Ancient History & Civilisation



The fifth book fulfils one of the promises made in IV ii – to discuss both the preservation and the dissolution of constitutions, and the respective causes. Minor changes not amounting to dissolution are mentioned briefly; but Aristotle is thinking chiefly of revolutions, carried through by violence or trickery (see V iv ad fin.), and resulting in a new constitution. This was the type of change most familiar and most feared; hence Aristotle shows some anxiety to avoid all change and to cultivate stability. Discontent is a constant threat to stability; and inequality, being a kind of injustice, is a potent cause of discontent; and as there is more equality in democracy than in oligarchy, the former is generally the more stable. The Greek word stasis, which bulks large in this book, is not exactly ‘revolution’, but the state of affairs that leads to it, when tension has become so great that an outbreak of violence occurs between the opposing sides. My usual translation of stasis is ‘faction’.

It is worth noting here a crucial point about stasis and constitutional change in ancient Greece. The aim of those who wished for change was usually not simply to replace one policy by another within the same constitutional arrangements; it was to replace one complete constitution by another – to recast the whole set of rules by which political decisions were made.

The first four chapters of the book discuss constitutional changes and their causes in fairly general terms, and the opening chapter is a fine example of Aristotle’s shrewd analysis. He is here concerned not merely to list what circumstances lead to what changes, but to penetrate to the psychological or intellectual or ‘ideological’ sources of social conflict. These sources he locates in differing notions of distributive justice, which in turn depend on different criteria for measuring the equality and inequality of men. True to his intention to give practical advice, he counsels (as did Plato in the Laws 756e) the use of a judicious combination of ‘arithmetical’ equality and equality by ratio (logos), i.e. according to axia, value (i.e. merit or desert). For a discussion of these ideas in Greek thought, see F. D. Harvey, ‘Two concepts of equality’, Classica et Mediaevalia, 26 (1965), pp. 101–46, and 27 (1966), 99–100.

1301a19 We have now dealt with nearly all the matters that we promised, but we have still to discuss (a) what the sources are of change in constitutions, and the nature and number of these sources; (b) what the destructive agencies are that affect each constitution, and (c) from what kinds into what kinds they generally change. We must likewise consider (d) what factors make for the preservation of constitutions, both in general and of each kind separately, and also (e) by what means each of the constitutions could best be preserved.

1301a25 We should begin by assuming the fundamental starting point. Many constitutions have come about because although everyone agrees on justice, i.e. proportionate equality, they go wrong in achieving it, as mentioned before.1 Democracy arose from the idea that those who are equal in any respect are equal absolutely. All are alike free, therefore they claim that they are all equal absolutely. Oligarchy arose from the assumption that those who are unequal2 in some one respect are completely unequal: being unequal in wealth they assume themselves to be unequal2 absolutely. The next step is when the democrats, on the ground that they are equal, claim equal participation in everything; while the oligarchs, on the ground that they are unequal, seek to get a larger share, because ‘larger’ is unequal. Now all these constitutions have a sort of justice in them, but from an absolute stand-point they have gone wrong. And this is why, whenever either side does not share in the constitution according to their fundamental assumption in each case, they form factions. Those who are of outstanding virtue would have by far the greatest justification for forming factions (they are the only people to whom the term ‘absolutely unequal’ can be properly applied), but they least often do so. Then there are those who being superior in birth claim that they are too good for mere equality, just because of this inequality of birth; for those who have inherited virtue and wealth from their forbears are commonly reckoned nobly-born. These are, generally speaking, the origins of factions, the founts from which they spring.

1301b6 Hence the changes which take place may be of two kinds, according to whether they involve a complete abandonment of an existing constitution for another, or not. Examples of the former are from democracy to oligarchy, from oligarchy to democracy, from these to polity and aristocracy, or the reverse. In the other case they prefer the established arrangement (oligarchy or monarchy, for instance), but want to run it themselves. Or again it may be a matter of degree: they may wish an existing oligarchy to become more broadly or less broadly based, an existing democracy to become more democratic or less, and similarly with the other constitutions, either a relaxation or a tightening up. There are also attempts to change only a part of the constitution – the establishment or abolition of a particular office, for example the alleged attempt by Lysander to abolish the monarchy,3 or of King Pausanias to abolish the Ephorate. In Epidamnus too there was a partial change in the constitution: they instituted a council in place of the tribe leaders, and it is still the rule that whenever any officer is appointed by vote, the existing officers, out of all the members of the citizen-body, must be present at the public gathering. The sole archon too was an oligarchical feature of this constitution.

1301b26 Inequality is everywhere at the bottom of faction, for in general faction arises from men’s striving for what is equal. I am speaking of states where there is no proportion in the unequals’ inequality (a perpetual monarchy ruling over equals, for instance, is unequal). Now there are two kinds of equality, the one being numerical, the other of value. I use ‘numerically equal’ to cover that which is equal and the same in respect of either size or quantity, and ‘equal in value’ for that which is equal by ratio. Thus numerically the difference between three and two is the same as the difference between two and one, so that the amounts of difference are numerically equal. But the relationship of four to two is, by ratio, equal to the relationship of two to one: two is exactly the same fraction of four as one is of two, namely a half. But while men agree that absolute justice is justice based on value, they differ, as has been said before, in that one group believes that if they are equal in any respect, they are equal all round; while the others claim that if they are not equal in any respect, they ought to have unequal treatment in all matters. It is for this reason that there are, broadly speaking, two kinds of constitution, democracy and oligarchy. The number of people in whom noble birth and virtue are found is very small, but those other features are present in a larger number, so that while you could not find anywhere a hundred good men of noble birth, you could in many places find many rich and poor.4

1302a2 To lay it down that the equality shall be exclusively of one kind or the other is a bad thing, as is shown by what happens in practice: no constitution that is constructed on such a basis lasts long. The reason for this is that to start from an initial and fundamental error makes it impossible not to run into disaster at the end. Therefore we must make use both of numerical equality and of equality of value. Nevertheless democracy is safer and less liable to faction than oligarchy. In oligarchies, two factions arise, one between the oligarchs and the people, and one of the oligarchs among themselves. In democracies, on the other hand, the only faction that arises is against oligarchy;5 internal faction within a democracy virtually never occurs. Also, a constitution of the middle people is nearer to democracy than is a constitution of the few, and is of all such constitutions the safest.

V ii

Aristotle now analyses the causes of faction and constitutional change under three heads: (a) the condition of men, by which he seems to mean chiefly a psychological state apt to prompt them to form factions; (b) the things about or for which the factions are formed; (c) social factors that produce the ‘condition’ of (a). His description of (a) draws on V i: the ‘condition’ is at bottom discontent at the absence of equality and justice, in whatever sense these terms are understood by the person feeling the discontent. Under (b) come honour and profit, in the sense that men form factions in order to attain them. Honour and profit are also listed under (c), as causes of the ‘condition’ of (a), along with ill-treatment, contempt, etc.: men become disposed to form factions because they seeunjust gains of profit and honour by others. Group (c) concludes with a bare list of influences that produce men inclined to faction, presumably over a fairly lengthy period of time.

1302a16 Since we are considering the sources of factions and changes affecting the constitution, we must begin by getting a general grasp of their origins and causes. These fall into three main groups, and we must classify them in outline accordingly: first we have to understand the conditions that lead to faction, secondly, the objects aimed at, and thirdly all the various origins of political unrest and of factions among the citizens.

1302a22 That which causes conditions leading to change is chiefly and generally what we have just been speaking of:1 inequality. For those who are bent on equality resort to faction if they believe that though having less, they are yet the equals of those who have more. And so too do those who aim at inequality and excess, if they think that though unequal, they do not have more, but equal or less. (These desires are sometimes just, sometimes not.) The lesser form factions in order to be equal, the equal in order to be greater. These then are conditions predisposing to faction. Second, as to what is at issue between the factions: we find this to be profit and honour, also their opposites; for it is in striving to avoid dishonour and loss, whether for their friends’ sake or for their own, that men resort to factions in their states. Thirdly, the origins and causes of the changes2 – in the sense of things which make men feel in the way described and strive for the objects mentioned – there are perhaps seven of these, but the list could well be extended. Two of them are the same as already stated: (i) profit and (ii) honour, but operating in a different way. They play a part now. not by stimulating men to fight against each other in order to acquire them, as in the former description, but because men see others getting a larger share of them, some unjustly. some justly. The five other causes in this group are (iii) ill-treatment, (iv) fear, (v) preponderance, (vi) contemptuous attitudes, and (vii) disproportionate increase. To these we may add, as stimuli of a different sort, (viii) the soliciting of votes, (ix) lack of vigilance, (x) imperceptible changes, and (xi) dissimilarity.

V iii

This chapter describes the operation of the influences listed at the end of V ii (the enumeration – i, ii etc. – is the same in both chapters). Aristotle gives fairly extended treatment to the last of them, ‘dissimilarity’, by which he apparently means dissimilarity of family or lineage or state. The conflicts he describes under this head do not seem to have been inspired by ideological or religious beliefs in the essential superiority or inferiority of certain races – at least so far as one can tell from his account; and in this respect modern racial conflicts are often more complicated than those he mentions here (but cf. VII vii, in it.,). In the paragraph devoted to ‘disproportionate increase’ we again notice one of Aristotle’s favourite analogies, that between body and state (cf. introduction to I i, and references there). Of the final four influences (viii–xi), Aristotle notes that three lead to revolution without faction. Finally, he discusses (xii) the influence of geography.

1302b5 What effect (iii) ill-treatment and (i) profit have, and how they operate as causes, hardly needs to be pointed out. When those in office ill-treat others and get larger shares for themselves, men form factions both against each other and against the constitution to which they1 owe their power to act; and these greater shares are won sometimes at the expense of individuals, sometimes at the expense of the common interest. Obvious also is the effect of (ii) honour, and how it can operate as a cause of faction: those who see others honoured, and are themselves not honoured, turn to faction; and the situation is certainly unjust whenever either the honour or the lack of it is contrary to deserts, but it is just whenever it is in accordance with them. Next, (v) preponderance: this is to be seen in any case where one or more men exercise power out of all proportion to the state or to the power of the citizen-body. Monarchy and a power-group commonly emerge, one or other of them, from these conditions. That is why the practice of ostracism is followed in some places, Argos and Athens for example. But it is much better to look ahead and prevent the rise of such excessive predominance than to let it appear and look for a remedy afterwards.

