But ‘Socrates’ is not the only eyebrow-raising feature of this chapter. As in the case of the Republic, Aristotle’s criticisms seem, at least at first sight, notably out of sympathy with Plato; yet in his own sketch of the ideal state in Books VII and VIII he pays Plato the compliment of adopting many of the institutions of the Laws (see Barker, cited on page 34 above). It is perhaps fairer to say that in accordance with his philosophical method of trying to sift what is of value in the ideas of others (see for example his procedure inNicomachean Ethics VII i and ii), he subjects Plato’s views to critical examination rather than rejects them root and branch. (The justice of his criticisms of the Laws is a tangled and contentious subject, and here I can only refer to the discussions of Bornemann and Morrow to be found in the Select Bibliographies.)

Aristotle is chiefly interested in the economic and constitutional arrangements of the Laws. In discussing the latter he refers to the use of the word politeia, ‘constitution’, to describe a particular type, as it were a ‘constitutional constitution’. In order to avoid confusion, the Greek term itself, transliterated as ‘polity’, is generally used to translate politeia in this restricted sense. It was generally accepted in the fourth century that ‘polity’ was a good thing, because it did not denote anything extreme; all else was a matter of debate. In Book IV Aristotle describes his own particular brand of middle-class, middle-of-the-road polity. He is not in this chapter rejecting the notion of polity: he merely argues that as conceived in the Laws it fails to do what Plato wanted it to do – be a good second-best to the ideal state of the Republic.

1264b26 The case of Plato’s Laws, which was written later, is somewhat similar; it would therefore be advisable to glance also at the constitution there depicted. We have seen that in the Republic Socrates came to definite conclusions only about very few matters – (a) arrangements necessary for the common possession of wives and children, (b) property, and (c) the general organization of the constitution, the bulk of the inhabitants being divided into two parts, a farming class and a defensive fighting class, while out of the fighters a third group is formed which deliberates and is in sovereign charge of the state.1 But there are many things which Socrates left undetermined: are farmers and skilled workers to have a share in some office, or in none? Are they too to possess arms and join the rest in fighting, or not? He certainly thinks women ought to join in fighting and receive the same education as the Guardians;2 but for the rest he has filled up his account with extraneous matter, and with a description of the style of education which the Guardians are to receive.

1265a1 Turning then to the Laws, we find that the greater part of it is in fact ‘laws’, and he has said very little about the constitution, which in spite of his wish to make it more generally acceptable3 to actual states, he gradually brings back round again to the earlier one. For, apart from the sharing of wives and property, he constructs the two constitutions on very much the same pattern: the same kind of education, the same life of freedom from essential tasks, and the same arrangements for common meals – except that in theLaws women also are to have common meals, and the number of those bearing arms is 5,000, not 1,000.4

1265a10 Now all the Socratic dialogues are marked by a certain exaggeration and brilliance, by originality, and by an urge to investigate; but they can hardly be expected to be always right. For example, these 5,000 citizens just mentioned – we must not forget that it will require the territory of a Babylon or some other huge country to support so many men in idleness, to say nothing of further numbers, many times as great, of women and servants who would be attached to them. We can in our speculations postulate any ideal conditions we like, but they should at least be within the limits of possibility.

1265a18 It is further stated that in framing the laws a legislator ought to have regard both to the territory and to the population;5 but surely we should add that he ought to take note of the neighbouring territories too. This is obvious if the state is to live the life of a state and not that of a hermit; for in that case it must provide itself with such arms for warfare as are serviceable not merely internally but also against the territories beyond its borders. And if one rejects such a life,6 both for individuals and for the state at large,7 the need is just as great to be formidable to enemies, both on their invasion and on their retreat.

1265a28 Then there is the amount of property to be possessed: this ought to be looked at to see whether there is not room for some clarification of the proposals. He says that a man ought to have enough to live on ‘moderately’.8 There are two objections to this: he uses ‘live moderately’ as if it meant the same as ‘live the good life’, which is a far more comprehensive expression; also it is quite possible to live a moderate life and yet be miserable. I suggest that a better formula would be ‘moderate and liberal’; for taken separately, the one style leads to luxury, the other to too hard a life. And these are the only desirable dispositions that bear on the use of possessions: a man cannot use his possessions gently or bravely, but he can use them moderately and liberally. These then must be the dispositions that affect one’s use of possessions.

1265a38 Furthermore, there is no point in equalizing property, if we do nothing to regulate the number of citizens, but allow births to go on unhindered in the belief that, as appears to happen in present-day states, the population would be kept sufficiently constant, however high the birth-rate, merely by the number of childless couples. But in this state the balance would need to be maintained much more accurately.9 At present, with the practice of dividing the stock of possessions among all the children, however numerous, nobody is in actual want. Under the arrangement proposed the property becomes indivisible and all excess children have to go without, whether there be few or many of them. Indeed it may well be thought that we ought to limit the production of children more than the stock of possessions, ensuring that no more than a certain number are born. In fixing this number regard should be had to chance factors such as the non-survival of some infants and the childlessness of some couples. To leave the number of births unrestricted, as is done in most states, inevitably causes poverty among the citizens, and poverty produces faction and crime. Pheidon of Corinth, one of the earliest of the lawgivers, held that the number of houses and the number of citizens should be kept equal, even if to begin with they all had estates of varying magnitude. In the Laws it is the other way round.

1265b16 Our own view as to how these matters would be best regulated will have to be stated later.10 Here we add a further deficiency in the Laws. It concerns the rulers and how they are to differ from the ruled. He merely says11 that the warp is made of different wool from the weft, and that is what the relation between ruler and ruled ought to be.

1265b21 Again, when he allows a man’s total possessions to be increased up to five times a basic amount,12 why should there not be a stated limit up to which landed property may be increased? Consider also his separation of one homestead into two:13 I doubt if it is advantageous for household-management. He was for giving two separate homesteads to each man; but it is awkward to run two houses.

1265b26 The whole set-up is intended to be neither democracy nor oligarchy but midway between the two – what is called ‘polity’, because it consists of those who bear arms. If he is framing his constitution on these lines because such constitutions are far more acceptable3 to states than any other type, we may perhaps approve his proposal. But we cannot do so if he means it to be second-best to the primary constitution. For in that case one might well prefer the Lacedaemonian, or some other constitution with a more aristocratic basis. There are indeed some who say that the best constitution is one composed of a mixure of all types, and who therefore praise the Lacedaemonian. Some of these say that it is made up out of oligarchy, monarchy, and democracy: its kingship is monarchy, the authority of its Elders is oligarchy, and yet it is also run democratically through the authority exercised by the Ephors, who come from the people. Others say that the Ephorate is a tyranny, and that the democratic element is to be found in the common meals and the other features of daily life. But in the Laws it is stated that the best constitution ought to be composed of democracy and tyranny;14 yet surely one would regard these two either as not constitutions at all, or as the worst of all. There is therefore a better case for including a large number of constitutions, because that makes a mixed constitution better.

