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8. Introduction to Political Philosophy: Aristotle's Politics, IV


Poziom:

Temat: Społeczeństwo i nauki społeczne

Professor Steven Smith: Okay, where are we?
Today, we're going to study--I'm going to talk about
Aristotle's--you might call it Aristotle's comparative politics
and focusing on the idea of the regime.
This is the theme that you remember in the opening day I
said was really the central concept or the leading thread of
this course and it's in books III through VI of Aristotle's
Politics that he develops his idea of the regime and
regime politics. Book I, that we spoke about
last time, really in a way tells us something about the--you
might say almost the metaphysics of Aristotle's politics.
Today Aristotle speaks more empirically, more politically
about what a regime is. His idea of regime
politea, again, the same word,
the same word that was used for the title of Plato's
Republic is the centerpiece of Aristotle's
politics literally. It occupies the theme of the
middle three books, books III through VI.
These books are difficult in many ways;
they're complicated. They're not everybody's
favorite part of the book, but they are my favorite part
because it tells us more precisely than anywhere else how
Aristotle understands the nature of politics and that after all
is what we are most interested in.
A regime refers to both the formal enumeration of rights and
duties within a community, but it also addresses something
closer to what we would call the way of life or the culture of a
people. Their distinctive customs,
manners, laws, habits, moral dispositions and
sentiments, and Aristotle's constitutional
theorizing begins by asking a simple question.
What is the identity of a city? What gives it its identity and
enduring existence over time? His answer is the regime;
the regime is what gives a people and a city its identity.
Aristotle distinguishes between what he calls the matter and the
form of the regime. Let me examine both of these in
turn. The matter, the substance,
the material basis of a regime concerns its citizen body.
That is to say the character of those who constitute a city and
here he rejects a number of alternatives for what
constitutes a citizen body. He rejects the idea that the
city is defined simply by a group of people who inhabit a
common territory, the same space as it were.
The identity of a polis he writes is not constituted by
its walls. That is to say,
it is not constituted by geography alone,
and similarly, he rejects the idea that a
regime can be understood as a defensive alliance against
invasion by others. In our terms,
for example, NATO would not be a regime,
a purely military or defensive alliance.
Finally, he denies the possibility that a regime exists
that whenever a number of people come together to establish
commercial relations with one another,
organizations like NAFTA, or the WTO, the World Trade
Organization do not a regime make.
A regime cannot be understood simply as a commercial alliance.
What is a regime then? It is evident Aristotle said,
is that a city is not a partnership in a location or for
the sake of not committing injustice against one another,
or for transacting business, so what is a citizen body?
The citizens who constitute a regime, he tells us,
do more than occupy the common space but are held together,
according to Aristotle, by bonds of common affection.
It is affection, loyalty and friendship that
make up a regime. This sort of thing he says,
this political partnership is the work of affection,
philia is his word, is the work of affection.
"Affection is the intentional choice of living together."
1280a, if anyone's interested. "It is the intentional choice
of living together." Friendship, he writes,
"is the greatest of good things for cities, for when people feel
affection for each other they are less likely to fall into
conflict." But what kind of friendship is
he talking about? Is it the kind of friendship
that you feel for your best friend, or for your parents or
siblings? What kind of a friendship are
these bonds of affection, that he says hold the city
together and that make it a regime?
Political friendships, he tells us,
are not the kind of thing that require us to forego our own
individual identities in a way that one might find in
passionate relations of love, right?
Rather, they presuppose relations, that is to say
political relations, not between lovers or even best
friends of some kind, but between civic partners who
may in fact be intensely rivalrous and competitive with
one another for positions of political office and honor.
Civic friendship, civic philia is in other
words not without a strong element of what might be thought
of as sibling rivalry in which each citizen strives to outdo
the others for the sake of the civic good.
