Ancient History & Civilisation


VI i

The sixth book, which refers frequently to points made in the fourth and fifth, deals with the question how constitutions can be made to work best. Chapters i–v discuss democracy, and vi–vii oligarchy; but in viii the book seems to break off unfinished. Chapter i is programmatic, and contains little that is fresh: in the first half Aristotle simply distinguishes his themes from others tackled or projected; in the second, he isolates two reasons why democratic constitutions exist in more forms than one (cf. IV vi).

1316b30 So far1 we have listed and counted the varieties of a constitution’s deliberative and sovereign element, and of its system of offices and courts, and what kinds of them are arranged so as to suit what kind of constitution; we have also discussed2 the causes, and the kinds of circumstances, that lead to the destruction and preservation of constitutions. But since there are in fact several sorts of democracy and of the other constitutions, it might not come amiss to pick up the remaining threads of that inquiry and to state what particular procedure is appropriate and expedient in each case.3

1316b39 We have also to consider how all the various arrangements of the elements4 we listed may be combined, for a combination of two arrangements makes the constitutions overlap: an aristocracy may become oligarchic, a polity more democratic. In speaking of combinations which ought to be investigated but never have been,5 I mean, for example, cases such as these: when there is an oligarchical bias in the arrangement of the deliberative element and in the elections of officials, but an aristocratic bias in the courts; or if these and the deliberative functions are assigned on oligarchic principles, the electoral on aristocratic; or any other procedure by which not all the elements appropriate to a given constitution are combined in it.

1317a10 Again, while we have already spoken6 of the kinds of democracy suitable for a specific kind of state, and what kind of oligarchy for what kind of populace, and, of the other constitutional types, which is advantageous to whom, there is still something to be said. We ought to show not only, of these constitutions, which kind is best for states, but also how both these and the others ought to be contructed. Let us now deal briefly with this question, beginning with democracy; this will at the same time throw light on its opposite, the constitution which is called by some oligarchy.

1317a18 To carry out this inquiry we must take all the features of popular rule, i.e. all that are considered to be entailed by democracy. For out of combinations of these emerge the forms of democracy, and the existence of more than one democracy, all of them different. There are two reasons why there are several democracies; first, the one already mentioned,7 that peoples differ: one populace may be agricultural, another engaged in mechanical tasks and labour for hire; and when the first of these is added to the second, or the third to both, not only is the quality of the democracy altered (in that it becomes better or worse), but also its identity.8 The other reason is the one under discussion: all these features which are entailed by democracy and are regarded as appropriate to this constitution make the democracies different, according to whether few or several or all of these features which are entailed by democracy are combined in them. It is useful to be able to distinguish each feature for the purpose both of setting up whichever of these democracies one prefers, and of making amendments. Those who set up constitutions try to bring to the foundation all the features appropriate to their fundamental principle, but they are wrong in so doing, as has been stated earlier when the dissolution and preservation of constitutions was under discussion.9

Let us now discuss the claims, the ethical standards,10 and the aims of the various constitutions.

VI ii

In this splendidly meaty chapter Aristotle examines the ‘claims, ethical standards and aims’ (see VI i ad fin.) of democracy. The second paragraph contains one of the most succinct yet most comprehensive summaries to be found anywhere of democratic principles as they were applied in practice in ancient Greece.

It is, however, the analysis and reflection of the first and third paragraphs that will repay study. In the first. if I interpret aright, Aristotle analyses the relationship between liberty and equality. Liberty has two ‘marks’: (a) ruling and being ruled by turn; (b) living as one pleases. Equality justifies (a) on moral grounds: it is just that all should have an equal share of the privilege of ruling; and it also ensures this sharing in practice, by allowing the populace to enforce it by its majority of ‘equal’ votes. On the other hand, (b) conflicts with (a): one would rather never be ruled. Nevertheless the democrat recognizes that the willingness to be ruled is a guarantee of the freedom to rule, and in thus yielding place in his turn to the next ruler he facilitates equality of the enjoyment of the privilege of ruling. Liberty and equality thus intimately support each other.

The final paragraph is difficult to follow, but seems to pick up a point in the first, that the majority is sovereign. Now inevitably in most states that majority will be the poor, who regard democracy as a device for maintaining their own ascendancy and interests. Aristotle now briefly and tantalizingly envisages a ‘thoroughgoing’ democracy in which the poor do not have sole sovereignty – perhaps merely because they do not constitute a majority, or because democracy is not seen by them as an instrument of social warfare. In that case, ‘of the people’ in the text will mean ‘of the whole people’, and Aristotle will be contemplating something like a modern Western democracy, which, in theory at any rate, is for the benefit of the whole population of the state, not merely that of the poor.