1266a5 Next, we find that the constitution of the Laws proves to have nothing monarchical about it at all, only oligarchy and democracy with a bias towards oligarchy. This is shown in the method of appointment of office-bearers.15 The practice of selection by lot from a number chosen by election is common both to oligarchy and democracy; but to impose upon the richer citizens, and upon them only, the obligation to be members of the Assembly,16 to vote for office-bearers and do any other duty that falls upon a citizen – that is oligarchical. So also is the attempt to secure that a majority of the officeholders should come from among the wealthy, and that the highest offices should be filled by those from the highest property-classes.17 Oligarchical also is the manner of election which he proposes for members of the Council.18 It is true that all have to take part in the election; but they have to elect first some from the highest property-class, then an equal number from the second class, then from the third class; there was, however, to be no obligation on everyone to elect members from the third class or the fourth class, and only the first two classes were to be obliged to elect from the fourth class. And from these nominees he says that from each property-class an equal number is to be appointed to the Council. The result will be that those who elect from the highest property-classes will be more numerous and of better quality, because some of the common people, not being obliged to vote, will refrain from doing so.

1266a22 These considerations show that such a constitution ought not to be compounded out of monarchy and democracy; and this conclusion will be strengthened by what will be said hereafter when we come round to consider this kind of constitution.19 And with regard to elections of officials too, this idea of electing from the elected is a dangerous one.20 For if a number of persons, not necessarily a large number, are resolved to stand firmly by each other, the elections will always go according to their wishes. So much for the constitution of the Laws.

II vii

Aristotle now turns to a number of other ‘ideal’ constitutions, and deals first with that of the egalitarian Phaleas, of whom nothing is known apart from what we learn of him here. The tenor of Aristotle’s criticism is that Phaleas’ central proposal, for equality of property for all, is imprecise and simplistic: Phaleas does not specify the amount of property to be possessed, nor in what form; nor does he realize that equality of property, though of some benefit in itself, is best combined with an education which will make it acceptable to the citizens. This reflection prompts Aristotle to write a short excursus on the relative importance of economics and character as causes of crime. He also criticizes Phaleas, as he has criticized Plato, for ignoring foreign affairs; but whereas our possession of Plato’s text enables us to check the justice of this and other criticisms, we cannot in Phaleas’ case say whether Aristotle reports him fairly or not. At all events, Phaleas seems to have been of some importance as a thinker who put his faith in one or two radical economic measures as cures for social and political unrest, rather than in law or education or elaborate constitutional arrangements.

1266a31 There are some other constitutions beside Plato’s; their authors are sometimes statesmen1 or philosophers, sometimes laymen. They all sketch constitutions that come nearer than either of Plato’s to existing constitutions, under which people actually run their lives; for no other person has ever introduced such novelties as the sharing of children and wives, or common meals for women. They prefer to start from essentials: to some it seems vital to get the best possible regulation of possessions, for they say it is always about them that faction arises. This was the motive of Phaleas of Chalcedon, who was the first to propose that the property of the citizens should be equal. He thought that this was not difficult to do at the very foundation of a state, and that, although it was more difficult in states already set up and working, still all properties would quickly be brought to the same level, simply by arranging that the rich should bestow dowries but receive none, and the poor give no dowries but only receive them. Plato, when writing theLaws, thought that there ought up to a certain point to be freedom from property-control, but that, as has been stated earlier, none of the citizens should have the right to own property more than five times as great as the smallest property owned.2

1266b8 But those who legislate along these lines must not forget, as indeed they do forget, that while fixing the amount of possessions they ought to fix the number of children too; for if the number of children becomes too great for the stock of possessions, it becomes impossible not to abrogate the law. And apart from the abrogation, many who were rich will become poor; and this is a most undesirable consequence, since you can hardly prevent such persons from becoming bent on revolution.

1266b14 That equality of possessions has considerable effect on the association which is the state3 has, so we find, been realized by some even in times long past: witness the legislation of Solon;4 and there are places where there is a law against unlimited acquisition of land. Laws likewise exist which prevent the sale of possessions, as for example in Locri, where the law is that they may be sold only when it can be shown that some conspicuous misfortune has occurred. Other laws require the ancient estates to be maintained intact. It was the abrogation of such a law that rendered the constitution of Leucas over-democratic; for it ceased to be possible to appoint to office only persons from the specified property-classes.

1266b24 Equality of possessions may exist and yet the level be fixed either too high, with resultant luxury, or too low, which leads to a life of penury. It is clear, therefore, that it is not enough for a legislator to equalize possessions: he must aim at fixing an amount midway between extremes. But even if one were to fix a moderate amount for all, that would still be no use: for it is more necessary to equalize appetites than possessions, and that can only be done by adequate education under the laws. Perhaps, however, Phaleas would say that this is exactly what he himself meant; for he holds that in states there ought to be equality of education as well as equality of property. But one must say what exactly the education is to be; it is no use simply making it one and the same. ‘One and the same’ education might very well be of such a kind that it would produce men set on securing for themselves undue money or distinctions or both. And civil strife is caused by inequality in distinctions no less than by inequality in property, though for opposite reasons on either side; that is to say, the many are incensed by the inequality in property, whereas more accomplished people are incensed if honours are shared equally, for then, as the tag has it, ‘good and bad are held in equal esteem’.5

1267a2 Phaleas holds that equality of possessions, by ensuring that no one will resort to stealing because he is cold or hungry, is a sufficient cure for crimes. But to secure the necessities of life is not the only purpose for which men turn criminal. They also wish to enjoy things and not go on desiring them; and if their desire goes beyond mere necessities, they will seek a remedy in crime. Nor is that the only motive; even men who feel no such desires wish to enjoy pleasures that bring no pain. Thus there are three6 different sets of persons to be considered, and three different cures: for the first set, employment and moderate possessions; for the second, self-control. As for the third, if they wish to find independent enjoyment by themselves, philosophy alone, I think, will provide the cure; for unlike the other two kinds of desire, this one alone stands in no need of other people. As for major crimes, men commit them when their aims are extravagant, not just to provide themselves with necessities. Who ever heard of a man making himself a dictator in order to keep warm? For this reason there is more honour in slaying a tyrant than a thief.7 So we may conclude that Phaleas’ style of constitution would be a protection only against minor crimes.

1267a17 Moreover Phaleas is chiefly concerned to make the internal arrangements of his state work well, disregarding, as he ought not to do, relations with neighbouring and other foreign states. In framing a constitution it is essential to have regard to the acquiring of strength for war; yet Phaleas has said nothing about this. The same point applies to property, for it is essential that there should be resources sufficient not merely for the internal needs of the state but also to meet external dangers. For this purpose the total amount of property ought not to be so large that more powerful neighbours will covet it, and the owners be unable to repel the invasion; on the other hand it must not be so small that they cannot sustain a war even against an equal and similar foe. Phaleas fixed no limit; but how many possessions it is expedient to have is a question that must be answered. Perhaps the best formula would be that the total should not be so great as to make it profitable for a stronger power to go to war attracted by its great size; the inducements must be no more than they would be anyway, even in the absence of such possessions. For example, when Autophradates was about to lay siege to Atarneus, its ruler Eubulus8 told him to consider how long it would take him to complete the capture of the place, and then to count the cost of a war of that duration. ‘For’, he added, ‘I am willing now to abandon Atarneus in return for a smaller sum of money than that.’ These words of Eubulus caused Autophradates to think again and to abandon the siege.