Many of you have siblings and know a little bit about what
sibling rivalry is like. Siblings, as everyone knows,
may be the best of friends, but this does not exclude
strong elements of competition, rivalry, and even conflict for
the attention of the parents, and fellow citizens,
for Aristotle, are like siblings,
each competing with one another for the esteem,
the affection, and the recognition of the city
that serves for them as a kind of surrogate parent.
That is the way that Aristotle understands a civic body,
a citizen body. So that when he says that
citizens are held together by ties of common affection he
means something very specific. The civic bond is more than an
aggregate of mere self-interest or rational calculation as was
going to be defended by someone like Thomas Hobbes or by most of
today's modern economists who believe that society can be
understood simply as a series of rational transactions between
buyers and sellers of different goods and that can be modeled
along some kind of game theoretic lines.
Aristotle denies this, explicitly denies this.
He seems to have known something about the modern
economic theory of society long before modern economics was even
developed. But again, when Aristotle
speaks of the kinds of affection that hold a citizen body
together, he does not mean anything like
the bonds of personal intimacy that characterize private
friendships. What he means,
when speaking about civic affection, is more like the
bonds of loyalty, camaraderie that hold together
members of a team or a club. These are more than,
again, ties of mutual convenience.
They require loyalty, trust, what social scientists
today sometimes call social capital, that successful
societies require social capital.
A distinguished political scientist at another university,
I will not mention its name here,
at another university, has spoken about the importance
of social capital or trust as a sort of basic relation,
the basic component of a healthy democracy.
Aristotle knew that, he didn't use a kind of ugly
social scientific word like social capital;
rather he spoke about civic friendship and philia.
The political partnership he says must therefore be regarded
as being for the sake of noble actions and not just for the
sake of living together. The city, as he likes to say or
the regime exists not merely for the sake of life but for what he
understands to be the good life, the life of friendship,
the life of again, competitive relations for
positions of honor and office. So we can say that a regime is
in the first instance constituted by its citizen body.
Citizens are those who share a common way of life.
The citizen in an unqualified sense, Aristotle writes,
is defined by no other thing so much as sharing in decision and
office. Or, as he puts it a little bit
later, whoever is entitled to participate in an office
involving deliberation or decision-making is a citizen of
the city. Listen to the words he uses
there in describing a citizen. A citizen is one who takes
sharing in decision and office, who participates in
deliberation and decision-making.
A citizen is one therefore who not only enjoys the protection
of the law, is not merely you might say a passive beneficiary
of the protection of society and its laws,
but is one who takes a share in shaping the laws and who
participates in political rule and deliberation.
Aristotle even notes, you probably observe,
that his definition of the citizen,
he says, is most appropriate to citizens of democracy,
where in his famous formulation everyone knows how to rule and
be ruled in turn. It is this reflection and the
character of the citizen that leads him to wonder whether the
good citizen and the good human being are one and the same.
Can a person be both, as it were, a good man,
a good person and a good citizen?
Famous discussion in Aristotle's book;
Aristotle's answer to this is perhaps deliberately obscure.
The good citizen, he tells, us is still relative
to the regime. That is to say,
the good citizen of the democracy would not necessarily
be the same person, or the same kind of person as
the good citizen of a monarchy or an aristocracy.
Citizen virtue is relative, or we might say,
regime relative. Only in the best regime,
he says, will the good citizen and the good human being be the
same. But what is the best regime?
At least at this point he has not told us.
The point he's trying to make is there are several kinds of
regimes and therefore several kinds of citizenship appropriate
to them. Each regime is constituted by
its matter, that is to say, by its citizen body as we've
been talking about, but also now by its form,
by its formal structures. That is to say every regime
will also be a set of institutions and formal
structures that give shape to its citizens.
Regimes or constitutions you might say are forms,
or formalities that determine how power is shared and
distributed among citizens. Every regime is an answer,
consciously or not, to the oldest political
question of all, who governs?
Who should govern? Every regime is an answer to
that question because every regime sets forward a way of
distributing, formally distributing powers
and distributing offices among its citizen body.