1317a40 A basic principle of the democratic constitution is liberty. People constantly make this statement, implying that only in this constitution do men share in liberty; for every democracy, they say, has liberty for its aim. ‘Ruling and being ruled in turn’ is one element in liberty, and the democratic idea of justice is in fact numerical equality, not equality based on merit; and when this idea of what is just prevails, the multitude must be sovereign, and whatever the majority decides is final and constitutes justice. For, they say, there must be equality for each of the citizens. The result is that in democracies the poor have more sovereign power than the rich; for they are more numerous, and the decisions of the majority are sovereign. So this is one mark of liberty, one which all democrats make a definitive principle of their constitution. Another is to live as you like. For this, they say, is a function of being free, since its opposite, living not as you like, is the function of one enslaved. This is the second defining principle of democracy, and from it has come the ideal of ‘not being ruled’, not by anyone at all if possible, or at least only in alternation. This1 is a contribution towards that liberty which is based on equality.

1317b17 From these fundamentals, and from rule thus conceived, are derived the following features of democracy: (a) Elections to office by all from among all. (b) Rule of all over each and of each by turns over all. (c) Offices filled by lot, either all or at any rate those not calling for experience or skill, (d) No tenure of office dependent on the possession of a property qualification, or only on the lowest possible, (e) The same man not to hold the same office twice, or only rarely, or only a few apart from those connected with warfare, (f) Short terms for all offices or for as many as possible, (g) All to sit on juries, chosen from all and adjudicating on all or most matters, i.e. the most important and supreme, such as those affecting the constitution, scrutinies, and contracts between individuals, (h) The assembly as the sovereign authority in everything, or at least the most important matters, officials having no sovereign power over any, or over as few as possible. (The council is of all offices the most democratic as long as all members do not receive lavish pay; for lavish pay all round has the effect of robbing this office too of its power; for the people, when well-paid, takes all decisions into its own hands, as has been mentioned in the inquiry preceding this.)2 Next, (i) payment for services, in the assembly, in the law-courts, and in the offices, is regular for all (or at any rate the offices, the law-courts, council, and the sovereign meetings of the assembly, or in the offices where it is obligatory to have meals together). Again (j), as birth, wealth, and education are the defining marks of oligarchy, so their opposites, low birth, low incomes, and mechanical occupations, are regarded as typical of democracy. (k) No official has perpetual tenure, and if any such office remains in being after an early change, it is shorn of its power and its holders selected by lot from among picked candidates.3

1318a3 These are the common characteristics of democracies. And from the idea of justice that is by common consent democratic – justice based on numerical equality for all – springs what is reckoned to be the most thorough-going democracy and dēmos;4 for equality exists if the poor exercise no more influence in ruling than the rich, and do not have sole sovereign power, but all exercise it together on the basis of numerical equality. In this sense, they could think of the constitution as possessing equality and freedom.

VI iii

This chapter is a fascinating discussion of the democratic concept of equality, and makes various practical suggestions for reconciling the democratic demand for arithmetical equality (i.e. equality of voting power for each individual), and for majority rule, with the oligarchic demand for that kind of ‘proportionate’ equality that gives greater power to greater wealth. (For Aristotle’s discussion of these two ‘equalities’, see III ix, xii, and V i.) Each side wants power to lie in something ‘greater’: numbers and property respectively. The system Aristotle describes in the second paragraph ensures that on at least some occasions both the greater numbers of persons and the greater amount of property will be on the winning side (as explained in note 5). But because of the ‘weighting’ given to the rich in terms of votes (as for example in note 1), there could also be occasions when the numerical majority consisting largely of poor persons could be outvoted by the numerical minority consisting largely of the rich. One wonders if the compromise Aristotle puts forward would have satisfied either party.

The technicalities of the first two sentences are a little tricky, and I have attempted to elucidate them in Liverpool Classical Monthly, 4 (1979), pp. 98–9; cf. also Rackham’s notes in the Loeb edition.