1267a37 So, while there is certainly some advantage in equality of possessions for the citizens as a safeguard against faction, its efficacy is not really very great. In the first place discontent will arise among the more accomplished people, who will think they deserve something better than equality. (This is the reason for the many obvious instances of revolt and faction inspired by them.) Secondly, the depravity of mankind is an insatiable thing. At first they are content with a dole of a mere two obols,9 then, when that is traditional, they go on asking for more and their demands become unlimited. For there is no natural limit to wants and most people spend their lives trying to satisfy them. In such circumstances, therefore, a better point of departure than equalizing possessions would be to ensure that naturally reasonable people should not wish to get more than their share, and that the inferior should not be able to; and that can be achieved if they are weaker but not treated unjustly.

1267b9 There are errors also in what Phaleas has said about equality of possessions in itself. For it is only possession of land that he makes equal, forgetting that great wealth may also be had in the form of slaves, cattle and coined money; and one may have an immense stock of what is generally called movable property. Equality, or at least a moderate degree of control, should be aimed at in all these forms of property. Otherwise things must just be allowed to take their course.

1267b13 To judge from his legislation Phaleas is evidently framing a state with only a small number of citizens, at least if all the skilled workers are to be public slaves and not members of the citizen-body. But if those employed on public works are to be slaves owned by the state, one should employ the system in force at Epidamnus, which at one time Diophantus tried to introduce at Athens.10

These remarks on the constitution of Phaleas will put one in a position to judge what is good and what is bad in it.

II viii

Hippodamus evidently had flamboyance and a flair for publicity; and Aristotle, who was himself said to have taken pains over dress (Diogenes Laertius V I), is obviously fascinated by his sartorial eccentricities. Like Phaleas and a good many other ‘Utopian’ thinkers, Hippodamus likes to simplify and schematize: he proposes three classes, three divisions of the land to correspond, and three categories of laws. On the other hand he has a not unreasonable dissatisfaction with the simple ‘yes or no’ verdicts demanded in Athenian courts. Once again Aristotle’s criticisms centre on a lack of clarity and detailed precision; and once again it is impossible for us to know now whether they are fair or captious. His central political concern in this chapter is with the question of who should ‘share in the constitution’, i.e. be a citizen and enjoy the appropriate privileges, such as eligibility for office. Underlying his comments is the assumption that possession of arms is a prerequisite for full citizenship and eligibility for office; and he criticizes Hippodamus for extending the citizenship too widely. In Greek political theory the quotation ‘What makes a citizen?’ is crucial, and it is taken up at length in Book III.

In a long and splendid essay at the end of the chapter (1268b31 ff.) Aristotle devotes close attention to the implications of Hippodamus’ proposal to give honours to those who discover some benefit to the state. This does indeed seem to be the most radical and far-reaching of Hippodamus’ proposals, for it assumes, to some extent at least, that society is or should be in constant change. Aristotle is, of course, not thinking of technological discoveries, but if he had known of any, he would probably have been suspicious of them; certainly the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have shown how inventions very soon alter the whole politeia. He is thinking rather of new social and political ideas; and these in a settled regime of any type are always suspect. To mention such a topic is to raise one of the most important and difficult questions of politics. So long as constitutionalism and adherence to tradition act as safeguards against arbitrary and tyrannical government, so long must they be respected; and the political memory of the Greeks helped to make this conservative attitude very general. Aristotle admits that there have been improvements in the past and that there may be need for improvement at any time; but he does after all believe that all or most good innovations have already been made (cf. II v and VII x), and counsels extreme caution and reluctance. Plato would have agreed with him (Laws 797a–e). At bottom, both Plato and Aristotle believed – though for somewhat different metaphysical reasonsthat it was in principle meaningful to talk of such a thing as a ‘best’ state, and that it should be possible with effort to achieve in practice a more or less close approximation to it. This done, change could only be for the worse. A proposal like Hippodamus’, which actually encouraged change, would therefore be highly unwelcome to them.

1267b22 Hippodamus, son of Euryphon, came from Miletus. It was he who invented the division of cities into precincts, and he also laid out the street-plan of the Piraeus. His ambition always to be different from other people made his life also peculiar in a variety of ways; and some thought that he was carrying his oddities too far with his long hair and expensive ornaments, wearing at the same time clothing that was cheap but warm, in summer and winter alike. He wished to be considered expert in the whole range of natural science too; and he was the first person not actually taking part in the workings of a constitution to attempt some description of the ideal one.

1267b30 Hippodamus planned a state with a population of 10,000, divided into three parts, one of skilled workers, one of farmers, and a third to bear arms and secure defence. The territory also was to be divided into three parts, a sacred, a public, and a private; the worship of the gods would be maintained out of the produce of the sacred land, the defenders out of the common land, and the private land would belong to the farmers.

1267b37 He also held the view that there were only three kinds of law, corresponding to the three grounds for lawsuits – outrage,1 damage and homicide. He also wanted to legislate for a single supreme court, to which were to be referred all cases that appeared prima facie to have been badly judged; this court was to consist of selected elder persons. Verdicts in law-courts he thought ought to be given not by simply voting for or against, but each member of the court was to present a tablet, on which he was to state in writing the penalty, if it was a simple verdict of condemnation; but he was to leave the tablet blank if he was for a plain acquittal; and if it was partly the one and partly the other, he was to specify that. He thought present legislation bad in this respect, that by compelling jurymen to give a verdict either one way or the other, it made them false to their oath.

1268a6 He next set about enacting a law to the effect that all who made discoveries advantageous to their country should receive honours, and second, that the children of those who fell in war should be maintained at the expense of the state. (He was under the impression that this latter legislation was something entirely new; but it certainly obtains today at Athens and elsewhere.) The officials were all to be elected by the people, which was to consist of the three sections of the state just mentioned. Those elected would look after common interests and those of foreigners and of orphans.

1268a14 Such are the main features of Hippodamus’ scheme, and those most deserving of comment. One’s first point of criticism would be the division of the whole body of the citizens. For they all, skilled craftsmen, farmers, and those who carry arms, share in the constitution;2 but the farmers have no arms, the craftsmen have neither land nor arms, and this makes them virtually the slaves of those who do possess arms. In these circumstances the sharing of all honours becomes an impossibility. For it is an absolute essential that Generals, and Guardians of Citizens, and in general those who hold the supreme offices, should be appointed from the ranks of those who possess arms. On the other hand, if they do not share in the constitution,2 how can they be expected to be well disposed towards it? ‘But’, it may be said, ‘those who possess arms must be superior in power to both the other sections.’ But that is not easy unless they are numerous; and if they are numerous, what need is there for the rest to share in the constitution2 and be in sovereign control of the appointment of officials?

1268a29 Again, what use are the farmers to the state? Skilled workers of course are essential; every state needs them, and they can support themselves from their skills, as in other states. But as for the farmers, if they were expected to provide maintenance for those possessing arms, then it would have been reasonable for them to be a part of the state. But actually that is not so: the land they work is their own and they work it for their own benefit.