1302b21 As for (iv) fear, it operates in two ways: those who have committed a crime turn to faction because they fear punishment; and those who expect to be wronged by others want to forestall it, like the notables at Rhodes, who conspired against the people on account of lawsuits that were being brought against them.2 (vi) Contemptuous attitudes too lead to faction and revolt. In oligarchies, for instance, when those who have no share in the constitution are more numerous, they deem themselves more powerful. This attitude is also found in democracies, when the wealthy show their contempt of disorder and lack of government. At Thebes the state was so badly managed after the battle of Oenophyta3 that the democracy was wrecked; so too was that of Megara, because of a defeat produced by disorder and lack of government, and similarly in Syracuse before the tyranny of Gelon,4 and in the case of the democracy at Rhodes before the uprising.

1302b33 How (vii) disproportionate increase may become a cause of constitutional change may be illustrated by a comparison with our bodies. The body consists of parts, and all increase must be in proportion, so that the proper balance of the whole may remain intact, since otherwise the body becomes useless,5 as would happen if feet four cubits long grew on a body two spans high, or if the body were to change into the shape of some other animal, because of disproportion in the kind of growth, not only in the amount. So too a state consists of parts, one of which may increase without being noticed. For example, in democracies and polities there is apt to be an increase in the number of those who are not well-off. Sometimes this is due simply to chance events. Thus at Tarentum many of the notables were defeated and slain by the Iapygians; then, soon after the Persian wars, a democracy took the place of a polity. So too at Argos, when as a result of the slaying by Cleomenes the Spartan of the ‘seventh-day people’6 they were obliged to bring in some of the peripheral populations. At Athens, losses in land-battles reduced the numbers of notables because during the war against Sparta it was from a list of their names that the soldiery was drawn. This kind of thing7 may occur, though more rarely, in democracies too, for when the number of the notables grows, or their possessions increase, changes to oligarchies or power-groups result.

1303a13 Changes of constitution can take place even without faction, because of (viii) soliciting of votes, (ix) lack of vigilance, and (x) change so gradual as to be imperceptible. (viii) At Heraea they changed from holding elections to drawing lots, simply because they found that the successful candidates were those who solicited votes. (ix) It is owing to lack of vigilance that those who are not friendly to the constitution are sometimes allowed to get into the supreme offices. This is what happened at Oreus, where Heracleodorus became one of the officials and set up a polity,8 or rather a democracy, in place of the oligarchy, which was overthrown, (x) Then there is extreme gradualness: it very often happens that a considerable change in a country’s customs takes place imperceptibly, each little change slipping by unnoticed. Thus in Ambracia the property-qualification for office was small, but it was gradually reduced and became so low that it might as well have been abolished altogether.

1303a25 Then there is (xi) difference of stock, which remains a stimulus to faction until such time as the two groups learn to live together; for just as a state cannot be made out of any and every collection of people, so neither can it be made in any space of time at will. Hence faction has been exceedingly common when the population has included an extraneous element, whether these have joined in the founding or have been taken on later. Thus Achaeans were associated with Troezenians in the founding of Sybaris,9 then, becoming more numerous, they cast out the Troezenians. (This was the origin of the curse of the Sybarites.) In Thurii too Sybarites quarrelled with the rest of the founders, claiming greater shares on the grounds that the land belonged to them, and they were expelled. At Byzantium the fresh colonists hatched a plot, but were found out and expelled after a fight. The people of Antissa after receiving Chian exiles fought with them and threw them out. The people of Zancle accepted a number of Samians, but they themselves were forced to leave. The people of Apollonia on the Euxine Sea brought in additional settlers, and then turned to faction. At Syracuse after the period of tyranny they made citizens of the foreigners, the mercenary soldiers, and then formed factions and turned to fighting. Most of the Amphipolitans were expelled by the Chalcidic settlers whom they had brought in.

1303b4 10In oligarchies the many rebel on the ground of not being justly dealt with, on the ground that although they are equal they are not getting equal treament, as I said earlier. In democracies it is the notables who rebel, because, though not equal,11 they get merely equal treatment.

1303b7 Sometimes there are (xii) geographical reasons for faction: the lie of the land may not be conducive to the unity of the state. Thus at Clazomenae those on the Mole were at variance with those on the Island, likewise the Colophonians and Notians. At Athens there is a difference between the dwellers in the city itself and those in Piraeus; the latter are more emphatically democratic in outlook. We know how in warfare the crossing of watercourses, even of quite small ones, tends to cause troops to split up. So it seems that every distinction leads to division. Perhaps the greatest division is between virtue and vice, after that the distinction between wealth and poverty, and the rest after that in varying degrees. In this final group comes the one we have mentioned.12

V iv

The first four paragraphs of this chapter recognize that the immediate causes of factions, which in themselves may concern important issues, may be quite trivial – typically a quarrel between powerful persons, which serves to bring the discontents of opposing sides to ‘flashpoint’ and ultimately involves the whole state. (Aristotle does not say so, but presumably antecedent conditions would have to be suitable: no quarrel could have such an effect if feelings on either side were not already exacerbated.) The next paragraph in effect links the theme of trivial or accidental or unlooked-for causes to a theme of V iii: excessive preponderance of one part of the state; for a preponderance may come about for reasons that have nothing to do with the faction which it ultimately provokes. These themes lend themselves to anecdotes, and Aristotle draws tellingly on his store of historical instances. He then briefly notes that faction may also arise, under certain conditions, when opposing parts of the state are, equally balanced. A few remarks on the use of force and fraud conclude his discussion of constitutional change in general, and in V v he turns to particular constitutions.

1303b17 Now factions, though arising from small matters, are not concerned with them but with large issues; and even small factions are important when they occur among those in sovereign power. An example of this happened at Syracuse in early times,1 when the constitution changed as a consequence of faction between two young men, both from among the office-holders, caused by a love-affair. When one of the two was away from home, the other seduced the boy-beloved of his friend. He in turn showed his indignation by inducing the other’s wife to come to him. As a result, all members of the citizen-body were enlisted on one side or the other, and were divided into two factions. It is therefore essential to guard against this kind of thing at the very start and resolve all factions among leaders and those in powerful positions. The false step is at the beginning, but ‘well begun is half done’, as the proverb says, so that a small error at the start is equivalent in the same proportion2 to those of the later stages.

1303b31 Disputes among the notables generally have an effect on the whole state, as happened in Hestiaea after the Persian wars, when two brothers quarrelled over the distribution of their father’s estate. One of them, the poorer, when his brother did not openly declare the amount of the property or reveal the cache which the father had discovered, won the support of the democrats. The other, who possessed a great deal, was supported by the wealthier class.

1303b37 At Delphi a quarrel arising from a marriage-alliance was at the bottom of all the later factions. The intended bridegroom, forecasting bad luck by an omen which he saw when he came to fetch his bride, went away without her. Her family considered that they had been ill-treated, and when the young man was sacrificing, they planted some temple-property, and subsequently put him to death for sacrilege.

1304a4 At Mytilene,3 too, faction arising out of heiresses was at the root of many troubles, including that war with the Athenians in which Paches captured their state. Timophanes, one of the wealthy, died and left two daughters. A certain Dexander wanted them for his two sons, but was rejected and came away empty-handed. Then, being local commissioner4 for Athenian affairs, he started the faction which spurred Athens into action. At Phocis faction arose out of an heiress, between Mnaseas father of Mnason and Euthycrates father of Onomarchus; and this faction became the origin for the Phocians of the Sacred War.5 At Epidamnus also a change of constitution arose out of matrimonial affairs. Someone had promised his daughter in marriage; the father of the intended bridegroom became one of the officials and imposed a fine on this man who, feeling insulted, attracted to his side those who were not sharers in the constitution.

1304a17 Another set of causes which may lead to change into democracy, into oligarchy, or into polity, is to be seen when a committee or a part of the state becomes great in size or esteem. Thus at Athens the Council of the Areopagus, after having been greatly in esteem during the Persian wars, was considered to have tightened up the constitution. Then conversely the Athenian democracy was strengthened by the crowd who served in the navy and who had been responsible for the victory at Salamis, because the leadership of Athens thus gained rested on sea-power. At Argos the notables gained much credit for the battle against the Spartans at Mantinea and tried to use the occasion to put down the democracy; while at Syracuse responsibility for the victory in the war against the Athenians belonged to the people, who changed the constitution from a polity into a democracy. At Chalcis the people joined with the notables in removing the tyrant Phoxus and then seized hold of the constitution; and in Ambracia the people joined with his attackers to cast out the tyrant Periander and got the constitution into their own hands.6

1304a33 The important thing to remember is that those who are responsible for the acquisition of power, whether they be private individuals or officials or tribes, or whatever aggregate or part you will, it is they who provoke faction. They may do so indirectly, as when the rest, jealous of the honour bestowed on them, start up the faction, but also directly, when they themselves are so preponderant that they are no longer content to remain on terms of equality with the rest.

1304a38 Constitutional changes are provoked also when what are regarded as opposing sections of the population are evenly balanced, such as the rich element and the people, but there is no middle element or only a very small one. For when one section of the population, whichever it may be, is preponderant, the other is not likely to risk opposing those who are obviously stronger. It is for this reason that those who are superior in virtue hardly ever start a faction: they amount to a few against many. 1304b5 Generally, then, in all types of constitution the causes and beginnings of factions and of changes are as I have described. As to method, violence and trickery are both used, violence sometimes immediately, at the beginning, but sometimes by way of subsequent compulsion. The use of trickery also is dual. In the one case they are successful in their deceit, and their change of the constitution is at first readily accepted, but subsequently they use force to keep control of it in spite of opposition. An example of this is seen in the rule of the Four Hundred:7 they deluded the Athenians by saying that the king of Persia wasgoing to supply money for the war against Sparta. This was not true, but they went on trying to keep control of the constitution. In the other case they use persuasion from the start and then go on using it in such a way that their rule is willingly accepted.

What has been said above describes in general terms change in all constitutions.

V v

Having dealt with the general causes of constitutional change, Aristotle now turns to the particular causes of change in particular constitutions. The central theme of this chapter is that democracy is apt to be overthrown because of its own internal excesses: democratic leaders (demagogues), in their zeal to gain and retain the support of the common people, take such stringent measures against the wealthier classes as to provoke them forcibly to resist; and the result is often oligarchy. (In earlier times, for accidental reasons which Aristotle analyses, popular leaders were able to establish tyrannies.) Aristotle was, of course, not particularly well-disposed to democracy (though his treatment of oligarchs in V vi is just as unsympathetic), and his suggestion that the upper classes were ‘obliged’ to resist ‘unprincipled’ popular leaders has the ring of polemic. Plato’s picturesque and more explicitly hostile account of democracy and its decline should be compared (Republic, 555 ff.).