1318a11 The next question is, how will they obtain equality? Ought the property-qualifications to be divided,1 those of 500 persons for the benefit of a 1,000, so that the 1,000 have the same power as the 500? Or should one refuse to establish equality on these lines, and make the division as before, but then from the 500 take the same number of persons as from the 1,000, and give to these supreme control of elections and law-courts?2 Will this constitution then be most just in accordance with the democratic conception of justice, or will one based on the majority? For the champions of democracy say that what the majority decide is just, while the partisans of oligarchy say that it is whatever is decided upon by those with greater possessions, asserting that size of fortune is the proper criterion to use. But both these views involve inequality and injustice. If we take the view that justice is what the few decide, we have a tyranny; for if one man has property greater than all the other wealthy persons, according to oligarchic justice he alone has a just title to rule. If we take justice to be what is decided by a numerical majority, they will act unjustly, confiscating the property of the rich and less numerous, as has been said before.3

1318a27 In order to ascertain what an equality might be upon which both parties will agree, we must start by examining the definitions of justice from which they severally begin. Thus it is said that whatever seems right to the majority of the citizens ought to be binding. So be it – but not universally or in every case. Since it happens that the state is made up of two parts, the rich and the poor, we grant that whatever seems good to both groups, or to a majority in each, shall be binding. But if their decisions disagree, the answer should be whatever is decided by the majority, i.e. by those of the higher total property-assessment.4 Suppose for example that there are ten of one group and twenty of the other, and a resolution has been supported by (A) six of the rich and five of the poor and opposed by (B) the four remaining rich and the fifteen remaining poor, then whichever have the highest total property-assessment, the property of both rich and poor being reckoned in each set, their decision is to be binding.5 If they turn out to be equal, that should not be regarded as a difficulty any different from that posed by an equality of votes in an assembly or law-court: the matter must be decided by lot or in some other recognized manner.

1318b1 And however difficult it may be to find out the truth about equality and justice, yet it is easier than to get men’s agreement when you are trying to persuade them to forgo some greater share that lies within their grasp. It is always the weaker who go in search of justice and equality; the strong reck nothing of them.

VI iv

This is the core chapter in the first part of the book (Chapters i–v, on democracy). Aristotle argues that democracy works best when the population consists largely of country-dwellers, not town-dwellers, because the former are disinclined to exercise too frequently the democratic right of attendance at the meetings of the assembly in the city; and he dwells at some length on the sterling merits of an agricultural population. Ancient literature is full of more or less romantic praises of country life, but Aristotle’s assessment is relatively cool and dispassionate, being strictly for the purpose of assessing political and constitutional advantages. Towards the middle and end of the chapter he notes and recommends certain measures of crucial importance to an ‘agrarian’ democracy; they affect mainly the related problems of land-tenure and qualification for citizenship.

This ‘best’ democracy is not an extreme democracy; and in this connection we encounter, not for the first time in the Politics, a doctrine of political checks and balances (cf. introduction to II ix). Aristotle believes that the extreme forms of any constitution are less durable than the moderate or ‘mixed’ (see e.g. IV xi–xii, VI v–vi). Hence in an agrarian democracy the ‘notables’ and ‘middle people’ have an important role: it is they who will do most of the ruling (they have the leisure), but subject to election and formal ‘scrutiny’ (euthuna, see II ix, n. 14), by the poorer people. Thus the richer citizens will not feel resentful at a democracy run by, and largely in the interests of, the poor; and they will lend the state culture, administrative wisdom, and stability. On the other hand they cannot, in language reminiscent of VI ii, ‘do as they please’: there is always the agrarian population to check them by its power of election and scrutiny.

1318b6 Of the four democracies the best is that which is first in order, as was said in the preceding parts of our work.1 It is also the oldest of all. I am referring to the ‘first’ as it would be in a classification by peoples. An agrarian people is the best; so that it is possible to construct a democracy, too,2 anywhere where the population subsists on agriculture or pasturing stock. For having no great abundance of possessions, they are kept busy and rarely attend the assembly; and since they lack the necessities of life3 they are constantly at work in the fields, and do not covet the possessions of others. They find more satisfaction in working on the land than in ruling and in engaging in public affairs, so long as there are no great gains to be made out of holding office; for the many are more interested in making a profit than in winning honour. An indication of this is to be found in the fact that they put up with tyrannies in the old days and oligarchies at the present time, so long as work is not denied them and nothing is taken from them. Some of them quickly acquire wealth; the rest are at any rate not destitute. Moreover, to have the sovereign power to vote at elections and to scrutinize outgoing officials makes up any deficiency which those who have ambitions may feel. For in certain democracies, where the many have sovereign power to deliberate but do not participate in elections to office (electors being selected from all by turns, as at Mantinea), even then they are content enough; and this arrangement too, which once existed at Mantinea, is to be regarded as a form of democracy.