So we move now from the matter of the regime,
as to what constitutes its citizens and its citizen body,
to the question of the form of the regime, its forms,
its formalities, its structures and institutions
you might say. Entirely too much of modern
political science is focused on simply the forms and formalities
of political life, not enough, in my opinion,
with questions of the citizen body and what makes,
what constitutes, the character or the virtue in
Aristotle's terms of its citizens.
But nevertheless, Aristotle gives extraordinary
importance and attention to the forms or formalities that make
up a regime. What does he mean by that?
Aristotle defines the strictly formal criteria of a
politea twice in his politics and I'm sure you noted
both times where they appeared? Yes.
Book III, chapter 6, famous definition:
"The regime," he says, "is an arrangement of a city
with respect to its offices, particularly the one who has
the authority over all matters. For what has authority in the
city is everywhere that governing body,
and the governing body is the regime."
The regime is an arrangement of a city, he says,
with respect to its offices and every city will have a governing
body, that governing body being a
regime. The second definition appears
at the beginning of Book IV, chapter 1.
"For a regime," he writes, "is an arrangement in cities
connected with offices, establishing the manner in
which they have been distributed, what the
authoritative element of the regime is,
and what the end of the partnership is in each case,
a similar but slightly different definition of what
constitutes the formal structure of regime politics."
But from these two definitions appearing in book III,
chapter 6 and Book IV, chapter 1 we learn a number of
important things. First, is to repeat,
a regime concerns the manner in which power is divided or
distributed in a community. This is what Aristotle means
when he uses the phrase, "an arrangement of a city with
respect to its offices." In other words,
every regime will be based on some kind of judgment of how
power should be distributed to the one,
to the few or the many to use the Aristotelian categories of
political rule or some mixture of those three classes that
constitute every city. In every regime one of these
groups, he says, will be the dominant class,
will be the dominant body, the ruling body,
as he says, in that definition and that ruling body will in
turn, he says, define the nature of
the regime.
But Aristotle tells us something more than this.
A regime, his regime typology is, to say, his division of
power, his division of regimes and to the rule of the one,
the few and the many is based not only on how powers are
distributed in a purely factual way,
he also distinguishes between regimes that are well ordered,
well governed, and those that are corrupt.
What does he mean in terms of this distinction?
Aristotle's distinction seems to be not only empirical,
again, based on the factual distribution of powers.
It seems to have a--what we might call today a normative
component to it, it makes a distinction or a
judgment between the well-ordered and the deviant
regimes, the corrupt regimes.
On the one side, he tells us,
the well ordered regimes are monarchy, aristocracy and what
he calls polity, rule of the one,
the few, and the many, and on the corrupt side he
calls, he describes them as tyranny,
oligarchy and democracy also ruled by the one,
the few, and the many. But what criteria,
we want to know, does he use to distinguish
between these, as it were, six-fold
classification of regimes? How does he distinguish the
well-ordered regimes from the corrupt regimes?
Here is where Aristotle's analysis gets,
in some ways, maddeningly tricky because in
many ways, of his general reluctance,
to condemn any regime out of hand.
If you were to read more than I had assigned for you in class,
if you were to read throughout, through all of Book VI for
example, you would find Aristotle not only giving advice
to Democrats and democracies and other regimes on how to preserve
themselves, you would find a lengthy
description of how tyrants should moderate,
or how tyrants learn to preserve and defend their own
regime. It seems as if,
it seems almost as if, living before the incarnation
of pure evil in the twentieth century with the rise of modern
totalitarianisms, that Aristotle seemed to think
that no regime was so bad, no regime was so devoid of
goodness that its preservation was not worth at least some
effort, think of that.
Rather, in many ways, he provides reasoned arguments
for the strengths and weaknesses of several different regime
types. Let's consider the one that's
closest to our own, democracy, let's consider what
Aristotle has to tell us about that regime.
In fact, it would be an interesting question for people
to consider, to know how would Aristotle confront or what would
his analysis be if a regime like Hitler's Germany,
Stalin's Russia, the Iran of Khomeini,
regimes that are clearly tyrannies but do they even go
beyond in some way, the tyrannies that Aristotle
spoke about and what kind of advice, what would he have to
say about them? Anyway let's think about
democracy.