This chapter is full of examples taken from Greek history: but Aristotle’s references, while self-explanatory as far as they go, are fairly swift: for full discussions the reader should consult the commentaries and R. Weil, Aristote et l’histoire: essai sur la ‘Politique’(Paris, 1960).

1304b19 But we must take each type of constitution separately and observe how these general tendencies work out in practice. In democracies the most potent cause of revolution is the unprincipled character of popular leaders. Sometimes they bring malicious prosecutions against the owners of possessions one by one, and so cause them to join forces; for common fear makes the bitterest of foes cooperate. At other times they openly egg on the multitude against them. There are many instances of the kind of thing I mean.

1304b25 At Cos the democracy was replaced when wicked popular leaders arose, the more notable citizens combining against them.1 Similarly at Rhodes, when the popular leaders both provided pay for the public office and tried to stop the refunding to naval commanders of the expenses which they had incurred. These, therefore, weary of the lawsuits brought against them, were obliged to form an association and put down the democracy.2 At Heraclea too the democracy was brought low just after the foundation of the colony – and all because of their own leaders, whose unjust treatment of the notables caused them to leave; finally the exiles gathered forces, returned, and put down the democracy. The democracy at Megara too was dissolved in a similar way: here the popular leaders, in order to confiscate their money, banished many of the notables; this went on until the number of those thus exiled became so large that they returned, won a battle against the people, and set up the oligarchy.3 The same thing happened also at Cyme in the time of the democracy whose fall was brought about by Thrasymachus.

1305a2 From inspection of the other cases also you can see that changes take place pretty well after the same manner: in order to win the favour of the multitude they treat the notables unjustly and cause them to unite. Sometimes they make them split up their possessions or income in order to finance their public duties;4 sometimes they bring slanderous accusations against the rich with a view to confiscating their money.

1305a7 In earlier times a change from democracy to tyranny took place whenever popular leader and military leader were one person; indeed most of the early tyrants started by being popular leaders. The reason why this does not occur nowadays is that in the old times popular leaders were drawn from those who led the troops, for as yet there were no skilled speakers. Today with the spread of skill in oratory the able speakers become popular leaders, but owing to their ignorance of warfare they do not attempt to seize power, except in a few insignificant instances. Another reason why tyrannies arose more frequently in the past than they do today is that certain individuals had offices of great power entrusted to them: at Miletus, for instance, tyranny arose out of the office of presidency, for the president had many and great sovereign powers.5.

1305a18 A further reason is that cities were smaller in those days and the people lived all over the countryside, busy with their labours there; so their champions, if they were military men, used to aim at tyranny. They would all do this because they had the confidence of the people, a confidence based on hostility to the rich. At Athens, for example, Peisistratus led a revolt against the dwellers on the plain;6 at Megara Theagenes found the rich men’s cattle put out to graze on the others’ land by the river and slaughtered them;7 and Dionysius, accuser of Daphnaeus and the rich, was judged to be deserving of his office of tyrant because this hostility won him trust as a man of the people.8

1305a28 Change also takes place in another direction – from ancestral democracy to the modern. For when officials are chosen by election, and not on the basis of property-classes, and the people are the electors, those who are eager to secure election lead the people on and on, until they make them sovereign even over the laws. A remedy to prevent or diminish this tendency is to make the tribes nominate the officials and not the whole people.9

Such are, in general, the causes of all changes as they affect democracies.

V vi

Aristotle seems to think of the causes of the overthrow of oligarchies as falling broadly into two classes, internal and external. Yet his exposition makes it clear that the distinction is not particularly neat: in the third paragraph, for instance, demagogues within an oligarchy rely on the support of the people, whom they encourage to exert external pressure. Nevertheless, Aristotle evidently thinks of this as an ‘internal’ cause, in the sense that it is rivalry among the oligarchs that causes them to seek among the people a wider base of support. In practice, as he recognizes, internal and external causes react on each other in a variety of complex ways. His presentation is slightly confused by his tendency to ‘exalt the occasions of constitutional change into causes’ (Newman IV, 345), as for example in the case of the purely personal animosities in paragraph six, which must have been merely the accidental trigger for the expression of more widespread discontents (cf. V iv). But rough-and-ready as some of his analysis may be, its fullness of detail is impressive, and serves to remind us once more that Greek constitutional forms were not monolithic but exhibited tremendous variety of origin, rise and fall. Indeed, Aristotle concludes the chapter by remarking that oligarchies and democracies change not only into each other but into different species of the same form.

1305a37 Turning now to changes in oligarchies, we find that the two chief ways in which they occur are the most conspicuous. One is when the oligarchs wrong the multitude, in which case any champion is good enough, particularly when the multitude happens to be led by someone from the oligarchy itself, like Lygdamis at Naxos who afterwards actually ruled as tyrant there.

1305b1 There are also various ways in which faction originating from other people may cause an oligarchy to fall. Sometimes the initiative comes from the rich themselves, from those of them who are not included among the officials, when the number of those enjoying such honours is very small. This has been known to occur in Massalia, in Istros, in Heraclea, and in other states. Those who had no share in the offices kept on agitating until first elder brothers and then the younger were admitted to a share. For in some places it is not permitted that father and son should hold office simultaneously, in others not elder and younger brothers. At Massalia, the oligarchy changed into something rather like a polity, but at Istros it ended by becoming a democracy, and at Heraclea the few were increased to 600. At Cnidos too change was due to strife among the notables themselves, owing to the fact that the numbers participating were small, and, as has been mentioned, if a father did so, a son might not, and of a number of brothers only the eldest. The people intervened in the faction, chose a champion from among the notables, and carried out a successfulcoup (faction makes an easy prey). At Erythrae too in early times, under the oligarchy of the Basilidae, in spite of the excellent way in which those included in the constitution were discharging their responsibilities, the people, chafing at rule by a few, changed the constitution.

1305b22 The other type of internal change in oligarchies arises directly out of the oligarchs’ own rivalry, which turns them into demagogues. Now there are two kinds of demagogy, one which functions within the ranks of the few themselves (for a demagogue can arise even when there are very few indeed), the other when members of an oligarchy act as demagogues to the common crowd. Examples of the first are the demagogy which made Charicles’ men powerful during the time of the Thirty1 at Athens, likewise that of Phrynichus’ associates during the time of the Four Hundred.2Of the second, a good example was Larissa, where the Citizen-Guardians played the demagogue to the common crowd because they were elected by them. And this second kind is apt to occur in any oligarchy where the officials are not elected by the persons from whom they are drawn, but offices are dependent on a high property-qualification or on membership of a political club, and the electors are the hoplites or the people, as happened at Abydos; also where the courts are not manned by the citizen-body,3 for demagogy to influence verdicts4 may lead to change in constitution, as happened at Heraclea on the Euxine; and further whenever one set tries to reduce the size of the oligarchy still more, for then the seekers of equality5 are forced to summon the people to their aid.

1305b39 Then too there are oligarchies where change is due to the spending of private resources on extravagant living. For persons of this type too seek to make innovations, either aiming at tyranny themselves or putting up some other person. Thus at Syracuse it was Hipparinus who did this to Dionysius,6 and at Amphipolis the additional Chalcidic settlers were brought by a man called Cleo Imus, who on their arrival formed them into a faction against the well-to-do; and at Aegina the person who had carried through the negotiations with Chares tried to change the constitution for some similar reason.7 Sometimes they do not wait, but try to make changes immediately; sometimes they secretly help themselves to public funds, and then either they themselves form factions against each other, or else others form factions against them, in order to combat the theft, as happened at Apollonia on the Euxine Sea.

1306a9 An oligarchy which is of one mind with itself is not easily destroyed from within; a good example is the constitution at Pharsalus, where a few men continue to have sovereign authority over many simply because they treat each other properly. Oligarchies are also destroyed when an attempt is made to set up one oligarchy within another. This occurs whenever, with a total citizen-body that is not large, not all the few share in the highest offices. It once happened in Elis, where the constitution was in few hands, and very few persons were ever added to the Elders, because the existing members held office for life and the total was fixed at ninety; moreover the method of election favoured the group in power,8 and was like that of the Elders at Sparta.

1306a19 Change away from oligarchies takes place both in war and in peace – in war, because they are obliged, owing to their mistrust of the people, to employ mercenary soldiers; for the man to whom they have committed the command of these troops often becomes tyrant, as Timophanes9did at Corinth; and if there are several of them, they set up a power-group of their own. Sometimes, just for fear of these results, being obliged to employ the people in defence, they give the multitude a share in the constitution. In peace, on the other hand, owing to their mutual mistrust, they commit the country’s defence to mercenary soldiers with a neutral commander, who sometimes gets sovereign power over both parties, as happened at Larissa during the rule of the Aleuadae who were associates of Simus; so too in the case of Iphiades at Abydos, when he led one of the clubs of that time.

1306a31 Factions also occur because one set among the oligarchs themselves is thrown out by another, and because factions arise out of lawsuits or dealings connected with a marriage. Some factions of matrimonial origin have been mentioned already;10 to these may be added the knights’ oligarchy at Eretria, which was brought low by Diagoras, who had suffered an injustice connected with a marriage. The factions at Heraclea and at Thebes were due to a law-court verdict: the court at Heraclea inflicted punishment on Eurytion on a charge of adultery – justly, but in a spirit of faction; while at Thebes the court found against Archias, and their enemies were so hot against them that the men were tied in the pillory in the market-place. Many oligarchies have fallen owing to their excessively despotic11 rule, brought low by some of their own members who disapproved: the oligarchy at Cnidos, for example, and that at Chios.

1306b6 A combination of circumstances sometimes leads to change both in what we call polities and in those oligarchies in which entry to the council, the law-courts and other offices is open only to those of a certain property-qualification. For often the qualification, when it is first fixed, is well suited to its purpose at the time: in an oligarchy it ensures that few participate in the constitution, in the polity all the middle people. But prosperity ensues, thanks to a period of peace or some other good fortune, and it comes about that the same amounts of property are worth many times as much as before in the scale of assessment, and so everyone comes to share in everything, the change occurring either quickly or gradually and little by little, without being realized.

1306b16 Such then are the causes of change and faction in oligarchies. We may add this general remark: both oligarchies and democracies sometimes develop not into their opposites but into constitutions still of the same class. For example a democracy or an oligarchy that is bound by laws may change into a democracy or an oligarchy with sovereign power, or vice versa.12

V vii

Factions and constitutional changes in aristocracies are discussed next. Aristocracy is based not on numbers but on virtue (aretē); yet it is clearly a form of oligarchy, since the virtuous are always few. But Aristotle’s favoured ‘polity’ too is based on virtue and is therefore a kind of aristocracy, which is at the same time more democratic than oligarchic. So aristocracy and polity, and the ‘extreme’ constitutions, oligarchy and democracy, all feature in the rather complex discussion of this chapter, to which IV vii–ix are essential background reading.