1318b27 Hence for this other kind of democracy4 which we have mentioned, it is advantageous as well as customary that all should elect to offices, call to scrutiny, and sit as jurymen; but that persons to fill the most important offices should be selected from among those possessing a certain amount of property (the greater the office, the higher the property-qualification) – or even not on the basis of property at all, but ability. Running affairs of state on this basis will be bound to be successful, because the offices will always be in the hands of the best persons, in accordance with the wishes of the people and without their being jealous of the respectable men. Moreover, this form of administration will satisfy the notables and the respectable sort, who will not find themselves ruled by their inferiors; and their own ruling will be just, because others will have the sovereign power to call them to scrutiny. For this dependence, and not allowing a man to follow all his own decisions, are beneficial. (Freedom to do exactly what one likes cannot do anything to keep in check that element of badness which exists in each and all of us.) The inevitable result is this most valuable of principles in a constitution: ruling by respectable men of blameless conduct, and without detriment to the populace at large.

1319a4 It is clear then that this is the best of the democracies, and the reason also is clear, namely that the people is of the kind it is. In considering next the means whereby a people may be made an agrarian one we find that some of the laws which the ancients adopted in many places are exceedingly useful, such as absolutely to prohibit the acquisition of land above a certain amount, or at any rate to permit it only beyond a certain distance from the central citadel and city. And in many states in early times it was laid down by law that the original estates might not even be sold. A somewhat similar effect is produced by the law ascribed to Oxylus,5 which prohibits a man from raising a loan on more than a certain proportion of his land. In present-day conditions matters should also be put right by means of the law of the Aphytaeans, which is very useful for the purpose which we have under discussion. For the Aphytaeans, though their numbers are large and their land small, are all tillers of the soil: assessments are not based on whole properties but on portions of them so small that even the poor easily exceed the property-qualification.

1319a19 Next to an agrarian population the best is a pastoral people, which earns a livelihood from cattle. There are many points of resemblance to agriculture proper; indeed, when it comes to the operations of war they are in a particularly well-trained condition, physically fit, and capable of living in the open.

1319a24 Virtually all the other populations that make up the other democracies are greatly inferior to these two. Their lives are inferior, and none of the work they do has the quality of virtue, a mass of mechanics and market-fellows and hirelings as they are. Also this class of person, which is constantly milling around the city and the market-place, can all too easily attend the assembly. An agrarian populace on the other hand is dispersed over the countryside; its members neither appear at meetings nor feel the need of such gatherings to the same extent. And where in addition the countryside is so situated as to extend a long way from the city, it is easy to make a good democracy or polity: the populace are then compelled to make their homes far away, on the land; and so even if there is a market-place crowd, it should not be allowed in democracies to hold assemblies in the absence of the country-dwellers. So much then for the first and best democracy and how it should be composed. What we have said will throw light also on the composition of the others: they must deviate in order and at each stage exclude the next inferior multitude lower down the list.6

1319b1 The most extreme democracy, in which all share, is something which not every state can tolerate; and it is not likely to last unless it is well held together by its laws and customs. (I need hardly add more to what I have said earlier7 about the factors by which this and the other constitutions may be destroyed.) As to the setting up of this democracy and the establishment of the power of the people, the leaders habitually add in as many men as possible and make them all citizens, both the illegitimate and those born in wedlock, and those also who are of citizen stock on only one side, the mother’s or the father’s. This whole policy is particularly characteristic of such a democracy. Popular leaders regularly resort to such measures; but the addition of new members ought to continue only until the multitude just outnumbers the notables and middle people, and no further. To go beyond this point makes for disorganization in the constitution, and irritates the notables to such an extent that they barely tolerate the existence of the democracy (it was precisely this that caused the faction at Cyrene).8 A small admixture of inferiority is disregarded, but a large one is all too obvious.

1319b19 There are other steps also which may be usefully taken in promoting this kind of democracy, such as those used by Cleisthenes9 when he wanted to strengthen the democracy at Athens, and by the promoters of democracy at Cyrene. I mean that new tribes and brotherhoods should be established, more numerous than the old, and ceremonies held at private shrines should be concentrated on a few public ones; and in general one must fix things so that there is as much social intercourse as possible and a break-up of the former associations.

1319b27 Moreover there is evidently something characteristic of democracy in all the typical measures of tyranny – lack of control over slaves (which may be expedient up to a point), and over women and children, and disregard of everyone living as they please. There is a lot of support for this kind of constitution; most people prefer to live undisciplined lives, for they find that more enjoyable than restraint.