Interestingly, we find Aristotle defending
democracy on the grounds that it may contain collectively greater
wisdom than a regime ruled by the one or the few.
In Book III, chapter 11, for example,
he writes, "For because they are many,"
that is to say the citizen body, the ruling body of the
democracy, "each can have a part of virtue and prudence and on
their uniting together, and on their joining together
he says, "the multitude with its many feet and hands and having
many senses becomes," he writes, "like a single human
being, and so also with respect to character and mind."
Think of that, the people in a democracy he
says, "coming together, uniting together,
become like a single human being with many hands and feet,"
and he says, "with greater character and mind."
We even hear more than any single individual,
and then, in the same text, we also hear Aristotle praising
the practice of ostracism, that is to say exiling,
banishing those individuals deemed to be pre-eminent in any
particular virtue or quality. He makes a similar point in
Book III, chapter 15, in describing the process of
democratic deliberation as a superior means of arriving at
decisions. He compares it to a potluck
dinner; any one of them,
he says, that is to say any one of the citizens,
taken singly is perhaps inferior in comparison to the
best. But the city is made up of many
persons, just as a feast to which many contribute is finer,
is better, than a single and simple one and on this account a
crowd also judges many matters better than a single person.
Furthermore, what is many,
he says, is more incorruptible like a greater amount of water
than many is more incorruptible than the few.
So he gives there a powerful argument in defense of
democracy, like a potluck dinner;
each individual cook may not be as good as the best chef but
many taken together will provide many more dishes and many more
variety, for a variety of tastes than
does a single chef.
He says, furthermore, a crowd, the many,
is more incorruptible than the few.
Less light incorruptible, here, I take it in a kind of
ordinary sense of the term, less susceptible to bribery,
you can't bribe a lot of people in the way that you can a single
individual. Are Aristotle's views on
democracy correct here in his analysis?
Do in fact many chefs make for a better dinner than a single
chef? Well, I don't know,
would you rather have dinner at the Union League with one chef,
a master chef or would you rather have dinner with a bunch
of your friends each providing some piece of the dinner?
Well, it's an interesting argument;
it's open to debate anyway. Yet at the same time,
is Aristotle seen defending democracy, providing reason and
many sensible arguments for democratic regimes?
You find him, in the same section of the
book, providing a defense of kingship and the rule of the
one. In Book III,
chapter 16, he considers the case of the king who acts in all
things according to his own will.
Sounds like a kind of absolute monarch of some kind;
this is the part of Aristotle's politics that seems closest in a
way to the idea of a platonic philosopher-king,
a king who rules without law and rules for the good of all,
simply on the basis of his own superiority.
Aristotle coins a term for this kind of king overall,
he calls it the pambasileia,
baseleia being the Greek word for king,
like the name Basil, it's the Greek word for king
and pan meaning universal,
pambasileia, the universal king,
the king of all. Aristotle does not rule out the
possibility of such a person emerging, a person of,
what he calls excessive virtue, almost hyperbolic excellence,
he says, who stands so far above the rest as to deserve to
be the natural ruler overall. But how, we want to know,
does Aristotle reconcile his account of the term
baseleia, the king of overall,
with his earlier emphasis upon democratic deliberation and
shared rule, the citizen,
recall, is one who takes turn ruling and being ruled in turn.
When readers look at Aristotle's account of kingship
and particularly this notion of the pambasileia,
the king overall, this suggestion must at least
occur that there is a hidden Alexandrian or Macedonian streak
to Aristotle's political thinking that owes more to his
native Macedon than to his adopted Athens,
the idea of universal kingship. Think of Alexander the Great
later on, and in fact, in one of my favorite passages
in the book, which you will read for next
time, I cannot resist quoting already a passage from Book VII,
and near the end of the book, Book VII, chapter 7,
where Aristotle writes as follows.
