Aristotle was a Greek philosopher who lived during the fourth century B.C. but whose works have had a strong influence on contemporary ideas about ethics, morality and politics. He studied at the Academy in Athens, and Plato's ideas influenced him, though many of his views on politics were in contrast to his mentor's. Aristotle did not agree with Plato’s ideas about an ideal government. Instead, he believed in a government that worked for the common good through realistic means.
In Aristotle's most famous work, “Politics,” he detailed his philosophy about the rule of law. Aristotle identified six types of constitutions in use by the city-states of Greece at that time, and he labeled them either "true" or "despotic." By labeling a constitution true, he did not mean that it was ideal, but rather that it was easily attainable and promoted the common good for all citizens. An article from "The New Book of Knowledge" on the Scholastic website quotes Aristotle: "The true forms of government ... are those in which the one, or the few, or the many govern, with a view to the common interest." On the other hand, selfish interests, such as building wealth or power for only certain individuals or groups, qualified as despotic constitutions.
Views on Monarchy
Aristotle considered monarchy a true form of government, but warned it could become a tyranny, which he considered a despotic form of government. The article on the Scholastic website explains that when a monarch such as a king or queen ruled only to increase the monarchy’s wealth and power, Aristotle considered that ruler a tyrant and his or her reign tyrannical. Monarchies work only when rulers make decisions based on what is for the greater good, such as increasing wealth for all citizens through job creation or increased trade.
Ideas About Oligarchy
When a few elite ruled the government by making decisions in the best interests of all citizens, Aristotle considered that an aristocracy. However, when that group of people ruled for personal gain, it was considered a despotic oligarchy. The Constitutional Rights Foundation notes that Aristotle was cautious about a government run by aristocracy, as he felt that it put the interests of the rich against those of the poor, causing a fight for power. However, according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation, Aristotle believed that a large middle class would help prevent an aristocracy from becoming an oligarchy by balancing the interests of the sovereign.
Philosophy on Democracy
Aristotle considered democracy a despotic form of government because he felt that it caused competition between the classes, and it was vulnerable to leaders ruling by emotion rather than strict adherence to the law. However, Scholastic argues that democracies in Aristotle's time were different than today. Aristotle's "true" form of government in this category, called a polity, which is close to many modern-day democratic governments, relies on a strong middle class to hold leaders accountable to make objective decisions based on statute and not personal ideals or emotion.
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