Daily Archives: July 30, 2009

Defining Politics from Scratch

aristotleIf Plato’s Republic is a third-grade civics primer of limited value in a democracy, Aristotle’s Politics is fundamental source material for PoliSci 101. About a third of it is dedicated to quietly dismantling most of The Republic with understated common sense, and it’s probably unnecessary for a modern audience to bother with (unless that audience has plowed through Plato’s simple-minded and unworkable ideas and feels it has earned the reward of seeing this philosophical “giant” get a well-deserved drubbing) but the other two thirds are Required Reading for anyone interested in how we got where we are. And maybe where we go from here.

Aristotle, a mathematician and scientist (mostly a biologist), supplants Plato’s childhood wishful thinking with a quasi-scientific examination of the types of governments he saw in the ancient world. Like a scientist, he first defines each of them according to their salient or dominant characteristics, then classifies them by which characteristics they share, and finally, after all that, (sort of) begins the process of comparing them as to which might be better for men to adopt.

Like a scientist, he does his best to be objective. Though in the course of reading this book it isn’t hard to figure out which sort of govt he favors, he bends over backward to keep from defaming those not his favorites, arguing over and over again from the beginning of the book that each of his govt types might be best for some people in some place at some time and that our job as citizens is to decide which form would suit us best. It’s a refreshing change from Plato’s one-size-fits-all autocracy.

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