VI v

Aristotle opens the chapter by arguing that policies for securing the stability of a constitution may be drawn from observing and avoiding all those that make for instability. Already (V xi) he had suggested that the best way to preserve a tyranny is to make it as little like a tyranny as possible. Here, in this chapter and the next, the same is said of democracy and oligarchy: whatever is untypical is a source of strength, because too strict an adherence to doctrine is likely to undermine the regime. These two chapters present another aspect of Aristotle’s desire for a mixed constitution, which he generally calls a ‘polity’, in preference to a ‘pure’ one. See e.g. II vi (ad fin.), II ix (introduction), IV ix, and Kurt von Fritz, The Theory of the Mixed Constitution in Antiquity (New York, 1954), pp. 81–2.

The policy of ‘welfare relief’ recommended in the final three paragraphs is remarkable, but not new: Peisistratus had paved the way (see Aristotle’s Constitution of Athens, ch. 16), and Aristotle cites a couple of precedents at Carthage and Tarentum. Two points may be made. (1) The policy is prudential rather than philanthropic or humanitarian: it is in the interests of the rich themselves to finance it. (2) Aristotle realizes that it is of limited use merely to hand out money for the destitute to live on: the money should be applied positively, to enable them to become independent for the future.

1319b33 The task confronting the lawgiver, and all who seek to set up a constitution of such a kind, is not only, or even mainly, to establish it, but rather to ensure that it is preserved intact. (Any constitution can be made to last for a day or two.) We should therefore turn back to our previous inquiries1 into the factors which make for the continued preservation of a constitution and those which make for its dissolution. On this basis we shall try to provide for stability; we shall be on our guard against those features which we find to be destructive, and we shall lay down those laws, written and unwritten, which shall embrace the greatest number of features that pre serve constitutions. We shall know not to regard as a democratic (or oligarchic) measure any measure which will make the whole as democratic (or oligarchic) as it is possible to be, but only that measure which will make it last as a democracy (or oligarchy) for as long as possible.

1320a4 Present-day popular leaders, in their endeavour to win the favour of their peoples, make use of the law-courts for frequent confiscations.2 Those who have the interests of the constitution at heart ought to resist these activities, by passing a law that everything taken from those found guilty should be used for sacred purposes and not be confiscated for the public exchequer. This will not make wrongdoers any less careful (the fines will be exacted just the same); but the common crowd will be less prone to condemn a man on trial if they are not going to get anything out of it. Besides, the number of public3 cases that happen ought always to be reduced to a minimum, ill-considered litigation being restrained by high penalties.4 For it is not their fellow-democrats that they are accustomed to bring into court, but the notables. The constitution ought, if possible, to command the support of all citizens; short of that, at least those who exercise sovereign power should not be regarded as enemies by them.

1320a17 In the extreme democracies populations are large and attendance at meetings of the assembly is difficult unless one is paid; and this, if money is not forthcoming from the revenues, militates against the notables, for the money has then to be raised by taxation and confiscation and depraved courts – things which before now have caused many democracies to fall. Whenever therefore the necessary revenue is not to be had, the number of meetings of the assembly must be few, and the courts, though consisting of many persons, should meet on few days. This helps to make the rich unafraid of the expenses which they have to meet if the wealthy receive no fee for attendance at court, but the poor do. It also helps to improve the trials of suits at law, through the presence of the wealthy, who are willing to spend a short time, but not long periods, away from their own affairs. On the other hand if revenues are available, one should not do what popular leaders today do – make a free distribution of the surplus. (When people get it, they want the same again: this sort of assistance to the poor is like the proverbial jug with a hole in it.)5 For the duty of the true democrat is to see that the population is not destitute; for destitution is a cause of a corrupt democracy.

1320a35 Every effort therefore must be made to perpetuate prosperity. And, since that is to the advantage of the rich as well as the poor, all that accrues from the revenues should be collected into a single fund and distributed in block grants to those in need, if possible in lump sums large enough for the acquisition of a small piece of land, but if not, enough to start a business, or work in agriculture. And if that cannot be done for all, the distribution might be by tribes or some other division each in turn. The rich meanwhile will contribute funds sufficient to provide pay for the necessary meetings, being themselves relieved of all frivolous public services.6 It has been by running their constitution on some such lines that the Carthaginians have secured the goodwill of their people. From time to time they send some of them to live in the outlying districts and turn them into men of substance. When the notables are wise and considerate, they also split up the poor into groups and make it their business to provide them with a start in some occupation.

