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Aristotle’s Teaching in the Politics

Aristotle’s Teaching in the Politics

thomas l. pangle

The University of Chicago Press

Chicago & London

Thomas L. Pangle is the Joe R. Long Chair in Democratic Studies in the Department of Government at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including The Theological Basis of Liberal Modernity in Montesquieu’s “Spirit of the Laws.”

The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 60637 The University of Chicago Press, Ltd., London © 2013 by The University of Chicago All rights reserved. Published 2013. Printed in the United States of America
















ISBN-13: 978-0-226-01603-0 (cloth) ISBN-13: 978-0-226-01617-7 (e-book)

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Pangle, Thomas L., author.

Aristotle’s teaching in the Politics / Thomas L. Pangle. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-0-226-01603-0 (cloth : alkaline paper) —

ISBN 978-0-226-01617-7 (e-book)

1. Aristotle. Politics.

2. Political science—Philosophy—Study and teaching. JC71.A7P37 2013


I. Title.


JC71.A7P37 2013 320.01'1—dc23 I. Title. 2012036971 This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992

This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper).


introduction The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching 1

The Challenge of Interpreting Aristotle’s “Lectures” 1 Aristotle’s Relation to His Historical Context 6 The Hazard Theorizing Poses to the Rule of Law 8 Classical vs. Modern Republicanism 9 The De ciency of Actual Legislation 13 The Philosopher’s Trans-Civic Virtue 19

chapter one Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political 25

Aristotle’s Polemical Procedure 26 The Switch in Method 28 The Naturalness of the City 29 Introducing the Problematic of Property 39 The Natural Basis of Slavery 42 The Critique of Greek and Lawful Slavery 47 The Natural Art of Acquisition vs. the Unnatural 51 The Political and the Kingly Art, in the Family 62 Retrospect and Prospect 69

chapter two Book Two: Previous Conceptions of the Best Regime 71

The Critique of Plato 72 The Critique of Phaleas 80 The Critique of Hippodamus 83 Assessing the Most Respectable Greek Regimes 85 The African Peak of Previous Political Life 93 Solon’s Athenian Democracy 97

chapter three Book Three: The Debate over Justice among the Regimes 99

The Quarrel over Citizenship 100 The Criterion of the Common Good 105 How Important Is the Regime? 107 The Good Man vs. the Serious Citizen 111 The Impracticality of the Republic of the Virtuous 121 The Problematic of Humanity’s Political Nature 125 The Debate over Distributive Justice 134 Making a Case for Democracy 138 Political Philosophy Comes to the Fore 145 Absolute Kingship as the Best Regime? 155 Another Surprising Transition 165

chapter four Books Four through Six: Ameliorating Actual Regimes 167

The New Perspective on the Classi cation of Regimes 169 A Revealing Experimental Failure 173 The Varieties of Democracy and of Oligarchy 177 The Basic Norm Guiding Statesmen in Democracy and Oligarchy 179 Actual Aristocracy, Polity, and Tyranny 181 The Best Practicable Republic 186 Organizing the Three Governmental Functions 194 The Destruction and Preservation of Republics 199 The Destruction and Preservation of Monarchies 210 The Reconsideration of Democracy and Oligarchy 217

chapter five Books Seven and Eight: The Simply Best Republic 225

The Most Choiceworthy Way of Life 227 The Preconditions of the Best Republic 240 The Regime Itself 245 Education 257

Notes 269

References 319

Index of Names 335


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

Aristotle’s Teaching in the “Politics”: this title announces, in a fuller way than at rst appears, the present book’s distinctive approach. For “teach- ing” is meant in a twofold sense. This study’s leitmotif is that the political- philosophic substance about which Aristotle seeks to educate us cannot be disentwined from the artfully educative activity in which Aristotle is en- gaged, and into which he seeks to draw us, throughout—an enactment which he presents as a model of how a political philosopher ought to teach, in lecturing and in writing. In other words, Aristotle’s public theorizing about political practice is a highly self-conscious form of political practice, of intervention in political life. We cannot learn the most important les- sons the philosopher seeks to teach, about both political theory and politi- cal practice, and about the fraught relation between theory and practice, unless we maintain a constant attentiveness to the politic and exemplary manner in which he reaches out to, and enters into dialogue with, potential students—who he knows to be of varying abilities and needs, and embed- ded in or contending with divergent and clashing regime-contexts. Pre- vious modern scholarship has for the most part failed to understand the sinuously instructive path of the Politics because interpretation, with rare exceptions, has not recognized nor risen to the challenge of the philoso- pher’s psychologically subtle and multi-level, playfully serious and civi- cally responsible mode of educative communication.

the challenge of interpreting aristotle’s “lectures”

The rhetorical form that Aristotle chose to employ for his written com- munication, in that portion of his writings that has come down to us in

An earlier version of the introduction appeared as “The Rhetorical Strategy Govern- ing Aristotle’s Political Teaching,” Journal of Politics 73, no. 1 ( January 2011), 1–13.


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

nonfragmentary condition, was the lecture (akroasis), revised for publi- cation as a treatise 1 but with occasional explicit reminders of the original oratorical presentation—to a group of gentlemanly “listeners” (akroatai ) at “leisure” or in “school.” 2 In contrast to the Platonic or Xenophontic dialogues, and to the dramas of the poets and the narratives of the histori- ans, this form of writing gives an impression of delivering answers to the basic questions under discussion. Aristotle’s lecture-treatises, for all their exploratory character and avoidance of ponti cation, have been famous since antiquity for their apparent doctrinalism—an impression strength- ened in dierent ways by the Thomistic tradition and by many contempo- rary commentators. 3 It is certainly the case that the Peripatetic’s moral- political treatises strongly endorse, after enlarging, and thus reinforcing, the “serious” outlook of “gentlemen” (spoudaioi, kaloikagathoi), who are in the best case community leaders and the “consciences” of their socie- ties. Only gradually, and especially under the guidance of Socratic-inspired questions and questioning, may a reader discern the incompleteness of this deliberate primary impression. Then one discovers the way in which the edifying surface has been designed to veil, but simultaneously to lure one toward, a much more troubling but also liberating dialectical ascent. This upclimb is not altogether easy or safe to follow. Some profound interpret- ers who have recognized the intensity of Aristotle’s underlying provoca- tion to questioning (skepsis) have responded by attributing to him a covert, radical skepticism. Thus Descartes contrasts Aristotle with Plato in the following terms: “There is no dierence between them except that Plato, following the footsteps of his master Socrates, ingenuously confessed that he had never yet been able to discover anything certain, and was content to write what seemed to him to be probable”; “Aristotle was less candid, and although he had been Plato’s disciple for twenty years, and possessed no principles apart from those of Plato, he completely changed the method of stating them and put them forward as true and sure, though it does not at all seem that he ever judged them to be so” (Principles of Philosophy, Let- ter of the Author). Montaigne goes further. Summarizing the fruit of his own long experience of studying Aristotle, Montaigne indites (1967, 211; Essays, 2.12), Aristotle is “the prince of the dogmatists; 4 and yet, we learn from him that knowing much gives occasion for doubting more. One sees him often deliberately covering himself with such thick and inextricable ob- scurity that one cannot pick out anything of his opinion. It is in fact a Pyr- rhonism under an armative form” (cf. Robinson 1995, 70). Pascal, in his assessment of Aristotle’s political writings, was not so extreme. But in the course of rightly insisting that scholars tend to be blind to Aristotle’s (and Plato’s) subtly and richly comic turn, at least in their political-philosophic

The Challenge of Interpreting Aristotle’s “Lectures”


writings, Pascal was led to suggest that Aristotle (as well as Plato) had in the end no serious political theory: “When Plato and Aristotle amused themselves by composing their Laws and Politics they did it for fun. It was the least philosophical and least serious part of their life.” Indeed, “it was as if to lay down rules for a madhouse.” And “if they pretended to speak of it as if of a great thing, it was because they knew that the madmen they were talking to believed themselves to be kings and emperors. They entered into their principles in order to moderate their madness so as to make it as little harmful as possible” (Pensées no. 533, in Pascal 1963). These characterizations of Aristotle’s manner of writing by thinkers and writers of the rst rank provide a much-needed corrective to a great deal of contemporary scholarly interpretation. 5 Yet these appraisals are, in my judgment, (deliberately?) one-sided. Aristotle, I mean to show, has constructed his text in such a way that—if the puzzles he has placed on the surface are taken seriously and then wrestled with, in good-humored doggedness, so that we become his partners in the dialogue that Aristotle means to draw us into—we are put on a trail that leads away from skepti- cism. The path leads to an eventually puried knowledge of the nature of politics as shaped by the aspiration to virtue (the “originary social science” that was called for by Husserl 1965, 93). And that knowledge, for all its jocosity, has implications of the utmost seriousness for human existence. The methodological digressions that Aristotle has inserted in the rst few pages of his Nicomachean Ethics provide illuminating, if somewhat Del- phic, clues as to the didactic nature of his “lectures”—and as to the multi- level audience he conceives as the intended or envisioned recipient. His rst digression on method 6 begins by explaining the “clarity in speech” which “the subject matter” allows. “The noble and the just matters, into which the science of politics inquires, contain such disagreement [diaphora] and variability [plane] that they seem to exist only by lawful convention, and not by nature.” To our disappointment, our teacher does not promise that he will dispose of this troubling appearance. 7 Instead, he adds that “the good things also have some such variability” (he does not say the good things elicit any such “disagreement” as do the just and noble, nor that the good things seem to exist only by convention and not by nature). The variability in the good things that he has in mind he species as follows: “Harms to many people result from the good things: for some have been destroyed on account of wealth, and others on account of courage.” “Therefore,” two things are “very desirable.” First, “in speaking about such things and on the basis of such things, to show the truth [only] roughly and in outline” (the exact truth, as a good thing—the exact truth about the just and the no- ble, perhaps especially the exact truth that emerges from an investigation


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

into the “great disagreement the just and noble contain”—may be harmful to some or to many). Second, “in speaking about things that apply only mostly, and on the basis of such things, to draw conclusions of that [same] sort.” The philosopher goes on to indicate that in speaking thus he will of- fer something closer to the persuasive speech one accepts from “an artful rhetorician” than to the demonstrations one requires from a mathemati- cian: such a very imperfect degree of “precision” is what the peculiar “na- ture of the business [pragma] displays.” In a subsequent explicit repetition (NE 1098a26–31), the philosopher characterizes his writing on morals by comparing it to what is of moment to a carpenter, in contrast with a mathe- matician: both seek what is “right” [orthen], but the former “to the extent useful for the task,” while the latter seeks “what it is; or what sort of thing it is—because he is a contemplator of the truth.” Aristotle thus prods us to see that in his moral and political writings his concern to be “a contempla- tor of the truth” must be considerably alloyed by practical concerns. The other major point that Aristotle makes in his rst methodological digression is an admonition (which is not without its comic aspect) con- cerning the audience whom he has in view rst and foremost. He in eect “sets the scene” in which we must imagine the succeeding lectures taking place. A young man, he declares, does not belong in this audience. Young men should leave, or should read no further. The proper audience com- prises those among their elders who will “judge nobly” because—unlike some of their peers, as well as the young—they have the kind of unscientic knowledge (gnwsis) that comes from the “education” that consists in prac- tical experience and in submission of the emotions to the rule of practical reason. Or as Aristotle indicates in a subsequent repetition (1098b3–4), the “rst principles” of moral virtue are “contemplated by a certain habitua- tion .” Aristotle claries further what is implied by this severe restriction of his audience in his second methodological digression (NE 1095a30–b13). There he says that since he will proceed on the basis of, or by taking as his rst principles, what is seen to be manifestly the case (to hoti) by those who are “nobly habituated, concerning noble things and just things and the po- litical things generally,” there will be no need to ask “why? or, on account of what it is so?” (to dioti). The removal of the younger from the audience certainly facilitates this avoidance of questions that would require an ex- planation of why it is that the habitually engrained opinions are in fact true. Yet Aristotle in the next breath acknowledges that there may be someone out there in his audience who does not agree with this limitation: Aristo- tle momentarily spotlights such a demanding auditor. It turns out that the lecturer cannot con ne his audience as narrowly as he has demanded. The professor asks such a troublemaker to listen to some famous lines of He-

The Challenge of Interpreting Aristotle’s “Lectures”


siod, whom he proceeds to quote somewhat inaccurately (Works and Days, 293, 295–97; line 294 is skipped). Through his emphatic endorsement of these lines, Aristotle indicates the enormous inequality among the levels into which his (and the poet’s) audience falls (Lindsay 2000, 442–43). For the lines quoted distribute humanity into three major ranks: “This one is altogether best, who uses intelligence (nous) to think through everything for himself ”; “noble” (but second in rank) “is that one who is persuaded by another who speaks well”; third and lowest in rank is “the worthless man,” who “neither himself thinks, nor, after listening to another, stores [what he has heard] in his passionate part (thumos).” Aristotle’s primary audience is evidently the second ranked type, men who are moved by the sort of rea- soning Aristotle christens, in his treatise on rhetoric, the “enthymeme”— “what appeals to the passionate part (thumos).” But the philosopher here makes it apparent that he will never lose sight of the “one who is altogether best,” who uses intelligence (nous) to think through everything for him- self, who takes nothing on authority—and who therefore always demands the “why?” The way in which his lectures must be understood as communicating on dierent levels simultaneously, on account of the divergent psychological expectations or demands of the dierent levels of his audience, is also a major aspect of the short thematic treatment of lecturing that Aristotle has placed in the second book of his Metaphysics (994b32.—and we see here that there is not so great a dierence as one might at rst suppose between the audience envisioned for the ethical lectures and that envisioned for the metaphysical lectures). “Lectures,” Aristotle points out, “have their eect in accordance with the settled moral habituation [of the listeners]”; 8 “we demand to be spoken to in accordance with what we are accustomed; and the things contrary” to this are “more unknowable and more alien.” For it is “the familiar that is knowable.” And it is “the laws9 that “make clear the strength of what is long established”: in “what pertains to the laws, the mythic things and the things belonging to childhood have greater strength than our knowledge about those very things—on account of our settled moral characteristics.” Thus “there are some who will not receive the things spoken, if one does not speak in a mathematical manner”; and then “some who will not receive them, if one does not speak by way of examples”; and then “some who demand that a poet be adduced as a wit- ness.” In other words, “one group demands that all things be presented with precision; while others are pained by precision—either because they are incapable of understanding, or because they see it as petty speech; for precision has this eect, that in the opinion of some it is lacking in freedom/liberality” (see also Politics 1337b15–17). “Therefore,” our lec-


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

turing philosopher concludes, “it is necessary to be already educated in how each of these [dimensions] is to be received, since it is out of place to seek at the same time science and the characteristic way of science—and yet neither of these two is easy to grasp.” The last remark makes clear how important it is, if we are to grasp the full message of Aristotle, that we strive to become “educated” in his rhe- torical strategy (cf. Bodéüs 1993, 97–100, 114). This requires keeping rmly in mind two massively distinct levels of his audience and thus of his com- munication: those, on the one hand, who at least begin by being governed by lawful habituation in the mythic things learned from the poets in child- hood, and who are pained by precise analysis, on account of incapacity to follow it, or noble disgust at it; and those, on the other hand, whose char- acter has come to demand scienti c precision, perhaps along with concrete examples (where such are appropriate to clarifying the subject). Aristotle’s concern for this latter audience is repeatedly hinted at in his methodologi- cal digressions when he makes reference to mathematicians. But while he evinces great intellectual respect for these “mathematical” listeners, the philosopher simultaneously underlines their need to learn not only the art, but the reasons for the art, of the philosopher’s didactic rhetoric. Until the scienti cally trained undertake this learning, they will not only nd the lectures displeasing, they will miss the philosopher’s most serious teach- ing. The scienti cally trained in the audience must learn to recognize the power, even or especially in their own hearts, of “the mythic things and the things belonging to childhood” that are long established in and by the “laws.” Only on the basis of such recognition of the psychological power of the laws—the unwritten laws as much, if not more than, the written— can the scientically trained begin serious, critical re ection on what moves their own hearts. Coming to awareness of this, and how and why it dictates Aristotle’s rich rhetorical strategy, provides the key to true self- knowledge—which is available to humans only through civic knowledge. For “the human is by nature a political animal.”

aristotle’s relation to his historical context

The Politics elaborates our fullest available analysis of that form of social existence in and through which humans can most completely develop and reveal their nature as political—i.e., as self-governing, republican—ani- mals. The key preconditions for such social existence concern the quantity, sophistication, and urban concentration of the citizenry. Independence of course demands numbers sucient for military defense. But what is much more telling is the need to be able to pass collective judgment on the

Aristotle’s Relation to His Historical Context


just distribution of oces and honors (and dishonors) in accordance with merit. This requires that citizens be in a position to ascertain reliably what one another are like in their character (which does not, however, necessar- ily mean that citizens need to know one another intimately, or live “face to face”). 10 These key conditions were fruitfully met by the hundreds of cities or poleis that spread over the Mediterranean littoral for a number of genera- tions up through the time in which the Stagirite lived (384–322 BC). Aris- totle therefore focused his scienti c analysis on political life in this region, in this epoch—which had the additional great advantages of being close to him, and thus readily accessible to his scienti c investigations. This gives the philosophic explanation why we nd no important refer- ence in the Politics to the most dramatic political developments in Aris- totle’s own immediate historical-political context—a fact that has deeply puzzled modern scholars. 11 The Stagirite wrote his treatise in the wake of the defeat of the Greeks by the Macedonians at the battle of Chaeroneia (338 BC), which tolled the knell of doom for the true independence of the Greek cities. This did not extinguish autonomous civic life in the poleis, but it was the beginning of the end. 12 Not long afterwards, Alexander the Great subordinated the Greeks to his empire; and there is strong evidence indicating that Aristotle was involved in the Macedonian court that was at the center of the new hegemonic order. 13 Yet one would never guess any of this from the Politics. 14 However much he may have been involved in contemporary diplomacy and in various political maneuverings (Chroust 1973, 1.155–76), the Stagirite’s preoccupation as a political philosopher and theorist is not with his decadent political surroundings. His concern is rather the critical investigation of fully self-conscious civic expression and aspiration under the conditions in which humanity’s permanent political nature can disclose itself most completely in speech and deed. It is only on the basis of such study that the vast varieties of political life in less favored times and places (such as our own) can be adequately evaluated, and thus properly comprehended. 15 From this trans-historical perspective, Aristotle discerns with lucid- ity the following most important, abiding and universal, feature of phi- losophy’s relation to its political context: the liberation that philosophic questioning brings is unavoidably attended by grave risks of undermining beliefs that are the essential foundations of healthy civil society. And the fate of Socrates vividly illustrates that the political community, becoming aware of this threat, is likely to overreact in deploying its coercive forces defensively, thus posing a menace to political philosophers. 16 It is the re- sponsibility of the political philosophers—who alone can fully grasp the complexity of this ubiquitous political tension—to mitigate, while navigat-


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

ing, the antagonism and the complementarity between dedicated civic vir- tue and virtuous philosophic skepticism. The political philosophers meet this responsibility by crafting modes of communication, of speaking and of writing, that give safe and bene cial public expression to their critical inquiry.