As Newman notes (IV 366), most of Aristotle’s historical examples in this chapter are taken from Sparta. This concentration may be fortuitous; but if not, the reason is surely that he regarded Sparta as a ‘mixed’ constitution or ‘polity’ (IV ix), which is closely related to aristocracy.

The remarks in the penultimate paragraph about the dangers of change are almost Platonic, at any rate in theme if not in tone: cf. for example Laws 796e ff.

1306b22 One reason for factions in aristocracies is the fact that only a few people share in honours. This, as we have noted,1 disturbs oligarchies too; for aristocracy too is a kind of oligarchy, the rulers in both being limited to a few; and although the reason for the limitation is not the same, aristocracy too is for this reason thought of as oligarchy. Such faction is bound to occur: (a) whenever there is some group of people who have convinced themselves that they are equals in virtue: for example at Sparta those known as Partheniae2 (who were descended from the Equals) started a plot, but were found out and shipped off as colonists to Tarentum; (b) when some great men, in no whit inferior in virtue, are dishonoured by some who are more highly honoured, as was Lysander by the Kings;3 (c) when a man of courage gets no share in honour, like Cinadon who got up the attack on the Spartiatae in the time of Agesilaus;4 (d) when there is a wide disparity of wealth between rich and poor; this condition is particularly likely to come about in time of war, and it too occurred at Sparta, at the time of the Messenian war, as can be seen from the poem of Tyrtaeus called ‘Eunomia’:5 some people were so hard pressed by the war that they demanded a redistribution of land; (e) when one man is powerful and is capable of becoming more so: he aims at becoming sole ruler, as apparently Pausanias at Sparta, who led their forces in the Persian war, and Hanno at Carthage.

1307a5 But the chief cause of overthrow, both of polity and of aristocracy, is a deviation from justice in the constitution itself. Thus in polity the origin is in the failure to secure a proper mixture of oligarchy and democracy, in aristocracy in the failure to mix these and virtue, but especially the pair – democracy and oligarchy. For not only polities but also most of those constitutions called aristocracies aim at mixing these two; and the difference between aristocracies and constitutions called polities lies in this point,6 and it is this that makes some more and others less stable. Those that lean rather towards oligarchy are called aristocracies, those that lean towards the mass of the people are called polities; and the effect is to make polities safer than aristocracies. This is due to the fact that greater size means greater strength; for where people have equal shares, they are more content, but those who have the advantages of riches, if they enjoy a preponderance in the constitution, seek to ill-treat others and enhance their own fortunes.

1307a20 As a general rule, if a constitution has a tendency in one direction, those on one side or the other who augment their strength under it will produce changes in the same direction, polity tending towards democracy, aristocracy towards oligarchy. But the opposite is also possible: aristocracy may shift towards democracy, when the poorer people suppose themselves wronged and exercise a pull in that direction; and polity may change to oligarchy, once it loses the only qualities that make it last, namely private property and equality according to deserts. This occurred at Thurii.7 On the one hand, because the property-qualification for holding office was rather high, it was reduced and the number of boards increased. On the other, the notables illegally got possession of all the land, being enabled to win the advantage as the constitution was biased towards oligarchy. Then the people, trained in arms during the war, became stronger than the garrison troops. So in the end the possessors of more than their share of land gave it up.

1307a34  A further consequence of the fact that all aristocratic constitutions are oligarchic in character is that the notables win even greater advantage; for example at Sparta, where properties keep coming into the hands of the few. In both also the notables have greater freedom to do as they please and marry as they please. It was just this that ruined the city of Locri: a connection by marriage was formed with the tyrant Dionysius,8 a thing which would never have happened in a democracy, or even in an aristocracy in which the elements had been properly mixed.

1307a40 Changes in aristocracies generally take place unobserved, because the dissolution is a gradual process. We have already stated9 this as a general principle applicable to all constitutions, namely that even a small thing may cause changes. If for example people abandon some small feature of their constitution, next time they will with an easier mind tamper with some other and slightly more important feature, until in the end they tamper with the whole structure. The constitution of Thurii affords one example.10There the generalship could legally be held only every fifth year by the same man. Some of the younger men grew combative, and the rank and file of the garrison troops esteemed them highly. This group had no use for the men of affairs and believed that they would easily prevail. They first set about annulling that law, so as to make it possible for the same men to be general continuously; for they saw that the people would eagerly vote them into office. Those of the officials who were charged with responsibility in the matter, Councillors as they were called, while at first inclined to oppose, were eventually won over with the rest; they supposed that after tampering with that law the young men would be leaving the rest of the constitution intact. But later, when other things were tampered with which they wanted to stop, they proved powerless to do anything. So the whole set-up of the constitution was altered and it passed into the hands of the power-group that had started the process of innovation.

1307b19 All constitutions are changed from the outside as well as from within: for example, if a neighbouring constitution is of the opposite kind and is not far away, or, if far away, especially powerful. The Athenians and the Lacedaemonians illustrated this in their day: the Athenians everywhere brought low the oligarchies, the Lacedaemonians the democracies.

So much then for the origins of constitutional change and of factions.

v viii

Chapters viii and ix describe methods of ensuring the stability of the three constitutions (democracy, oligarchy and aristocracy) whose dissolutions have been examined in v–vii. Both chapters are remarkable for their total lack of reference to historical examples: it is as though Aristotle, while able earlier to display plenty of historical instances of the collapse of constitutions, could now find none of their successful maintenance. That is difficult to believe, for some Greek states kept the same constitution for long periods. What he seems to have done, as he practically admits in the first paragraph, is to write these two chapters largely by advising measures which are implicit in, and may be deduced from, the disastrous policies described in v–vii, in the sense that the former reverse the latter and so correct their mistakes. We may feel he would have been wise to strengthen his counsel by pointing to actual examples of its successful application. It is a curiously disembodied way of giving practical advice, however good the advice itself is – as indeed it is good, embracing many prudent and sensible adjustments designed to prevent any one ‘part’ of the constitution from becoming predominant and so distorting its balance. These adjustments are evidently to be continuous: Aristotle is very far from suggesting that it is possible to set up a constitution and then expect it to function without attention.

Aristotle must ‘have been well aware (cf. IV vi) of the difference between receiving payment from public funds and stealing from them; yet in this chapter he seems to describe the former in terms of the latter; cf. II xi.

1307b26 Our next topic is the preservation of constitutions both in general and in particular cases. The first and obvious point to make is that if indeed we do understand the causes of their destruction, then we understand also the causes of their preservation. For opposites are productive of opposites, and destruction is the opposite of preservation.

1307b30 Now in constitutions that are well-blended it is essential to take many precautions, and certainly against anything being done contrary to the laws; and it is essential in particular to guard against the insignificant breach. Illegality creeps in unobserved; it is like small items of expenditure which when oft-repeated make away with a man’s possessions. The spending goes unnoticed because the money is not spent all at once, and this is just what leads the mind astray. It is like the sophistic argument which says ‘If each is small, all is small’, which is true and not true: the whole or the all may be made up of small amounts without being small itself. One precaution to be taken, then, is in regard to the beginning;1 and equally we must not trust those arguments of sophistry that are designed to delude the multitude, for the facts prove them false. The sort of constitutional sophistries I mean have already been explained.2

1308a3 We must next observe that some aristocracies (and oligarchies too) remain stable, not because their constitutions are secure, but because those who hold office give proper treatment both to the members of the citizen-body and to those outside the constitution; that is to say, they do not treat the latter unjustly, but allow their leaders to participate in the constitution; they do not treat the ambitious unjustly by dishonouring them, nor the mass of the people in the matter of profit; and among themselves and the rest of those who share in the constitution they treat each other in a democratic spirit, that is to say, on an equal footing, since the equality over the whole populace which is a democrat’s aim is not only just but advantageous as between persons who are alike. Hence if the size of the citizen-body is large, there is advantage in having many of the democratic rules such as tenure of office for only six months, so as to give all, being similar, a share in it; their similarity makes them, as it were, into a dēmos, which is why, as we have observed, very often demagogues arise even among them.3 Also, since it is not as easy to do wrong in a short as in a long tenure of office, these oligarchies and aristocracies are less likely to fall into the hands of power-groups; for tyrannies arise in oligarchies and democracies for precisely that reason: either the greatest men in each case – demagogues in the one, power-group leaders in the other – aim at tyranny for themselves, or else those who hold the highest offices do so, if they hold them for a long period.

1308a24 Constitutions enjoy stability not only when any possible destroyers are at a distance, but sometimes just because they are close by; for through fear of them men keep a firm hold on their own constitution. So it becomes the duty of those who have the interests of the constitution at heart to create terrors so that all may be on the lookout and, like sentries at night, not allow their watch on the constitution to relax; the distant fear must be brought home. They must also take further precautions, by means of legislation, against the rivalries and factions of the notables, and restrain those not involved before they too make the rivalry their own; it is not every man but only a statesman who can discern in its early stages the harm that is being done.

1308a35 Changes in oligarchies and polities may be due to the property-qualifications remaining fixed while the money in circulation is greatly increasing.4 When this situation occurs the best thing to do is to assess the total communal valuation and compare the new total with the old. In some states people are assessed every year, in which case the calculation must be based on that period; but in the larger states it should be done every second or every fourth year. And if the value is then found to be much greater or much smaller than it was when the level qualifying5 for the constitution was laid down, it should be lawful to increase the property-qualifications or lower them; if the value has gone up, they are increased in proportion to the rise, whereas if the value has fallen, they are decreased to a lowel level. If the situation is not met in this way and no adjustments are made in oligarchies and polities, then in the latter case6 change is liable to take place from polity to oligarchy, or from oligarchy to power-group; in the former,7 the changes will be from polity to democracy and from oligarchy to polity or democracy.

1308b10 It is a practice common to democracy, oligarchy, monarchy and every constitution not to augment the power of any one man out of proportion, but to try to bestow on him either minor honours tenable for long periods or major ones tenable only for a short time; for men become corrupt, and not everyone can master the intoxication of success. Or if that is not possible, at any rate they avoid heaping honours on a man all in a bunch and then removing them in a bunch; the process should be gradual. And they try especially to manage matters by laws in such a way that no person becomes pre-eminent through the power either of his wealth or of his friends; or if that cannot be done, to require such men to remove themselves, and out of the country at that. But since men introduce innovations for reasons connected with their private lives too, an authority ought to be set up to exercise supervision over those whose activities are not in keeping with the interests of the constitution – of oligarchy in an oligarchy and of democracy in a democracy, and likewise in each of the rest.