1320b9 What is done in Tarentum is also well worth copying; there they allow communal use of their property by those who have none of their own, thus ensuring the support of the populace. They also divide all the offices into two groups, filling one by election, the other by lot – the latter so that the people may participate in holding the offices, the former so that affairs of state are more efficiently administered. It is also possible to apply this to one and the same office, dividing it into two, so that some holders are appointed by lot, others by election. So much for the right way to organize a democracy.

VI vi

Aristotle embarks on his discussion of the preservation of oligarchies by making about this form of constitution essentially the same point as he made about democracy in the preceding chapters, namely that an extreme oligarchy is less stable than a moderate one. Hence oligarchs have an interest in being to some extent non-oligarchical: they should allow fairly large numbers of the population to ‘share in the constitution’, in order to ensure strong enough support for the perpetuation of the regime.

1320b18 How oligarchy should be handled is fairly clear from the principles already stated. Working from opposites, we must draw up a list of oligarchies, working out each in relation to the democracy opposite to it. We begin with the first, which is also the best mixed and very near to what we call polity. In it division of property-qualifications is necessary, so that some are low and some high, and so that the qualification for holding essential offices is low, but higher for the more sovereign ones. Anyone who reaches the required assessment of property is entitled to share in the constitution; by this means enough of the people are brought in by the assessment to ensure that they are stronger than the non-sharers. But these new sharers must always be drawn from among the better sort among the people. Similarly with the organization of the next type of oligarchy, except that the reins are drawn a little tighter.

1320b30 Finally, there is the oligarchy which corresponds to the extreme democracy, and is most like a power-group and most like a tyranny; it is also the worst, and there is proportionally greater need to watch it. For just as our bodies, if they are in a healthy condition, or boats if they are in proper trim for their crews to sail them, can tolerate errors without being destroyed by them (whereas bodies in a sickly condition and boats with loose timbers and incompetent crews are seriously affected by even minor mistakes), so it is with constitutions: the worst of them need most watching.

1321a1 Generally speaking, then, in democracies a large population1 is a safeguard, just because weight in numbers is the counterpart of the principle of justice which allows weight to merit. But an oligarchy can on the contrary expect to secure its preservation only by enforcing good order.

VI vii

The mention of ‘good order’ at the end of VI vi apparently prompts Aristotle to consider the role of the military in an oligarchy: no doubt the narrower the oligarchy, the greater the need of a strong army. But just as the quality of democracy was related earlier in this book (especially in Chapter iv) to the kind of population and to geographical and economic conditions, so now these factors are shown to be important in determining the composition of the military forces too. Once again Aristotle stresses the notion of ‘blending’ – in this case by the enrolment, in the democratically inclined light infantry and naval troops, of a number of the sons of the oligarchs.

The second paragraph indicates briefly how an oligarchy may judiciously admit some of the populace to the politeuma, the citizen-body, and so to the right to hold office. Aristotle’s suggestion that the people may be led to acquiesce in exclusion from such privileges by displays of generosity financed by oligarchical office-bearers may strike us as cynical; it is at least a little naïve, for, as Newman notes (IV 546), there would be a temptation for them to ‘recoup expenditure by illicit practices’.

1321a5 A population consists of roughly four main elements: the farmers, the mechanics, the traders, and those employed on hire by others. Personnel for use in war are likewise four: cavalry, heavy-armed infantry,1 light-armed infantry, and naval forces. Wherever the territory happens to be suitable for deploying horses, the natural conditions are favourable for making the oligarchy strong. This is because the safety of the inhabitants of such a territory depends on the strength of the cavalry, and horse-breeding is an occupation confined to those who have large resources. The next form of oligarchy will flourish where the territory is suitable for heavy infantry, an arm of the service more within the means of the well-to-do than the poor. But the light-armed infantry force, and the naval, are essentially democratic. And so in practice, wherever these form a large population, the oligarchs, if there is faction, often fight at a disadvantage. To remedy this, one must follow the practice of the military commanders who to their force of cavalry and heavy-armed soldiers add the appropriate force of light-armed troops. It is by the use, of light infantry in faction that peoples get the better of the rich: their light equipment gives them an advantage in fighting over cavalry and the heavy-armed. So to establish this force of these people is to establish a force against themselves.2 But since there is already a difference of two age-groups (one older, the other younger), the oligarchs’ own sons, while still in the younger, should be trained in light and unarmed infantry work and then, separated from the boys, themselves become fit for such service in the field.