He writes, "The nations in cold locations, particularly in
Europe, are filled with spiritedness."
There is that platonic word again, thumos, are filled
with thumos, "but lacking in discursive
thought," lacking in the deliberative element in other
words. Hence, they remain free because
they're thumotic, but they lack political
governance. "Those in Asia,
on the other hand," he writes, thinking probably here of
Persia, places like Egypt and Persia,
"have souls endowed with discursive thought but lack
spiritedness, lack thumos,
hence they remain ruled and enslaved."
But then he goes on to say, "The stock of Greeks share in
both, just as it holds," he says, "the middle in terms of
location. For it," that is to say the
Greeks, "are both spirited, are both thumotic and
endowed with deliberative thought,
and hence, remained free and governed itself in the best
manner." "And," he writes and he
concludes, "at the same time is capable of ruling all should it
obtain a single regime." That these Greeks are capable
of ruling all, he says, all,
who is all? What does he mean by the all
here? The Greeks?
The rest of the world? Should our--are capable of
attaining it seems a single hegemony, a single regime,
are if in fact, circumstances developed.
So here is a passage in which Aristotle clearly seems to be
pointing to the possibility of a kind of universal monarchy under
Greek rule, at least as a possibility.
This passage I read at length, is important for a number of
reasons, let me just try to explain.
In the first place, it provides us with crucial
information about Aristotle's thinking about the relations of
impulse and reason, of thumos and reason,
as you might say the determinants of human behavior
or the crucial pet term in that passage is this,
again this platonic term spiritedness which is both a
cause of the human desire to rule and at the same time a
cause of our desire to resist the domination of others.
It is the unique source of human assertiveness and
aggressiveness, as well as the source of
resistance to the aggression of others.
It's a very important psychological concept in
understanding politics. And second, the passage tells
us something about certain additional factors.
Extra, in many ways, extra-political factors such as
climate and geography as components in the development of
political society. Apparently, quality such as
thumos and reason, thumos and deliberation,
are not distributed equally and universally.
He says, he distinguishes, between the people's of the
north, he calls them the Europeans, spirited and war-like
but lacking thumos; those of Persia and Egypt
containing highly developed forms of intellectual knowledge,
no doubt thinking about the development of things like
science and mathematics in Egypt but lacking this quality of
thumos which is so important for self-government,
for self-rule. These are, one might think
about this, these things, he says, are at least in part
determined by certain kinds of natural or geographic and
climatic qualities. A modern reader of this passage
that comes to mind is Montesquieu, in his famous book,
the Spirit of the Laws, with its emphasis upon the way
in which geography and climate, and environment become in part
determinants of the kind of political culture and political
behavior exhibited by different peoples.
Finally, this passage tells us that under the right
circumstances, at least Aristotle suggests,
the Greeks could exercise a kind of universal rule,
if they chose. He does not rule out this
possibility. Perhaps it testifies to his
view that there are different kinds of regimes that may be
appropriate to different kinds of situations,
to different situations. There is no one-size-fits-all
model of political life, but good regimes may come in a
variety of forms. There seems to be at least
built in to Aristotle's account of politics, a certain
flexibility, a certain latitude of
discretion that in some passages even seems to border on a kind
of relativism. But nevertheless,
Aristotle understands that a person, this pambasileia,
this person of superlative virtue is not really to be
expected. Politics is really a matter of
dealing with less than best circumstances which is perhaps
one reason why Aristotle gives relatively little attention to
the structure of the best regime.
Such a regime, which I do want to talk about
Wednesday is something to be wished for,
but is not for practical purposes something to which he
devotes a great deal of time. Most regimes,
and for the most part, will be very imperfect mixtures
of the few and the many, the rich and the poor.
Most regimes, for the most part,
most politics for the most part, will be struggles between
what he calls oligarchies and democracies,
rule by the rich oligarchies, ruled by the poor democracies.
In that respect, Aristotle seems to add an
economic or sociological category to the fundamentally
political categories of few and many.