the hazard theorizing poses to the rule of law

The primary danger that political philosophizing poses is delineated in a key portion of Aristotle’s critique of history’s rst known political theorist, Hippodamus of Miletus. 17 It was this thinker’s ambition, Aristotle reports, “to be one who reasons about the whole of nature,” and, on that basis, to win fame, not as a practicing statesman-citizen, but as a theoretician guid- ing political innovation. Among other things, Hippodamus proposed “to make it the law that those who discovered something advantageous for the city would incur honor.” Aristotle declares that this proposal is not only “unsafe,” but that it introduces “another problem and inquiry” which involves “perplexity.” Aristotle focuses on the implied encouragement of proposals for improvements in the laws. The rule of law, obedience to law, takes its strength, Aristotle insists, entirely from tradition-bred, rmly set- tled habituation: “The law has no strength, as regards being obeyed, except habit; and this does not come into being except through length of time.” 18 Long-standing tradition needs to inculcate a communal piety that reveres the laws as not only “ancient,” but “ancestral.” This essential spiritual habituation in reverence is inevitably shaken by public questioning of the justice and wisdom of existing laws, especially if that questioning promotes changes in the laws, and, still more grave, change in the constitutional regime. Yet on the other hand, as is also made clear in this crucial passage, civic health requires the cultivation of wisdom regarding law, with the attendant possibility of prudent reform, even far-reaching reform, as well as intelli- gent and not merely habitual conservation. None of this is possible without critical, probing re ection on the traditional laws and existing regime. This is true not only because, as Aristotle puts it here, some of the ancient laws are “too simple,” even “barbaric,” and “simple-minded.” More generally and deeply, “all seek not the ancestral/paternal, but the good” (see also Cicero Laws 2.40). So civic life, as the life of rational political animals, has a high need for political and legal theorizing, even as civic life is imperiled in its very foundation by the same theorizing. 19 A genuine political philosopher, who grasps this fundamental truth about the social context of political theoriz-

Classical vs. Modern Republicanism


ing, must recognize that while “some of the laws sometimes ought to be changed, still, for one inquiring in another way there would seem to be much caution involved” (1269a14). Each society will have its own distinc- tive traditions that need preserving, but all healthy republics share certain crucial, universal opinions—about morality, divinity, and civic duty—that the responsible philosopher in his publications must venerate, even while delicately undertaking a critical inquiry into their basis in truth. But to begin to appreciate the full dimensions of the problem as Aris- totle sees it, we must strive to grasp sympathetically the extensive moral function of law in Aristotle’s conception of the aspirations that animate sound civic life. In order to do so, we have to try to liberate ourselves from unquestioning acceptance of the ethos of liberal republicanism that pri- marily shapes our spirits. We have to open ourselves to the challenge of classical republicanism. We have to bring to the fore the contrast between Aristotle’s thinking and that of the philosophers who guided the eighteenth century Enlightenment that laid the grounding of our liberal constitutional culture. 20

classical vs. modern republicanism

In their soberest moments the political theorists of the Enlightenment ex- press muted echoes of Aristotle’s strictures on the threat to law-abidingness posed by openly critical political theorizing. 21 But the modern rationalists’ animadversions are issued in the name of progressive ambitions to reform, even to revolutionize, civic existence as previously known. The moderns are much more hopeful than is Aristotle—or the classical rationalists generally—regarding the possibility of harmonizing critical philosophic inquiry with the rule of constitutional law. At the deepest moral level, this is due to a profound disagreement with classical political philosophy over the nature of the virtue to which healthy civil society aspires, and hence over the law enforcement required to cultivate such virtue. Modern liberalism, even or especially at its most “idealistic” (Kant 1970, 74, 112–13; 133–35), attempts to reduce civic virtue and justice to those rules and behavioral characteristics that are obviously necessary means to collective preservation in freedom and prosperity. Civic virtue and justice are thus conceived as being close, if not equivalent, to what is manifestly required to achieve the most basic meaning of collective self- interest. Communal moral education needs to do no more than bring about an ordered expression of the passions such as is embraceable and achievable by almost any sensible person. Education of the soul in self-overcoming or self-transcendence is not a necessary or prudent goal of public policy. 22 As


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

Kant famously asseverated, a just constitutional order can be established and maintained by a society of devils, so long as they are shrewd. 23 From the classical perspective, this approach in all its varieties demeans and does violence to the reality of civic justice and virtue—which are ex- perienced not only or mainly as means, but far more as ends, as chief con- stituents of the good life. Conversely, collective preservation in freedom and prosperity are most authentically characterized not as constituting the end, for which virtue is the means; instead, security in freedom nds its supreme value through providing the opportunity for a just life of virtue, understood primarily as the ful lling excellence and ourishing felicity that entails active participation in communal self-government. Moral and civic virtue in this true sense may be characterized as self- interested only in a deeply ambiguous way. Virtue is indeed constitutive of happiness: but the individual achieves happiness as a contributor to the happiness of the whole community. “We call just” in the fullest and highest sense, Aristotle avers, “things that produce and preserve happi- ness and its parts for the political community”; and justice, as dedication to happiness in this communal sense, “is perfect virtue, because the one possessing it is able to use virtue in relation to another, rather than only by himself”; “on this very account justice alone of the virtues seems to be the good of another, because it is in relation to another.” Since he who rules “is the guardian of the just,” he “therefore labors for another”; and “on this account they say justice is the good of another” (NE 1129b17–19, 31–33, 1130a4–9). Justice so conceived requires a hard-won spiritual mastery of the powerful primary and common passions that express individualistic self-love and narrow self-concern. The pull of the latter tends strongly to outweigh admiring attraction to the virtuous civic life that expresses the passions coordinated with and obedient to practical reason, moral and civic. As Aristotle stresses at the start of his elaboration of the moral virtues in book 2 of the Ethics (1103a14.), this coordination is not natural, in the sense that it arises or can be maintained spontaneously, in the unimpeded course of maturation and subsequent mature activity. Nor can this virtu- ous coordination spring into being by some act of will. Rather, the acquisi- tion and maintenance of moral virtue, just like the acquisition and mainte- nance of the ability to play the harp well, require a severe, protracted, and continual discipline, involving constant practice in overcoming the power- ful inner, as well as external, natural temptations to self-indulgence. Con- versely, practice in self-indulgence inculcates vice: just as it is “by building houses well, that good house-builders come into being, and by building badly, that bad ones come into being”; “so it holds in the virtues: it is by

Classical vs. Modern Republicanism


actively engaging in transactions with humans that some of us become just

and others unjust, and it is by engaging in dangerous actions that we be- come habituated to feel fear and daring in such a way that some become courageous and some cowards; and similarly with the desires and angers.”

It makes “no small dierence, then, how we are habituated, beginning im-

mediately from childhood; rather it makes an enormous dierence: nay,


is everything” (NE 1103b7–25). “Human beings suppose that it is up


them whether they are unjust, and therefore that being just is easy; but

this is not so.” “Similarly they suppose that it takes no wisdom to know the just things and the unjust”; but in fact, to know “how things just are done, and how just distributions made, is a greater task than knowing how health comes about” (NE 1137a4–14). Not only in youth, but throughout

one’s entire lifetime, regular exercise, day after day and year after year,

is needed to maintain the spiritual dispositions in action that constitute

moral virtue—or that constitute at least the self-restraint that is mainly the eectual truth of virtue (see book 7 of the Ethics). This kind of practical moral education will not disappear, but it will be severely curtailed and hampered if, or to the extent that, it is not imposed and backed up by coercive law. It is the lawgivers 24 who “make the citizens

good by habituating them, and this is the guiding wish of every lawgiver; and as many lawgivers as do not succeed well in this making go astray.” 25

A fuller restatement of this teaching is the primary message conveyed by

the passage at the end of the Ethics, in which Aristotle eects a transition

to the Politics. Reasoned speech or writing about virtue, Aristotle declares

(NE 1179b4–9, 23–31), can have a major eect on the spirits of only a few generous youths. “In general, emotion does not seem to yield to reason, but to force.” Therefore “laws must command the upbringing and the ex- ercises.” And “it is probably not sucient to hit upon correct upbringing and supervision when we are young”; also “when we have reached man- hood we need to practice and to habituate ourselves in the same things: and with regard to these matters we need laws.” 26 The chief reason why law is

so important for moral education, of young and old, is then the psycho- logical force of its fearsome punishments, incorporating but going beyond communal honor and shame: “for the many obey constraint rather than reasoned speech, and punishments rather than the noble” (NE 1180a4–5). “It is the nature of the many not to obey awe, but fear; nor to shun base things on account of shame, but on account of the punishments” (NE


How is this stress on fear of legal punishment as a key motivation for moral habituation to be put together with the passage in the Politics that we focused on a moment ago, in which Aristotle stresses that habituation


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

is the sole strength of law, and thus of legal punishment? What we have here is a virtuous rather than a vicious circle. Taken together, the two pas- sages may be said to indicate the dialectical interdependence and interplay, especially within healthy republican law-abidingness, between fear and ha- bituation: fear of lawful punishment is a key ingredient, as well as cause, of the habituation that animates enforcement of the legal punishment that causes the fear. To put it another way, the citizenry, led by its most virtuous (best habituated) members, must threaten and impose punishments upon itself—most pointedly upon its less mature and less virtuous majority. Each citizen must participate in threatening his fellows with the sanctions which he himself feels threatened by. Since this original republican outlook has become so dim in our civic culture, it calls for some further speci cation. Aristotle’s own elaboration of such legislation has come down to us only in the truncated account of the best regime in the seventh and eighth books of the Politics, and so we need to supplement that with Plato’s Laws, along with Plutarch’s Lycurgus, in order to gain vivid, concrete portraits of how law may function to incul- cate virtue (see also Ath. Const. 42 and Bradley 1991, 39–40, 55–56). First and foremost, law can habituate adult citizens to public service by requiring their regular participation in deliberative, administrative, and judicial councils. Those gatherings, including electoral proceedings, can be legally regulated and policed so as to cultivate fairness, truthfulness, and the proper expression of anger, pride, and ambition. Again, legally en- forced participation in militia exercise can instill habits of courage as well as discipline, loyalty, and rm civic friendship. Legally required participa- tion in religious festivities that include competitive artistic displays can foster habits of mutual friendliness and fraternity between families, while cultivating appreciation for thought-provoking works of art and graceful wit; by compelling the wealthier to patronize these public events, the law can stimulate in the rich, and in the rest through their example, not only generosity but also tasteful magni cence. Sumptuary laws can habituate citizens in the proper disposition toward the private luxurious temptations that wealth makes possible—and so on. Law and lawfulness are not only productive of virtue, they are supreme expressions of virtue. When Aristotle observes, as we noted earlier, that “we call just the things that produce and preserve happiness and its parts for the political community,” the “things” to which he is referring are chiey the laws; and he therefore identi es the man who is just in this richest sense as “the lawfully just man”: such a person lives guided and animated by the laws, and also helps enforce the laws (see also Plato Laws 730d). “The laws pronounce about all things” (for “whatever things the

The De ciency of Actual Legislation


law does not command, it forbids”); “the law commands that one live ac-

cording to each virtue and forbids that one live according to each vice”; “and the things that make the whole of virtue are as many of the lawful things as have been legislated concerning education with a view to the community”: “the law commands the doing of the deeds of a courageous man,” and “the deeds of a moderate man,” and “the deeds of a man who

is gentle,” “and similarly in accordance with the other virtues and vices,

commanding the former and forbidding the latter—correctly if it is laid down correctly, worse if laid down hastily.” 27 All this means that the morally educative function of law is much more substantial—that there is a more intense and comprehensive need for law- ful moral habituation rooted in strongly held, shared traditional beliefs— than is admitted in modern constitutional thinking. 28 The danger posed by public questioning of the laws in a vigorous civil society is proportionately greater; and the philosopher has a much graver responsibility to pursue his critical theorizing by way of a cautiously discreet rhetoric (see Plato Laws 634d and context).

the deficiency of actual legislation

But Aristotle’s brief allusion to the fact that law can ful ll its high function poorly “if it is laid down hastily” turns out to be pregnant with disconcert- ing complication. For at the end of the Ethics, after he has laid out, in the passages that we have quoted, the crucial moral mission of the legislative art, Aristotle startles us by expressing grave doubts as to how rarely the mission is very seriously pursued. “Only in the city of the Spartans, along with a few others,” he ruefully observes, “does the lawgiver seem to have made the upbringing and the exercises his care.” In “most of the cities,” by contrast, there is “carelessness about such matters, and each lives as he wishes, in the fashion of the Cyclopes, ‘giving the sacred law [themisteuwn] to his children and wife.’” 29 Through this passage we encounter our rst example of Aristotle’s provocative grinding of gears. In the midst of transitioning to the Politics, or the full elaboration of his education in lawgiving and the political art, Aristotle abruptly confronts his readers with the gap between the noble calling of the legislative art and the nigh-universal disappointing answer to that call. What is more, in doing so he exaggerates (cf. NE 1102a8–12) with a comic dyspepsia: as if most urban households are anything like Homer’s “scattered,” primitive, and brutally cannibalistic—though fer- vently pious—Cyclopes! 30 Aristotle thus for a moment whips the veil from

a subversive truth about law, by going to the opposite extreme from the


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

reverent statements on law that adorn most of his discussion of law, and especially his earlier thematic treatment, back in book 5, of lawful justice as “perfect virtue.” Back then, he proclaimed that “pretty much most of the lawful things are commandments taken from virtue as a whole,” and “it is clear that all the lawful things are in a way [pws] just” (NE 1130b22–23 and 1129b12—we now discover the weight of that little quali er pws—“in a way”). A few pages thereafter, while admitting that there is a “perplexity” caused by the fact that equity must “correct” law in its application to par- ticular cases, Aristotle solemnly assured us that, though law always speaks universally, doing so even where “it is not possible to do so correctly,” law is not thereby “ignorant of the error; and the law is no less correct— for the error is not in the law, nor in the lawgiver” (NE 1137b16–18). We further recall that at the beginning of the elaboration of the virtues, Ar- istotle claimed that “it is the guiding wish of every lawgiver to make the citizens good through habituation” (NE 1103b4–5). By contradicting, here at the end of the Ethics—in the prelude to the Politics—his earlier, repeated praise and defense of all law and lawgivers, Aristotle intensi es the per- plexity that he is arousing. What is our instructor up to, and where is he taking us? What is he trying to get us to think about? What do we learn about Aristotle’s didactic rhetoric from this striking example of it? And what does this say about how our perspective on political life and law is going to have to change as we deepen our education by moving from the Ethics to the Politics? We now see, in retrospect, that in his thematic discussion of justice as lawfulness in book 5 of the Ethics Aristotle was paying homage to the high- est aspirations of law, in its majesty. We may justly surmise that Aristotle’s true view of actual legislation in the classical republics lies somewhere be- tween the two extremes—between his usual fulsome praise of laws and lawgivers, and his eeting, comically sour identi cation, here, of most actual legal systems with cannibalistic, Cyclopian, pious patriarchy. Cer- tainly our teacher does not for a moment suggest that the failure of law to live up to its high moral vocation requires or justies giving up on that vo- cation. He draws a complex and puzzling practical conclusion, beginning as follows: “While it would be best if this care were communal, as well as correct,” still, “it would seem that it is tting for each to promote virtue in his own children and friends.” “But,” Aristotle immediately adds, “from what has been said, it would seem rather that one would be able to do this by becoming skilled in the art of lawgiving.” For “it is evident that the communal concerns are eected through laws, and that people become decent through morally serious laws—written or unwritten, it would seem to make no dierence, nor [Aristotle adds, to our growing confoundment]

The De ciency of Actual Legislation


whether a single individual or many will be educated, any more than this makes a dierence in music, or gymnastic, or the other pursuits” (NE


The “art of lawgiving” in its highest dimension, as the art of educating in virtue, is suddenly being assimilated to other instructional arts that an expert can readily employ on a single person, in private. Accordingly, Ar- istotle proceeds to speak of putting into practice the legislative art, not by becoming a civic lawgiver, but rather by being a good paternal household manager—who, by his pursuit of “the lawgiving art” in the private sphere, has even a distinct advantage over the public practitioner: 31 “for even as, in the cities, the lawful customs and mores have force, so also do the paternal speeches and habits in households—and yet more so, on account of kin- ship and the practice of good deeds, for by nature they [family members] have from the beginning aection and obedience.” Aristotle does not say a word, however, about the importance of traditional religious instruction in household moral education. (A father’s “giving the sacred law to his chil- dren and wife” is here associated with quasi-primitive, Cyclopian perver- sion of the legislative art.) But Aristotle adduces yet a further very consid- erable advantage of the private practice of the lawgiver’s art: “Educations adapted to individuals are distinguished from those which are common/ public, even as in the medical art”; and so “it would seem that there would be greater precision if the care were exercised individually, in private—for then each obtains what is appropriate.” Still, Aristotle makes it clear that he is not valuing paternal emotional ties, or even individual attention in and by itself, higher than expertise in the legislative-educative art. It is the latter that is alone essential (and Aristotle thus opens the door to the possibility that the father may not be the best educator of his own children, but that a tutor, wiser in the legislative art, might well be superior—cf. Plato Apol. Soc. 20a–b, 24d–25c): “He, however, who would exercise care best for each person would be the doctor and the gymnast and in every case the one who is a knower of the universal, what is suitable for all or for those of a certain type (for the sciences are said to be, and are, of what is common)”; and so, “probably one wishing to take care to make others better, whether many or few, ought to try to become skilled in the lawgiver’s art, if it is through laws that we would become good.” For “to put whomever is set before one into noble condition does not belong to just anybody, but, if to anyone, then, to the expert” (NE 1180b3–28). Aristotle goes on to emphasize the importance of paying close attention to the experience and testimony of statesmen who are actively engaged in politics, and he severely criticizes the sophists for their ignoring of this experience and testimony. But he spotlights the lamentable fact that the


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

statesmen, for their part, seem incapable of writing or speaking about their experience in a manner that succeeds in educating others. Their incapac- ity is glaringly evident in their failure to educate successfully their own sons and close friends—which, Aristotle submits, is a sign that the states- men “seem to accomplish their action by a certain capacity and experience rather than by thought” (NE 1181a1–2; see Plato Meno 92e–94e). Aristotle concludes by proposing to ll the gap, by himself providing the missing articulation of the legislative and political art, rooted in sustained analysis of the experience, both in words and deeds, of actual statesmen. What is the complex overall suggestion Aristotle is implicitly advanc- ing, as to the practical aims he has in view as he conducts us to the Politics and to the completion of his own public teaching of the art of lawgiving? If we bear in mind what has preceded in the Ethics, and eye what is to follow in the Politics, we nd that the answer would seem to unfold in the follow- ing terms. The massive foreground reason for teaching the art of lawmaking is to help bring about and maintain civic legislation that eectively promotes the moral virtues and thus fullls law’s high educative function. But the moral laxness of most actual legal systems forces this ambition to remain satised with a degree of success that falls far short of aspiration. We soon begin to learn, starting in the second book of the Politics, that we need to visualize in our mind’s eye an imaginary “best regime” in order to think through what would be required for the realization of a truly virtuous communal way of life. It will be this imagined regime (which was barely, if signi cantly, men- tioned in the Ethics: 1135a5, 1160a35–36) that provides the aim or standard that guides politics—from a distant height. For, as we have seen above, it is also in the second book of the Politics that we learn (through the critical discussion of Hippodamus) that it would be the height of imprudence to seek to change existing legal regimes for the sake of a quixotic attempt to establish a version of the truly best regime. As a consequence, we see, we need to resign ourselves to a much more modest practical agenda, for our private as well as public lives. Given most lawgivers’ failure to meet adequately their responsibility for moral education through law, fathers in their homes and with their friends must take up the slack. 32 What this requires is not, however, chie y tra- ditional patriarchal religious education—or “giving sacred law” (Oncken 1964, 2.1.1–2; Dobbs 1996, 76–77). Instead, one ought to be guided by the political philosopher’s portrait of the virtues, whose inculcation should be the goal of the private educational “legislation” and rule that must in some measure substitute for the missing, truly skilled, political legislation and rule (with household rule having the two added bene ts of being able more

