What can we learn about the state from Aristotle?

Author: Olivera Z. Mijuskovic, philosopher

Aristotle's most important work in the field of political philosophy is his book "Policy". He speaks about the ideal polis. Polis indicates an ancient town which is also the state. Aristotle believes that one needs to climb on the hill and until his view  reaches that`s his state. The purpose of such a state is a happy life. His idea of a happy life is actually the backbone for understanding the modern concept of the state.

Why did the state is the best solution for the communion of men? Aristotle believes that man by nature must live in the community because he was a political creature or zoon politikon. Those who can`t live in the community is either God or the beast. Aristotle even approach the psychological analysis of the man who is socially accomplished  and mentions his psychological pathology. He talks about the need for another being, which is central issue in his teachings.

When he  talking about the state he is talking about a community of free people.Aristotle even makes a clear parallel between those who are born to rule and those who are subdued - slavesHe’s criticized for this part of learning because it corresponds to the race theory of society. Aristotle certainly wrote and contemplated in accordance with the spirit of the time in which he lived, but it is dangerous nowadays to take into account its determination of free people and slaves after they give birth. Aristotle in one place speaks of slaves who fall into slavery under applicable state laws, such as prisoners of war. Aristotle believes that they should have no civil rights. He also makes a clear distinction between free men who possess civil rights - the class of the rich and the poor class.

Important for modern political practice is the part of his teaching  which states that all citizens should participate alternately in authority. Slightly smaller range of civil rights is participation in the General Assembly and the courts. It regarded that farmers should not participate in civic life, because due to hard physical work they`re not able to know the true virtue. The warriors are those that are best characterized - youth spend in defense of the state, the mean age they spend  in the legislation, and age implemented they spend as priests.  Also, Aristotle mentions the form of private property. He believes that all free citizens should have their own piece of land, some in the very policy, some on its borders in order to participate in the defense of the state. Slaves and barbarians would be in the tillage.

Aristotle talks about the good and bad forms of government. He says that there`re no eternal legal norms. What's that supposed to mean? This means that civil law are relative – citizen indemocracy may be deprived of its rights in the oligarchy and so on. Democracy is the authority of all citizens, while oligarchy is the authority of  the wealthy people. When talking about to democracy Aristotle says that it is ideal, but the poorest citizens  haven`t  practical wisdom and they are prone to making wrong decisions. Themonarchy would be the ideal form of government if the monarch was smarter and more capable than any other people, but it is unknown. When talking about thearistocracy he believes that it constituted of the best members of the community, but because they are such rare and this form of authority would be turned into an oligarchy. The most important moment in his teachings is the part where he says that the best form of government and political system is a constitutional republic in which authority is sub-divided between the free people and the elites. Also,  the well-being and optimal functioning of society would not exist if it would not create a middle class.

In his political learning, Aristtle doesn`t exclude ethic. He talks about the state and the society in which people have virtues and where the purpose is  the happy life of the people  and the goal is good that needs to be pursued.


Aristotle creates a more realistic picture of the state then Plato, who speaks about the idea of an ideal state. Aristotle speaks in the spirit of the his time and about the relatively best state. Also, what is an important issue in Aristotle's notion isthe property rights and creation of the middle class, unlike Plato, who is prone to extreme laissez-faire individualism.


What conclusion can we draw today? Is it possible to apply some of Aristotle's principle of political philosophy in the time in which we live? Certainly we can`t accept the principle of slavery, but a state that cares about the happiness of their citizens certainly can.  Certainly what we should strive for is ethics  which is related to policy.

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Tags: Human, Philosophy, Policy, Rights

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