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Aristotle's "Best Regime"

Kingship, Democracy, and the Rule of Law

Clifford A.BatesJr.

Publication Year: 2002

The collapse of the Soviet Union and other Marxist regimes around the world seems to have left liberal democracy as the only surviving ideology, and yet many scholars of political thought still find liberal democracy objectionable, using Aristotle's Politics to support their views. In this detailed analysis of Book 3 of Aristotle's work, Clifford Angell Bates, Jr., challenges these scholars, demonstrating that Aristotle was actually a defender of democracy. Proving the relevance of classical political philosophy to modern democratic problems, Bates argues that Aristotle not only defends popular rule but suggests that democracy, restrained by the rule of law, is the best form of government. According to Aristotle, because human beings are naturally sociable, democracy is the regime that best helps man reach his potential; and because of human nature, it is inevitable democracies will prevail. Bates explains why Aristotle's is a sound position between two extremes—participatory democracy, which romanticizes the people, and elite theory, which underrates them. Aristotle, he shows, sees the people as they really are and nevertheless believes their self-rule, under law, is ultimately better than all competing forms. However, the philosopher does not believe democracy should be imposed universally. It must arise out of the given cultural, environmental, and historical traditions of a people or its will fall into tyranny. Bates's fresh interpretation rests on innovative approaches to reading Book 3—which he deems vital to understanding all of Aristotle's Politics. Examining the work in the original Greek as well as in translation, he addresses questions about the historical Aristotle versus the posited Aristotle, the genre and structure of the text, and both the theoretical and the dialogic nature of the work. Carting Aristotle's rhetorical strategies, Bates shows that Book 3 is not simply a treatise but a series of dialogues that develop a nuanced defense of democratic rule. Bates's accessible and faithful exposition of Aristotle's work confirms that the philosopher's teachings are not merely of historical interest but speak directly to liberal democracy's current crisis of self-understanding.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Series: Political Traditions in Foreign Policy Series

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-x

The subject of Aristotle’s “best regime” first came to my attention when I took two graduate seminars on Aristotle’s Politics at the University of Dallas. In those classes Dr. Leo Paul de Alvarez opened my eyes to the importance of political things and awakened my interest in Aristotle’s treatment...

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pp. 1-14

The last decade of the twentieth century produced a boom in scholarship concerning Aristotelian political philosophy. This reawakened interest in Aristotle’s political thought, and thus all the new attention to the Politics, seems due in part to the belief that liberal democracy needs a renewed...

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In one sense, Politics 3 is the real beginning of the Politics. It is where Aristotle develops and explains, in a comprehensive manner, the concept of the regime, or politeia. Book 3 is, as W. L. Newman says, “the centre round which the whole [work] is grouped” (Newman 1973, 2:xxxi).1 Although one...

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1. The City

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pp. 17-26

The beginning of Politics 3 addresses the issue that both Politics 1 and 2 attempted to deal with, the city or the polis.1 Thus Book 3 is a return to the beginning of an inquiry into politics. Concerning this inquiry, Aristotle in Book 3, chapter 1 states what is clearly the object of his investigation:...

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2. The Citizen

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pp. 27-59

It is commonly asserted that the citizen is a common-sense beginning point for political analysis.1 But is this true? At first glance, Politics 3.1 appears to suggest that Aristotle intends as the first order of business to address the concept of the citizen and who ought to be called a citizen (3.1.1274b41– 75a1)....

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3. The Regime

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pp. 60-93

Politics 3 opens with the implication that to understand what the polis or the political community is one must investigate the regime (3.1.1274a32–33). The case is begun for the importance of the regime in Aristotle’s attempt to understand political community. Politics 3, as I have argued...

II. THE FIRST PEAK: Popular Rule

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4. Aristocracy As the Best Regime

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pp. 97-101

Before we examine Aristotle’s treatment of the many in Politics 3.9– 3.13, we must address what most scholars consider to be the best regime for Aristotle, aristocracy. To examine aristocracy as the best regime in Aristotle’s political thought, one usually considers Politics 7–8 (Mulgan 1977,...

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5. The Problem with Politeia As Polity in Politics

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pp. 102-121

In recent scholarship on Aristotle’s political thought there has been a growing tendency to treat “polity,” or the so-called “mixed regime,” as his central political teaching on the best regime. But this view—as well as the traditional view of “polity” as an alternative to the best regime—is not only...

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6. The Political Excellence of the Many: A Reexamination of Politics 3.9–13

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pp. 123-153

It can be argued that contemporary political theories of democracy tend to either exaggerate the political capacities and virtues of the average person1 or argue that the political apathy and selfishness of the average person preserve democratic regimes.2 In recent decades, proponents of these tendencies...

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7. Does Aristotle Underrate Democracy? A Reevaluation of Nicomachean Ethics 8.10.1160B19–21

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pp. 154-162

It is generally assumed that Aristotle holds democracy to be a deviant regime (politeia) and, as such, it cannot be choiceworthy (haietos).1 In fact Aristotle is usually cited as an antidemocrat if not a severe and hostile critic of democracy.2 One key section in the Aristotelian corpus that is usually cited...

III. THE SECOND PEAK: The Three Logoi of the Pambasileia

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8. On Kingship

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pp. 165-170

As I have argued previously, there are two peaks in the argument of Book 3 of the Politics. The first peak is the democratic regime, which is arrived at after a debate between oligarchy and democracy that occurs in Politics 3.9–13. The second peak is the universal kingship (pambasileia) that begins...

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9. First Logos (1286a7–b40)

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pp. 171-182

At this point Aristotle opens up the first logos with the question, “Is it more advantageous to be ruled by the best man or by the best laws?” (3.15.1286a8–9). This question begins a dialogue between a partisan of the laws and a partisan of the best man.1...

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10. Second Logos (1287a1–b35)

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pp. 183-195

The second logos begins with the concern about a king who “acts in all things according to his own will” contrasted to a king who “rules according to law” (3.16.1287a1–4). Aristotle says that a monarchy that “rules according to law is not . . . a kind of kingship” (3.16.1287a4). He calls such a...

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11. Third Logos (1287b36–1288a30)

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pp. 196-211

The third logos begins by addressing the criticism made against the pambasileia throughout the second logos. Aristotle notes that the arguments “hold in some cases, in others perhaps they do not” (3.17.1287b36). By “perhaps they do not,” he does not mean that they definitely do not hold in...

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pp. 212-216

Throughout the previous chapters I have outlined the arguments that Aristotle presents for justifying popular rule, or democracy, as the best regime. As I have suggested, he presents two peaks in his Politics—or at least in Politics 3. The first peak is the rule of the many and the superiority of...


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pp. 217-230


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pp. 231-234

E-ISBN-13: 9780807152386
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807128336

Page Count: 234
Publication Year: 2002

Series Title: Political Traditions in Foreign Policy Series