1268a36 And as for the common land which will support the defenders, if they are to till it themselves, there will be no difference, as the legislator3 intended there should be, between fighting men and farmers. And if there are to be certain others,4 different from the fighters and from those farmers working their own property, that means that there will be a fourth section of the state, one with no share in anything but quite extraneous to the constitution. Or again, if one makes the same people cultivate the private and the common land, there will not be enough produce to enable each man to maintain two5 households by farming. Why should they not both get their own maintenance and provide for the warriors directly from the same land and the same estates? There is much confusion here.

1268b4 His law relating to verdicts is no good either. He requires that even where the suit is written in simple terms,6 the jurymen should make qualifications. But this is to turn juryman into arbitrator. Certainly that is what is practicable in arbitrations, even if there are several arbitrators, because they discuss their verdict among themselves. But it is not possible in a court of law, and most legislators go to the other extreme and make a point of preventing jurymen from having any opportunity to confer with each other.

1268b11 Again, confusion in the verdict will surely arise, because it may be the opinion of a juryman that a sum ought to be paid, but a lesser amount than the plaintiff demands. Suppose he demands twenty minae (or more): one juryman will say ten (or less), another five, another four (obviously this is the kind of division they will resort to), and some will award the full amount claimed, others nothing. How then are the votes to be counted?

1268b17 Again, nothing forces a juryman to be false to his oath by giving a simple verdict for or against, provided that the indictment is written in simple terms,6 and he gives his decision justly. For he who acquits does not say that nothing at all is due, but just that it is not twenty minae. The only person who would be false to his oath would be one who condemned the defendant while believing the twenty minae not to be due from him.

1268b22 And now for his suggestion that there should be some honours for those who discover something advantageous to the state. This sort of law looks well and sounds well, but it is very risky. It would encourage informers and in some cases lead to alterations to the constitution. This being so, we cannot separate it from another and wider question. Some people debate whether it is harmful or advantageous if states alter their ancestral law whenever a better one is found. If the answer to this question is that alteration is bad, then one can hardly give ready assent to Hippodamus’ proposals. It is possible for people to bring in proposals for abrogating the laws or the constitution on the ground that such proposals are for the public good.

1268b31 Now that we have touched upon this matter it may be as well to say a little more about it, especially as there is, as I have said, debate on the point and a case could be made out also in favour of change. At any rate, if we look at the other sciences, it has definitely been beneficial – witness the changes in traditional methods of medicine and physical training, and generally in every skill and faculty. Now since we must regard statesmanship as one of these, clearly something similar ought to apply there too. And so indeed we could claim to find some indication of that, if we look at the facts and observe how uncivilized, how rough-and-ready, the old laws were.

Greeks used to go about carrying arms; they used to buy their brides from each other; and traces survive of other practices once doubtless customary, which merely make us smile today, such as the law relating to homicide at Cyme, by which, if the prosecutor can produce a certain number of witnesses, members of his own kin, then the defendant is guilty of murder.

1269a3 Generally, of course, it is the good, and not simply the traditional, that is aimed at. It would be foolish to adhere to the notions of primitive men, whether they were born from the earth or were survivors of some great catastrophe: we may reasonably suppose that they were on a level with ordinary, not very intelligent, people today, and lack of intelligence was said to be one of the marks of the earth-born.7 We might go further and say that even those laws which have been written down are best regarded as not unchangeable. On the analogy of other skills, to set down in writing the whole organization of the state, down to the last detail, would be quite impossible; the general principle must be stated in writing, the action taken depends upon the particular case.8

1269a12 From these considerations it is clear that there are some occasions that call for change and that there are some laws which need to be changed. But looking at it in another way we must say that there will be need of the very greatest caution. In a particular case we may have to weigh a very small improvement against the danger of getting accustomed to casual abrogation of the laws; in such a case, obviously, we must tolerate a few errors on the part of lawmakers and rulers. A man will receive less benefit from changing the law than damage from becoming accustomed to disobey authority. For the example of the crafts is false; there is a difference between altering a craft and altering a law. The law has no power to secure obedience save the power of habit, and that takes a long time to become effective. Hence easy change from established laws to new laws means weakening the power of the law. Again, if changes in laws are to be permitted, it will have to be decided whether they may all be changed, and in every type of constitution, or not. And who is to make the changes? Anybody or only certain persons? That will make a considerable difference. We will now give up this discussion; it will be better resumed on other occasions.

II ix

Having finished examining the proposals of the theorists (Plato, Phaleas, Hippodamus), Aristotle now turns to constitutions that are or have been actually in operation, Lacedaemonian, Cretan, Carthaginian – choosing these, he tells us at the end, because they are rightly admired.

A glance at the following notes on certain names and technical terms will help the reader to understand the points Aristotle makes in this long and important chapter.

Lycurgus, to whom Aristotle seems usually to be referring when he speaks of ‘the lawgiver’, was the traditional founder of the Spartan constitution. His date (and indeed his very existence) is uncertain, and the precise nature and extent of his work are matters of controversy.

Helots (literal meaning probably ‘captives’) were a class of state serfs (a convenient but anachronistic term), the descendants of originally independent peoples in Laconia and Messenia conquered by the Spartans at various times between perhaps the tenth and seventh centuries. They differed from ordinary slaves in various respects, and formed a class intermediate between them and the free Spartans proper. Their broad counterpart in Thessaly were the penestai (translated ‘serfs’).

Peripheral populations (perioikoi, ‘dwellers round’) were small communities under Spartan control roughly encircling the Spartan territory. They paid Spartan taxes and were required to supply contingents of soldiers to fight in Sparta’s wars; but they enjoyed only local administrative autonomy.

The two Kings were hereditary and belonged to two entirely separate royal houses; their functions and influence were not only political but military (as commanders-in-chief).

The Ephors were five officials who in addition to wide executive and judicial powers exercised close control over the conduct of the kings. They were elected annually by the citizens.

The Board of Elders (gerousia) had twenty-eight members over sixty years old, plus the kings. It was elected probably from a limited number of aristocratic families, and possessed extensive judicial and administrative functions, notably the preparation of business for the assembly of citizens. Its political influence and powers were great.

The Spartiatae were the full Spartan citizens.

The Spartan constitution was widely praised in antiquity for its combination of these mutually checking and restraining components (see e.g. Plato, Laws 691–2), which was thought to ensure the stability of the state. Aristotle himself, though he has much fault to find with Sparta, notes in IV ix (cf. Thucydides I xviii) that in its balance between different principles her constitution resembles his own brand of ‘polity’. Much, however, is obscure about Spartan constitutional history: for a good discussion, see W. G. Forrest, A History of Sparta, 950–192 BC (London, 1968, 2nd ed. 1980).

About the standards of value which Aristotle now applies to constitutions two points should be noted, because they are characteristic of his whole approach: first, the very best or ideal constitution may well differ from the type best suited to a particular place or time; and second, it is taken for granted that a citizen, if he is to develop the qualities worthy of a citizen, must not do work that is felt to be degrading. But it is recognized that if the citizens are not going to do their own dirty work, there must be a subordinate class to do it for them; and this class is bound to be a source of trouble. It is surprising that Aristotle has not more to say about this problem: he can think of no answer except repressive legislation; see however I vi for the ‘friendship’ he believes can exist between master and slave.

The Helots

1269a29 About the constitution of the Lacedaemonians, and about that of the Cretans and generally about others, there are two questions to be asked. First, are its enactments good or bad, judged by the standard of the absolutely best system? Second, does it contain anything that is not in keeping with the principles and style of the constitution which they have set out to achieve?