The few are not simply defined quantitatively but they are
defined, as it were, also sociologically.
The rich, the poor, again defined as,
the many and defined by him as the poor.
It was not, you have to see when you read these passages,
it was not Karl Marx but rather it was Aristotle who first
identified the importance of what we would call class
struggle, in politics. Every regime is in many ways a
competition between classes. But where he differs from Marx,
is not that he believes that the fundamental form of
competition between classes is not just for resources,
it is not a struggle over who controls what Marx calls the
means of production, it is a struggle over positions
of honor, of status and position, of positions of rule.
Struggle is, in short, political struggle
not economic struggle. Every regime,
he believes, will be in some ways a site of
contestation with competing claims to justice,
with competing claims to political rule for who ought to
rule.
There is, in other words, not only a partisanship between
regimes, but partisanship within regimes,
where citizens are activated, different groups of citizens,
different classes of citizens are activated by rivalrous and
competing understandings of justice and the good.
The democratic faction, he tells us,
believes because all are equal in some respects,
they should be equal in all respects.
The oligarchs, he tells us,
because people are unequal in some respects,
they should be unequal in all respects.
For Aristotle the point and purpose of political science is
to mediate the causes of faction,
to help causes of faction that lead to revolution and civil
war. Aristotle's statesman,
Aristotle's statecraft, his political science,
is a form of political mediation,
how to bring peace to conflict ridden situations.
It is always surprising to me that many people think that
Aristotle ignored or has no real theory of political conflict
when it seems to me conflict is built in to the very structure
of his understanding of a regime.
And again, not just conflict between rival regimes but
conflict built into the nature of what we would call domestic
politics, different classes contending
with different conceptions of justice and how can the
political scientist bring peace, bring moderation to these
deeply conflict ridden situations?
Aristotle proposes--how does he propose to do this?
He proposes a couple of remedies to offset the
potentially warlike struggle between various factions.
And the most important of these remedies is the rule of law.
"Law insures," he says, "the equal treatment of all
citizens and prevents arbitrary rule at the hands of the one,
the few, or the many." Law establishes what he says is
a kind of impartiality for law, he says, is impartiality.
"One who asks the law to rule," he says, in Book III,
chapter 16, "is held to be asking God and intellect alone
to rule while one who asks man, asks the beast.
Desire is a thing of this sort, and spiritedness," he writes
again, "thumos, spiritedness perverts rulers
and the best men, hence law is intellect without
appetite. Even the best men," he says,
"can be perverted by spiritedness.
Law is the best hedge we have against the domination of
partiality and desire." But this is not the end of the
story. In fact, it is only the
beginning. Aristotle raises the question,
a very important question, whether the rule of law is to
be referred to the rule of the best, the best individual.
Typically again, he seems to answer the question
from two different points of view, giving each perspective
its due, its justice. He begins in many ways by
appearing to defend Plato's view about the rule of the best
individual. "The best regime," he says,
"is not one based on written law."
Law, and his reason seems to be something like this,
law is at best a clumsy instrument,
a clumsy tool because laws only deal with general matters and
cannot deal with particular concrete situations.
Furthermore, law seems to bind the hands of
the statesmen and legislators who always have to be responding
to new and unforeseen circumstances and yet at the
same time Aristotle makes the case for law.
The judgment of an individual, no matter how wise,
is more corruptible whether due to passion or interest,
or simply the fallibility of human reason than is law.
He notes, as a practical matter, no one individual can
oversee all things.
Only a third party, in this case law,
is capable of judging adequately.
Again, he seems to give reasons and good reasons for both cases.
So he, but he moves to question, should law be changed?
Is law changeable? If so, how?
And once again, he puts forward different
arguments; in Book II, chapter 8,
he compares law to other arts and sciences and suggests why
sciences such as medicine and has exhibited progress,
this should be true for law. The antiquity of a law alone is
no justification for its usage. Aristotle seems to reject,
you might say, Burkean conservatism long
before the time. Antiquity or tradition alone is
no justification, yet at the same time he seems
to recognize that changes in law,
even when the result is improvement, are dangerous.