1321a26 As to giving the populace a place in the citizen-body, this may be done (a), as previously stated,3 in favour of those who possess a certain property-qualification, or (b) as at Thebes, after the lapse of a period of time spent away from mechanical occupations, or (c) as at Massalia, by making a selection of the most deserving both from those within the citizen-body and from those outside it. Again, the most supreme offices, which must be held by those who are members of the constitution, should have public services4associated with them. This will reconcile people to having no share in office, and make them think the more kindly of officials who pay heavily for their position. It is appropriate, too, that newcomers to office should offer magnificent sacrificial banquets and execute some public work. The object is that the people, when they share in the banquets and see their city being adorned with votive offerings and with buildings, may be satisfied to see the constitution continue. There is the further result that these will remain as memorials to the notables’ expenditure. But nowadays those who are connected with an oligarchy do not do this, but rather the reverse, for it is the gains they are after, no less than the honour. Such oligarchies are well named ‘democracies in miniature’.5

These then are the ways in which the various democracies and oligarchies ought to be constructed.

VI viii

After his fairly brief account in Chapters vi and vii of how oligarchy may be made to work best, we expect Aristotle to turn to other constitutions, as he promised in the third paragraph of Chapter i. Instead, we have a review of officials and procedures, which, like so much else in Book VI, looks back to Book IV; in particular, it supplements the discussion of IV xv and xvi.

The various headings under which the officials are grouped speak for themselves, but amid the welter of detail two points emerge as major preoccupations: (a) What offices must a state have, others being either unimportant, or important for one kind of state but not for another? (b) The difficulty Greek states had in enforcing the verdicts of their courts. Officials were essentially temporary part-timers, and in the course of their duties (for example in collecting a fine) could easily be caught up in embittered personal feelings, and (no doubt) be led into corrupt practices. Today we are able to avoid these predicaments at least partly because of a tradition of impersonal administration by a permanent full-time civil service. Impersonality and disinterestedness are what Aristotle is groping his way towards in the ingenious suggestions he makes for coping with the problem.

1321b4 Following upon what has been said comes the topic of the proper differentiation of offices – what offices and how many, and in what sphere each is to operate. This topic has been discussed already.1 Without the essential offices there can be no state at all; without those concerned with good order and good conduct there can be no well-governed one. And in smaller states the offices will need to be fewer, but more numerous in the large, as has indeed been stated earlier.2 We must therefore not neglect to consider which of them can appropriately be merged into one and which ought to be kept separate.

1321b12 The first essential responsibility is control of the market-place: there must be some official charged with the duty of seeing that honest dealing and good order prevail. For one of the well-nigh essential activities of all states is the buying and selling of goods to meet their mutual basic needs; this is the quickest way to self-sufficiency, which seems to be what moves men to combine under a single constitution. Another and closely connected responsibility is for public and private properties within the town, the aim being to keep them in good shape; dilapidated streets and buildings have to be maintained and rebuilt, boundaries between properties fixed beyond dispute, and other matters of a like kind connected with this sphere of responsibility have to be seen to. Most people call this sort of office ‘wardenship of the city’, and it includes a number of branches. Where the number of inhabitants of the state is very large, the branches are administered separately, e.g. by Wall-Repairers, Harbour Guards and Superintendents of Springs. There is another essential and closely similar responsibility, with the same functions, but covering the countryside and the districts outside the town; the officials are called by some ‘Country-Wardens’, by others ‘Foresters’. That makes three responsibilities so far.

1321b31 Next, that office which receives the revenues of public life, keeps them safe and distributes them to the various branches of the administration; names such as Receivers or Treasurers are given to these officials. Fifthly there is the office which keeps the records that have to be made of contracts made between private persons, and of law-court decisions; and this same office ought also to be the place for the registration of prosecutions and for the introduction of suits. (Sometimes this office also is divided, and in some places a single supreme office covers them all.) The officials are called Keepers of Sacred Records, Controllers, Recorders, and other such names.

