ARISTOTLE: Question #7
In Politics Books 3 and 4, Aristotle analyzes different types of constitutions, identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each. Aristotle regards a "polity" as the best for of constitution. According to Aristotle, why is a polity the best type of constitution? What are the characteristics of a polity? What sorts of problems does it overcome? In a polity, whom would posses political power and why? What type of justice would prevail?
Could there really be rule by the middle class, effectively keeping the upper and lower class from exploiting each other? It would be a fantastic approach to government, but probably one that is not possible in today's political world. Would it not be great to have more of a say in what happens in your world? Especially if it meant getting to tell the ultra-rich, like Bill Gates and Michael Eisner that they could not build 75,000 square foot houses on 1000 acres of land because that land was going to be needed for the development of homes for those that are less fortunate than they are. Is this what Aristotle had in mind when he described his idea of polity? Was there any issue such as this occurring while he was describing his ideal form of constitution? One will probably never know the answers to some of the previous questions, but Aristotle makes clear why he believes that polity is the best form of constitution. By mixing aspects of democratic and oligarchic principles, by having the middle class play the role of mediator between the rich and the poor, and having a political community that strives for virtue and correct justice, Aristotle asserts that by doing this, a constitution will be effective and long lasting.
According to Aristotle, the polity is the best type of constitution because of the presence and sheer number of the middle class. The middle class help counter the differences between the poor, such as one having money and property, and the other having little to none of both. The middle class serve to make it easier for the political community to come to a decision for the common good of the whole community versus letting the few rich, or the many poor, make a decision that could be to the detriment of the other that is not in power. What helps make this the best type of constitution is that a polity combines elements of both oligarchic and democratic rule. According to Aristotle, "oligarchy is for the benefit of the rich, and democracy is for the benefit of the poor. But none is for their common profit (1279b6-9)." It could be said that if the rich were the sole rulers, as in an oligarchy, they would rule for the benefit of the few rich and not take the many poor into consideration when making their decisions within the political community. The same problem would arise if democracy ruled also, but this time, the many poor are ruling and they rule what is in their best interest, which would certainly be to deny the few rich any political power. Since those who are in the middle class are similar and nearly equal in wealth, they would be the best group to rule and be ruled. According to Aristotle, "of all citizens, those in the middle survive best in city-states. For neither do they desire other people's property as the poor do, nor do other people desire theirs, as the poor desire that of the rich. And because they are neither plotted against nor engage in plotting, they live out their lives free from danger (1295b29-33)." The middle class has enough wealth, but not too much, like the rich, to be happy enough to not want more wealth or to want to rule all the time. It is because the rich and the poor would want to rule all the time, either to assert their supremacy, as the rich would want to do, or to get back at the rich for their lack of money or property, as the poor would do, that the middle is needed to provide balance to the groups.
The characteristics of the polity include combining the...