1308b24 For the same reasons exceptional prosperity in one section of the state is to be guarded against. The danger can be remedied by entrusting offices and the conduct of affairs to the opposing sections.8 (By ‘opposing’ I mean the respectable sort as contrasted with the generality, and the wealthy as contrasted with the indigent.) An endeavour should be made either to merge the poor population with the rich or to augment the middle; this dissolves the factions that are due to the inequality.

1308b31 It is most important in every constitution that the legal and other administrative arrangements9 should be such that holding office is not a source of profit. This point needs to be particularly watched in constitutions that are oligarchically framed. For the many do not so much resent being debarred from office, indeed they are glad to be allowed time to attend to their own affairs, but they do not like to think that officials are stealing public money. Their resentment then becomes twofold: they are deprived of both honours and profit. Also, it is only by observing this principle that it ever becomes possible for democracy and aristocracy to coexist, because it will then be possible for both the notables and the multitude to get what they want; for it is democratic that holding offices should be open to all, aristocratic that the notables should fill them, and this is exactly what will happen when there is no profit to be made out of the offices. For those who are not well-off will not want office unless there is profit in it, preferring to look after their own affairs, while the rich will be able to accept office, as they need no supplement from public funds. The effect of this will be that the poor will become better off through spending their time at their work, and the notables will not be ruled by anybody and everybody. In order to prevent theft from public funds, the handing over of them to a successor should take place in the presence of all the citizens, and duplicates of the lists should be made available to brotherhoods, companies, and tribes. And in order to encourage the holding of offices without profit, there should be honours laid down by law for those who win a distinguished reputation in them.

1309a14 In democracies the rich ought to be treated with restraint: there should be no redistribution of property, nor of income, such as goes on unnoticed in some constitutions. It is better, even if they want to, not to let the rich undertake costly but useless public services10 – for instance financing a torch-race or the training of a chorus, or the like. In an oligarchy, on the other hand, special attention must be paid to the welfare of those who are not well-off: to them should be assigned those offices which yield some gain; ill-treatment of them by one of the rich should carry a severer penalty than one committed among the poor themselves; there should be no right of free testamentary disposition, but only kin should inherit; and the same person should not be permitted to inherit more than one estate. In this way disparity of possessions will be less, and a greater number of the poor will join the ranks of the well-to-do.

1309a27 It always pays, whether in a democracy or an oligarchy, to give equality or even preference in other matters to those whose participation in the constitution is less, to the rich in a democracy, to the poor in an oligarchy. This does not mean that they should be given sovereign offices; these should be reserved exclusively, or at any rate mostly, for participants in the constitution.

V ix

This chapter continues and concludes the theme of its predecessor. It discusses, inter alia, the character of those in power, their relationship with the ruled, and the nature and purpose of education – which, if it is to promote stability, must be calculated to produce people who favour and fit in with the constitution in question. But perhaps the shrewdest sections are directed against extremists of whatever persuasion: only by incorporating elements of opposing constitutions can a given constitution survive. A democracy, for instance, which adopts rigorous and thoroughgoing democratic measures is more likely to be destroyed by violent reaction from the rich than one which pays some attention to their interests: overtaut bows snap. The advice Aristotle gives in this chapter, as in many another, is calm and sensible: stability depends on the ‘middle way’; cf. IV xi–xii.

1309a33 There are three essentials for the holders of the sovereign offices: goodwill towards the established constitution, tremendous capability for the work involved in the office, and in each constitution the kind of virtue and notions of justice that are calculated to suit the particular constitution in question. (Justice is not the same in every constitution, so that differences in notions of justice are inevitable.)1 But there is a question here: when all these qualities are not to be found in the same person, how is the choice to be made? If one man is fit to be a general, but is a low fellow and without goodwill towards the constitution, while another is just and has that goodwill, how is one to choose between them? It seems that we must look to two points: what quality do all men have in abundance, and what quality do they all have less of? In the case of generalship, we must regard experience more than virtue, as men possess the skill of a general less abundantly than integrity.2 It is the other way round in the case of an office which involves stewardship and safe custody of goods: this requires virtue above the average but no knowledge that is not to be found among all men. And another question might be asked: if both goodwill towards the constitution and capability are present, what need is there of virtue? Will not these two of themselves bring about good results? As against that it may be said that men may possess these two qualities and still be morally incapable;3 and if in spite of knowing,4 and having goodwill towards themselves, they nevertheless fail to serve their own interests, is there anything to prevent some of them being incapable of serving the common interes too?

1309b14 In general, all those legal provisions which we say are advantageous to the constitution in each case, all these are constitutional safeguards, including that oft-mentioned and most important principle – to ensure that the number of those who wish the constitution to be maintained is greater than that of those who do not. Moreover, there is one thing that must not be overlooked, though it is at present overlooked in constitutions that deviate – the principle of the middle way. Many steps thought of as democratic lead to the fall of a democracy, and the corresponding thing happens in oligarchies. Some people, believing that this virtue is a single one,5 push it to extremes. They fail to realize that a nose which deviates from the perfect straightness by being either hooked or snub is still a fine nose and looks good as well; but if the process is carried to excess,6 first it will lose the proportion which belongs to this part of the body, and finally it will not look like a nose at all, because of the extreme to which either the hook or the snub has been pushed at the expense of its opposite; and this is true of other parts of the body also. So it is with constitutions: both oligarchy and democracy may be tolerably good, though they diverge from the best arrangement; but if one carries either of them to excess, the constitution will first become worse and finally not a constitution at all. Therefore both the lawgiver and the statesman must know what kinds of democratic measures preserve and what kinds undermine democracy, and what kinds of oligarchical measures do the same for oligarchy. For it is not possible for either oligarchy or democracy to exist and continue to exist without both the wealthy and the mass of the people. If the distinction between them is abolished by the levelling of possessions, the resulting constitution will of necessity be a different one; that is to say, constitutions are themselves destroyed by the destruction of that very distinction, through legislation carried to excess.

1310a2 These mistakes are made both in democracy and in oligarchy. In democracies they are made by the demagogues, whenever the mass of the people has sovereign power over the laws: they make one state into two by their attacks on the rich. Yet they ought, for the sake of stability, to behave in just the opposite way, and always appear to be speaking on behalf of the rich. So too in oligarchies its members should always appear to speak on behalf of the people; and the oath which they take should be the very reverse of that which is in fact taken by them today – for in some oligarchies today their oath is: ‘I will be hostile to the people and do all I can against them.’ Both their assumptions and their ostensible conduct ought to be the opposite of this, and the declaration they ought to take on oath is: ‘I will do no wrong to the people.’

1310a12 But of all the safeguards that we hear spoken of as helping to maintain constitutional stability, the most important, but today universally neglected, is education for the way of living that belongs to the constitution in each case. It is useless to have the most beneficial laws, fully agreed upon by all who are members of the constitution, if they are not going to be trained and have their habits formed in the spirit of that constitution – in a democratic spirit, that is, if the laws are democratic, but oligarchically if they are oligarchic; for as one individual may be morally incapable,3 so may a whole state. Now to have been educated for the constitution does not mean simply doing the things that members of an oligarchy or democratically minded people enjoy doing, but doing what will enable them to live as oligarchs or as democrats, as the case may be.

1310a22 However, what actually happens is that in oligarchies the sons of the rulers enjoy ease and comfort, and the sons of the poor, being trained and inured to toil, are both more willing and better able to introduce innovations. And what has come to prevail in democracies is the very reverse of beneficial, in those, that is, which are regarded as the most democratically run. The reason for this lies in the failure properly to define liberty. For there are two marks by which democracy is thought to be defined: ‘sovereignty of the majority’ and ‘liberty’. ‘Just’ is equated with what is equal, and the decision of the majority as to what is equal is regarded as sovereign; and liberty is seen in terms of doing what one wants. So in such a democracy each lives as he likes and for his ‘fancy of the moment’, as Euripides says.7 This is bad. It ought not to be regarded as slavery to live according to the constitution, but rather as self-preservation.

The sources of change and destruction of constitutions, as well as the means of preserving and maintaining them, are for the most part as I have described.

V x

In spite of the last sentence of V ix, Aristotle has discussed the preservation and destruction of oligarchy and democracy only. He now discusses, in V x and xi, the various origins and downfalls of monarchy, a word which means literally ‘the rule of one’ and therefore embraces both tyranny and kingship; the differences between these two are described in paragraphs 3–5. Four causes of their overthrow are distinguished: (a) injustice (especially hubris, treating others with overbearing arrogance); (b) anger, hatred and fear; (c) contempt; (d) ambition and desire for gain. Of these, (a) refers to the actions of the monarch, while (b–d) are the feelings and motives of his subjects. In short, personal animosities play a large role in the overthrow of monarchies. Towards the end of the chapter (1312a39 ff.) Aristotle divides the causes of destruction into the external and the internal; and the latter prompt him to give further examples of personal enmities. Before going on to speak briefly of the possibility of revolution in a good monarchy, he sums up on tyranny by recalling that oligarchies and democracies of the wrong type could also be destroyed either from without or from within, and that if from within, the causes there too are generally moral and psychological.

The chapter is very long, and by contrast with its two predecessors is replete with historical references (which I have annotated fairly lightly, many being in any case obscure). Anyone with an interest in ancient scandal, particularly the sexual kind, will find much to engage him, but there is a certain tedium in these lists of examples: in places Aristotle seems to be (as it were) copying out his card-index. Yet, as always in Aristotle, we see a powerful intellect arranging, classifying and analysing a bewildering variety of material ranging over several centuries of Greek history. And much of the value of this chapter lies in observations and discussions that are almost incidental to its main theme, e.g. the brief remarks on the different effects of anger and hatred (1312b27 ff.), the nice description of extreme democracies and extreme oligarchies as tyrannies held by more than one person (1312b37, cf. 1312b5–6), and the psychological analysis of the various kinds of contempt (1311b40 ff.). What Aristotle is presumably doing here is to draw on and apply the results of his own detailed analysis of the emotions in the second book of his Art of Rhetoric. This, the firstcomprehensive and systematic study of the emotions by a Western philosopher, makes invaluable background reading to this chapter of thePolitics.