1321b40 Next, there is a connected office which is pretty well the most essential and the hardest of all, namely that of carrying out the sentences of the courts, of collecting moneys publicly declared to be due to the state, and of keeping prisoners in custody. This work is difficult, because it gives rise to much resentment. So, unless it is very profitable, people either refuse to undertake it, or if they do so, are reluctant to fulfil the demands of the laws. Yet it is essential: it is no good having trials on matters of justice if they are to have no effect. If it is impossible for men to live in a society in which there are no trials, it is also impossible where the verdicts are not carried out. It is therefore better that this work should not be assigned to a single official, but to various persons from the various courts; and an attempt should be made to distribute the work of publicly posting the fines to be paid. So too in the exaction of penalties: in some cases the officials should perform this duty, and in particular new officials should exact those imposed by their predecessors; and while they are in office the penalties should be exacted by a different official from the one who imposed them, the fines of Market-Officers being collected by the City-Wardens and theirs in turn by others. For the less resentment there is against the exactors, the better the chances of the exactions being paid in full. It doubles the resentment to have the same persons impose the penalties and exact them; when everything3 is done by the same people, they are everyone’s enemies.

1322a19 In many places the office of keeping custody of prisoners has been separated from that of exacting penalties, as at Athens in the case of the office of those called The Eleven. It is therefore better here also to separate the two, and to look for the best way of applying the same stratagem to the performance of this office4 as well, which is just as essential as the one we have been speaking of.5 But respectable people try to avoid this office above all, and it is dangerous to commit it to the sovereign authority of the bad, who are themselves more in need of guarding than capable of guarding others. Therefore there ought not to be one specific single and perpetual office charged with the care of prisoners, but use should be made, where the system exists, of the young men doing military service and garrison duty in a particular year. And different sets of officials should undertake this responsibility in turn.

1322a29 The above-mentioned offices must be put first, as most essential; next, equally essential and of higher rank, as calling for much experience and great trustworthiness, are all those connected with the defence of the state, and those organized with a view to its needs in time of war. In war and peace alike there must be men charged with superintending the protection of walls and gates, and with inspecting and marshalling the citizens. In some states several separate offices look after all these matters, in others fewer; in small states, for instance, one office covers them all. Names given to the holders of such offices are General and War-Leader. If there are cavalry, light-armed troops, bowmen, and sailors, then for these too there are sometimes separate officials – called Commanders of Ships, of Cavalry, and of Battalions, and junior ranks in each case: Captains of Triremes, of Companies and of Tribes, and so on down to the smaller units. But they all belong to a single class discharging military responsibilities.

1322b6 There we leave this office. Now since some, if not all, of the offices handle great quantities of public property, it is essential to have yet another office, to receive accounts and carry out additional scrutinies; and it will have no function other than financial. Various names are given to these officials: Scrutineers, Accountants, Auditors, Advocates.

1322b12 As well as all the offices which we have mentioned there is the authority which is sovereign over all matters, in that often the same official (i) introduces business and brings it to completion, (ii) presides over the populace in places where the people is sovereign. The convening element is bound to be the sovereign element of the constitution.6 This office is sometimes called the Pre-Council, because it deliberates beforehand, but in democracies7 it is usually just called a Council.

1322b17 This pretty well covers the offices of the state, but there is another type8 of responsibility, namely for religion. Here the officials are (for example) priests and supervisors of matters affecting the temples; and their task is to maintain buildings in good condition, repair dilapidated ones, and to take charge of whatever else is connected with the worship of the gods. Sometimes all this can be looked after by a single official, in small states for example. But sometimes we find, kept separate from the priesthood, a large number of other officials: Sacrificers, Temple-Guardians, Treasurers of Sacred Funds. Connected with this sphere of responsibility there is the special superintendence of all public sacrifices which by law are not entrusted to the priests but derive their prestige from the common hearth. The officials concerned are sometimes called Kings, sometimes Archons, sometimes Presidents.

1322b29 These then are the necessary responsibilities. We may recapitulate them as follows: religion, warfare, income and expenditure, the market, the town and its harbours, the countryside, the courts, registration of contracts, prisons, the exaction of penalties, computing and auditing of accounts, additional scrutinies of holders of office, and finally those concerned with the element that deliberates about public affairs.

1322b37 Some responsibilities are peculiar to states where leisure and prosperity are above the average and where attention is also paid to orderly behaviour. Such are control of women, control of children, guardianship of the laws, and management of gymnasia; and to these we should add the supervision of contests, both athletic and dramatic, and of any other similar public spectacles that there may be. Some of these offices are obviously not at all democratic, for example the control of women and children, because the poor, not having any slaves, are obliged to use their women and children as servants. Of the three offices (that of Guardians of the Laws, of Pre-Councillors and of Council), which some use to direct the election of sovereign officials, the Guardians of the Laws are aristocratic, the Pre-Councillors oligarchic, and a Council democratic. We have now sketched in outline pretty well all the offices.

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