1269a34 Now it is agreed that a necessity for any state which is to operate a good constitution is freedom from essential1 tasks; but how that condition is to be secured is not easy to see. For example, in Thessaly the serfs often attacked the Thessalians, just as the helots attacked the Spartans, always on the look-out for any mischance that may befall their masters. But nothing of the kind has so far occurred among the Cretans. The reason for this is perhaps that the neighbouring states, though they might well be at war with each other, never join up with the rebels; it is not in their interest to do so, since they too possess peripheral populations. Sparta’s neighbours on the other hand, Argives, Messenians, Arcadians, were all hostile to her. Similarly there were from the start rebellions against the Thessalians, because they were still constantly at war with their neighbours, Achaeans, Perrhaebians, and Magnesians. And even if there is no other source of trouble, there is still the effort of management, of finding the right way to live with a subject population. If they are allowed too much licence, they become arrogant and begin to claim equal rights with their masters; if they are badly treated, they become resentful and rebellious. It is clear therefore that those who find themselves in such relations with their helotry have not yet found the best way.2

Spartan Women

1269b12 Again, the lack of control over Spartan women is detrimental both to the attainment of the aims of the constitution and to the happiness of the state. For just as man and wife are each part of a household, so we should regard a state also as divided into two parts approximately equal numerically, one of men, one of women. So, in all constitutions in which the position of women is ill-regulated, one half of the state must be regarded as not properly legislated for. And that is what has happened at Sparta. For there the lawgiver,3 whose intention it was that the whole state should be tough, has obviously shown toughness himself as far as the men are concerned, but has been negligent over the women. For at Sparta women live in temperately, enjoying every licence and indulging in every luxury.

1269b23 An inevitable result under such a constitution is that esteem is given to wealth, particularly in cases when the men are dominated by the women; and this is a common state of affairs in military and warlike races, though not among the Celts and any others among whom male homosexuality is openly esteemed. Indeed it seems as if the first person to relate the myth of a union between Ares and Aphrodite did not lack some rational basis for it: certainly all such people seem compulsively attracted by sexual relations, either with males or with females. This is why that state of affairs prevailed among the Spartans, where in the days of their supremacy a great deal was managed by women. And what is the difference between women ruling and rulers ruled by women? The result is the same. Boldness is not a quality useful in any of the affairs of daily life, but only, if at all, in war. Yet even here the influence of the Spartans’ women has been very harmful. This was demonstrated when Laconia was invaded by the Thebans:4 instead of playing a useful part, like women in other states, they caused more confusion than the enemy.

1269b39 Now it is not surprising that from the earliest times lack of control over women was a feature of Laconian society: there were long periods when the Spartan men were absent from their own land on military service, fighting against Argives, or again against Arcadians or Messenians. When they resumed their leisure, then predisposed to obedience by military life, which offers scope for many kinds5 of virtue, they readily submitted themselves to their lawgiver. But not so the women. It is said that Lycurgus endeavoured to bring them under the control of his laws, but that when they resisted he gave up the attempt.6 These then are the causes of what took place, and clearly therefore also the causes of the defect which we have been discussing. But our present inquiry is about what is right or wrong, not an attempt to decide what ought to be excused and what ought not.


1270a11 If, as has been said earlier,7 the position of women is wrong, not only does it look like a blot on the constitution in itself, but it seems to contribute something to the greed for money; for one might next go on to attack the Spartan inequality of property-ownership. For we find that some Spartans have come to have far too many possessions, others very few indeed; hence the land has fallen into the hands of a small number. Here there have been errors in the legal provisions too. For their lawgiver, while he quite rightly made it a disgrace to buy and sell land in someone’s possession, left it open to anyone to transfer it to other ownership by gift or bequest – and yet this inevitably leads to the same result. Moreover, something like two-fifths of all the land is possessed by women. There are two reasons for this: heiresses are numerous and dowries are large. It would have been better to have regulated dowries, prohibiting them altogether or making them small or at any rate moderate in size. But8 as it is an heiress may be given in marriage to any person whatever. And if a man dies intestate, the person he leaves as heir9 gives her to whom he likes. So although the land was sufficient to support 1,500 cavalry and 30,000 heavy infantry, the number fell to below 1,000. The sheer facts have shown that these arrangements were bad: one single blow10 was too much for Sparta, and she succumbed owing to the shortage of men.

1270a34 It is said that in the time of their early kings the Spartans gave others a share in their constitution, so that in spite of long continuing wars there was not then any shortage of men. It is also said that at one time the Spartiatae had as many as 10,000. However, whether these statements are true or false, it is far better to keep up the numbers of males in a state by a levelling out of property. But the law on the begetting of children tends to militate against this reform. For the lawgiver, intending that the Spartiatae should be as numerous as possible, encourages the citizens to beget many children. For they have a law by which the father of three sons is exempt from military service, and the father of four from all taxes. But it is obvious that if many are born and the land distributed accordingly, many must inevitably become poor.

The Ephors

1270b6 Another defect in the Lacedaemonian constitution is seen in connection with the office of Ephor. The Ephorate independently controls the most important business. Its members come from among all the people, with the result that often men who are very poor find themselves on this board, and their lack of means used to make them open to bribery. (There have been many demonstrations of this in the past; and in our own day we have the affair of the Andrians, in which certain Ephors have been so corrupted by gifts of money that it is no thanks to them if their state was not utterly ruined.) And just because the power of the Ephors is excessive and virtually that of a tyrant, even the Spartan Kings were forced to curry favour with them.11 And this has caused further damage to the constitution, for an aristocracy turned into a democracy.

1270b17 The Board of Ephors certainly keeps the constitution together: the people are kept quiet because it gives them a share in the highest office. So whether this is due to the lawgiver12 or to good fortune, it suits the circumstances very well. The point is that if a constitution is to have a good prospect of stability, it must be such that all sections of the state accept it and want it to go on in the same way as before. The Kings have this feeling about the constitution because it confers dignity on themselves; the men of quality have it because of their membership of the Board of Elders (for this office is their reward for virtue), the people because of the universal basis of the Ephorate. But while it was necessary to elect Ephors from among all the citizens the present method of election is quite childish.13

1270b28 The Ephors also have supreme powers of jurisdiction in cases of importance; but considering that anybody at all may hold the office, it would be better that they should not have power to give verdicts on their own judgement, but only in accordance with written rules, i.e. as the laws direct. Nor does the way in which the Ephors live conform to the aims of the state. They live a life of undue ease, while the rest have a very high degree of austerity in living, so high indeed that they really cannot endure it but secretly get round the law and enjoy the pleasures of the body.

The Board of Elders

1270b35 There are drawbacks also to the authority exercised by the Elders. One might suppose that, so long as it consists of respectable men adequately trained with a view to every excellence, this institution is a good thing for the state. But the mind grows old no less than the body, so it is questionable whether they ought to have their lifelong supreme power to decide important cases. And when we find that their education has been of such a kind that even the lawgiver himself has no confidence in them as good men, the situation becomes dangerous. It is known that those who have taken on a share in this office conduct much public business by taking bribes and showing favouritism. For this reason it would be better that their proceedings should not be, as they are at present, exempt from any scrutiny.14 It may be thought that the office of Ephor provides a scrutiny of all other authorities; but that is to give far too much to the Ephorate, and is not what we mean by requiring an authority to submit to scrutiny of its proceedings.