1310a39 It remains to deal with monarchy, and to establish both the causes of its destruction and the means of its preservation. What we find happening in both kingship and tyranny follows closely what has been said about constitutions in general; for kingship has the same basis1 as aristocracy, and tyranny is a compound of extreme oligarchy and democracy. This is precisely what makes tyranny most hurtful to the ruled: it is made up of two bad types and contains the deviations and errors that derive from both. As for origins, the two styles of monarchy arise directly out of that which contrasts with them Kingship develops with the aim of helping the respectable men against the people: a king is created from among respectable men on account of his superiority in virtue or deeds of virtue, or the superiority of his virtuous family. The tyrant springs from the people, from the populace, and directs his efforts against the notables, to the end that the people may not be wronged by them. This is clear from the record; for it is fairly generally true to say that tyrants have mostly begun as demagogues, being trusted because they abused the notables.

1310b16 Certainly in cities that have already grown to considerable size this is the way tyrannies originate. But there have been other ways: some early tyrannies arose out of kingships that had deviated from ancestral traditions and were aiming at making their rule more masterlike; others arose from those who had been elected into the sovereign offices (in very early times the peoples elected to office2 and religious missions for long periods of tenure). Tyrannies have also come into being when oligarchies have chosen one man and invested him with sovereign powers in the highest offices. In all these ways the opportunity to prevail lay ready to hand, provided only that the will was there, for the power existed either in the royal rule or in the honour.3 Some examples of tyrannies of different origins are: (a) from an established kingship: Pheidon of Argos and others; (b) from honours:3 Phalaris and the tyrants of Ionia; (c) from the position of dema gogue: Panaetius of Leontini, Cypselus of Corinth, Peis istratus4 of Athens, Dionysius5 of Syracuse and others in the same way.

1310b31 Kingship, as we have remarked, is organized on the same basis as aristocracy: merit – either individual virtue, or birth, or distinguished service, or all these together with a capacity for doing things. For it is just those who have done good service or have the capacity to do it, either for states or for foreign nations, that have been honoured with the position of king. Some, like Codrus,6 saved their people by war from slavery; others, like Cyrus,7 set them free or acquired territory or settled it, like the kings of the Lacedaemonians, of the Molossians, and of the Macedonians.

1310b40 A king aims to be a protector – of the owners of possessions against injustice, of the people against any ill-treatment. But a tyrant, as has often been said,8 does not look to the public interest at all, unless it happens to contribute to his personal benefit. The tyrant’s aim is pleasure: the king aims at what is good.9 Hence they differ even in the advantages they seek: the tyrant grasps at wealth, the king at honour. A king’s bodyguard is made up of citizens, a tyrant’s of foreigners.10

1311a8 That tyranny has the disadvantages of both democracy and oligarchy is clear. From oligarchy it derives two things: (1) the notion of wealth as the end to be pursued (certainly wealth is essential to it, as it provides the only way of keeping up a bodyguard and a luxurious way of living), and (2) mistrust of the populace; hence it deprives them of weapons, harms the common crowd and relegates them from the city to live in scattered communities. These features are common to oligarchy and tyranny. From democracy is derived hostility to the notables, whom the tyrant brings low by open methods or secret, and sends into exile as being rivals and hindrances to his rule. These, of course, are the people who also originate plots for his overthrow, some themselves wishing to be rulers, others not to submit like slaves. We are reminded of the advice given by Periander to Thrasybulus,11 to lop off the tallest ears of corn, implying that he should always remove the outstanding among the citizens. 1311a22 Now it has been said, or at any rate suggested, that the same origins of change must be supposed to operate in monarchies as in constitutions in general. For injustice (particularly in the form of ill-treatment),12 and contempt and fear, often cause those who are ruled to rebel against monarchies; and loss of private possessions is also sometimes a cause. And the ends are the same too: great wealth and great honour are characteristic of the sole ruler, king or tyrant, and these are things which all men want for themselves. Attacks on rulers may be directed against their persons or against their office. If men have been ill-treated, their attack will be on the tyrant’s person; for ill-treatment may take many forms and each will provoke anger. And most angry attackers are keener on vengeance than on supremacy.

1311a36 Here are some examples, (a) The fall of the Peisistratidae, whose insults to Harmodius and affront to his sister caused Harmodius to attack on her account, and Aristogeiton on account of Harmodius.13 (b) The occasion for the attack on Periander,14 tyrant of Ambracia, was that when he was drinking in company with his boy-beloved he asked the lad whether he was yet with child by him. (c) Pausanias’s attack on Philip15 was due to the fact that he allowed him to be ill-treated by Attalus’s men. (d) Amyntas the Little was attacked by Derdas for boasting about the flower of Derdas’s youth.16 (e) Evagoras17 of Cyprus was attacked and murdered by the eunuch, who felt ill-treated because his wife had been seduced by Evagoras’s son. Many attacks on rulers have arisen out of resentment caused by a monarch’s offences against his subjects’ persons,18 such as (f) Crataeas’s attack on Archelaus.19 Crataeas was always resentful of the liaison, and the slightest excuse was enough; but there was also, perhaps, the reason that the king had promised one of his two daughters to him but gave him neither. (Involved in a war against Sirrhas and Arrhabaeus, he gave the older to the king of Elimea and the younger to Amyntas his son, thinking that this was the best way to avoid discord between him and his son by Cleopatra.) But at the bottom of the coolness between them was Crataeas’s disgust with granting erotic favours. And for the same reason, Helleno-crates of Larissa joined in the attack. Archelaus had made sexual use of his young body but did not, as he had promised, let him return to his home town. Hellanocrates concluded that the liaison had been inspired by arrogance12 and not by passionate love. (g) At Aenos, Python and Heracleides killed Cotys20 to avenge their father, and Adamas deserted Cotys, feeling arrogantly ill-treated because he had as a boy suffered castration at his hands.

1311b23 There are many cases also of anger being aroused by blows and assaults on the person, the victims of which, feeling themselves arrogantly ill-treated,12 have killed or tried to kill the perpetrators, who include even members of official circles and of royal power-groups. In Mytilene, for example, when the Penthilidae21 went about in gangs, carrying clubs and beating up people, Megacles with the help of friends attacked them and put them down. Later Smerdes, because he had been dragged out from beside his wife and beaten, killed Penthilus. Then there was the attack on Archelaus instigated and led by Decamnichus. The reason for his anger was that Archelaus had given him to the poet Euripides to be scourged; and Euripides was angry because Decamnichus had made some remark about the poet’s foul-smelling breath.22 There were many other plots and assassinations arising out of causes of this kind.

1311b36 Similarly when fear is the reason; for this too was one of the list of causes,23 both in constitutions in general and under the rule of one man. For example, Artapanes murdered Xerxes24 because he feared the accusation that he had hanged Darius not on Xerxes’ orders, but thinking that Xerxes would excuse him, being at dinner and unlikely to remember.

1311b40 Thirdly, contempt. Sardanapalus25 rendered himself contemptible by being seen carding wool with the women, and was murdered by someone who saw him. (At least, that is the story of the legend-tellers; and if it is not true of him, it is pretty sure to be true of someone else.) Dion’s attack on the younger Dionysius26 was due to contempt: he saw that the tyrant was never sober and the citizens shared his contempt for him. Sometimes even some of a monarch’s friends despise him so much that they attack him. His reliance on them allows them to despise him and makes them confident that he will never notice anything. And those whose aim is to seize power for themselves are also, up to a point, actuated by contempt when they attack: they feel they are strong enough and contemn the risk, and their strength causes them to undertake the attack lightly, as do commanders of armies when they attack their monarchs. A case in point is Cyrus, who despised Astyages,27 both his power and his manner of life: the power had become inert, the life one of self-indulgence. Similar was the attack of Seuthes the Thracian, while a general, on Amadocus. Some attack for a mixture of these reasons; Mithridates for instance, attacked Ariobarzanes both because he despised him and because he wanted to profit. Attacks that are inspired by contempt are generally carried out by men who are by nature bold, and also hold military office28 in the service of a monarch. For courage combined with physical power makes men bold, and for this double reason they are confident of easy success before they make their attack.

1312a21 But when the reason for an attack is ambition, a different style of cause operates from those already mentioned. It is not true to say that, just as some men attack tyrants because they have an eye on the immense profits and honours which accrue to them,every ambitious attacker chooses to take the risk in that spirit. The fact is that, while the former act for the reason given, the latter act as they would on any other exceptional venture that offers men a chance of making themselves famous and notable: they attack a monarch in order to win glory for themselves, not because they want his monarchy. Still, there are not very many who go ahead for this reason: there must be in addition disregard of personal safety, should the venture miscarry. They should not lose sight of Dion’s attitude, difficult though it is for many men to adopt it. Dion29 took only a few men with him against Dionysius, saying he felt that whenever he could advance with success, he was satisfied to have completed that much of the enterprise; thus, if it should happen that after taking but a few steps in that country he should be slain, he would have died a death that pleased him.

1312a39 One of the ways tyranny, like each of the other constitutions, may be destroyed is from without, if there is a more powerful constitution that is opposed to it; the desire to destroy it will certainly exist because of the opposition of aims, and when power is added to desire men always act. The constitutions are opposed thus: democracy is opposed to tyranny, on Hesiod’s principle30 that ‘two potters never agree’; for democracy is the extreme form of tyranny. Kingship and aristocracy are also opposed to tyranny, being opposite to it as constitutions; and for this reason the Lacedaemonians brought low very many tyrannies, as did also the Syracusans during the time when they had a good constitution. Another way is from within, when there is faction among those who share the tyrant’s power, for example the tyranny of Gelon’s circle,31 and, more recently,32 that of Dionysius. In the former, Thrasybulus, brother of Hiero, established an influence like a demagogue’s over Gelon’s son, and led him into a life of sensual pleasure. His purpose was to be ruler himself. The family got together a conspiracy with the aim of bringing about the fall of Thrasybulus, not of the tyranny as a whole. But their supporters in the conspiracy, seizing their chance, threw out the lot of them. In the other case Dion led a force against Dionysius,33 to whom he was related by marriage, and enlisted popular support; he threw out Dionysius but was afterwards slain himself.