The De ciency of Actual Legislation


easily to tailor the legislative art to the diverse, unique individualities of children and cherished ones, and being able to rely on the pupils’ aection as a basis for parental teaching authority). No doubt many gentlemanly readers, who will have found in the Eth- ics a gratifying mirror, will accept this domestic commission with aplomb (especially if they overlook the remarkable implications regarding tradi- tional religious education). But a few in the audience (young and old), who have noticed some of the discom ting features in the mirror held up to the traditional gentleman in the Ethics, and who are thus primed to begin to puzzle over what Aristotle teaches in the Politics about the relation of the household to the speci c regimes that give each city its distinctive way of life, may well come to recognize that Aristotle is here issuing a consider- ably more sinuous assignment than at rst meets the eye. For, as Aristotle will say in concluding his study of the household, “concerning husband and wife and children and father, and as regards the virtue of each and their relations to one another—what is nobly done and not nobly, and how one ought to pursue the former and avoid the latter—it is necessary to ascend to discussions about the political regimes”; since “every household is a part of the city, and these are parts of the household, and the virtue of a part must be viewed in relation to the whole, it is necessary to educate the children and the women with a view to the regime” (1260b8–16). This is the rst mention in the Politics of the regime (politeia)—the term signifying that which is the most important theme of Aristotle’s political science. 33 The subsequent elaboration, in the Politics, of the meaning of “regime” reveals that the closing words in the above quotation—“with a view to the regime”—are fraught. 34 “With a view to” does not mean simply “taking one’s standard from.” In almost every actual city, the morally serious father will nd his in- structional rule over his household hindered and frustrated, in varying de- grees, by the deeply in uential psychological environment created by the morally decient laws of his city’s regime—which exerts so much more coercive force than his own paternal example, injunctions, and exhorta- tions. The question as to the relation between the good man and the seri- ous citizen, a question which is tantalizingly posed and left open in the Ethics (1130b27–29), is answered at length in the Politics: there we learn (1276b16.; see also 1293b5–7) that the meaning and goal of the life of the serious citizen is strictly relative to the regime; it necessarily follows that the good man cannot be a serious (dedicated) citizen, except in the simply best regime. But the simply best regime exists only “in speech,” not in deed. In every actual regime, the good man cannot, therefore, be an un- qualiedly serious, dedicated, or good citizen. Or as Aristotle puts it later


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

(1309a36–39), the conventional meaning of virtue, including above all the virtue of justice, varies from regime to regime 35 —while virtue or justice simply, or the truth by nature about virtue and justice, is universally con- stant. In practice, then, the good man will always be in some degree spiritu- ally out of harmony with the regime of which he is a citizen; he may often be something of a dissident. If we set aside the very rare individuals who can nd their own way (consider Diodotus in Thucydides 3.41–48, and the gure of Cyrus’s father in book 1 of Xenophon’s Cyropaedeia), we may say that until or unless he becomes a student of the political philosopher, the “perfect gentleman” is likely to have only an incomplete, uneasy, and in- suciently grounded awareness of his insuperably out-of-step political sit- uation. We catch a glimpse of this kind of blurred awareness in Socrates’s report of what he learned from the perfect gentleman Ischomachus about the latter’s place in the Athenian republic (Xenophon Oeconomicus 7.3; 11.21–24; cf. 2.6). We are given a more lively, if less gentlemanly or polite, expression in the discourse by the ctitious character whom scholars refer to as “The Old Oligarch”—created by the artist Xenophon as the (in fact not so elderly) narrator of his comic Constitution of Athens. 36 Conventionally patriotic gentlemen participating in semi-aristocratic regimes who study Aristotle’s Politics are likely to sense, however dimly, the radicalism of this cornerstone teaching of the work—and to recoil. We see this exemplied by the great Victorian editor Newman (3.155; see also 502), whose British gentlemanliness is gilded by a nineteenth-century faith in progress. “One remarkable conclusion, it should be noted,” he writes of the teaching in the Politics, is “that the good man cannot be a good citi- zen,” in “any constitution but the best, without ceasing to be a good man”; “but” (Newman expostulates) “is Aristotle’s account of good citizenship correct? Is not he a good citizen whose inuence tends to the improvement of a constitution?” And “may not a man be all the better as a citizen be- cause he is morally and intellectually somewhat in advance of the constitu- tion under which he lives?” 37 Nevertheless, for the gentleman of youthful spirit who is willing to listen and is able to understand, a major practical outcome of learning the art of lawgiving or politics from Aristotle is that such a citizen will become more self-consciously and responsibly independent-minded. He will see more clearly what it would mean to attempt to realize the high vocation of law and politics—in “the best regime, of wish or prayer”; but precisely thereby he will see why he must reconcile himself to making the best of that one or another of the de cient regimes into which fate has cast him. 38 He will learn something about how and to what extent one may be able to promote, in some limited degree, the cause of virtue within the various species and subspecies of the morally imperfect and even somewhat hostile regime-

The Philosopher’s Trans-Civic Virtue


environments. In seeking to support and to advance whatever decent moral impulses his existing regime’s coercive law manifests, he will act with the circumspection that is prompted by his recognition of the precariousness of tradition-bred lawfulness. While thus applying his knowledge of the law- giving art by participating in his own regime’s politics, he will live spiritu- ally at a certain inner, critical distance. His justice will be partly expressed as “minding his own business.” 39 But he will also learn from Aristotle how powerfully penetrating is the regime in shaping the souls of its citizens: to make use of Aristotle’s analogy, it is the regime that writes the script for the drama of communal life (1276a34.). A considerable part of the task of the father and friend who becomes educated by Aristotle in the true art of lawgiving will consist in delicately but rmly attempting to counterbalance some of the moral eects on his family and friends, as well as on himself, of his morally lax regime’s mighty laws, unwritten and written (Smith 1999, 631; and 2000, 915–16). Especially when read in the light of Aristotle’s po- litical science as a whole, this passage that conducts us from the Ethics to the Politics adumbrates a more or less agonizing domestic drama, limned pithily in Plato’s Republic (549c–550b, 553a–b). Arrived at this point, we see that it has become a question: which is the deeper ambition animating Aristotle’s lecturing and writing on political science? Is his chief aim the educative in uencing of actual civic lawgiv- ers; or is it the educative in uencing of fathers and sons, who, in the more private, less coercive arena of their households ought to practice as best they can the “legislative art” (which includes understanding fully, and to some extent struggling with, the coercive power of normally very imper- fect public law)? 40 This much is certain: Aristotle’s didactic rhetoric is in some measure aimed at helping fathers and sons to liberate themselves, and others, from positive law, even while upholding and even clinging to that law as a precious life raft. This spiritual liberation is for the sake of what one may call submission to that unwritten, quasi-natural “law” that governs the morally serious in all times and places, and that is forged in the heart by the proper education from childhood—the education that is not given by nature, but that nature welcomes as its primary apparent comple- tion. The Ethics has provided a kind of codi cation of that unwritten law. But it is only in continuing to the Politics that the alert and re ective reader discovers the full and strained civic implications.

the philosopher’s trans-civic virtue

We have still not plumbed the depths of the problematic that explains and directs Aristotle’s didactic rhetoric. For thus far we have proceeded with- out interrogating the assumption that the philosopher is in agreement with


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

the gentleman’s unwritten law in regard to the virtue that is life’s highest goal and aspiration. In fact, however, it is precisely in this regard that the most momentous disaccord lurks. And the drama of the truly virtuous, who live to some extent as nonconformists in all actual regimes, becomes still more complex and intense. 41 At the very least one would have to say that within the moral law’s highest explicit aspirations there is enclosed a purer kind of virtue, which it takes a political philosopher to distill. Aris- totle discloses this most emphatically in a compendious but tantalizingly brief discussion that immediately precedes the passage, at the very end of the Ethics, that eects the transition to the Politics. This discussion crowns an ascent that has been quietly underway throughout the Ethics. The opinion that moral virtue is the chief constitu- ent of human happiness is the cornerstone of the Ethics; but as the book’s teaching unfolds, Aristotle contrives to indicate deeply puzzling tensions within the opinions by which the morally serious conceive their own do- ings; and he accompanies this with glimpses of what nally emerges as a truly consistent life of the mind, absorbed in “theorizing” (theoria). This “wisdom” characterizes and ennobles a life given over to inquiry into the whole of nature (including human nature) and somehow grounded in “the- ology.” “Wisdom,” Aristotle writes, “would be intelligence (nous) and sci- ence (episteme), as the science whose subject is the summit of the most honorable things.” For “it would be strange if someone thought that the science of politics or practical wisdom were most serious, if the human is not the best thing in the cosmos” (NE 1141a19–22). The life of inquiry into nature is conceived as pursued for its own sake, above and beyond any practical outcome or activity, however noble; as such it is a participa- tion in the life and virtue that it is reasonable to attribute to divinity (NE 1177a13.). It is this trans-moral form of virtue, and trans-political way of life, that the city unwittingly serves as its highest object—even as (or indeed while) it serves and honors divinity: “prudence (phronesis) is not sovereign over wisdom or the better part, even as the art of medicine is not sovereign over health”; for “the former does not use the latter, but sees how it might come into being; it issues commands for the sake of the latter, but does not issue commands to it”; “that would be the same as if someone were to assert that the political art rules over the gods, because it issues commands about all of the things in the city.” 42 By joining his teaching on the highest virtue and best way of life with a teaching about the true nature of divinity, Aristotle obviously runs the grave risk of posing a challenge to belief in the providential, ruling gods whom the city requires belief in—the gods who sanction the city’s laws, and whose existence is testi ed to by inspirations and revelations delivered

The Philosopher’s Trans-Civic Virtue


by great poets and oracles and prophets. It is reported that even before Plato died, Aristotle ed Athens out of fear of being executed for impiety (“frightened by the execution of Socrates”), and then, forty years later, long after he had returned, was compelled to ee Athens again, and for good, when he was indicted for the crime of impiety (by the same law un- der which were indicted Socrates as well as other men of science such as Anaxagoras and Damon and Diagoras and Protagoras). 43 But it is also re- ported that Aristotle, like Socrates, vigorously denied the imputation. And especially in the Politics, the Peripatetic speaks as one who seeks only to expand, not to reject, the traditional pantheon. 44 His elaboration of the best republic, in books 7 and 8 of the Politics, presumes worship of traditional Greek corporeal gods. The gentlemanly philosopher says, addressing his primary readers, “We believe that the gods, and also the heroes, are supe- rior to humans” as regards their “body” as well as “soul” (1332b17–19). Among the six essential tasks of a city, Aristotle lists as “fth, and indeed rst, the caring for the divine, which they call the priesthood”—“without which,” he adds, “there cannot be a city.” 45 In a similar vein, Aristotle repeatedly criticizes Plato’s elaboration of his best regime for its render- ing likely both erotic loves and quarrels among blood relations that con- travene traditional piety, while rendering impossible the carrying out of the “lawful rites of expiation” (1262a25–32, b29–35). On this, Newman justly comments (2.241), “He writes as a Hellene animated by the religious feelings of his race and time”—although, Newman adds, “Aristotle may here be speaking somewhat exoterically.” 46 As the same scholar puts it in his Prefatory Essay (2.xxxviii), 47 the Stagirite “never forgets the traditional impressions, prepossessions, and prejudices of the better sort of Greek; he himself has inherited these traditions, which need only a certain amount of sifting and correction to become the basis of his own philosophic system.” Aristotle appears to have taken to heart what Plato’s Athenian Stranger teaches is the key speci c source of the popular hostility to philosophizing:

“They think that those who busy themselves with such matters, through astronomy and the other arts that go with it, become atheists, having seen that, as much as possible, actions come into being by necessities and not by the thoughts of an intention concerned with fulllments of good things” (Laws 967a). No one could ever accuse Aristotelians of teaching that nature is governed by necessities indierent to the ful llments of good things. Ar- istotle’s philosophy of nature as a whole achieves a truly amazing synthesis of necessity and benevolent purposefulness, or providence. 48 Nor does the philosopher rule out particular providence, divine loving care for humans as individuals. His case for the superiority of the contemplative life termi- nates in the following argument: “The man whose activity is that of the


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

mind, and who cultivates this and is in the best condition in this regard, is likely to be most loved by divinity.” For “if there comes into being some providential care of humans by the gods, as is opined, it would also be rea- sonable that they rejoice in what is best and most akin—and this would be mind—and that they would requite with good those who especially cherish and honor this, as being people who care for things dear to the gods and as acting correctly and nobly.” But “that all these things especially hold of the wise man is not unclear: so he is most loved by divinity; and it is likely that the same person is most happy; so, according to this argument also, the wise man would be especially happy.” 49 One may indeed ask—and the philosophic educator stimulates his te- nacious students to ask—what is the solid scientic basis for Aristotle’s con dence as to the truth of his own notion of divinity and its role in the cosmos and in human life? On what does he rest his conviction as to the in- adequacy or incompleteness of the revelations delivered by the oracles, the inspired poets, and the prophets (see Metaphysics 982b29–83a5, 997b10, 1074b1–14)? How exactly does Aristotle have knowledge (rather than mere strong opinion) that the highest divinity “would make a ridiculous spectacle entering into covenants,” or that the practice of justice and the other moral virtues “would be manifestly petty and unworthy of gods” (NE 1178b10–18)? What is it that makes the philosopher so sure that it is wrong to obey those who counsel us humbly “to think human thoughts, as humans” and to remain content with the human peak that is moral and civic excellence (NE 1177b31–32, 78a10, 13–14, 21–22)? With an eye to what we learn from Socrates, we may surmise that by so intimately link- ing his new theological teaching with his insistence on the superiority of the philosophic over the moral and political way of life, Aristotle means to signal that the arguments for the latter insistence—especially the dia- lectical arguments—somehow produce, within those who fully appreciate their import, the decisive empirical evidence that grounds his theological con dence. But this brings us to the second and equally grave risk that Aristotle runs, in asserting the superiority of the intellectual virtues, and of the phil- osophic life, to the moral virtues and the civic life. This danger appears still more starkly when one recognizes that the concern of the political philosopher and preceptor of political philosophy is not merely to assert this higher truth about virtue, but to prove it, over and against the contrary claim put forward by and for a life devoted to the virtues of civic action, in- cluding priestly action (1324a13.). This proof necessarily entails an expo- sure of the incompleteness of moral virtue and of the life dedicated to poli- tics. To avoid harmful misunderstandings, the reasoning that eects such

The Philosopher’s Trans-Civic Virtue


exposure must be introduced and elaborated in a most gingerly fashion, and tailored as carefully as possible to the varying capacities of a highly di- verse audience (Burger 1995). The potentially philosophic must somehow be given a dicult and trying second spiritual education, an education in what we may call intellectual-moral virtue, an education presupposing but transcending the education in moral virtue acquired by habituation. Plato’s Socrates forbade such “dialectic” to his potential philosopher-kings until they were in middle age (Rep. 537d–39e). No wonder, then, that Aristo- tle’s explicit argumentation in the short passage at the end of the Ethics is so brief and incomplete. He concedes, and thereby draws attention to the fact, that the arguments he has given are insucient, and require empirical or experiential conrmation, from a scrutiny of “the deeds and the way of life” (NE 1179a17–22; see also 1178a22–23). Again with an eye to what we learn from Socrates, we may surmise that the most important dimension of these “deeds and way of life” is the initially agonizing “conversion of the soul” (Plato Rep. 518, 538–39) that takes place in those whose hearts and minds truly drink in the import of what Aristotle teaches dialectically in his Ethics and Politics about the nature of justice. It is this question or theme—justice—that is begged by or missing from the case that Aristotle musters at the end of the Ethics in favor of the theoretical over the practi- cal life, and in favor of his concept of divinity (NE 1177a19.). For there is the following manifest diculty in the reasons given for the superiority of the theoretical life at the end of the Ethics. The arguments presuppose that the decisive consideration in evaluating life is the happiness of the individual, in “self-suciency” (NE 1177a27.). The argumentation thus contradicts Aristotle’s thesis as to the nature of humans as “political ani- mals.” For according to that thesis, humans need political life not only in order to gain the “necessities of life” (NE 1177a29), but to nd their fulll- ment and meaning in noble lives of active dedication to and even sacri ce for the common good, the happiness of the whole political community. As Aristotle concedes even in the context of arguing for the superiority of the contemplative life, “the just actions and the courageous actions and the others done in accordance with the virtues are performed by us in our relation to one another—in transactions, in responding to needs, and in all sorts of activities involving the emotions, thoroughly attending to what is tting for each person; and all these things appear to be what is human .” 50 Aristotle’s arguments in this context do not meet the counterclaim of a life dedicated to justice as lawfulness, as that “perfect virtue,” which we have heard him so eloquently articulate in the opening sections of book 5 of the Ethics (see again 1129b17–19, 31–33, 1130a8–9, 1134a2–6). The arguments at the end of the Ethics presuppose, but do not prove, that “the activity of


The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Teaching

the statesman” aims at “happiness for himself and the citizens, as some- thing other than statesmanship, something that we are clearly seeking as being dierent” (NE 1177b12–15 et seq.). These deciencies of the case for the superiority of the theoretical life at the end of the Ethics allow or impel the morally serious reader to remain rightly skeptical. To be sure, the arguments are likely to induce respect- ful entertaining of the possibility that the philosophic life is the highest. But, especially for those readers who have begun to catch on to Aristotle’s didactic rhetoric, the upshot is a puzzled wish or demand for a demonstra- tion of the truth of this claim. Sooner or later, this demand may lead to a painstakingly renewed meditation on the entire Ethics and Politics with a view to ferreting out this demonstration. The demonstration needs to be conveyed or indicated in a manner that will sift out the readers whom it may bene t from those whom it might harmfully bewilder or even anger. Foreshadowing our complete interpreta- tion of the Politics, we may say that this winnowing is eected through the posing of a series of puzzles of increasing unobtrusiveness and ascending diculty. Aristotle’s deepest aim in posing these riddles is to awaken his readers to the conceptual necessities that, if truly grasped, transform the confused, contradictory moral thinking with which we all begin into clari- ed and rigorously consistent thinking. 51 Only by such a transformation in our conceptualization does moral and political reality emerge into full clarication out of the mental and emotional fog generated by our passions, habits, and authoritative traditions. The climb through the puzzles tests and challenges readers, demanding of them independent thinking, while responding helpfully when they react to the tests with the right kind of wonder and with the precise further questioning demanded. The solution of each level of the perplexities requires and enables progress in under- standing. Failure to solve, or to stick with, or to acknowledge, the riddles leaves readers at various suitably stable and benecial levels of partial un- derstanding. 52 This means to say that there is not simply, or at least not only, a “dichotomy” between the few who can truly become philosophers and the rest (Salkever 1990, 202; Mara 2000, 852–55). Among the mor- ally serious there is a range of potentiality for participation in greater and lesser degrees of philosophic enlightenment. But enough has now been said about and in introduction to the dialogue with the text; it is time to engage in that dialogue.