1271a9 And as for election of the Elders, the way in which the choice is made is childish,15 and it is all wrong that a person who is going to be deemed worthy of the office should himself solicit it. Whether he wants to or not, the man to hold office is the man who is fit for it. But the lawgiver, in a way that is clearly typical of his whole approach to the constitution, begins by making the citizens ambitious and then uses their ambition as a means of getting the Elders elected; for no one who is not ambitious would ask to hold office. Yet the truth is that men’s ambition and their desire to make money are among the most frequent causes of deliberate acts of injustice.

The Kings

1271a18 As to kingship, we may postpone16 considering whether states are better with or without it; at any rate they would do better not to have Kings after the present Spartan fashion.17 We say that in every case a King should be chosen in the light of his personal life. It is clear that even the Spartan lawgiver himself does not believe it possible to produce Kings of first quality; at all events, he has no confidence that they are good enough. This explains why they used to send their personal enemies18 to accompany them as ambassadors, and why they regarded disagreement between the two Kings as making for stability in the state.

The Common Meals

1271a26 Unsatisfactory also are the rules made by the person who first established the system of common meals,19 called by the Lacedaemonians ‘phiditia’. The gathering ought rather to be run at public expense, as in Crete. But at Sparta every individual has to contribute, though some of them are quite poor and unable to meet this expenditure, so that the result is the opposite of what the legislator intended. For common meals are intended to be a democratic practice, but under the regulations such as those laid down at Sparta it becomes anything but democratic. For it is not easy for those who cannot afford it to join in, yet this is their traditional way of delimiting the constitution – to exclude from it anyone who is unable to pay this particular due.

Some Further Criticisms

1271a37 (i) Some others too have objected to the law about Naval Commanders. The objections are well founded, for the arrangement is a cause of faction. This is because over and above the Kings, who are perpetual commanders of the forces, the naval command is set up, which is almost another Kingship, (ii) The principles of the lawgiver are open to a further criticism, which Plato has in fact made in his Laws:20 their whole system of laws is directed to securing only a part of virtue, military prowess, as being valuable for conquering. Hence the Spartans were stable enough while at war but began to decline once they reached a position of supremacy; they did not understand how to be at leisure, and never engaged in any kind of training higher than training for war. (iii) Another, and equally serious, error is that while they rightly hold that the good things which men fight to get are to be won more by virtue than by vice, they wrongly suppose that these good things are superior to the virtue, (iv) Public finance is another thing that is badly managed by the Spartiatae. They are obliged to undertake large wars, but there is never any money in the public treasury. Also they are very bad at paying taxes, for as most of the land is the property of the Spartiatae themselves, they do not inquire too closely into each other’s contributions. And so a state of affairs has come about which is just the opposite of the happy conditions envisaged by the lawgiver: he has produced a state which has no money, but is full of individuals eager to make money for themselves.21

These are the main defects of the constitution of the Lacedaemonians; so let that suffice for the topic.

II x

The expression ‘Cretan constitution’ is not to be taken as referring to that of any one state: Crete had many city-states, many of which appear to have had a common pattern of constitution. Aristotle begins by discussing and accepting the tradition that the Spartan constitution was derived from the Cretan, and much of the chapter is devoted to a detailed comparison of the two. (For a discussion, see K. M. T. Chrimes, Ancient Sparta (Manchester, 1949), p. 209 ff., and R. F. Willetts, Ancient Crete, a Social History (London, 1965), p. 60 ff.) However, there are conspicuous omissions: property-ownership, inheritance, heiresses and the influence of women. Aristotle had found fault with Sparta on all these counts, but he ignores them in dealing with Crete, though from his point of view conditions were in general worse there. His criticisms of the Cretan constitution centre on its aristocratic bias, and its lack of any machinery to ensure that the constitution continues to function when the leading families fall out among themselves. On the other hand he thinks the Cretan common meals better organized than the Spartan; and he notes, as many writers in antiquity did, the special advantages of Crete’s geographical position. But perhaps the most important theme in this chapter and the preceding one is that the various political forces in the state should all desire to keep the constitution as it is, for this makes for stability. There is here the germ of a theory’ of political consent, of which Rousseau’s ‘social contract’ is the most celebrated example; cf. IV xi–xiii.

For ‘peripheral populations’, ‘Ephors’ and other technical terms in this chapter, see introduction to II ix.

1271b20 The Cretan constitution is similar to the Lacedaemonian; in some few particulars it is certainly no worse, but in general it is less finished. It is said, and it appears to be true, that to a very great extent the Cretan constitution was taken as a model by the Lacedaemonian. (Generally, later forms of constitution are more fully developed than earlier.) They say that Lycurgus, after laying down his guardianship of King Charillus,1 went abroad and on that occasion spent most of his time in Crete. He chose Crete because the two peoples were akin, the Lyctians being colonists2 from Sparta; and when the colonists came, they found the inhabitants at that time living under a legal system which they then adopted. Hence to this day the peripheral populations use those laws unchanged, believing Minos3 to have established the legal system in the first place.

1271b32 The island of Crete appears to be both very well placed and naturally suited to dominate the Hellenic world. It lies right across our sea, on whose coasts all around most of the Greeks are settled. At one end the Peloponnese is not far away, and at the Asiatic end the districts round Triopium and Rhodes are close at hand. This enabled Minos to build up his maritime empire too: he made some of the islands subject to himself, to others he sent settlers; in the end he attacked Sicily, where he met his death near Camicus.

1271b40 The Cretan system resembles the Laconian. The helots farm for the Spartans, the peripheral populations for the Cretans. Both countries have common meals, for which in ancient times the Spartans used not their present name ‘phiditia’, but the same name as the Cretans: ‘andria’.4 This is a plain indication of its Cretan origin. Similarly as regards the arrangement of the constitution: the Cretans have ‘Cosmoi’, whose power the Spartan Ephors have also; but there are ten of them, while the Ephors number five. The Elders, who in Crete are known as the Council, correspond. The Cretans used to have a kingship, but they did away with it and the Cosmoi exercise leadership in war. And all Cretans are members of the Assembly, but this body has no power to do anything except vote assent to measures decided upon by the Elders and the Cosmoi.

1272a12 The arrangements for the common meals are better among the Cretans than among the Spartans. At Sparta each man contributes a specified per capita amount; failure to pay excludes one from the constitution, as has been said earlier.5 In Crete the basis is more communal: out of the entire agricultural produce, whether stock or crop, yielded by public land, and the tributes paid by the peripheral populations, one part is set aside for the gods and for the communal public services,6 and another sum for the common meals. In this way all – men, women, and children alike – are maintained at the public expense.7 The Cretan lawgiver regarded abstemiousness as beneficial and devoted much ingenuity to securing it, as also to keeping down the birth-rate by keeping men and women apart and by instituting sexual relations between males; whether he acted wisely or not will be discussed on another occasion.8 It is clear then that better arrangements for communal meals have been made among the Cretans than among the Laconians.