He writes, "It is a bad thing to habituate people to reckless
dissolution of laws. The city will not be benefited
as much from changing law as it will be harmed through being
habituated to disobey the rulers."
In other words he's saying, lawfulness, like every other
virtue, is a habit, it is a habit of behavior,
and the habit of destroying, disobeying even an unjust law
will make people altogether lawless.
This emphasis upon law is a constraint on human behavior.
In many ways seems to introduce a strong element of
conventionalism in Aristotle's thought.
This is the view that justice is determined by laws,
by customs, by traditions, that it is conventions,
nomos in the broadest sense of the term that
constitutes justice. As I indicated,
there's also seems to be a certain degree of relativism
associated with this since conventions vary from society to
society. The standards of justice will
seem to, again, be regime dependent and this
seems to be entirely consistent with parts of Aristotle's
anthropology. After all, if we are political
animals by nature, then the standards of justice
must derive from politics, a right that transcends society
cannot be a right natural to man.
Yet Aristotle's conception of our political nature seems to
require standards of justice that are natural or right for
us. Rule of law presupposes that
there is a form of justice or right natural to us.
But what is the Aristotelian standard of natural right or
natural justice?
Aristotle makes a surprising assertion;
unfortunately, it's an assertion in a book
you're not reading. A book, the Nicomachean
Ethics, Book V, chapter 7, he says there that,
" all natural right is mutable or changeable,
all standards of natural justice are changeable."
And by this he means that natural right is revealed not in
general propositions or universal maxims,
as for example, Immanuel Kant would argue later
on, but in the concrete decisions of a community or its
leaders about what is right or wrong.
Natural right is mutable because different circumstances
will require different kinds of decisions.
So does this mean then that for Aristotle there are no
universally valid standards of justice or right?
That all that ends in circumstances that justice,
like the good citizen is, as it were, regime dependent?
Is this not to fall into the boundless field of
Machiavelianism that declares right and wrong to be entirely
relative to circumstance, context dependent,
is that what Aristotle is saying?
Not at all. Aristotle emphasizes the
mutable character of natural right in part to preserve the
latitude, the freedom of action required by the statesmen.
Every statesman must confront new and sometimes extreme
situations that require inventiveness and creative
action. And in such situations where
the very survival of the community may be at stake,
we might call these emergency situations, the conscientious
statesmen must be able to respond appropriately.
Nine-eleven for example, a moral law that refused to
allow the statesmen to protect the community in times of crisis
would not be a principle of natural right,
it would be a suicide note.
To a considerable degree Aristotle, Aristotelian
standards of natural right reside in the specific
decisions, the concrete decisions of the
ablest states; these cannot be determined in
advance but must be allowed to emerge in response to new,
and again, different and unforeseen situations.
What is naturally right, what is right by nature in
peace time, will not be the same as what is naturally right or
right by nature in times of war.
What is right in normal situations will not be the same
as what is right in states of emergency.
The statesmen in the Aristotelian sense is the one
who seeks to return as quickly and efficiently as possible to
the normal situation. This is what distinguishes
Aristotle from Machiavelli, and all those later thinkers
who take their bearings from Machiavelli.
I'm thinking of thinkers like Hobbes, like Carl Schmitt,
and Max Weber in the twentieth century.
All of these thinkers take their bearings from the extreme
situation, situations of civil war, of social collapse,
of national crisis.
The Aristotelian statesman will not be unduly affected by the
occasional need to depart from the norm,
whether this means this is spent in the case,
to take an American case, the suspension of habeas
Corpus, as Abraham Lincoln did in the,
during the Civil War, or the regrettable need to
engage in domestic espionage. But in any case,
the Aristotelian statesman's goal will be restoration of the
conditions of constitutional government and rule of law as
quickly and again as efficiently as possible.
On that grim note, I think I'll let you go and we
will conclude Aristotle next time.
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