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

Aristotle does not segue from the ending of the Ethics to the beginning of the Politics; he catapults us to a fresh starting point. The curtain rises to reveal a stage from which the contemplative life, which appeared in a kind of epiphany at the end of the Ethics, has disappeared. Nor is there any continuation of the censure of most lawgivers for their moral careless- ness. Accordingly, as Newman remarks (1.3), “We hear no more of the notion that the individual householder can, by acquiring the legislative art, in some degree make up for the State’s neglect of education.” The Politics opens with a trumpeting assertion of the unrivalled authority of “what is called the polis.” The polis is the “community” that “is the most sover- eign of all,” having as its aim the “most sovereign good of all.” As such, the polis “encompasses all the other communities.” Aristotle is evidently determined to begin by viewing politics in the light of its highest and most comprehensive claims—which he (followed by Thomas, in his prologue) articulates more forcefully and eloquently than anyone ever has, before or since (see also NE 1094a26–b10). It is not only private philosophic association that is here implicitly sub- ordinated to the political; of more obvious moment is the tacit subordina- tion of religious association, public as well as private. 1 The far-reaching implications are discernible in what immediately follows, where we see that Aristotle explains the origins and the nature of civic life in strictly naturalistic terms. Guidance by oracular revelations, providential inter- vention, the divine or demigod-founders who were worshipped in every Greek polis, parallel to the civic guardian angels that are a key aspect of Thomas’s Christian-Aristotelian political theory (SCG 3.80, para. 14)—all are ignored Aristotle’s account. 2 The quiet neglect of sacred civic tradi- tion is in a way compensated for, but thereby underlined for the thoughtful reader, by the prominent assertion of a personi ed Nature’s unchanging general providence (1252b1–5). The eclipse of traditional, particular provi-


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

dence is especially remarkable for those who recall in comparison Plato’s Laws (to be discussed at some length by Aristotle in book 2). In the Athe- nian stranger’s account of the historical development of civic life (esp. in book 3 of the Laws), and in his subsequent elaboration of the legislation of the best possible regime, we hear repeatedly of the traditional gods and their providence. Aristotle further draws attention to his implicit unortho- doxy by repeatedly quoting, and giving the appearance of bowing to the authority of, the great poets, including especially Hesiod and Homer— who of course claim to be inspired by divine revelation, and who, on that authority, eloquently assert the alternative to Aristotle’s naturalistic and rationalist outlook on the origins of the city. Aristotle, we may say, goes even further than Plato in writing as if philosophy, rooted in the study of nature (properly presented), can and should supervene over—though not replace—poetic tradition in providing the principled, conceptual basis for civic life and its sovereignty. 3 By the same token, Aristotle thus arouses in his reective readers, at the very outset, wonder as to what he understands to be the justifying founda- tion of his implicitly naturalistic approach to civic life and history. How does Aristotle think that he has rm knowledge, rather than opined and plausible conviction, that there are no goddesses such as the Muses, and no ruling deities and founding demigods of whom the Muses are said to sing? Could the education (when it is successful) intended by the Politics together with the Ethics provide a key part of the answer? But Aristotle never explicitly says a word expressing disagreement with the authoritative civic-religious traditions; and he draws attention away, to another, very outspoken, quarrel that he has—with philosophic political theorists.

aristotle’s polemical procedure

Aristotle launches an assault on certain nameless thinkers who enunciate a perspective that denies or undercuts the grand claims of politics that Ar- istotle has begun by expressing. Aristotle blames these theoreticians for not speaking “nobly” or “beautifully” (kalws; 1252a9). A few lines later he adds (1252a16) that their views “are not true (alethe).” His standard is not only the noble or beautiful, it is also the true. Yet his primary concern is with giving beautiful nobility its full due—in the face of theorists who fail to do so. This sets the tone for the entire work: Aristotle will put in the foreground, and defend, while more quietly examining and correcting, the noble or beautiful way of seeing and articulating political life. By attacking the insuciently noble perspective, Aristotle lays that per- spective squarely before us. Indeed, Aristotle does not at rst articulate

Aristotle’s Polemical Procedure


his own perspective except polemically. At the end of this rst chapter, he sets as his agenda, for the following chapters, the demonstration of the falsehood of the unlovely view. So this opposing view plays a large role in de ning, dialectically, Aristotle’s primary articulation of his own out- look (Natali 1979–80). The signi cance of this becomes plainer when we recognize that the unlovely view is articulated by none other than Plato’s and Xenophon’s Socrates (even when reporting what he learned from the perfect gentleman Ischomachus) and Plato’s Eleatic Stranger. 4 Aristotle chooses to launch his treatise by climbing into the ring with these masters of irony, paradox, and argument. We need to pause in order to begin to try to gure out what may be the key dimensions of this Socratic-Platonic out- look over and against which Aristotle denes his own position. First and foremost, Aristotle stresses that his adversaries conceive the art of political rule to be simply larger scale household management:

the “statesman,” the one “skilled in the art of political rule” ( politikos) is viewed as not dealing with any concerns qualitatively higher than the concerns of the skilled household manager (oikonomikos). 5 Secondly, and still more dubiously, the skilled household manager is in turn reduced:

to being qualitatively the same as, and diering only because he acts on

a larger scale than, one skilled in mastery over slaves (despotikos). So, by

extension, the art of political rule is conceived as the art of slave mastery on a large scale (1253b18–20, 1256b16–17). But this darkest dimension of the opposing view Aristotle at once shrouds—by ceasing, at 1252a12, to speak of “one skilled in the art of mastery,” and speaking instead of “one skilled in the art of kingship” (basilikos). It is a man thus skilled who is said by the opponents to exercise the ruling art on the large scale of the city or

political community. And thus, in the third place, these opponents see no dierence in kind between monarchic and political rule: the household is understood as ruled in a monarchic fashion, and the political community the same. Putting all this together, we may conclude that a statesman would be understood, in this scheme as Aristotle presents it, to rule over the com- munity as a benevolent master over slaves, some of whom are treated more like his children, and one or more of whom is governed as a junior partner (in the manner that a gentleman husband traditionally governs a wife or wives). It would further appear that where there is not monarchic rule,

then republican rule is still seen as a variant on such monarchy, in which

a number of individuals take turns in exercising, each temporarily, the

partially masterful, partially paternalistic and husbandlike, but always es- sentially monarchic, authority—doing so, Aristotle adds, while guided “by the principles of such a science [episteme]” of rule (1252a15). Now these last words introduce a fourth element, that is a key to one of


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

the serious points being indicated through this somewhat preposterous So- cratic framework. Politics is being conceived as the rule of a superior expert (Scho eld 1990, 17). This framework represents a typically comic Socratic paradox: the playful paradox is meant, among other things, to spotlight the disproportion between what is conceivable in the mind’s eye as truly rational rule, based on knowledge, and the very imperfect knowledge to be expected from all actual political (republican) rule. Aristotle, for his part, is responding by pretending to miss the comedy. He gravely points out that his opponents’ way of conceiving politics abstracts from and thus ob- scures the massive primary nobility of republican politics, as experienced and articulated by dedicated participants: political society is to be nobly conceived as a full partnership or community (koinonia) involving rotation of oce among equals, all of whom thereby share in a qualitatively more honorable ruling activity than can be partaken of by mere slave masters, household managers, or even kings who rule subjects (1255b18–20—but contrast NE 1160a35–36; cf. Strauss 1972, 63). But by the same token, Aristotle ends this rst chapter by putting in question the degree to which, in this noble conception, politics, as well as household management and mastery, can be understood as “artful,” or craftlike (let alone scienti c). Aristotle’s last word in setting as his agenda the refutation of these opponents is to leave it an open question, “whether it is possible to grasp something artful (technikon) about each of the things mentioned” (1252a22–23). In opposing the Socratic paradox, we are com- pelled to wonder whether political life can at all be governed by scientic knowledge, or even artful craft.

the switch in method

The untruth of the opposing view will be made clear, Aristotle says, if we proceed according to “the guiding method.” That method consists in analyzing “the composite whole” into its “smallest” indivisible or “non- composite parts” (1252a16–18). This suggests that we will now proceed to focus on the human individuals who, especially through being or be- coming citizens, but also as noncitizen inhabitants, constitute the “non- composite” elements of the city. This method would lead us to see how in- dividuals, by being the citizens, or by being related to the citizens, become integrated into a civic community in a manner that is qualitatively more complete than, and superior to, their being integrated by participating in their various roles in the household (cf. 1253b5–8). In this way, “it will become clear” how the city is the qualitatively supreme, most fully natural whole, of which individuals are elemental parts.

The Naturalness of the City


But no sooner has Aristotle introduced or announced this “guiding method” than he bewilders us by dropping it (Schütrumpf 1.185). He re- turns to the dropped method only at the beginning of the third chapter, and then again at the start of book 3 (though see the passing reference at 1258a21–22). Later, in the opening of book 3, our perplexity is given further food for thought. For there we are confronted by an enormous problem or puzzle that stands in the way of any such analysis of the city into its noncomposite, individual human parts. As soon as we focus on the regimes (politeiai) that actually accomplish the integration of individu- als in civic life, we discover that political life is riven by tremendous and ceaseless dispute over the question, “what in the world is the city?” (ti pote estin he polis?—1274b33–34); and this dispute includes an equally cease- less and sharp contention over who is, or is not, a citizen. Putting together these two passages—here at the start of book 1 and later at the start of book 3—may well prompt the wonder: to what extent is the city in fact a natural composite and whole? Or to what extent is the city an arti cial (and unstable because endlessly contested) composite? Is the city a mixed entity, part natural, part arti cial? At the outset, however, Aristotle plants only a seed of this question- ing. He begins the second chapter by announcing a very dierent method, which would allow us “to take the most noble/beautiful view in these mat- ters” (1252a25–26). We will achieve this vantage point by looking at the polis as one of “the matters of active concern” (pragmata) that “grows naturally” (phuomena). In other words, we will look upon the city as “like an animate or animal nature.” 6 This perspective assumes (rather than dem- onstrates) that the city is a natural whole which fully integrates human in- dividuals in a strong, harmonious sense. Accordingly, the argument that follows culminates in the suggestion that the city is prior to the individual, as whole to part, in the same way as the whole human body is prior to the foot or the hand (1253a19–27). By starting with so “beautifully” organic an assumption about the communal nature of humans, Aristotle obviates the need even to consider the possibility that civil society is a product of arti- cial convention or contract aimed at ending an ugly natural condition of war—the pre-Socratic view reported so eloquently by Glaucon in Plato’s Republic (358e–59b), and later confronted momentarily in book 3 of the Politics (1280b8–11; consider Marsilius 1.4.4).

the naturalness of the city

The embryo of the civic organism is a social unit consisting of a twofold relationship. First and foremost, there is the reproductive “coupling” of


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

“male and female.” This takes place, Aristotle says, through an impulse which is “natural” in the spontaneous sense that it is “not a matter of choice”—and is thus shared with “the other animals,” as well as “with the plants” (1252a28–29). Now this is a most curiously abstract, and even comically incomplete (cf. Aristophanes Clouds 1427–33) characterization of the social bond uniting human reproductive couples. Aristotle does not speak of “husband and wife,” or of “marriage,” or even of concubinage:

can there be a human household without choice and conventional, contrac- tual agreements, in some form? 7 And does not belief in the gods and their sanctions play a key role in making rm the conventions that transform volatile and promiscuous, spontaneous human mating into stable spousal parenting? 8 When we re ect on his choice of expression, we see that Ar- istotle’s “beautiful” account exaggerates—wildly, and when one thinks about it, rather comically—the social orderliness of basic, unreective, hu- man sexual nature. Aristotle points to, precisely by conspicuously omitting from consideration, the complex ways in which humans must deliberately construct arti cial supplements that harness and repress the primal, natu- ral, sexual urge. The second facet of the elemental social unit, as Aristotle here presents it, is the union of “that which by nature rules” and “that which is ruled, on account of preservation.” The former is “by nature master”; and the latter is “by nature slave” (1252a30–34; Aristotle’s language here, iden- tifying ruling and being ruled by nature with mastery and slavery, sounds perplexingly like that of the “Socratic” outlook he has proposed to refute). The idea that slavery is a basic natural root of civil society is of course dis- tressing for us today 9 —much more so than it would have been for readers in Aristotle’s slaveholding time and place. But precisely because Aristo- tle’s rst readers would have been intimately familiar with slavery, they would have been more taken aback than we may be by the cheery fashion in which Aristotle speaks of this grim foundation of the polis. Aristotle characterizes this relationship as one in which “the same thing is advanta- geous to master and to slave” (1252a34): he explains that in order for the slave to survive, the slave’s bodily action is in need of being directed by the master’s capacity for intellectual foresight. In other words, Aristotle is assuming that slaves are so lacking in the capacity for practical calcula- tion that they are unable to survive by themselves. Surely anyone who had actually experienced owning and employing slaves would nd this prepos- terous: what slaves of any value are characterized by such severe mental impairment? 10 But this amazing assumption is apparently required for the “beautiful” assertion that the master-slave relationship is rooted in a com- mon advantage. In the third book of the Politics, Aristotle will speak more

The Naturalness of the City


realistically (see 1278b32; also NE 1161a32.). Aristotle’s exaggeration here once again serves to veil, but thus gingerly to indicate, grave questions about the naturalness and natural harmony of the basic social components of the household and hence the city. Aristotle immediately proceeds to insist that by nature the female is distinguished from the slave (1252b1). This has the wry consequence that only certain male humans are by nature so mentally de cient that, in order to survive, they need to be under a master’s guiding hand. To bolster his insistence that women are not slaves, Aristotle interjects the idea that “Na- ture” (feminine) has made every kind of being as a sort of tool intended to serve a single speci c function (1252b1–5). In thus personifying “Nature” as a craftswoman, Aristotle blurs the distinction between the natural and the arti cial. In doing so, he draws the thoughtful reader’s attention to that profound distinction; he reminds of humanity’s vast need to complete, if not to supplement, nature through art. Aristotle will deify “Nature” as artisan on a number of occasions in this initial and thus most visible book of the Politics 11 —but not in subsequent books. Aristotle draws from “Nature’s” intention regarding the nonslave sta- tus of Her women a remarkable political inference. The fact that, among “the barbarians,” women have the same status as slaves shows that the bar- barians are all slaves: they all lack the naturally ruling capacity, and their “congress is that of female slave and male slave” (1252b5–7). So it turns out that, contrary to “Nature’s” design, there are vast numbers of Her women as well as Her men who are so mentally defective that they need a master in order to survive. But if this is so, how have the barbarians man- aged to stay alive all by themselves, without masters to keep them, during the generations prior to some of them being captured in slaving expedi- tions? The grimly sardonic in Aristotle’s account of the slavery around him becomes more apparent the closer one looks. Aristotle takes one more big inferential step, bolstered by the invoca- tion, for the rst time, of the traditional authority of the Greek poets; “Therefore the poets assert: ‘it is reasonable for Greeks to rule barbar- ians’” (1252b8). 12 This poetic conclusion atters the Hellenic practice of aggressively acquiring large numbers of barbarian slaves through slave hunts and through trading with slave hunters; but has Aristotle not begun to unveil the absurdity of the premise which justi es this? Is he not start- ing to uncover the massive problem slavery presents for the beautiful claim that the polis is the site of the naturally harmonious ful llment of human nature and justice? Here as always it is illuminating, and indeed essential, to ponder the context from which the philosopher draws his poetic quotation—in this


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

case, Euripides’s Iphigenia at Aulis (line 1400). When this context is con- sidered, Aristotle’s undercutting irony in these opening pages becomes more apparent (Davis 1996, 17). The heroine Iphigenia utters this decla- ration of the ruling superiority of Hellenes over barbarians when she is about to submit in pious reverence to being slain by her father in what is believed to be a necessary human sacri ce to appease the angry goddess Artemis. Iphigenia further proclaims the paltriness of her own worth, as a female, by formulating as follows what she indicates she thinks to be the conventional Greek conception of the value of women: “It is better that a single man look upon the light of day than that a thousand women do so” (line 1394). By this ironic invocation of poetic authority Aristotle incites the question: insofar as such actions and beliefs remain part of living Greek tradition, how distant are the Greeks and their civic development from the barbarians? The unobtrusive but incisive questioning of Greek convention 13 contin- ues in the immediately following, second poetic quote—from the Works and Days (line 405), a poem that to Greek readers would be even more authoritative and well known than a famous play of Euripides. When we restore the poetic line to its context, we nd that Hesiod in the next line after this one quoted (which is characterized by Aristotle as “correctly spo- ken”) urges that a man should “purchase” his woman as a slave, not as a “wife one marries”—because only then, the poet advises, will she “follow the plow” (as well as do the household chores). Aristotle sums up, de ning “the household” as “the community, con- stituted by nature with a view to recurring everyday needs,” which emerges from the combination of these two relationships—reproductive mating and slavery. We observe that the household is thus dened, to begin with, as essentially prepolitical, if not primitive. The next stage, the village, Aristotle denes with a curious circumlo- cution: the village is the “rst community from many households for the sake of need that is not everyday” (1252b15–16). Why not specify this lat- ter need? Thomas, foreshadowing the parallel account, in the ninth chap- ter (esp. 1257a19–20), of the stages in mankind’s economic development, helpfully suggests that Aristotle has in mind primarily the needs for war and trade. But Thomas fails to recognize the signi cance of Aristotle’s conspicuous refusal to specify here these natural, non-everyday “needs”:

the two parallel accounts of mankind’s development—the “beautiful” (here in chap. 2) and the one based on need for material goods (later in chap. 9)—stand in puzzling tension with one another. This is true most obviously as regards the natural status, for humans, of war. Aristotle adds that the village is “especially in accord with nature” when

The Naturalness of the City


it is an outgrowth of the household, i.e., when the members are all still tied by kinship. So here, to our surprise, Aristotle identies the more natural with the more original. By the standard of nature in this sense, the polis is obviously less natural than the village. Is there then, within the very nature of human society, a tension? Is the family a natural “drag” on the natural “growth” of the transfamilial community that is the city? Aristotle interjects the observation that at rst the polis was governed by a king, because the polis came into being from the union of villages gov- erned on the patriarchal model of the household; then he adds, “nations (ethne) are [so] still, even now” (1252b19–20). Suddenly, for the rst time, we get an acknowledgment of the fact that there is a form of developed po- litical society that is a massive alternative to the polis: the nation, governed by a patriarchal king (e.g., Macedonia). We are led to view this alternative in a disparaging light: monarchy appears a relic of the prepolitical. Yet if the village is more natural the closer it remains to the blood ties of the family, is there not a case to be made for the greater naturalness of the na- tion, precisely on account of its more archaic, quasi-familial, monarchic or patriarchic rule, and its ethnic, blood basis of unity? Besides, the sudden sidelong glance at the nation reminds us that this is a much more prevalent form of civilized society than is the polis—even or especially at the time when Aristotle is writing and in the land where Aristotle was born and raised. But this means that what Aristotle is contending to be the natural growth of the human community only rarely achieves maturity; the growth process usually gets derailed or sidetracked so as to end in monarchic na- tions. The growth of the polis is certainly unlike all other forms of natural growth. At this juncture (1252b22–23), Aristotle quotes for the rst time Homer, the most divinely authoritative of all the Greek poets. Homer’s testimony, which the inspired poet claimed was breathed into him by the Muses, is ap- pealed to as support for the contention that every household is ruled origi- nally by the eldest, acting as king. But why is it necessary to invoke such awesome authority to bolster so uncontroversial, even obvious, a point? When, thus goaded to think, we look more closely, we see that Aristotle is tacitly making a deeper, and much more controversial suggestion. For the precise line of Homer that Aristotle quotes here is the same thought- provoking line—describing the way of life of the Cyclopes—that we saw quoted at the end of the Ethics, in the transition to the Politics. In the pres- ent context, the rst thing that is arresting about this quotation is that Ar- istotle thus hints that the original, independent households may well have belonged to brutal, cannibalistic, but crudely pious cavemen. 14 But there is more. Immediately after thus quoting “the Greek Bible,” Aristotle permits


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

himself the following daring remark about all gods, everywhere: “It is on account of this that all assert that the gods are ruled by a king—because they themselves still are now ruled by a king, or were in archaic times; and even as humans fashion the forms of the gods to resemble themselves, so too the ways of life of the gods” (1252b24–27). 15 This lightning ash is immediately followed by the ascent to the city, presented as the culmination of human social development. Aristotle thereby distracts the super cial reader from dwelling on this daring state- ment about the origin of what all assert to be gods. He simultaneously in- cites the more stubbornly thoughtful to see that the city, and civic life, can be understood as animated by a vector of liberation, from the sort of god- forming that is rooted in the independent or pre-civic patriarchal family. If we step back and reect, we see that this whole account, of the culminating naturalness of the city or of the civic, represents a demotion of the family, and of the familial, paternal divinity that is the expression of the pre-civic, patriarchal outlook (Oncken 1964, 2.13). Aristotle’s “beautiful/noble” ac- count is not an account of the city as the city of the patriarchs. 16 The city of god the father gure is replaced by the city of mother Nature, viewed as having the intention to ful ll humans as rational animals. One may go so far as to say that Aristotle’s beautifying account is a new, rationalist poetry, meant to partially eclipse—at least for a few gentlemanly readers—the traditionally pious poetry, and thereby to provide a way station where a gentleman friendly to philosophy might spiritually dwell. Aristotle’s po- etry liberates from humble dependence on traditional deities, and exalts proudly human and naturally communal “self-suciency” (1252b29). Aristotle now (1252b28–29) declares the polis to be “the completed community from many villages, possessing the limit of every self- suciency”—“so to speak.” Why these last words of qualication? Does not Aristotle have in mind the great competitor of the polis, introduced a few lines previously—the nation—and its juggernaut self-suciency (cf. Saunders 1995 68)? Is the polis unambiguously self-sucient, militarily and economically? Does the polis reach the limit of every self-suciency (Newman 1.39)? The city, Aristotle continues (1252b29–30), “comes into being for the sake of living, but exists for the sake of living well”: is it not this last consideration that ranks the city above the nation in self-suciency?— i.e., in spiritual rather than merely material self-suciency? 17 Yet Aristotle is here curiously opaque about exactly what makes the city (rather than the nation) the peak, or what exactly constitutes civic “living well.” Aristotle draws at once a very strong, blanket conclusion: “Therefore, every city is by nature—if indeed (or since) the rst communities also are.” 18 The reasoning obviously needs to be unpacked, and Aristotle proceeds to

The Naturalness of the City


do so. The rst argument he gives for the conclusion is stated as follows. “For the city is their completion (telos); and the nature is the completion; for we declare that whatever sort of thing each is, when its coming into being is completed, is the nature of each” (1252b31–33). To illustrate this crucial asseveration about what “we” mean by the nature of each thing as the completion, Aristotle provides three examples: “human being, horse, household [house].” These examples raise some big questions. In the rst place, if the human being is the completion, how can the human be a mere part of the city which is the completion? How can it be, as Aristotle will say in a moment, that the human being stands in relation to the city as foot or hand to the whole human body? In the second place, the ambiguity of the word used for the last of the three examples (oikia) 19 reminds us that not only houses but households, as patriarchal family units, remain within the mature city—and not merely as some sort of vestigial organ. The house- hold has been here described, in the immediately preceding sentences, in such a way as to make it appear to be an early, passing stage, having the same relation to the city that the toddler has to the adult human or the colt to the stallion; but now suddenly we are reminded how misleading this picture is (Ambler 1985, 169). As Aristotle will state a few lines later, the community in rational discourse “makes both the household and the city.” Aristotle will begin the next chapter by declaring that every city is made up of households as its (composite) parts. Aristotle impels his re ective read- ers to see how problematic is the claim that the city is the completion of a natural process of growth in which the household is an immature stage. The relation between the household and the city is a puzzle, and even a tension, which makes itself felt when one tries to elaborate the conception of the city as an organism that grows, from the household, as the horse grows from the colt. Within the mature city, the family, under its gods (or, in rare cases, under an enlightened paterfamilias) perdures as a completed, integral entity—with a distinct end, that may clash with that of the city (consider Sophocles’s Antigone). Aristotle adds “a second argument” (as Thomas says) for the claim that “every city is by nature.” “In addition,” he says, “that which is the goal (to hou heneka), as well as the completion, is best; but self-suciency is the completion and the best” (1252b34–53a1). The “best” comes to sight as something more than the “completion.” But whose goal is it, that is achieved by self-suciency? Is it Nature’s goal, the goal of Her design? Or, is it the goal of the humans who inhabited primitive societies? Or, is it the goal of only a certain few humans, at certain points in the late develop- ment of human sociability? But do the very best human specimens nd in the polis the self-suciency that is their goal?