1312b17 The two chief reasons for attacks on a tyranny are hatred and contempt. Hatred of tyrants is always present, but in many cases their fall comes from their being despised. This can be seen from the fact that men who have themselves won the position have generally maintained their rule, but those who had acquired it from a predecessor nearly all lose it straight away. Living only to enjoy themselves, they soon become easy to despise and give their attackers plenty of chances. We ought to include anger as part of hatred, since in a way it leads to the same actions. But anger is often more active than hatred. Angry men go into the attack with greater intensity just because this feeling does not involve their reasoning powers, which hatred uses more. To be ill-treated makes men follow their passions rather than their reason, and this is just what brought about the fall of the tyranny of the Peisistratidae13 and many of the others. Anger is accompanied by pain, which makes it difficult to exercise reason, whereas hostility is not painful. In short then the same causes which we said34 destroyed unmixed and extreme oligarchies and extreme democracies are just those which must be regarded as destroying tyrannies too; for these extreme forms are really distributed35 tyrannies.

1312b38 Kingship least suffers destruction from without; it is therefore long-lasting. When kingships are destroyed it is most often from within, and in two ways: one, when those who participate in the royal rule form factions among themselves, the other when kings try to run affairs too tyrannically, claiming sovereign power over more than they are legally entitled to. But nowadays kingships no longer arise, and such as do are more like a tyranny or a monarchy.36 For kingship is government by consent as well as sovereignty over more important affairs; the number of persons who are all on a similar level is large, and none of them stands out enough to measure up to the greatness and grandeur of the office. So for this reason men do not readily consent to be ruled by such people, and if by force or by fraud one of them attains that position, that is regarded as a tyranny without further ado.

1313a10 We must add a further cause of downfall to those stated, one that is characteristic of hereditary kingships. Those who inherit are often persons whom it is easy to despise; and though they possess the honour of a king, not the power of a tyrant, they ill-treat others. The overthrow of kingship is then easy, for when people cease to wish him to be king, a king will be at once a king no more; but a tyrant is still a tyrant even though people do not want him.

For these reasons and others like them monarchies suffer destruction.

V xi

Dealing next with ways of preventing revolution in monarchies, Aristotle again has much more to say about tyranny than about kingship, which being based on consent is much more stable. Tyranny is based on force and, traditionally, maintained by force. The other way for a tyrant to maintain his position is to cultivate certain features of kingship, which Aristotle enumerates at length. These ‘two quite different methods by which tyrannies may be preserved’ are well described by Newman (IV 448): ‘The two ways of preserving a tyranny differ in this:in the first it is taken for granted that the subjects of a tyrant are necessarily hostile to him and the aim is to make them unable to conspire against him… whereas in the second the aim is to make the subjects of the tyrant indisposed to conspire against him…’

It may seem strange that Aristotle devotes so much attention to describing measures by which a tyrant could maintain his position, for obviously he disapproves of tyranny as such. Yet we may suspect that the lonely figure of the tyrant exercised a certain fascination over him; and since he has described the means of preserving other constitutions, it is possible that a donnish rigour and desire for completeness of treatment led him to give an equal attention to tyranny. His main reason, however, presumably appears in the closing words of the chapter: a tyrant who adopts certain features of kingship will be to that extent a less bad ruler – a tyrant still, to be sure, but perhaps a tolerable, ‘half-good’ tyrant. Aristotle may have supposed that the chapter could serve the beneficent practical purpose of persuading at least some tyrants, in the interests of maintaining their position, to modify their rule in a desirable direction.

1313a18 As to the preservation of monarchies, the general principle of opposite causes still holds good, but special principles are applicable to each. (A) Kingships are preserved by tending towards greater moderation. The fewer those spheres of activity where a king’s power is sovereign, the longer the regime will inevitably survive undiminished. They themselves become less like masters, and more like their subjects in character, and therefore arouse less envy among them. That is the secret of the long life of the Molossian kingdom; and as for the Lacedaemonian, we can first point to the reason that from the very start the ruling was divided between two Kings; secondly, Theopompus,1 in addition to other measures of moderation, instituted as a check the office of the Ephors. This diminution of the royal power had in the long run the effect of strengthening the kingship, so in a sense Theopompus did not reduce it but increased it, as he himself is reported to have said in reply to his wife, when she asked if he was not ashamed to be passing the kingdom on to his sons in a lesser state than he had inherited it from his father. ‘Certainly not,’ he replied, ‘the kingdom that I pass on is longer-lasting.’

1313a34 There are two quite opposed methods by which (B) tyrannies are preserved. I deal first with the traditional method, the principle followed by most tyrants in exercising their dominion. Periander of Corinth2 is credited with having introduced many of the ways of applying it, but the Persian government offers many parallels. Here belong all the old3 hints for the preservation (so far as possible) of tyranny: (i) ‘Lop off the eminent and get rid of men of independent spirit’; (ii) ‘Don’t allow getting together in messes or clubs, or education or anything of that kind; these are the breeding grounds of independence and confidence, two things which a tyrant must guard against’; (iii) ‘Do not allow schools or other gatherings where men pursue learning together, and do everything to ensure that people do not get to know each other well, for such knowledge increases mutual confidence’; (iv) ‘Keep the dwellers in the city always within view and require them to spend much time at the palace gates; their activities then will not be kept secret, and by constantly performing servile actions they will become used to having little spirit of their own.’ There are other precepts of tyranny of the same kind, all of them having the same effect, among the Persians and other non-Greeks. Similarly a tyrant should endeavour (v) to keep himself aware of everything that is said or done among his subjects: he should have spies like the ‘Tittle-Tattle Women’ of Syracuse, or the Eavesdroppers whom Hiero4 used to send to any place where there was a meeting or gathering of people. Men speak less freely for fear of such men, and if they do open their mouths, they are more likely to be detected.

1313b16 Another way is to stir up strife and set friends against friends, people against notables and the rich against each other. It is also in the interests of a tyrant to make his subjects poor, so that he may be able to afford the cost of his bodyguard, while the people are so occupied with their daily tasks that they have no time for plotting. As examples of such measures, all having the same effect – of keeping subjects perpetually at work and in poverty – we may mention the pyramids of Egypt, the numerous offerings made by the Cypselids,5 the building of the temple of Zeus Olympius by the Peisistratidae,6 and some of the works at Samos, under Polycrates.7 Subjects are also kept poor by payment of taxes, as at Syracuse under Dionysius,8 where in five years the value of everything possessed was paid in. The tyrant is also very ready to make war; for this keeps his subjects occupied and in continued need of a leader. Friends are a source of stability to a kingship, but not to a tyrant; it is part of his policy to mistrust them more than anyone, as having more than anyone the power to do what all the others merely wish.9

1313b32 The features of extreme democracy are also all characteristic of a tyrant’s policy: the dominance of women in the home, and slack control of slaves. The reason for both features is the same. Tyrants expect in this way to get information against the men, for women and slaves do not plot against tyrants: keep them satisfied and they must always be supporters of tyrannies – and of democracies, for the people too likes to be sole ruler. So for this reason, the flatterer too is held in honour by both: in democracies, the popular leader, because he is the flatterer of the mob; at a tyrant’s court, those who keep him company in an obsequious spirit, which is the function of flattery. This makes tyranny favour the baser sort, in the sense that a tyrant loves to be flattered, and no man of free spirit will oblige him. Respectable men give friendship, or at any rate refrain from flattery, and base men are useful for base deeds (‘nail on nail’, as the saying goes).10

1314a5 The typical tyrant dislikes proud and free-spirited people. He regards himself as the only person entitled to those qualities; and anyone who shows a rival pride and a spirit of freedom destroys the supremacy and master-like character of the tyranny. Thus the tyrant hates such people as destroyers of his rule. He is also inclined to cultivate the company of foreigners and eat with them rather than with citizens of his own state; for the latter he sees as potential enemies, the former as not making rival claims.

1314a12 All these and their like are marks of tyranny and ways of maintaining it; and they are utterly depraved. They may all be grouped under three heads, corresponding to tyranny’s three aims, namely that its subjects shall (a) have little spirit of their own, (b) have no trust in each other, and (c) have no means of carrying out anything. As to (a), the point is that resistance is not planned by puny spirits against anyone. As to (b), no tyranny is ever brought low until a certain degree of mutual confidence is established; hence tyrants are hostile to respectable men, as being dangerous to their rule, not only because of their repugnance to being ruled as though by a master, but because they command confidence, both among themselves and others, and abstain from making accusations against each other or anybody else. As to (c), no one attempts what is quite beyond his powers, so nobody attempts to destroy even a tyranny if the power to do so is not there. These then are the three definitive ends to which the tyrant’s plans relate: all his acts might be referred to these three principles – he wants his subjects to have no mutual confidence, no power and little spirit.

1314a29 So much for one method of preserving tyrannies; the other requires care to be exercised in virtually the opposite direction. To understand it, we take our cue from the destruction of kingships. Just as one way of setting a kingdom on the road to destruction is to make its rule more tyrannical, so conversely it preserves a tyranny to make it more kingly, always guarding just one thing – the power of the ruler, power enabling him to govern not only those who wish him to but also those who do not. For if he abandons that, he abandons his whole position as tyrant. This serves as his permanent fundamental principle; for the rest, in his every real or pretended act he must be adept at playing in the role of a king.

1314a40 Thus in the first place he will appear to think of the general good; he will not spend large sums on giving bounties such as arouse the people’s indignation, as when the gifts are extracted from their toil and labour, while he gives lavishly to his mistresses, to foreigners, and to his skilled craftsmen. And in this connection he will render an account of his revenue and expenditure – a practice adopted by some tyrants in the past. Such a mode of administration will help him to look like a household-manager11 and not a tyrant. And he does not have to fear shortage of money, being sovereign over the state. Indeed, if a ruler goes abroad much, it is actually more expedient for him to follow this policy12 than to collect and leave behind a vast sum. There will be less likelihood that those in charge of his finances will try to get the control of affairs into their own hands; and when tyrants are away they are more nervous about those in charge of their finances than about the citizens: the citizens go abroad with him, the financial officers remain behind. Again, when he collects taxes or demands public services,13 it should appear that he is doing these things to further his management,11 and for his military needs at a particular juncture; and generally he should make himself look like a guardian and steward not of his own resources but of the public’s.

1314b18 In his dealings he should always give the impression of dignity,14 not of harshness, of being the kind of person who inspires not fear but respect in those who meet him. This is not easy if he is readily despised. Hence if he cannot manage to cultivate any of the other virtues, he should aim at least at valour in warfare, and establish for himself a military reputation. Neither he nor any of his entourage should be seen to violate15 any of his youthful subjects, male or female; and this applies equally to the women of his court in their behaviour towards other women. (Female sexual assaults15 too have often caused tyrannies to fall.) His behaviour must also be unlike that of some tyrants nowadays in regard to indulgence of the body: they start at dawn and continue for days on end, and even do so for the express purpose of letting others see their indulgence and marvel at how happy and supremely fortunate they are. In such matters moderation is best, or at least to avoid indulgence in full view of others. It is not the sober but the tipsy man who is easily got at and easily despised, not the wide-awake but the slumberer. And he must do the opposite of practically all the things mentioned long before:16 thus in the arrangement and adornment of the city he should be a trustee rather than a tyrant.