1272a27 On the other hand their Cosmoi are an even worse arrangement than the Ephors: the chief defect of the Board of Ephors, its indiscriminate composition, is there too, but the constitutional advantage is absent. For at Sparta the people, because the Ephors are elected from among all, have a share in the most powerful office and are therefore disposed to keep the constitution as it is. But in Crete they choose the Cosmoi not from among everyone, but from certain families only; and they elect the Elders from among those who have held the office of Cosmos. And about them one might make the same comments as about the Spartan Elders:9 their exemption from scrutiny and their life-tenure are privileges in excess of their merits; and their power to take decisions on their own judgement, and not govern in accordance with written rules, is dangerous. The fact that the people are content not to have any share in the office of Cosmos is no evidence of a sound arrangement. For there is no profit to be made out of the office of Cosmos, as there is out of the Ephorate; and Crete being an island, they live farther away from those who would corrupt them.

1272b1 The methods employed to cure the defects of this institution are outlandish, and more to be expected in a power-group than in a constitution.10 It often happens that Cosmoi are turned out of office by a conspiracy, which may be engineered partly by some of their fellow-rulers or by private persons. It is actually possible for Cosmoi to resign office during their tenure; but all such matters are better regulated by law and not left to the personal decision of individuals, which is an unreliable criterion. But worst of all is the condition where there are no Cosmoi at all; and this often occurs, being brought about by the action of powerful people who want to escape justice. All this makes it pretty clear that the Cretan system, while it possesses a certain constitutional element, is not really a constitution, but more of a power-group.10 The powerful men are wont to make up bands of their friends and from among the people, and to cause suspension of all government and form factions and fight each other. And that, surely, means nothing less than that for the time being such a state is a state no longer, but its political association11 is breaking up. A state in this condition is indeed in danger, since those who wish to attack it are also those who have the power.

1272b16 However, as we have already remarked, Crete is kept stable by its geographical situation; its distance has kept foreigners out.12 One result is that the Cretan peripheral populations remain settled, while the Lacedaemonian helots are often in rebellion. And the Cretans do not participate in any dominion overseas. But recently13 a foreign war has reached the island, and the weakness of its laws has become apparent. So much for the Cretan constitution.

II xi

Little detail is given, and that very obscurely, about the constitution of Carthage, the only non-Greek state here examined. Aristotle compares it with the Spartan, and therefore thinks he can describe it using Greek terms – Kings, Elders, Generals (for technical terms, see introduction to II ix). (The Romans, on the other hand, used the native word for the supreme Carthaginian officials, the ‘Kings’, latinizing it as Suffetes.) Aristotle treats the Carthaginian constitution as an example of the kind of aristocracy he calls a ‘polity’ (see introduction to II vi), but with ‘deviations’ (parekbaseis) towards oligarchy on the one hand and democracy on the other. He is well aware that ‘the characteristic and vital force in Carthaginian politics was before all things money’ (W. E. Heitland), and this constitutes for him a serious ‘deviation’ in the direction of oligarchy from the standards of excellence and ability demanded by the aristocratic principle. As democratic, he mentions the powers of decision enjoyed by the popular assembly in opposition to the wishes of the Kings and Elders. What counted in favour of the Carthaginian constitution was that it was generally acceptable and continued to work.

Two further points of interest are: (a) In this and in other chapters (cf. II ix, first paragraph) Aristotle speaks of the ‘principle’ or ‘aim’ of a constitution, which its founders had in mind. This is very much in accord with the Greek habit of regarding a constitution or code of laws as set up once and for all by a legislator, and its various features as either conforming with or departing from that model. We should today be more inclined to stress the role of historical accident and conflicting religious, economic or political pressures, not only in the growth and development of the constitution, but also, and especially, as they affected the original legislators (if any) themselves, e.g. the Founding Fathers of America. Aristotle obviously appreciates such historical influences, but his language is some indication of a way of thought rather different from ours. (b) Aristotle sharply attacks the view of public office as something to be bought and sold as a source of profit (cf. IV vi and V viii). One is tempted to moralize: in some parts of the world today Aristotle’s words still need to be taken to heart.

1272b24 The Carthaginians also are regarded as managing their constitution successfully, and in many respects in a distinctive manner, though in some particulars closely resembling the Lacedaemonians. Indeed these three constitutions, Cretan, Laconian, and Carthaginian, present a number of resemblances to each other and many differences from the rest. Many of the Carthaginian arrangements are good; and it is an indication that a constitution is well arranged when the people are content to abide by the constitutional system, and no faction worth mentioning has appeared, and no tyrant.

1272b33 Here are the resemblances to the Spartan constitution. The common meals of the clubs are like the phiditia, and the board of 104 members corresponds to the Ephors, but is better: its members are chosen on merit and not from all indiscriminately. Their Kings and Board of Elders are the counterpart of the Spartan Kings and Elders; and it is an advantage that the Kings are not drawn from one family alone, nor from any and every family. Election depends more on the eminence of one’s family than on one’s age, for worthless persons appointed to have supreme control of weighty affairs do a lot of damage, as they have already done to the Lacedaemonian state.1

1273a2 Most of the objections brought on the grounds that there are deviations2 are applicable in common to all the three constitutions here mentioned. In relation to the principle of aristocracy, or ‘polity’, some features are objectionable because they deviate into oligarchy, others because they deviate into democracy. An example of the latter is the fact that at Carthage the Kings, acting in conjunction with the Elders, have sovereign power to refer or not to refer a matter to the people, provided they are unanimous; failing that, here too the people have power of decision.3 Moreover, when a matter agreed upon by Kings and Elders is so referred, the people are not merely allowed by them to listen to the proposals of the officials, but they have sovereign power to make decisions on them; and it is open to all and sundry to oppose and speak against the proposals that have been referred to them. This feature does not exist in the other constitutions.

1273a13 Then there are oligarchical features. The Boards of Five,4 which have supreme control over many important matters, not only fill up vacancies on their own by co-option but appoint members of the Hundred, the highest authority; moreover they enjoy a longer tenure of office than the rest: they begin to rule before they become members, and continue to do so after they have ceased to belong. On the other hand we must allow as aristocratic the fact that they receive no pay and are not chosen by lot, and one or two other features of that kind; for example all law-suits are decided by the committees, not, as at Sparta, some by one set of persons, others by another.

1273a21 The most conspicuous deviation of the Carthaginian system from the aristocratic towards the oligarchical is one which is quite in accord with the popular notion that rulers should be chosen not merely on merit but also on grounds of wealth. It is impossible, they argue, for a man without ample means to be a good ruler – that is, to have the leisure to be one. Now if election according to wealth is oligarchic, and on grounds of virtue aristocratic, a third system will be this one which underlies the constitutional arrangements of the Carthaginians, who have both these points in mind when they elect, and particularly when they elect the highest officials, i.e. the Kings and Generals.