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

Aristotle answers the last question when he next draws a further mo- mentous conclusion, which he says has become manifest from the preced- ing considerations. Not only “is the city among the things by nature,” but “the human being is by nature a civic/political animal” (1253a2–3). Fol- lowing Ambler, 20 we note that prior to this point, Aristotle’s account has never explicitly mentioned the human being (anthropos), except in the puz- zling passage where the human being was adduced as one of three examples illustrating what we mean by a being that is itself a completion of a process of growth. Now, for the rst time, Aristotle makes explicit what has been the drift of the whole argument: the individual human is conceived as a radically and insuperably incomplete entity. This becomes still more stark a few lines further: the individual is to the city as the foot or hand is to the whole human body (see similarly 1337a27–29). Yet no sooner has Aristotle issued his famous pronouncement that the human is a political animal than he introduces a striking qualication:

“Anyone who is cityless by nature, and not by chance, is either a poor speci- men, or else stronger (kreittwn) than a human” (1253a3–4). Aristotle im- mediately adds, however, that such a person is “like the one reviled by Homer”—“without clan, sacred law, hearth” (Iliad 9.63). “For” (Aris- totle continues in his own words) “by nature such a one desires war, in his independence.” Those who are naturally apolitical would seem to be violent monstrosities, because they lack rootedness in blood-clan, divine law, and home. When, however, we examine the context of this Homeric quotation, we nd that Aristotle is grossly misleading in his employment of it. For the poet does not use these words to revile anyone. The words are uttered not by the poet in his own name, but by a character in his poem, the sententious old Nestor—who is reviling, not one who is in any way city-less or apolitical, and thus independent, but rather a vicious type of political man. Nestor uses these words to revile one who is animated by what Nestor calls an “erotic desire for deadly strife among his own peo- ple.” Aristotle’s submerged Homeric message is thus a reminder that the erotic passion of some humans, precisely as political animals, makes them monstrously turbulent. What is more, a brief re ection leads us to see the laughable absurdity of Aristotle’s surface suggestion—that Homer would revile cityless men, or men who live an independent, apolitical life far from hearth and home. For in the Homeric world, such a way of life is precisely that of Homer himself, who lives as a wandering, rootless minstrel (a life he portrays in lively colors). Homer and his minstrel-avatars, one may say, provide subtle but all the more impressive examples of how beautiful can be the apolitical or trans-civic as well as transfamilial life of the wise man. The truth thus adumbrated, that the human as the rational animal is

The Naturalness of the City


by no means simply or unambivalently a political animal, Aristotle allows only a glimpse of here, in his beautifying account. But his biological writ- ing makes the complex truth about humanity’s natural sociability plainer. The History of Animals (487b34–488ba8, of which there is an echo at Poli- tics 1256a19–30), teaches that as regards the way of life by nature of the human species, “the human dualizes” (epamphoterizei): the human is an animal that by its nature is both “political” and “solitary” (monadikos) or else “dispersed” (sporadikos). And Aristotle does not, when writing as a biologist, speak pejoratively of, or suggest that Homer reviles, the solitary (or for that matter, even the dispersed), naturally human way of life. 21 Even here in the Politics, Aristotle will not leave it at a denigration of the apolitical life. A few lines further he returns to such a life, by saying that “he who is not capable of joining in community, or who has no need, on account of self-suciency, is not part of the city; with the result that he is either a beast, or a god” (1253a27–29). Aristotle makes no mention here, however, of the godlike philosophic life and its trans-civic theoretical virtues. The most he will aord his demanding readers here is a glimmer of the life of the wise man as wandering minstrel-poet. 22 In his biological treatise (Hist. An. 488a8–14), Aristotle de nes the “po- litical” nature of animals as follows: “Animals are political for whom some single and common work comes into being for all—which is something that not all herd animals have.” “Such are the human, the bee, the wasp, the ant, the crane”; and “of these, some are under a leader (hegemon), and some are without rulers (anarcha)—the crane and the genus of bees are under a leader, while ants and ten thousand others are without rulers.” For Aristotle as biologist, being “political” has no necessary link to rationality. And since humans “dualize,” humans are in a major degree less political than bees, wasps, ants, and so on. But here in the beautiful account that opens the Politics, Aristotle asserts that the manifest reason why “the hu- man animal is more political than every bee and every herd animal” is that the human alone has reason or rational speech, logos. Aristotle thus not only speaks as if the “political” requires reason for its ful llment; what is more, he suggests that reason itself aims at and is fullled in political com- munity. Aristotle adds enormous rhetorical weight to this dubious proposi- tion (contrast the opening of the Metaphysics) by ascribing this politicized notion of rationality to divine Nature’s intentional making: Aristotle re- introduces at this key juncture the awesomely supportive idea of Nature as a divinity with a plan that culminates in the city as the site of the fulllment of rationality. Aristotle elaborates further his contention as to the political charac- ter of rational speech. Logos enables not merely perception of pleasure


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

and pain, which other animals have, but “clarifying of the advantageous (sumpheron) and harmful, and as a consequence also the just and unjust” (the just is derivative, from the advantageous); and it is “the community in these things”—“good (agathon) and bad and just and unjust and the other matters”—that “makes household and city” (1253a14–18). Humans as political animals nd their good, they nd what is advantageous to them, through rational political, communal deliberation about, and through po- litical sharing in, the advantageous—and thus the just. The advantageous for humans as political animals is a common, civic (but also familial) good, and justice would seem to mean primarily this common bene t. This thought contains, however, a provocative vagueness, about the precise relation between collective rational deliberation and the common good. To what extent is the deliberative political process a means, to the achievement of other shared goods, either material (like security and pros- perity) or spiritual (like artistic festivals); and to what extent is the common good constituted by the collective deliberative process itself? This question is not entirely resolved, although the active communal character of human existence is expressed more strongly, when Aristotle proceeds to explain that and how the city is “prior by nature” to the household and individual (which he makes more pointedly personal by speaking of the city’s priority to “each of us”). He goes so far as to suggest that when the individual is re- moved from the city, the individual utterly ceases to exist, except in name:

“for such a thing will be ruined; but all things are de ned by their work and capacity, so that when such no longer exist, the things themselves ought not to be said to exist, except in name” (1253a18–24). But then how are we to understand the emphatic and surprising refer- ence to the household, along with the city, as being the site of full rational ourishing? How does this accord with the view of the household elabo- rated previously—where the household appeared as a way-station in the process of development toward the city? An answer oers itself if we skip ahead to the nal words of book 1. The household becomes transformed, the household nally matures, once it becomes situated in the polis. For then the household becomes ruled by a patriarch whose character, and the character of whose rule, is trans gured by his being a republican citizen. Among other things, this entails his ruling his household and family as the training site for his children’s vocation as future citizens, and as wives and mothers of citizens. Immediately after Aristotle has returned to and proclaimed the divinity of someone who is “no part of the city,” he draws a surprising conclu- sion: “By nature, therefore (men oun), the urge is in everyone to such a com- munity” (1253a29–30). Does not Aristotle suggest by this that even that

Introducing the Problematic of Property


solitary person who is divinely self-sucient must grow out of, must begin from, and can only thus transcend, the city? But then Aristotle declares, for the rst time, that the original or “rst” coming into being of the city had as its “responsible cause” a single, constructive individual. So as he draws to a close of his beautiful account, Aristotle suddenly concedes that the polis did not “grow.” The polis had to be gured out, and “put together,” by some individual—not a god or demigod, but a human “whom nature produced exceptionally inclined to this task.” 23 The natural urge toward civic life is in everyone, but that urge could not by itself have brought about the polis. An extraordinary founder had to arise—out of a world without any cities or poleis (and such a founder may have to arise again, someday in humanity’s future). This founder’s radical superiority in character is underlined by what Aristotle says next, in explaining the greatness of the goods for which that individual was responsible (1253a31–38): “For even as, when perfected, the human is the best of the animals,” so, “the human is the worst of all, when apart from law and Justice (Dike 24 )”—which in- cludes “the ordering of the political community, the judgment as to what is just.” “Without virtue” the human being is “most impious and savage.” Suddenly piety comes nally to the fore, together with the retributive God- dess Justice (Dike). This epiphany occurs when the need for repressive law and order come into the spotlight. Aristotle concludes his “beautiful” account of the naturalness of the city by doing his best to dispel any mis- impression 25 the reader may have sustained to the eect that Aristotle has meant to say that humans are spontaneously political, harmoniously commu- nal or reasonable—and thus can dispense with belief in the threat of divine retributive punishment. At the end, Aristotle concedes a part of the basis for the Hobbesian-Lockean-Montesquieuian view of the nature of politics. But, in contrast to these modern state-of-nature philosophers, Aristotle insists that the lawful repression, and the convention or construction, that are essential to the city are key expressions of mature human nature: it is through lawful repression that human nature completes itself, as political. The true “state of nature” is the law-governed republican polis. 26

introducing the problematic of property

The rst sentence of the third chapter launches the investigation of house- holds, conceived as “the parts from which the city is constituted.” As Am- bler points out (1985, 166), this passage could easily follow immediately after the last sentence of the rst chapter: Aristotle thus signals that his more serious (if richly ambiguous) investigation is interrupted by an edify- ing interlude that is the second chapter.


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

Households, as constitutive divisible parts of the city, are themselves composed of indivisible parts: human individuals. But individuals are here conceived not as the elemental parts of the city—as citizens, or in relation to citizenship; instead, individuals are here conceived as parts of, and in terms of their diverse roles within, the (patriarchal) household—“slave and free” (especially “master”), “husband and wife,” and “father [not mother!] and children” (1253b6–7). If we had not previously read chap- ter 2, we might be pardoned for getting the impression that according to Aristotle the human is by nature not so much a political as a household or familial animal (see NE 1162a16–26), with most humans naturally linked to politics or to the city only quite indirectly, by way of the patriarchal heads of their households. A Socratic troublemaker might observe that this com- plicating duality in Aristotle’s account of human nature would disappear if he were to adopt the Socratic thesis, according to which the household is the same as the city, except on a smaller scale: for then, humans as by nature household beings would be ipso facto political beings. But this is the thesis which, Aristotle reminds us again in this third chapter, he is writing to refute: book 1 is meant to show that human nature in its sociability is not so simple as the (playful) Socratic framework suggests. Surprisingly, however, Aristotle now lays down a semi-Socratic assump- tion as the basis of his anti-Socratic analysis of the various relationships among the diverse individuals within the household. 27 For Aristotle now speaks as if there is an art or science of rule for each of the three basic fa- milial relationships: “the art of mastery,” “the art of managing marriage or wife,” and “the art of making children.” What is more, he makes it clear that this assumption is a striking innovation: he notes that there are no existing words in Greek for the latter two “arts of ruling”; he must resort to neologism (1253b9–11). We expect Aristotle to proceed to discuss in order each of these three arts of ruling, and the corresponding forms of being ruled. And so he does—but in a provocatively complicated manner. He rst indicates (with one of his rare uses of the rst person singular, bringing to the fore the uniqueness of his own perspective) that there is a puzzle about a “certain part,” which some people think is household management, and others re- gard as the greatest part of household management (1253b12–14): “I am speaking about what is called the art of money-making (Thomas: crimatis- tica id est pecunialis).” Aristotle thus tables a massive human problem: in many households, the very essence of the household and family is miscon- ceived, by being subsumed under, or by becoming swamped by, the con- cern for acquiring ever more buying power measured by money. 28 Aristotle provokes the wonder: how and why does this come to pass (“how this is

Introducing the Problematic of Property


will need to be studied”)? First, however (he says) we are going to discuss master and slave. Could the analysis of this latter relationship provide a decisive clue for understanding why so many household managers tend to lose their bearings so badly? The discussion of master and slave has two dierent purposes—a prac- tical, with a view to “necessary use”; and a theoretical, to see “if we might be able” to acquire better “knowledge of these matters than prevailing conceptions” (1253b15–17). For as regards slavery there is further discon- certing perplexity: the naturalness and hence the justice of slavery is a de- bated topic. Or so Aristotle claims. Yet the way in which Aristotle initially lays out the two sides in the debate prompts one to wonder if the dispute, at least as Aristotle rst formulates it, is really bruited in the Greece of his epoch (let alone in any other time and place)—or whether the debate as articulated here is not slyly invented by Aristotle. 29 For in the rst place, the argument that Aristotle evokes as defending slavery is hardly an argu- ment that one would hear from a typical slaveholder. It is none other than the argument advanced by those (Socratic) opponents “we spoke of in the beginning,” who maintain the position against which the whole of book 1 is polemicizing. “To them, it seems that mastery is a science”—and in fact the same as the science of household management, and the science of political rule, and the science of monarchic rule (1253b18–20). When we consider the implication of this Socratic view, we see that it could well entail that the conventional “masters,” who lack this “science,” ought to be as properly enslaved, to the monarchic rule of the one or the few sages who possess the science, as are those who are conventionally designated “slaves.” This proto-Cynic or proto-Stoic view (Cicero Lucullus 136; De Fin. 4.74) is hardly a position that defends the existing Greek institution of slavery! As upholders of the other side, Aristotle evokes voices that assert, with equal radicalism, that all human slavery, without exception, is “unjust, be- cause based on violence”—despite (or because of?) its being enacted by the existing law (nomos). For “in nature (physis) there is no distinction” between “free” and “slave” (1253b20–23). This is the rst time Aristotle has introduced a fully explicit critique of law on the basis of an appeal to nature as the standard for the just, or “natural right.” True, Aristotle him- self previously appealed to nature as norm: he did so when he spoke about the distinction “Nature” has designed, between women and slaves. But, unlike his more outspoken, not to say reckless, antislavery opponents, Ar- istotle appealed to a dei ed “Nature”; even more important, he refrained from explicitly criticizing the law in the name of the goddess Nature. If he now proceeds to allow criticism of law to be heard, 30 it is in a most gingerly


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

and rather convoluted manner, and certainly not in his own name. Aristotle is not only teaching about the question at issue; he is showing by example how a responsible political philosopher should deploy in public “natural right” as a critical standard for judging law. 31

the natural basis of slavery

Aristotle begins his arbitration of the debate by asking and answering the essential preliminary question of de nition: what precisely is a slave? And as part of this rst discussion, Aristotle seems to indicate why human slaves are necessary. He begins from the consideration that, for the sake of both “living” and “living well,” the art of household management, like other arts, needs to acquire and to possess its proper tools—some of which are inanimate, and some animate. The inanimate tools are often used by the an- imate tools, who are assistants in the arts (e.g., the lookout assists the pilot on a ship). The slave is such an animate tool. But as Newman remonstrates (2.136), Aristotle “omits to show that the animate instruments of which Household Science stands in need must be, if human beings, slaves and not free.” Aristotle does go on to give a remarkable elaboration, in which he speculates, imaginatively, on what conditions would have to prevail in order to render human slaves no longer necessary. In this curiously roundabout way, he appears to suggest why human slaves are necessary (so Thomas ad loc.). Aristotle focuses primarily on arts of production—adducing as examples the production of a basic necessity (weaving), but also of rened music (playing the harp). This, taken together with subsequent remarks, would suggest that slaves are needed to produce a vast range of things that otherwise would absorb the time and energies of the free, who would then lack the leisure necessary for participation in republican government. 32 That some humans will have the requisite leisure to realize their nature, as fulltime citizens, only if other humans are enslaved appears a grim fact of life, caused by nature’s scarcity. 33 But Aristotle introduces this thought in an amazing way—by speculating on a quasi-divine world where robot machinery existed: “If each of the tools were able to complete its task on command or by anticipating, even as they tell of the things of Daedelus or the tripods of Hephaistos,” which the poet says “on their own entered the divine gathering [Iliad 18.376]—if thus the looms weaved by themselves and the picks played the harp, then master craftsmen would have no need of assistants, nor masters of slaves” (1253b33–54a1). Aristotle here makes it clear that the Greeks, through their poets and philosophers, were able to dream of machinery that might make slavery unnecessary for production (see also Athenaeus 267e). The realization of this dream or longing is part

The Natural Basis of Slavery


of the great project that modern political philosophy engineered; and the success of the abolition of slavery is of course one of the most powerful moral and humane arguments for modernity. But, in accord with Rousseau’s great modern protest, 34 reading Aris- totle forces us to ask whether our technology has really found a solution to the problem that can make productive slavery seem necessary. Does not the advent of technology go together with the need for immense so- cieties, deploying vast resources, thus rendering participatory, sovereign self-government impossible or horribly truncated? Would not Aristotle ask, with Rousseau: has technology really liberated humanity, or hasn’t it brought everyone to a mediocre level of nonslavery but also noncitizen- ship, and hence nonfreedom? Or does the problem disappear if, and only if, “communism” is recog- nized as “the riddle of history solved?” Marx, commenting on our pas- sage, which he characterizes as “the dream of Aristotle,” expostulates, “Oh! Those heathens! They understood nothing of Political Economy.” They “did not comprehend that machinery is the surest means of length- ening the working-day.” We are witnesses, Marx reminds us, to “that re- markable phenomenon”—that “machinery sweeps away every moral and natural restriction on the length of the working-day”; and since eventually “this menaces the very sources of life,” the capitalist system in “reaction” has to intervene in the market to limit the hours of the working day by law. But this leads dialectically to yet another new and monstrous “phenom- enon”: the unprecedented “intensi cation” of the labor demanded from the worker in each and every working hour. 35 But the problem as Aristotle frames it goes still deeper. For Aristotle proceeds to add that the function of private possessions, and hence of the slave in the household, is to be a tool used in action (praxis), rather than production (poiesis). And it is this which leads us to the full de nition of the slave (1254a14–17): “He who by nature does not belong to himself but to another, being a human—this is by nature the slave; and a human is another’s, who is a possession while being human, and, as a possession, is a separate tool for action.” Now what exactly does this mean? Unfortu- nately, Aristotle gives no examples suggesting how slaves function as tools of action (he mentions, as examples of such tools, only clothing and bed); and since we no longer have any direct experience of a slave society, we are initially left at a loss. But doesn’t Aristotle probably have in mind the need for trusty, talented personal assistants in the engaging and dicult tasks of political and of intellectual life, as well as in the management of the household (Arendt 1958, 119–20; Kraut 2002, 280–82)? Does he not think of the amanuensis to whom he is dictating this very writing? Does he