1314b38 In religion he should always be more obviously in earnest than anyone else, but not so as to give an impression of brainlessness. Men are less fearful of being treated illegally by such a person, whom they regard as a religious man and one who pays regard to the gods; and they plot against him less if they believe that he has even the gods on his side. Again, when any of his subjects show a marked capacity for anything, he should honour them so much that they come to believe that even by independent citizens they could not have been given greater honour. Such honours he should bestow in person, leaving punishments to be imposed by others, whether officials or courts. There is a protective principle here which applies equally to all kinds of monarchy – not to make any one man great; if need be, let there be several (they will watch each other). If in practice it is found necessary so to single out one man, let him not be one of bold character. Such a character is always ready for the attack, whatever the business in hand. And if it is decided to dismiss him from power, this should be done gradually: do not remove his whole competence at one blow.

1315a14 He should abstain from all ill-treatment17 in all its forms, and two in particular – offences against the person and against youth. This precaution must be taken especially in regard to ambitious men; for while the money-loving chiefly resent slights which affect their money, the ambitious and respectable resent attacks on their honour. Hence either he must not employ such men or, if he inflicts punishment, it should obviously be inflicted in a fatherly spirit and not as a slight. His liaisons with young persons should spring from love, not simply from the opportunities open to him; and generally any apparent diminution of honours should be bought off by greater ones bestowed. Of all those who make attacks on a tyrant’s life, the most to be watched and feared are those who reck nothing of their own life provided they can take his. Therefore he should be wary of such men when they think that they are ill-used17 (themselves or the objects of their care). When anger is the spring of their action men are unsparing of themselves. As Heraclitus once said, ‘Anger is a difficult enemy; he buys with his life.’18

1315a31 Since states are made up of two sections, those who have property and those who do not, both, if possible, ought to believe that they owe their safety to the regime, and neither ought to treat the other unjustly. But whichever of the two sections is the more powerful, its members ought to be thoroughly embraced by the regime, so that, with this backing for his interests, the tyrant may be able to avoid the necessity of such measures as the liberation of slaves and the confiscation of arms. For it is sufficient for the purpose of being stronger than his attackers if one or other of the two sections be added to his power.

1315a40 It would be superfluous to go into any further details about such matters. The general purpose is clear: a tyrant should not appear like a tyrant in the eyes of his subjects, but like a king and a manager of a household;11 not a person who is out for his own gain but as a trustee of the affairs of others, aiming not at a life of excess, but at one of moderation; and as someone who moreover makes friends with the notables but is also the people’s leader. If he acts thus, his rule is bound to be not only better and more enviable (he will not be hated and feared, and his rule will be exercised over better men, not men reduced to impotent submission), but also more lasting; and he himself will have either the right disposition or at least a half-good disposition with respect to virtue, a man not wicked but half-wicked.

V xii

In spite of all his ‘tips to tyrants’ in the preceding chapter, Aristotle has to recognize that tyrannies and oligarchies rarely last long; and in the first two paragraphs of this final chapter of Book V he gives some examples of the most durable.

The remainder of the chapter is somewhat difficult, being another of Aristotle’s puzzlingly unsympathetic criticisms of Plato, of which we have many examples in II. It is as though, at the end of his account of constitutional change, he felt that it could be rivalled or challenged by Plato’s, which he therefore tried to dismiss with a few well-chosen broadsides. In the eighth and ninth books of the Republic Plato gave an imaginary account of changes from one form of constitution to another; though based on observed fact, it was essentially a psychological study, of the progressive deterioration from the finest aristocracy to the worst tyranny; it was not intended as a factual or systematic analysis of all forms of constitutional change, nor as direct political advice to rulers. Aristotle seems almost perversely determined not to enter into the spirit of the thing: the essence of his attack is that the causes of change in constitutions are in fact far more various and complex than they are described as being in the Republic. Plato would have responded, one supposes, with agreement and a pitying smile, and with a just reminder of the special focus of his own account. Discussion about the nature and causes of constitutional change was no doubt carried on both inside and outside the Academy (where Aristotle studied for twenty years), and to read this chapter together with Republic VIII and IX is to overhear controversy.

In the third paragraph Aristotle refers allusively to a complex and controversial passage of the Republic (546b ff.), in which Plato suggests, apparently somewhat playfully, that the initial deterioration in the ideal constitution might be described mathematically, in terms of the ‘nuptial number’. If it is not too pretentious so to describe it, this could be regarded as an early attempt to apply mathematical techniques to genetic and social change. Aristotle’s criticism is that it is far too generalized, and could equally well apply to any other constitution, not only the ‘best’. Indeed, the whole of the second part of the chapter is a good example of Aristotle’s healthy mistrust of generalization, which stems from his fundamental belief that each separate constitution has its own special causes of change which it is the business of the political theorists to collect, describe and analyse as a basis for giving political advice designed to further the ‘good’ life.

On the interpretation of the ‘nuptial number’, see J. Adam, Plato’s Republic (Cambridge, 1902, repr. 1963), II pp. 201–9, 264–312.

1315b11 Still, oligarchy and tyranny are shorter-lived than any other constitution. The longest tyranny was the Sicyonian, that of Orthagoras and his sons: it lasted a hundred years. This was because they treated their subjects with moderation and in many matters subjected themselves to the rule of law:1 and Cleisthenes was a warlike person and therefore not one to be easily despised. In general, they maintained themselves as the people’s leaders by repeated acts of care for them. (At any rate, it is said that Cleisthenes set a wreath upon the head of an adjudicator who had declared someone else the winner; and some say that the seated statue to be seen in the market-place is of the man who gave that decision.) It is said of Peisistratus 2, too, that he was once summoned to appear before the court of the Areopagus, and submitted.

1315b22 Second place goes to the tyranny of the Cypselids3 at Corinth, which lasted seventy-three and a half years. Cypselus was tyrant for thirty years, Periander for forty and a half, and Psammitichus, son of Gorgus, for three. The reasons for their success are the same. Cypselus was a leader of the people and all through his reign continued without an armed guard; Periander was more of the typical tyrant, but he was warlike. Third is the tyranny of the Peisistratidae2 at Athens. This was not continuous, for twice during his tyranny Peisistratus was exiled. Thus he was a tyrant for seventeen years out of thirty-three; his sons reigned for eighteen years, making thirty-five years in all. Of the rest there is the Syracusan, of Hiero and Gelon,4 but even this did not endure for longer than eighteen years. Gelon was tyrant for seven years and died in the eighth, Hiero for ten; and Thrasybulus was driven out in the eleventh month. But all round, tyrannies have not lasted long.

1315b40 I have now said virtually all I have to say on these topics, having described in relation both to monarchies and to constitutions in general the causes of their destruction and the ways in which they are preserved. But in the Republic Socrates discourses, though in an unsatisfactory manner, on their changes. He starts from the first and ideally best constitution, but the change which he discerns in it is not peculiar to it. For he says that change is due to the fact that nothing stays the same but changes within a certain cycle; and that this periodicity has its origin in those entities ‘in which a basic proportion of four to three, coupled with five, produces two harmonies’, meaning by that, when the number on this diagram is cubed.5 This implies that nature at a certain moment produces bad men, beyond the reach of education. This is perhaps in itself unexceptionable; it may well be that there are people who are incapable of being educated and becoming sound men. But why should this be a change affecting peculiarly what he calls the best constitution, any more than any other constitution or anything else that comes into existence? And throughout that period of time which he speaks of as changing all things, do even things which started to come into existence at different times change at the same time? I mean, if something came into being the day before the turning point,6 does it then change along with the rest?

1316a17 My second criticism is this: why should this constitution change into the Laconian?7 All constitutions more often change into their opposites than into those like them. The same argument also applies to the subsequent changes which he gives – from the Laconian to oligarchy and from that to democracy and from democracy to tyranny. Surely there are also changes in the reverse direction, as from democracy to oligarchy, and to this even more than to monarchy.

1316a25 Moreover, he stops at tyranny and does not say whether or not it will suffer change, nor, if it does, what will cause the change, and into what sort of constitution. The reason is that he would have found it difficult to say, for tyranny is an indeterminate thing. According to Socrates’ theory it ought to change into the constitution which is first and best; the process would then become continuous and circular. But tyranny can also change into tyranny, as at Sicyon from that of Myron to that of Cleisthenes, or to oligarchy, like the tyranny of Antileon at Chalcis, or to democracy, as did that of Gelon’s family at Syracuse,4 or into aristocracy, as that of Charillus8 at Lacedaemon, or as at Carthage. Change may also take place from oligarchy to tyranny, which is what happened to most of the older Sicilian oligarchies, in Leontini to the tyranny of Panaetius, in Gela to that of Cleander, in Rhegium to that Anaxilaus, and in many other cities likewise.

1316a39 It is also an odd notion that change into oligarchy is due to the fact that those who hold office are fond of money and makers of money, and not rather to the fact that those with vast possessions think it unjust that those who do not have property should participate in the state on equal terms with those who do. And in many oligarchies it is not possible to make money:9 there are laws to prevent it. On the other hand, in democratic Carthage they do make money and have not yet changed their constitution.

I316b6 Equally odd is his statement that the oligarchical state is two states, one of the rich and one of the poor.10 But why is this oligarchy of which he speaks different in this respect from the Laconian, or any other in which not all are equally possessed of property, or in which not all are equally good men? Without any person becoming poorer than he was, men none the less change from oligarchy to democracy, if the poor become more numerous, and from democracy to oligarchy when the wealthy are stronger than the multitude, so long as the one party is alert and the other negligent. Though there are many causes that give rise to the changes, he mentions but one, namely that by their extravagant living men get heavily burdened by payments of interest and become poor, implying that all or most of them were rich at the start.11 But this is not true. Certainly, whenever some of the leading men lose their wealth, they do try to make innovations; but when some of the others lose theirs, nothing happens out of the ordinary. And if change does take place on such an occasion, even then it does not tend towards a democracy, any more than towards some other constitution. What counts in creating faction and constitutional change is whether honours and privileges are shared, and whether people are unjustly treated or ill-used, even when they have not squandered their possessions through enjoying the possibility of doing exactly what they like – an opportunity which he says is furnished by an excess of liberty. And there are many different oligarchies and democracies, but Socrates speaks of their changes as if there were only one of either.

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