1273a31 But this deviation from aristocracy must be regarded as an error on the part of the Carthaginian law-giver. For it is most essential that from the very start provision be made for the best people to have leisure and not to depart in any way from standards of propriety, not only while in office but even as private citizens. But while we must look to wealth too,5 for the sake of the leisure it gives, it is a bad thing that the highest offices, of King and General, should be for sale. Where this practice is legal, wealth becomes of more esteem than virtue and causes the whole state to become bent on making money. Whatever is most valued by the highest authority inevitably makes the opinion of the rest of the citizens follow suit. And wherever virtue is not the most highly esteemed thing, there a securely aristocratic constitution is an impossibility. People who lay out sums of money in order to secure office get into the habit of looking, not unreasonably, for some return. Even the poor but reasonable man will want his profit, so it could hardly be expected that the not-so-honest, who has already put his hand in his pocket, should not want his profit too. Therefore it should be those who are best able to find spare time that should hold office. And even if the lawgiver has abandoned the idea of making those reasonable men wealthy, he ought to secure leisure for them, at least during their term of office. 1273b8 Another feature, which would seem objectionable, though the Carthaginians think highly of it, is plurality of office, the same man holding more than one. Surely work is best done when one task is performed by one man. The legislator ought to ensure this, and not require one and the same man to be player on the pipes and a shoemaker. So, too, where the state is not too small to allow of it, it is more statesmanlike,6 as well as more democratic, that a number of people should share in the offices. For, as we have said,7 in this way the work is more widely distributed and each individual task is performed more efficiently and more expeditiously. This can be illustrated from the sphere of the army and the navy; for in both these one might say that commanding and being commanded run right through all personnel.

1273b18 But although their constitution is an oligarchy,8 they are very successful in escaping faction, because from time to time a section of the people grows rich on being removed to the states. That is the way in which they cure the trouble and keep their constitution stable. But all that is Fortune’s business, whereas it ought to be thanks to the legislator that they avoid faction. As it is, if any mischance were to occur and the mass of the ruled population were to rebel, the laws provide no remedy for restoring peace.

So much for my account of the Lacedaemonian, Cretan, and Carthaginian constitutions, all of which justly earn our respect.

II xii (1273b27–1274b28)

This miscellaneous but very interesting chapter has the air of having been dashed off to complete as rapidly as possible the discussion of excellent constitutions actual and proposed, and of their framers and lawgivers. If the chapter is in fact by Aristotle, he may not have intended it to stand at this point; but its authenticity, in whole or part, has often been doubted (see commentaries). Its most important sections concern the conflict felt by Pittacus between equity on the one hand and law and order on the other, and the attempt to meet criticisms of Solon’s legislation, which Aristotle admired (cf. e.g. IV xi). The chapter ends with a rapid list of points ‘peculiar’ to various legislators, which in part repeats briefly material discussed earlier in the book.

1273b27 Those who have voiced opinions on constitutions fall into two classes. We have already given some account, so far as it is worth mentioning, of all of the first class, that is, of those who took no part whatever in political activity,1 but remained private citizens all their lives. The others, after personal experience of politics, have become lawgivers either in their own or in certain foreign cities. Some of these merely drafted laws, but others, like Lycurgus and Solon, framed constitutions too; for they established both constitutions and laws. Of the Spartan constitution I have spoken already.2

1273b35 Some, who believe that Solon was a sound law-giver, put forward the following reasons: (a) he abolished the undiluted oligarchy; (b) he put an end to the enslavement of the people; and (c) he established the traditional Athenian democracy by mixing the constitution well. They explain that the mixture contains an oligarchical element (the Council of the Areopagus),3 an aristocratic element (the fact that the officials are elected), and a democratic one (the courts). As a matter of fact it would seem that Solon found the first two of these already in existence, the council and the practice of electing officials, and merely refrained from abolishing them. On the other hand, by setting up courts drawn from the entire body of citizens, he did establish democracy at Athens. It is in fact here that some people find Solon at fault: they say that by giving supreme power over all matters to the courts, appointed by lot, he ruined the other half of his work. As soon as these courts became powerful, they began to do everything with a view to pleasing the people, just as if they were humouring a tyrant, and in this way converted the constitution into the democracy as we now have it. Ephialtes and Pericles reduced the power of the Council of the Areopagus, and Pericles introduced payment for service in the courts; in this way each successive leader of the people enlarged the democracy and advanced it to its present scale.4

1274a11 But it seems that all this took place not according to Solon’s intention but as a result of circumstances. For the Athenian sea-power in the Persian wars was due to the Athenian people; this gave them a great opinion of themselves, and they chose inferior men as popular leaders when respectable men pursued policies not to their liking. Certainly Solon himself seems to have given only a necessary minimum of power to the people – the power to elect officials and to require a scrutiny (for if they did not have supreme power over even this, the people would be no better than slaves or foes). He provided that all officials were to be drawn from among the notables and men of substance, that is to say the Pentacosiomedimnoi, the Zeugitae, and the third class, the ‘Knights’;5 he excluded from office only the fourth property-class, the Thetes.

1274a22 Other lawgivers were Zaleucus, who made laws for the Epizephyrian Locrians, and Charondas of Catana, who made laws both for his own citizens and for the other states of Italy and Sicily that were of Chalcidian origin. (Some wish to include Onomacritus as the first expert in lawmaking, saying that he was a Locrian, that he trained in Crete during a visit there to practise his art of soothsaying, that Thales the Cretan was his friend, and that Lycurgus and Zaleucus heard Thales lecture and Charondas heard Zaleucus. But all that is somewhat to disregard chronology.)6

1274a31 Then there was Philolaus the Corinthian, who made laws for the Thebans. He was of the Bacchiad family, and became the lover of Diodes, a victor in the Olympic Games.7 This Diocles, in disgust at the amorous passion for him of his mother Alcyone, left Corinth for Thebes, where he and Philolaus ended their days. Visitors are still shown their two tombs, which are easily visible one from the other; but one can be seen from Corinthian territory, the other not. The story is that they planned the sites of the two tombs themselves, Diocles so that the land of Corinth with its bitter memories of his suffering should be invisible from his grave, Philolaus that it might be visible from his. That is how they came to be living at Thebes. Philolaus became their lawgiver, and among his measures there are some relating to the begetting of children. These the Thebans called ‘laws of adoption’. They consist of an enactment, peculiar to Philolaus, which was designed to keep fixed the number of estates.

1274b5 As for Charondas, there is nothing peculiar to him except the suits for false witness (he was the first to permit notice to be given.)8 In the careful detail of his laws he is more finished even than modern legislators. The feature peculiar to Phaleas9 is his equalization of possessions; to Plato, communal ownership of possessions, wives, and children, and common meals for women;10 also his law about intoxication, that the sober should preside at drinking parties;11 and again that soldiers in their training should practise to become ambidextrous, instead of having one hand useful, the other useless.12 There are laws of Draco,13 but these were additions to an existing constitution. There is nothing peculiar to them worth mentioning except the severity of their heavy punishments.

1274b18 Pittacus14 too was a maker of laws, not of a constitution; and a law peculiar to him states that if drunken men commit an offence they should pay a larger fine than sober men. Since more drunken men than sober commit crimes of violence, and ought to be pardoned more readily, he decided to disregard the question of pardoning them and concentrate on getting useful results.15 The inhabitants of the city of Chalcis, in Thrace, had a lawgiver, Androdamas16 of Rhegium, whose laws relate to homicide and heiresses, but I cannot mention any point that is peculiar to them.

Let this suffice for our survey of constitutions, actual and proposed.

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