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

not think, more generally, of secretarial assistants, stewards, valets, maids, squires, the paidagwgoi who help care for and tutor children, and so forth (see Plutarch Crassus 2.6)? Machinery cannot perform these tasks; what is needed are alert, engaged, prudent, and reliable humans who can care and think about their work. All this may be plausible, but it provokes the further question: why does Aristotle avoid providing such examples, and thus spelling out or remind- ing of exactly how slavery is essential to “ action,” in the household? The reason for this fastidious silence transpires as we proceed through the sub- sequent chapter. After having thus shown what a slave is, Aristotle immediately raises, or returns to, the much bigger consequent question: “But whether there is anyone who is such by nature, or not; and whether it is just and better for someone to serve as a slave, or not, but rather all slavery is against nature—is what must be investigated after these things.” 36 Aristotle makes

it clear that what has been established thus far in no way refutes the radical

antislavery position. In other words, implicitly Aristotle poses this possi- bility: maybe the natural order is radically defective, in that humans have

a powerful natural need—for assistants in the actions that constitute the

heart of the good life—for which Nature has provided no resource. Aris- totle has quietly made the antislavery position even more radical and far- reaching in its implications. At stake now is the character of the natural or cosmic order. And it is this all-inclusive “whole of nature” which Aristotle now proceeds to treat. The refutation of the antislavery position that ensues is most strange. 37

Aristotle commences by remarking that it is “not dicult” to discern “at

a glance” (see Newman ad loc.) the answer to the question he has posed

(1254a20–21)—and then he vastly complicates, and renders obscure, the issue. He observes that “the whole of nature” is pervaded by ruling and be- ing ruled, as “not only necessary but advantageous.” He focuses on the hi- erarchy within living beings, in whom there is a soul that by nature rules the body. He then declares—in a sentence that Rousseau made famous 38 —that “one must investigate what is natural by looking rather at the things that are in accord with nature, not at the deformed” (1254a36–37). We therefore need, Aristotle continues, to “consider the human who is best disposed by nature, in body and in soul.” For, in the “deformed,” the “body often would seem to rule over the soul, on account of their being in a bad way and contrary to nature.” This beginning could well lead one to expect that the answer to the big question is going to be, that there are obviously no natural human slaves. But Aristotle of course confounds this expectation. Within the healthy, natural specimen, Aristotle observes, there is des-

The Natural Basis of Slavery


potic rule, of the soul (as master) over the body (as slave); and there is also political rule, of mind (nous) over desire (orexis)—which rule, Aristotle, to our bewilderment, 39 goes on to characterize as “political, i.e., kingly .” Aren’t we supposed to be refuting the (Socratic) thesis which blurs the dis- tinction between kingly and political rule? Aristotle’s subsequent remarks make it clear that despotic rule, of soul over body, is rule by sheer force; in contrast, when (as we say) I “talk myself out of” unjusti ed anger, or “talk myself into” justi ed anger in the face of injustice, my mind is exercising “political, i.e., kingly” rule over my passion: passion can be trained to “lis- ten to” practical reason; and practical reason can be trained to “talk,” as leader, to passion. But of course passion ought not to “take its turn” ruling, over reason. Passion ought not even to assume equality in ruling alongside reason. The role of well educated passion is always to obey reason—much as a well-behaved child heeds parental guidance. Aristotle goes further:

rule, he says, “on the basis of equality or rotation is harmful in every case” (1254b9). There would be nothing untoward about Aristotle’s speaking here simply of “kingly” rule as being exemplied in the rule of mind over passion; the puzzle is, why does he, with even greater emphasis, charac- terize this rule as a leading example of political rule—as if true political rule were kingly, over subjects who are permanently subjected? The initial, loudly asserted, qualitative dierence between the Aristotelian and the So- cratic conceptions of political rule seems to be becoming blurred. Aristotle next steps outside of the individual human, to speak of hu- man rule over domestic animals—which latter, he adds, are better oby nature than are undomesticated animals, because their “preservation” is enhanced by their being enslaved (Aristotle will remind us of lamb chops in a few pages—1256b18). Aristotle proceeds next to the rule of male over female, as of “stronger” over “inferior”—but, presumably, not as master over slave? And yet Aristotle then says (after referring to the rule of male over female), “the same way must it be for all humans” (1254b15). At this point the bemused reader is wondering, how in the world is all this adding up to the promised “easy” answer to the big question of the naturalness of slavery? Aristotle suddenly explains. He does so by dening those who form the set of natural slaves as follows (1254b16–20): “Consequently, as many as are situated so as to be as distinct as soul from body, and human from beast,” these “are by nature slaves, for whom it is better to be ruled in this way, if (or since), that is the case with those mentioned.” The human specimen who is a natural slave is then severely disabled mentally (Scho- eld, 1990, 12–14; Kahn 1990a, 30–31). The mind of such a person does not even reach the level of the normal human passions, in their potential


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

for heeding reason (real moral virtue, in such a mentally defective person, would be out of the question). Aristotle makes his original statement more precise by adding that he who is a slave by nature is one who “shares in reason/speech so far as to perceive, but not to possess it; for the other ani- mals assist, not by perceiving reason/speech, but by their passions.” 40 The natural slave is then a human who can (unlike the other animals) follow a command given in speech (though he cannot use speech to command oth- ers); but he is a human who, if left on his own, lacks sucient independent reasoning to survive. Aristotle adds that the assistance to be expected from such humans is pretty close to what is to be expected from dumb animals. But then how can persons with such severe mental disability perform the tasks, not only of production, but above all of action, that were seen to make slaves necessary and to de ne what a slave is (Kraut 2002, 284–85)? And, on a more theoretical level, how are such crippled humans natural, in the sense Aristotle has speci ed as relevant here—i.e., not deformed? Aristotle is in fact showing the following. What is sought for, and what would be necessary, in a human slave whose slavery would be both bene- cial and justi ed, is a combination of two contradictory things: on the one hand, a well-formed, eective human, who could accomplish very complex tasks as our assistant; and, on the other hand, a human who needs to be- long wholly to another, on account of his inability to exercise self-rule even suciently to survive without a keeper. 41 Aristotle ends chapter 5 by explicitly raising yet a third problem, which is primarily practical—but which he makes also theoretical, and even theo- logical. Can one tell, by inspection, which humans are so decient men- tally as to be natural slaves, and which are mentally equipped to be free? He answers: NO. Aristotle laments that though “Nature wishes” to make things manifest, by shaping the bodies of the free citizen and the slave to be very dierent, and thus suited to their very dierent functions, She has failed to achieve Her wish. But then Aristotle adds a thought provoking jest (1254b34–55a2). It is clear, he says, that if there were some people whose bodies were as superior as are the bodies depicted in the statues of the gods, “everyone would declare” that the rest of us, in our inferiority, “deserved to be slaves” to these godlike ones; but, Aristotle continues, if this uni- versal opinion is true, then the hierarchy spoken of is much more just in regard to the inequalities of the soul—whose beauty, he adds, is not so easy to discern as is the beauty of the body. On this jesting basis he concludes that “it has become evident that there are some who are by nature free, and some by nature slaves—for whom it is advantageous to be enslaved, and just” (1255a1–2). This conclusion, in this context, is rife with irony: not only is it silent on natural masters (contrast 1278b34); it leaves open the

The Critique of Greek and Lawful Slavery


possibility that many, not to say most, of us humans are by nature neither by nature (truly) free nor by nature (truly) slave. Aristotle has quietly pointed to the following Socratic suggestion (cf. Plato Cleitophon 408a–b; Xeno- phon Mem. 1.5.5, 4.5.2–6). Only those who have beautiful, godlike souls, with an inner hierarchy of virtue—only those who are truly excellent psy- chic specimens—are, by nature, or truly, free; and only such would be by nature truly capable and deserving of mastery, over the rest of us, for our bene t (even though the rest of us are mainly not natural slaves in the sense previously de ned). 42 This after all, as Aristotle indicates, is precisely how serious piety conceives the relation between providential divinity and hu- manity. But then why does Aristotle not include in his lusory suggestion the thought that such mastery would be “advantageous and just” for the divine, the truly free? Is it not because, while our being slaves to the virtu- ous or divine might be good for us, it would be at best a mixed blessing for them? Would not the burdensome responsibilities entailed in being masters over the human multitude drastically curtail their freedom?

the critique of greek and lawful slavery

In the next chapter (six), Aristotle turns to “the slave and slavery by law ,” and begins as if he will now show how there is some overlap between his own conception of the slave by nature and the radical, natural-right, anti- slavery position. But in fact he never makes explicit this overlap: he leaves that to his thoughtful readers. As Newman observes (2.150), Aristotle glides instead into a quite dierent, and rather complicated, battery of anti- slavery argumentation. This new argumentation is far less challenging to law. Indeed, the rst of the new critiques of slavery is ascribed to “many who are involved in the laws” (1255a8). These lawyers do not issue a blan- ket challenge to legal slavery. They indict only that ius gentium 43 which maintains that prisoners taken in war become the property of their captors. Their complaint, Aristotle says, is rather like that lodged against an oppos- ing orator in the assembly, who is challenged, not on the grounds of natural right, nor indeed with any cogent argument, but instead with passion, on the rhetorical basis of an alleged violation of a more fundamental or preex- isting law: it is “terrible!” (the lawyer-orators yell) if someone is enslaved by violence of the stronger (1255a9–11). These legal rhetoricians are not among “the wise”—as Aristotle indi- cates by saying that there are indeed some of the wise who do agree with them, while some of the wise disagree. Aristotle proceeds to explain (care- ful not to speak in his own name) the “reason for this dispute”—i.e., the dispute between the two camps of the wise, and “what makes the opposing


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

arguments overlap” (1255a12–13). In other words, Aristotle glides to yet a third distinct debate (Scho eld 1990, 24). This third debate, however, he lays out only very brie y, and under the sheltering awning, so to speak, of the second debate, between legal orators. The disputation between the two opposed camps of the wise takes place on the basis of a fundamental agreement (1255a13.): “There is a certain way in which virtue, when it is equipped, is especially able to wield violent force”; and in addition, “holding sway always entails superiority in some good.” From this, the sagacious all agree further in drawing “the opinion that violent force is not without virtue.” The “disagreement” among the wise comes “over the just.” Some of the sages hold the opinion that justice is simply the rule of the stronger. Against this, their sage opponents opine that what is just is “goodwill” or a “generous mind” (eunoia). 44 These latter wise men do not mean to deny the proposition that “what is bet- ter according to virtue ought to rule, i.e., as master (despozein).” The wise all agree that “other arguments” which deny to virtue a title to despotic mastery “have no strength or persuasiveness.” So, the discord between the two sets of sages boils down to this: one side contends that the truly virtuous should simply be masters; the other side contends that the truly virtuous should and would be generous, in their mastery. But how ex- actly does this entail their “agreement” with the lawyers who attack the customary law of slavery? Aristotle compels the reader to gure this out, which we may do along the following lines. Those among the wise who endorse the position of the lawyers attacking the law of slavery do not fol- low the lawyers in explicitly criticizing any law, or in explicitly appealing to the standard of nature or natural right. 45 But presumably, what these sages have in mind, in agreeing with the lawyers, is that the generously virtuous, after victory in war, would treat their prisoners according to the latter’s true merits: far from enslaving all their prisoners, the wise victors would assign them deserved ranks, even co-opting into their own rulership those among their prisoners whom they found to be fully virtuous. At this point, ceasing to speak of the views of the wise, Aristotle goes back to the second debate, between the two sets of legalists, and articulates the (rather crude) outlook of those legalists who defend the law of slavery. They argue that the law of slavery is just simply because it is the law— everywhere and always. 46 But these legalistic defenders of conventional slavery proceed to contradict themselves. For they also deny that those “seeming to be of the highest birth” can ever be slaves, even when they are taken prisoner. Consequently, these legalists are driven to hold that it is (only) “the barbarians” to whom the law of slavery applies. Now in saying this, Aristotle contends, “they are seeking nothing other than the slave by

The Critique of Greek and Lawful Slavery


nature, which indeed we have spoken of from the beginning” (1255a30–31). For they are asserting that some are truly or intrinsically slaves, every- where, while some are truly slaves nowhere, even in prisoner-of-war pens; and they “believe” that “they themselves” are truly well-born, and hence free, everywhere, while the barbarian elites are such only “at home.” But instead of taking their guidance from the standard of “nature,” they speak and think in terms of “descent.” Their outlook sounds like that which Ar- istotle ascribed to the poets in the second chapter. Accordingly, here again Aristotle quotes, as spokesman for this outlook, a poet—Theodectes— whose character Helen appeals to divine descent. But Aristotle insists that the criterion that is really meant is virtue and vice. (Again he prompts us to wonder: is it only the virtuous, then, who deserve to be masters and to be free?—cf. Ambler 1985, n. 19). Now, however, Aristotle makes an enormous concession. Noting that these legalistic gentlemen “assume that even as a human comes from a hu- man, so a good person comes from the good,” Aristotle goes so far in modi- fying his notion of “natural slave” as to concede to the poetic outlook that “Nature often wishes to make this so, though She is unable” (1255b1–4). “It is then clear,” Aristotle concludes (1255b5), “that the ones are not by nature slaves nor, on the other hand, are the others free.” This ambigu- ous formulation leaves it to the puzzled 47 reader to gure out how radical or far-reaching a criticism of lawful slavery—and of conventional freedom— has been implied. Aristotle adds that it is also patent that there are some for whom there is “such a distinction”: i.e., there are some for whom the master-slave relationship is bene cial for both, and is thus just, inasmuch as the slave is a sort of external, “ensouled,” “part” of the master. But Ar- istotle ends chapter 6 on a grim note, venturing to voice for the rst time in his own name a brief and muted criticism of law: only if master and slave “deserve to be such by nature” can there be “friendship” between them; for those not thus related, but instead “by law and by violent force,” the “contrary” obtains. 48 Aristotle begins the next chapter (seven) by reminding of his overall po- lemical purpose. He insists that the preceding has shown that the “art or science of political rule” is not the same as “mastery” (he does not say as the “art or science of mastery”), “nor are all the forms of rule the same as one another—as some claim.” (But this was not exactly the claim ascribed at the outset to the opponents, who were reported to assimilate only the arts or sciences of rule.) Aristotle goes on to make it more explicit than he has before that the position he is defending conceives artful political rule as pertaining to those who are “free and equal”—this in contrast not only to mastery, but also to kingship, which pertains to the rule exercised in


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

artful household-management. 49 A master, Aristotle insists, is “said to be such, not on account of science, but on account of what sort of person he is, and the same with the slave and the freeman” (1255b20–22). He con- cedes, however, that there is a science of mastery, and indeed an art, nay, “sciences” of slavery, which include becoming “educated” in such skills as the Syracusan “art of gourmet cooking” and other more or less “honor- able” arts. As for the “science” of mastery, “it has nothing great or digni- ed” about it—“since it is the slave who needs to know how to do things, while the master needs to know how to order these things” (1255b33–35). It takes fewer brains and less self-control to order up a gourmet dinner than to cook one: Aristotle’s satire on conventional Greek masters and mastery becomes almost too obvious. 50 But this satire makes the ugliness of the actual slavery that underlies all Greek households and poleis all the more palpable; and Aristotle ironically observes that those who can “avoid suf- fering the evil” hand over to a (slave) steward the “honor” of commanding slaves (1255b35–37). At this juncture, when a massively ugly moral incoherence has been ex- posed at the foundation of the polis and of political life (and when he is in addition reminding that there must be an “art of acquiring” slaves, which obviously cannot be very pretty), Aristotle for the rst time in the Politics allows a momentary, explicit reference to the way of life that is the alterna- tive to the life of politics: the life of those who “philosophize,” rather than “engaging in political activity” (1255b37). We recall that the exemplar of such a life, Socrates, who lived in “ten-thousand-fold poverty,” seems to have lived in a household, and to have run a school, without the assistance of slaves—not even a slave to answer the door to prevent someone barging in! And Socrates was certainly not given to gourmet dining. 51 Yet is the problem of slavery inescapable, for the independent city? One can doubt whether Aristotle has established this. Granting that for numer- ous historical reasons slavery was a practically inextirpable foundation of the ancient city: why cannot the slave population be replaced, in principle, with wage laborers—as in the independent cities of the Christian middle ages and early modernity (in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and southern France)? Aristotle surely knew of this possibility in principle: he was famil- iar with Plato’s Republic, in which a series of cities without a slave class are envisaged and proposed as candidates for the best city by nature. So what is the reason why Aristotle will make even his imaginary best republic, to be later elaborated in the seventh and eighth books, a slave society (whose slaves are certainly not “natural,” since they are promised manumission)? Do cities whose economic basis is a free laboring populace pay some other, even greater, political cost—which becomes visible only when we focus

The Natural Art of Acquisition vs. the Unnatural


on the “regimes?” This much has become clear: one of Aristotle’s main purposes in the rst book is to show the attentive reader that in his covert, esoteric level of teaching he is not at all captivated by or an apologist for Greek mores and fundamental institutions.

the natural art of acquisition vs. the unnatural

The discussion of slavery ends in a manner that eects a disconcerting transition to what comes next. For Aristotle closes his discussion of slavery by remarking that there is a third art involving slavery (in addition to both the lowly art of mastering, and the manifold, complex arts of servitude):

this is the art of acquiring slaves, which, in its “just” form, is “a certain art of war or hunting” (1255b37–38). This art of acquiring slaves would be a part of the general art of acquisition, 52 the discussion of which is now introduced as a “theorizing, in accord with the guiding method, about ac- quisition as a whole and the art of money-making”—in the light of the fact that “the slave is a certain part of acquisition” (1256a1–2). We soon hear (1256b20–26) of the “natural art of acquisition by war” as an art directed to the “hunting” of those “among humans who are not by nature willing to be ruled.” This is “just war,” in accord with “natural right”—and indeed is part of the ful llment of dei ed “Nature’s” overall teleological design. Now but if this refers to war for hunting human slaves, must not such war, if it is to be just by nature, be waged exclusively against, or in the hunt- ing of, truly natural slaves? Yet natural slaves, who as we have learned are severely disabled mentally, would seem neither inclined nor able to put up much resistance to being captured and cared for. And when we look more closely, we see that Aristotle does not in fact refer here to natural slaves. 53 What is our provocative professor prodding us to think about? We can descry a threefold lesson. At the level of his esoteric teaching, Aristotle points yet again to the claim to rule of the truly virtuous or wise—a natural right that is naturally resisted by the unwise, so strongly as to be by nature impractical or utopian. On the exoteric level, Aristotle leaves the impression that he is, in concession to Greek conventional practice, aban- doning his original conception of the type of human who is a natural slave, and substituting a very dierent kind of human, who is distinguished, not by severe mental incapacity for independent living, but instead by savage attachment to liberty. Aristotle thus implicitly reminds us of the types of humans who are in fact the objects of Greek slave-hunts—and thus length- ens still further the shadow which slavery as actually practiced casts over the justice of the household that is the cornerstone of the Greek polis. But


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

he also prompts us to wonder why he thus initiates his study of the art of acquisition, and its role in household management: why put the spotlight on this most dubious article of artful acquisition? If we look back to see how Aristotle began his treatment of slavery, we observe that he did so by stressing, at 1253b23., that slaves are the primary objects of the acquisi- tive art that is a major part of household management. We now can rec- ognize one key implication: if the art of household management includes the art of acquisition, which in turn includes the art of war that acquires (resistant) potential slaves, and, what is more, forcibly keeps such resistant humans enslaved, then the art of household management includes to a sub- stantial degree the art of war (see Xenophon Hiero 4.3). This diminishes or removes what might at rst seem to be a massive distinction between the art of political rule and the art of household rule. But it is not only the highlighting of slave hunting that makes the start of Aristotle’s discussion of household acquisition queer. Aristotle astonishes us by proceeding to contend that the art of acquisition which is in accord with nature, and which is thus just, is that which is the most primitive and warlike—for it includes not only “just war” as the “hunting” of hu- mans who are “by nature unwilling to be ruled,” but also “the way of life of the artful pirate/brigand” (1256b1)! Why does Aristotle make so bizarre (“maraviglia,” says Vico 1971, 572) and uncivic an argument? What new problems with the naturalness of the city is he indicating, in theory, and trying to contribute to mitigating, in practice? The clue would seem to lie in the fact that Aristotle now nally con- fronts and elaborates what he calls the “perplexity” that he raised, only to postpone, back at 1253b12–14: is the money-making art properly conceived as the same as the art of household management? Or as a part of the art of household management? Or: is it properly conceived in a third way, as a distinct and subordinate art, which serves the art of household management by producing for it either tools (e.g., like shuttles for weavers) or materials (e.g., like bronze for sculptors)? Aristotle responds by insisting that it is“obvious” that“the art of house- hold management is not the same as the art of money-making,” since “the latter provides, and the former uses” (1256a10–11). He seems to be moving toward the third of the alternatives just laid out (so Thomas)—or, indeed, moving toward a still more extreme conception, which would make the art of household management distinct from, elevated above, all the arts of acquisition, including slave-hunting (just as he previously suggested that the art of household management was distinct from and elevated above the art of slave-management). But he supports this in a curiously weak fashion—with a rhetorical question: “For what will be the art, beyond that

The Natural Art of Acquisition vs. the Unnatural


of household management, that makes use of the things of the household?” (1256a12–13). Is there not an obvious answer available—“the political art?” In other words, could one not plausibly suggest that, in civic life at any rate, household management is partly if not chie y concerned with acquiring surplus property and pro t, beyond what the household in itself needs, and that this surplus is to be conceived as aording the “equipment,” including leisure, that the head of the household employs in his civic life, beyond the household? 54 Why is Aristotle so conspicuously reluctant even to enter- tain this possibility? What is the danger in encouraging the civic household manager to conceive of his artful goal as in part the accumulation of a cash surplus beyond what is required within the household? Aristotle does immediately step back, and admit that there is “dispute” over whether the art of money-making is a part of, or distinct from, the art of household management; and the reason is made especially clear when he raises the question, “if (or since) it belongs to the art of money-making to see from whence money and acquisition will be,” must not the art of farming be “a part of the art of money-making?” (1256a15–18)—Or not? Aristotle thus allows us to see that his initial thrust has the paradoxical implication that for farmers (the economic backbone of the Greek polis), their practice of their art may not be even a part of their practice of the art of household management. 55 No wonder Aristotle feels compelled to draw back—but not before he has aroused our thought by an unsuccessful attempt to elevate the art of household management beyond concern with acquisition. In the second stage of his argument, to which he now proceeds, Aris- totle brings artful farming, as one form of the true art of acquiring, within the art of household management—doing so by distilling the natural art of acquiring from the unnatural art of money making, and excluding only the latter from the art of household management. The implication for farming would seem to be, that the farmer-householder practices his art in accord with nature so long as he refrains from turning his farm into a business; by contrast, any businessman or money-maker (including anyone who treats farming as a business, as did, famously, Cato the Elder) lives contrary to nature. This argument has of course very signicant (and, we may add, quasi-Jeersonian 56 ) political implications: it bestows moral (and religious) superiority on a speci c economic class, or twofold class, within the city—the yeomen and the gentlemen farmers who do not farm for ever- increasing pro t. Yet as we have already noted, the baing argument now presented raises moral questions about the economic life of the city as such—and thus places a question mark over even farmers, especially if they are citi-


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

zens dwelling in cities (Ambler 1985, 174.). For in order to accomplish the complete distillation of the “natural” art of acquisition from the “un- natural” art of money-making, Aristotle has to lay it down as a premise that humans have, direct from nature (autophuton—1256a40), sources of liveli- hood that adequately support them: rst and foremost—since it supports humans “in the greatest idleness” and thus allows them to be “leisured”— nomadic herding (which Aristotle manages to shoehorn into the category of farming, as “farming a living farm”—1256a34); then secondly, hunting, primarily as “piracy/brigandage” (1256a35–36), or the hunting of fellow humans (but not mainly the hunting of slaves: the modes of acquisition

that accord with nature neither require nor allow vast slave holdings). Only as a kind of brief afterthought does Aristotle concede (1256a38–39) that most humans make their living from farming the earth (which makes large scale slavery attractive, if not necessary). What is most remarkable is that Aristotle stresses that the “ways of life” of humans as well as other animals are dened and determined by their diverse ways of acquiring; and the full import of this becomes clearer when Aristotle goes on to point out that the modes of acquisition direct from nature, and sometimes the mingling of them (his example is artful nomads who also practice artful piracy!) do not involve trade and commerce—and thereby produce ways of life that are both “pleasant” and “self-sucient.” Aristotle’s argument reaches its ex- treme when he declares that “it ought to be supposed” (1256b15) that Na- ture has so designed everything that humans are well taken care of through these livelihoods that Nature gives directly, even as Nature has arranged that the young of animals have their food readily available at birth—in egg or milk; and Aristotle goes still further, to give expression to an extreme human-centered natural teleology, such as he never anywhere else in his writings expresses: “The plants are for the sake of the animals, and the

other animals are for the sake of humans,

and if therefore Nature makes

neither that which is purposeless nor that which is in vain, it necessarily follows that Nature has made all things for the sake of humans.” 57 This ex-

traordinary assumption provides the basis for characterizing the preceding sorts of livelihood as constituting “the one form of the art of acquisition that, being in accord with nature, is a part of the art of household manage- ment” (1256b27). But then Aristotle goes on to conclude that on this economic basis there is provided a “treasury of the things necessary for life, and useful for the community of the city or the household” (1256b29–30). Having thus re-introduced civic or civilized life, on the absurd assumption that it could be based on nomadism and piracy, 58 Aristotle attacks the great lawgiver of commercial Athens, Solon, who had dared to declare in his

The Natural Art of Acquisition vs. the Unnatural


poetry that “of wealth (plutos) no boundary-goal (terma) lies manifest for real men (andrasi).” 59 Aristotle rejoins: “True wealth is likely to be from these things” (the natural arts of acquisition), “because the self-suciency, with a view to the good life, from such arts of acquisition is not limitless” (1256b31–32). Aristotle then indicates yet another key assumption upon which this weird argument rests: acquisitions are correctly conceived as tools (rather than as materials), and “wealth” is properly conceived as “a multitude of tools for the arts of household management and politics” (1256b36–37)—and of course no art needs or uses a limitless amount of any or all of its tools. But by this Aristotle instigates the question: is money a tool, with a speci c function that makes manifest the limit on how much of this tool we need? Or, is money not rather a wonderfully (or horribly) exible arti cial material, whose value lies precisely in the fact that it gives us a power not limited to and by any speci c function? Moreover, as Solon recognized, is not the city, and civilization, essentially rooted in and depen- dent upon wealth consisting of the unlimited accumulation of this arti cial material, money? In the next or ninth chapter, Aristotle gives his explanation of money and of its deeply problematic eect, through commerce, on human exis- tence. 60 He opens by declaring that (1256b40.) “there is another kind of art of acquisition, which they especially call, and justly call, the art of money-making—on account of which there seems to be no limit to wealth and acquisition.” This art, which is “not by nature, but through a certain experience and art,” is confused with the natural art of acquisition, “on ac- count of them being near neighbors.” To explain how the natural can be so easily eclipsed by the arti cial, Aristotle begins by distinguishing two forms of the use of any acquisition: that “proper to it,” as for example the use of shoes to protect feet; and that “in the art of exchange,” as when shoes are traded. The latter use, in the art of exchange, is needed, because those who acquire directly from nature come to have surpluses of some “natural” ac- quisitions, and decits of others. Trades are “according to nature” so long as they are carried out with a view to the mutual redistribution of goods in order to put them to the use that is “proper” to them. “Such an art of exchange is neither against nature nor is it any form of the money-making art, for it is with a view to fullling the self-suciency that is according to nature” (1257a16–30). Moneyless barter, the natural form of trade, is char- acteristic of “barbarian nations,” Aristotle concedes—or indeed stresses:

in other words, the natural form of the trading art is not characteristic of the polis; nay, it speaks against the naturalness of the polis. How and why did the departure from this natural art of acquisition oc- cur? The art of money-making arose out of the art of exchange, originally


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

in a form that is “in accordance with reason”—reason supplementing and serving nature: money was invented “out of necessity,” as a conventional, contractual or agreed, symbol of exchange-value that was more easily trans- ported than goods with “proper uses,” and thus facilitated the needed re- distributive trade over long distances. But this invention, by reason, proved to be a kind of talisman that turned everyone it touched into a sorcerer’s apprentice. “There came into being the other form of the money-making art, the commercial: at rst perhaps simple, but then through experience more artful”—aimed at seeing “from whence and how, through exchange, to make the greatest pro t” (1257b1–5). Through the commercial art, and for its skilled practitioners, money became no longer a means to facilitate trade aimed at acquiring things in order to put them to their proper use; money became instead itself the end; the goods other than money came to be sought not chie y to put them to their proper use, but for their ex- change value—for their capacity, as commodities, to be traded away for more money than they had cost. What is much worse, Aristotle indicates, this commercial mentality has come to permeate civic society—even though, in times when a currency is devalued or changed, everyone can see that money has no intrinsic value by nature, and has its value only by conven- tion; and so “people seek [i.e., they do not have] another sort of wealth and art of money-making, seeking correctly.” For “the art of money-making and the wealth that are according to nature, and that pertain to the art of house- hold management, are dierent from the art of commerce” (1257b19–20). But, Aristotle adds, the art of commerce, as an art, necessarily pursues its speci c end, pro table commodities, without limit—just as the art of medi- cine pursues health without limit, and indeed every art (Aristotle weirdly claims) seeks its particular end limitlessly. But is this last general proposi- tion true? Do cobblers pursue shoemaking and shoe repair without limit? Do weavers weave clothing without limit? Aren’t customers limited in their thirst for these arts? Yet the case of the art of medicine is indeed arguably dierent; there is a certain limitlessness into which people are prone to slide in their thirst for professional help with their health. Why, however, does Aristotle assimilate the art of commerce, as he has characterized it, even to medicine? Has he not contended that the end pursued by the com- mercial art is a result of a terrible misunderstanding, of the transmogri- cation of money, which is properly conceived as a means or tool, into an end? And thus, is not this “art” of commerce itself entirely bogus—on the analogy of a medical “art” that became xated on producing medicines, without limit, forgetting that they are tools for curing? Why doesn’t Ar- istotle suggest that there is obviously another, sensible and true, version of the commercial art, a version that does not fall prey to the madness of acquiring money without limit?

The Natural Art of Acquisition vs. the Unnatural


Aristotle does now reassert that what the commercial art pursues “is not the work of the art of household management”; and “therefore in this way,” he concludes, “it appears to be necessary that there is a limit to all wealth” (1257b32). But then abruptly, and with one of his rare employ- ments of the rst person singular, hinting for a moment at his Olympian perspective above all his fellow humans, Aristotle says “but from what comes to pass I see the contrary happening. For everyone involved in busi- ness increases money without limit.” But then the question becomes acute:

why should this insanity take everyone over (cf. Schütrumpf 1.330–31)? Why should rst all commercial traders become mesmerized with money as a limitless end, and then why should this craziness spread pervasively to “everyone?” Having provoked this series of questions, Aristotle proceeds to answer them, giving three oddly assorted, and peculiarly formulated, reasons for the universal mental derangement through business that he has described. First, he says that the two forms of money making—one that perversely sees money as an end, the other that sees money sensibly, as a means—are “close,” in that both do seek to acquire money. Yes, but why should this lead to such a lunatic confusion?—after all, medicines, if administered as limitless ends rather than as proper means to health, become poisonous, but doctors aren’t therefore all sliding into confusion and becoming poi- soners! Well, “the reason for this disposition,” Aristotle says (giving his second and central reason), is “the being serious about mere life but not the good life”—and, “since the desire for this [for the former] is in nite, they seek in nitely the things that produce it” (1258a1–2). But why does everyone become so preoccupied with mere life? And what does Aristotle mean by saying that the desire for mere life “is in nite?” On re ection, we see that Aristotle thus unobtrusively points us to two fundamental facts about the human condition. First, nature is far from be- ing as motherly as he has claimed in laying down the extraordinary prem- ises of his whole argument. The truth is that humans are cast into a nature that confronts them with terrible material scarcity and painful penury; and so it is almost inevitable that most humans become preoccupied with gain- ing the wherewithal to make their naturally tenuous survival more secure and comfortable. But what is much more, the human being’s awareness of mortal nitude is a truly haunting awareness; it exercises a tidal pull draw- ing humans toward becoming infected with a limitless, desperate reaching to gain ever more defenses against the always impending threats of death. This tendency is seen vividly in our attitude toward the medical art that combats ill health. This tendency expresses itself most pervasively in the typical human attitude toward the all encompassing power given by the art of money-making. That this is Aristotle’s implicit teaching becomes


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

clearer when we re ect on his formulation of his third reason for the men- tal derangement concerning business. In the third place (Aristotle continues) those who are concerned with the good life identify it with physical enjoyments, which they seek through money—“and their entire pursuits are about the art of making money” (1258a5). Now this of course describes irrational behavior: why in the world do those who make physical enjoyments their conscious end, wind up devoting their “entire pursuits” to making money? Equally instigative is what follows. For Aristotle suggests (1258a11–12), with apparent in- consequence, that when sensual hedonists fail to secure physical pleasure through their money, what they turn to is NOT the quest for nding other means to physical pleasure, but instead to using other faculties (courage, generalship, the practice of medicine) to make still more money! Now the initially baing irrationality described in this third reason begins to make psychological sense if we link it up with what we have suggested is the real teaching implied in the second reason. The explanation for why even sen- sual hedonists tend at bottom to be more concerned with acquiring money than with enjoying pleasures money can buy is that they are animated, at a level in their souls hidden even from themselves, not so much by the wish for physical grati cation as by the desperately in nite love of life, in the face of the awareness of mortal nitude. The very limitlessness of their hedonism, entangled as it is with the limitlessness of their love of money, betrays the truth about their souls. 61 Aristotle concludes the ninth chapter by arming more explicitly that there is another, “necessary” art of money-making/business, which belongs or pertains to the art of household management, which is con- cerned with food, and which is thus limited. But he once again provokes our thought—by characterizing the contrary, unnatural art through the fol- lowing ambiguous, or contradictory, formulation: “So as regards the art of money-making that is not necessary, both what it is, and on account of what reason we are in need of it, has been said” (1258a14–16). This prepares us for the massive self-contradiction that soon becomes manifest. The tenth chapter opens by claiming that a resolution has been achieved of “what was perplexing from the start” (but now Aristotle broadens con- siderably the original perplexity): namely, “whether the art of money- making belongs to someone who is skilled in the art of household man- agement and to someone who is skilled in the art of politics [the statesman], or whether it does not so belong” (1258a19–21). Aristotle indicates that it has transpired that the correct answer to these questions is, that the art of money-making does not belong to either of the two arts of rule. But to our surprise, Aristotle at rst speaks as if there “ought to be” no need

The Natural Art of Acquisition vs. the Unnatural


for any art of money making whatsoever, either as a part of, or even as an art distinct from and subordinate to, the householder and statesman’s art:

“Just as the art of politics does not produce humans, but employs them as supplied by Nature, so Nature—Earth or Sea or something else—ought to provide the food.” And Aristotle now explicitly repeats, while pushing still further, his earlier fantastic cosmological teaching: it is “Nature’s job” (as he now puts it—ergon phusews, 1258a35) to supply the food for every- one, even as Nature supplies food to newborns. On this basis, Aristotle does nally concede that there is “for everyone an art of money-making in accord with nature”: making money “from the plants and the animals” that Nature provides (1258a37–38). Aristotle proceeds to draw a tenden- tiously moralistic civic conclusion in support of independent farmers (1258a40.): not only the art of commerce, but even “the art of exchange, is justly blamed, for it is not in accord with nature but involves taking from one another.” But “what is most reasonable,” Aristotle concludes, is that “the art of lending money at interest (obolostatike) is hated, on account of being an acquisition from money itself, rather than being involved with that for which money was invented.” Money lending for interest is “to a special degree against nature.” 62 But no sooner has Aristotle laid down this Aristidean censure than he executes, in the next or eleventh chapter, a volte-face—so breath-taking that scholars from Newman to Lord, unalive to Aristotle’s rhetorical play, entertain the possibility that this chapter may be an interpolation by some other author. 63 Aristotle declares at the outset that he is now turning from what suces for “knowing” (gnwsis), to what is needed for actual use (chresis); and he remarks that while “theorizing” about “all such mat- ters” involves “what is liberal,” actual “experience” must deal with “ne- cessity” (1258b8–10). Then he proceeds to encourage, as a major task of actual statesmanship as well as of household management, the discovery of how to make the maximal cash pro ts from business, public and private! 64 Farming, taken in the broadest sense, does remain primary, as “the most proper money making” that is “in accord with nature”—but now, farming as a cash business, as the rst of three main divisions of the art of maxi- mizing cash pro t without limit. The second main division is: the art of exchange, for maximum pro t—of which the rst of three subdivisions is commerce, especially on the sea, with the second and central subdivision being the procuring of pro t through lending at interest! As the third sub- division, of the recommended money-making art that is not in accord with nature, Aristotle introduces for the rst time wage-labor (mistharnia). It is remarkable that this emergence of wage-labor goes together with a disap- pearance here of slavery, or with a complete silence on slavery as a source


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

of prot-making or of money (the silence is underlined by the reference at 1258b38 to “the most slavish” forms of prot-making work). Aristotle thus quietly indicates his awareness that the focus on pro t-making tends away from slave-labor (and vice-versa); to put it another way, Aristotle thus indi- cates the agonizing human trade-othat underlies the entire problematic of property and acquisition. Aristotle recommends the writings of other authors, who teach in detail the best ways to increase pro t. He goes further. Lamenting that those writings are now “scattered,” he recommends that they be collected, “for all these are bene cial to those who honor the art of money-making” (1259a5–6; cf. Oec. book 2). The argument reaches an extreme when Aris- totle invokes the example of the philosopher Thales to show how great are the pro ts to be made by establishing monopolies that exploit customers’ needs for scarce goods (as Newman remarks ad loc., “only a large capitalist could have done what Thales is described as doing”). Aristotle then nally concludes, “It is useful for the skilled statesmen also to know these things; for many cities need the art of money-making, and ways and means of this kind, even as a household needs them, but even more so. Therefore some of those engaged in politics focus on such policy alone.” 65 Aristotle thus prepares us to be somewhat less astounded when we nd him teaching in the second book that the republic of Carthage possesses the best regime of any actual city of which he has knowledge; for, although he does not stress this in the context, Carthage was in fact a highly commercial republic (cf. Shulsky 1991, 99–101). What is Aristotle’s didactic aim, in presenting so massive a contra- diction? 66 We may expiscate his implicit teaching as follows. The city (to- gether with its part, the household in its mature civic form) arises from, and never ceases to have to devote an enormous part of its energies to, the need for the accumulation of material wealth—given nature’s anxiety- producing, inhospitable scarcity. 67 This, together with the haunting aware- ness of mortality, naturally propels humans toward becoming obsessed with acquisition, at the expense of all else, and above all at the expense of concern for the good life as the life of moral and intellectual virtue. But humans are, at the same time, to some degree aware that this is a corrup- tion. So they also naturally seek for reasons and grounds for resisting this propulsion; and it is especially the farmers, and the wealthy gentleman farmers above all, who possess that degree of moderate economic self- suciency which provides the most solid material basis for resisting the gravitational pull that draws everyone toward obsession with ever-increas- ing pro t. 68 Aristotle therefore lends his rhetorical powers to supporting and to strengthening the gentleman farmers in this stance of theirs. Ar-

The Natural Art of Acquisition vs. the Unnatural


istotle even allows some of his gentlemanly readers to conclude, as does Newman (1.126–27), that Aristotle is articulating “the starting point of a sweeping social reform” consisting of “a purgation of the commercial and industrial life of the State.” But Aristotle allows more thoughtful readers to discern his rhetorical strategy—and to recognize the deep tension or contradiction in the human civic condition which requires the apparent gross contradictions in rhetoric. In sharp contrast to Locke and the Lock- ean legacy, 69 Aristotle implies that to take one’s bearings by the low truth about the exposedness of the human condition is to endanger, or indeed to sacrice, the fragile higher, and more truly human, possibilities of civic and household life (Shulsky 1991; contrast Salkever 1990, 227). Yet in sharp contrast to the biblical tradition which reaches its acme in Thomas Aquinas (and in the political theologians of Islam), Aristotle refrains from outlawing even the most extreme form of the peaceful quest for limitless pro t. Aris- totle leaves it at cultivating in the statesman and in the household manager a deep moral uneasiness, reluctance, and regret at the unavoidable conces- sions that civic and household life must make to the love of lucre. We have seen that the philosophic life, as the alternative to the politi- cal life, made its rst brief appearance at the conclusion of the exposure of the problem of slavery. Now, at the conclusion of the exposure of the problem of economics, Aristotle provides a much more vivid and thought- provoking portrait of the philosopher in his radical distinctiveness. He does so by reporting a story told about Thales, the rst philosopher in re- corded history. Reacting to the reproach heaped upon him on account of his “poverty,” which people supposed demonstrated “how philosophy is without bene t,” Thales rubbed in the faces of his fellows the fact that “the philosophers, if they should wish,” have the capacity to engage in the money-making art more ruthlessly and pro tably than anyone else; then, having made an unforgettable “display” of this superiority, Thales “displayed” no less vividly the philosophers’ disdain to put their proteer- ing expertise into practice—on account of “what they are serious about” (1259a9–19). Aristotle thus tacitly indicates the foundation of his own capacious and clear-eyed perspective on political economy: the story of Thales aords a glimpse of the crucial truth, that complete immunity to becoming intoxicated with love of lucre belongs only to the philosopher, because he alone lives a life whose most serious preoccupation entails gain- ing mastery over the profound anxieties and hopes that fuel the addiction to love of monetary gain. 70 But the story of Thales also prompts us to re- ect on the dierence between Thales and Aristotle, as philosophers— and to discern thereby an Aristotelian criticism of Thales’s version of, and manner of presenting, the philosophic way of life. Aristotle diverges from


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

his predecessor by becoming a political philosopher. As such, Aristotle is elaborating a much more constructive and circumspect response to the popular reproach that goaded Thales into such an incautious “display.” It is Aristotle’s manner of teaching, and the implied understanding of the relation of theory to practice, that expresses the superiority of Aristotle’s understanding of human nature and of the human condition.

the political and the kingly art, in the family

At the commencement of the brief but meaty twelfth chapter Aristotle takes up, nally, the agenda that he laid out when he began his treatment of the household. But what is astounding is that he speaks as if nothing that has intervened has altered the fact that there are only “three parts of the art of household management”: rule over slaves, rule over wife, and rule over children. Aristotle ignores the previous chapter and its conces- sions to the practical need the household manager is under to be very much concerned with the art of money-making (preferably by way of the art of farming, to be sure). The “despotic art” was “discussed previously,” Aristotle notes—as if we were nished with the subject. This turns out to be grossly misleading; we will encounter, in the next chapter, still another major moral perplexity concerning slavery, compelling us to continue to wrestle with the topic. Why is our educator so playfully deceptive? He thus impels us to see that, however much one might wish the contrary, the baing problem of slavery will not go away: it will in fact haunt the entire treatise. But Aristotle starts oas if, having nally cleared away the secondary matters, he is nally ready to tackle the truly human dimension of house- hold management. The reader might well expect and hope for a substantial and detailed disquisition on the arts of marriage and parenting, with a view to the cultivation and enactment of virtue. Such hopes are disappointed. No doubt, Aristotle does provide a few thought provoking reections about the character of the rule exercised over wife and children; still, the pecu- liar selectivity governing his comments make it questionable how serious he is about discussing these household relations for their own sakes—as opposed to using them as a way of illuminating some further problematic dimensions of the nature of political rule. Nonetheless, just as he did in the case of his discussion of slavery, Aristotle does weave a massive surface impression that lends strong apparent support to the basic institutions and practices of the traditional Greek, patriarchal household. Aristotle begins by declaring that the rule over both wife and children is rule over the free, in contrast to despotic rule over slaves. More precisely,

The Political and the Kingly Art, in the Family


he explains, the father rules his children by the kingly art, while he rules his wife (wives?) by the political/republican art. 71 As Aristotle goes on to elaborate, however, deep tensions come to sight, most disconcertingly in the very concept of political or republican rule—in contrast to kingly rule. The reason for characterizing paternal rule as “kingly” seems at rst unproblematic: the “older and mature” command the “younger and im- mature” (1259b3–4). A major implicit diculty emerges, however, as Ar- istotle turns to the wife, to discuss the basis of her being ruled, as wife—but doing so while remaining completely silent about her also being the mother, and thus sharing to some degree in the stated title to rule (as queen) over the children. Aristotle says that the reason why the wife is ruled, politically, by her husband (and not as subject to his royal authority) is that “the male is by nature more capable of leading” (1259b2). So, the female is capable of leading—unlike the children—and hence is not properly treated as a subject under a king; but the male still takes the leading position because of his greater leadership abilities—“unless,” Aristotle laconically adds, “the union is against nature.” In this way Aristotle concedes that for some couples the wife is in fact more capable of leadership than her husband. All the more apparent is the implicit problem, as regards marital rule, in what he next remarks. Aristotle suddenly broadens his discussion, to treat the rule of husband over wife in light of a re ection on the puzzling nature of “political” rule in general. “In most cases of political/republican rule, ruling and being ruled rotate, because this form of rule wishes to partake of the nature of equality, with no rank”; but, Aristotle adds, such rule “seeks,” at the same time, the contrary. For political rule establishes a hierarchy of “ruling and being ruled” among the parties “wishing to be” equals (1259b4–8). The awkward result is, that political rule has to impose arti cially, and con- ventionally, a dramatic inequality in rank, through “outward forms and speeches and honors.” Political or republican ruling-and-being-ruled, as generally conceived, is riven by a self-contradiction. The crux is the fact that rule is essentially commanding, while being ruled is essentially obeying; they thus dier, as Aristotle will say a few lines later, “in form [eidos],” not by “more and less” (1259b36–38). The relation of ruling and being ruled cannot be egalitarian, either strictly or even proportionately. Aristotle here lets us see why his opponents, following Socrates, insist that all rule is es- sentially kingly—even when rule rotates: what is rotated, the Socratics contend, is an essentially royal power (recall 1252a14–16). The Socratic position adds that such rotated monarchic power is exercised properly “ac- cording to the principles of the science”; in other words, rotation of truly artful monarchic rule would have to take place among fellow-citizens all of


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

whom were experts in the art or science of rule. This points toward an aris- tocratic regime, in which eligibility for the rotating chief magistracy would be restricted to the small minority of fully qualied experts. We will soon hear Aristotle, as he commences his direct critique of Plato in the next book, agreeing with the basic proposition that despite or because “recip- rocal equality saves cities,” it “is clear that it is better if the same persons always rule, if possible” (1261a30–31, 38–39). But in the present passage, Aristotle tacitly indicates that in almost all cases of actual republican rule, the equality-loving citizens among whom the rule rotates are aware that they all lack in varying degrees the requisite quali cation: they betray this awareness by the compulsion they feel to in ate the appearance of their temporary ruler’s superiority, doing so by way of contrivances that appear to the wise to be somewhat comically preposterous—as Aristotle reveals through his reference to the story of Amasis and his foot-pan (see Thomas ad loc.: “A washbasin, if such distinctive marks were inscribed, and the two other gifts bestowed, would seem not to dier from the ruler of a political community”). One could raise the following objection to Aristotle’s indication here of the incoherence at the core of the commonly accepted concept of political or republican rule. By taking as his point of departure relations within the household, Aristotle has neglected a key feature of all republican rule— namely, that it tends to be a rule of laws rather than of men. 72 In the words of Plato’s Laws (712c–15e), a “regime” truly exists only “where the rulers are slaves of the law”—which is itself governed by “the god who rules as despot over those who possess intelligence.” The rule of law will certainly become a major focus of Aristotle’s thematic treatment of the republican regimes in book 3. By his abstraction from the rule of law here, Aristotle helps us to see better a problem that is obscured by, and that underlies, the (republican-theocratic) rule of law; he thus helps us to see that a major function of the rule of law, including divine law, is precisely such obscura- tion. We need to bear this in mind when we get to Aristotle’s thematic discussions of the rule of law. Returning from his pregnant re ections on the commonly accepted con- cept of republican rule, and on the trappings in which such rule is almost always enshrouded, Aristotle tersely and ironically adds, “the male always holds to this way in relation to the female” (1259b9–10). That is to say, the male always needs ceremonial trappings to elevate himself arti cially over his wife, and thus to umber his lack of sucient intrinsic quali cation (ex- pertise) to rule over her (Saxonhouse 1982, 205–6). As Newman observes (ad loc.), this implication becomes still clearer when Aristotle goes on to assert at some length that in contrast, the father’s royal authority over his

The Political and the Kingly Art, in the Family


children has a clear natural basis. This basis, Aristotle insists, is not the one stressed by the Socratics (expertise in rule), but is instead the three- fold title of begetting [gennesan], 73 aection (philia), and age (1259b11–12). Aristotle maintains his pointed silence about the mother’s participating in, or even perhaps being superior as regards, these three qualications for ruling her own children (see also 1260a10). A Socratic troublemaker might here observe that if one were to pay explicit regard to the mother’s title to rule, it would become more dicult to articulate the morally legiti- mate grounds for patriarchy, as opposed to matriarchy: see Xenophon Oec. 7.17–43, 9.14–10.1, 11.25. However this may be, Aristotle suddenly broadens the discussion, mak- ing paternal rule the paradigm for the art of kingly rule as such. Adducing the weighty authority of Homer (and thus alerting us to the theological signi cance of this passage), Aristotle reminds us that patriarchal king- ship is the divinely revealed basis of the authority of the supreme god. But then Aristotle adds another kind of justi cation for the divinely inspired, “beautiful” Homeric epithet that he has quoted. This philosophic justica- tion invokes the standard of nature or natural right (to which the Homeric formula does not even allude)—and the picture blurs considerably, losing some of its loveliness. “For by nature the king must be distinguished, but by descent he must be the same—which is how the elder stands toward the younger and the begetter toward the child” (1259b14–17). In this philo- sophic restatement, love drops out, or is absorbed by begetting. Prodded by our Socratic opponents, we may wonder how and whether age and be- getting confer on the divine and human patriarchs knowledge of the art of kingly rule. The nal chapter of book 1 ascends from the nature of the dierent forms of rule found in the household to a discussion of the chief matter with which these forms of rule are concerned: promoting the virtue of the members of the household. And we are immediately plunged back into the problem of slavery. For Aristotle confronts us with the“perplexity” of whether or not slaves can have the moral virtues—the “habits such as moderation and courage and justice” by which deliberative reason rules over obedient emotions. If slaves can have these moral virtues, “how will they dier from the free?” But on the other hand, if they don’t have these moral virtues, Aristotle says, “that is out of place/absurd (atopon), since slaves are humans, who share in reason” (1259b26–28). This last comment is of course out of place (atopon) on the basis of Aristotle’s earlier doctrine of the natural slave—a doctrine of which he soon reminds us when he again characterizes the natural slave as “entirely lacking the deliberative capacity” (1260a12). For a moment


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

our guide leaves us in bewildered suspense. But a few lines further he de- cides that because “we de ned the slave to be useful in regard to necessary matters, the consequence is that it is clear that the slave too needs a little virtue—and as much as will prevent him from being de cient in his tasks on account of lack of self-restraint or cowardice” (1260a34–36). Aristotle then raises a new and additional perplexity, that he says is implied in the preced- ing: doesn’t all this mean that craftsmen also need some moral virtue, some self-control? Aristotle goes on to indicate that he is referring to the slaves who are craftsmen, who work in production or in some profession—and he suddenly reminds us of a whole class of slaves who are not part of the household, but rather of the city. These slave-craftsmen, Aristotle says, do also need moral virtue, but less than is needed by the household slaves— because the craftsmen-slaves, unlike the household slaves (the slaves in the fullest sense), do not share the life-activity of the master. The household slaves’ responsibilities and functions in the home require more trustwor- thiness and hence a fuller rational self-control. And yet it is precisely at this moment that Aristotle reminds us emphatically of his teaching on the “natural slave”—as the human who is incapable of rational self-control. Having restated this doctrine, Aristotle draws the illogical inference that the master is responsible for instilling moral virtue in his slaves—a respon- sibility that was not even hinted at in the treatment of the “despotic art” in the seventh chapter. Aristotle concludes by saying that the master must use encouragement through rational speech more with his slaves than he does with his children (1260b5–7)! So the contradiction embedded in the concept of “natural slave” becomes still more glaring at the end of book 1. It becomes manifest that in practice, contrary to the “ocial” teaching, the household slaves must be rational beings, capable of virtue within the normal range; what is more, it becomes clear that in practice the household manager cannot avoid some very considerable involvement with his slaves, as their moral educator (1260b4–5; for a vivid and detailed account, by a perfect gentleman himself, of the perfect gentleman’s royal rule over his slaves, see Xenophon’s Oeconomicus). Meanwhile, no sooner has Aristotle introduced the perplexity involv- ing the slave, in his relation to moral virtue, than he says, “Almost the same subject of inquiry arises regarding wife and child.” Do wives and chil- dren really have moral virtues—“or not?” That is, do they possess at most only some very imperfect version or reection of genuine moral virtue (1259b32)? Once again Aristotle vastly expands the inquiry, by saying that this question ought to be asked “generally,” as regards “being ruled by na- ture, and ruling”: can those who neither exercise the responsibilities, nor face the challenges, of ruling, really attain moral virtue, in its complete-

The Political and the Kingly Art, in the Family


ness? “It is the one ruling who must have the complete moral virtue, for the activity [of ruling] is simply architectonic, and reason is architectonic” (1260a17–18; see also NE 1094b7–10 and 1129b25., esp. 1130a1–2—“rule shows the man”). At this key juncture, Aristotle introduces for the rst time the term used to distinguish a person who has achieved moral perfec- tion: kaloskagathia—“gentlemanliness.” The phrase means more literally and expansively, “being noble, spiritually beautiful, as well as good”; the phrase signi es being not merely good, as contributing to something, but being good intrinsically, as the end, the peak, the completion of humanity. Aristotle reformulates the perplexity regarding the relation between ruler and ruled as follows (1259b34–60a1): on the one hand, “if both [ruler and ruled] ought to partake of gentlemanliness, then on account of what should one rule, and the other be ruled, simply?” But on the other hand, if either one need not partake of gentlemanliness, that is “amazing!” Aristotle ex- postulates, “for how will the one rule nobly,” and “how will the other be ruled nobly?” Aristotle proceeds to resolve the conundrum only as regards the rela- tions of ruling and being ruled within the family, by focusing on the natural psychological inequalities between male and female, and father and child. The ruled female and children can possess moral virtue, but of a kind that is qualitatively inferior, in rationality, to that possessed by the paternal ruler. This solution tacitly circumscribes the unsolved riddle of how one can coherently conceive of the moral virtues of the parties in the relationship of political ruling and being ruled. This—the second deep conceptual prob- lem we have encountered in the commonly accepted notion of political rule among equals—may be formulated as follows. Noble republican or political rule aims at enabling the ruled as well as the ruler to live together as “gentlemen”: i.e., pursuing activities, in accordance with the habits that constitute courage and moderation and justice, that fulll them as mor- ally complete political animals. But ruling and being ruled necessarily and inherently distinguish the ruler from the ruled, in the kind and not merely the degree of their life-activities: ruling and being ruled are distinct from one another as the complete or perfect from the incomplete and imperfect. The internal discord stands out even more when we contrast the manifest coherence of the kingly relation of ruler and ruled that obtains between father and child, with the dubious coherence of the version of political rule that obtains between husband and wife. As regards the former, since in the soul of the child the deliberative rational faculty is in the process of maturation, it makes obvious sense for the child to be expected to mani- fest only an immature or still maturing moral virtue under the (essentially


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

temporary) educative rule of the morally mature father. (This does raise the question whether fathers have a sound title to kingly rule over their mature ospring; what is more, as regards royal rule in general, insofar as its paradigm is paternal rule, this prompts the question whether kingship ought ever to be permanent.) The rule of husband over wife, as explicitly “political,” is more fraught. For this very reason, however, Aristotle maintains a prudently Delphic mode of speaking. In the female, Aristotle observes, deliberative reason is, even though not immature, nonetheless “without sovereignty” (akuron— 1260a13). Aristotle does not explain what he means by this word, except to say that the wife’s moral virtues belong to “the art of the assistant” (huperetike), in contrast to the (male) moral virtues that belong to “the art of rule.” 74 Instead of elaborating further, Aristotle attacks Socrates explic- itly for the rst time, for the latter’s having suggested that virtue, whether possessed by male or by female, is fundamentally the same; and Aristotle praises as “much better” those like Gorgias, who leave it at enumerating the diverse and distinctive virtues pertaining to dierent stations in life (see Plato’s Meno, beg.). Then Aristotle clinches the matter by bringing poetic authority to the support of this patriarchal view, in whose defense he has allied himself with the famous rhetorician against the famous philosopher:

“Even as the poet has spoken about woman, thus ought it to be conven- tionally believed, in regard to all [the virtues]: ‘for woman, silence brings adornment’—but for a man, this is no longer the case” (1260a29–31). Ar- istotle’s sly satire here on conventional belief becomes evident when one looks up the original context of this poetic line, quoted from Sophocles (Ajax l. 293)—and when one reects on what the quoted scene in the Ajax suggests about the respectability of the authority of some husbands, even among the most famous heroes. But the satire is kept sotto voce. Aristotle, along with all those inclined toward philosophic questioning, must never forget that they live in societies dominated by patriarchy and patriarchs—in the best case, men of the mold of Xenophon’s Ischomachus. 75 Aristotle abruptly breaks ohis incipient and troubling discussion of the distinct virtues of—and the noble relations of ruling and ruled among— family members by declaring that the treatment of this requires us to pro- ceed to the regimes (politeiai; Thomas: politias), which are now mentioned and introduced for the rst time, as the theme of the Politics. But what ex- actly is meant by “the regimes?” Aristotle will elaborate the answer to this basic question only quite gradually, and rather indirectly. The rst thing he makes clear is that “the regime” is that to which one looks to see what gives the city its moral unity and direction: it is the regime (rather than the city simply) with a view to which children and wives ought to be educated

Retrospect and Prospect


morally. For since “the virtue of the part ought to be with a view to that of the whole, it is necessary to educate both children and women [wives] as looking to the regime, if indeed it makes a dierence to the city’s being morally serious that the children be morally serious and the women [wives] be morally serious; but it necessarily makes a dierence” (1260b14–18). The rst book concludes with the announcement that “we are making another beginning,” and in the rst place, “investigating what has been declared about the best regime” (1260b22–24).

retrospect and prospect

If we step back to survey our course of instruction through book 1, we may at rst feel ourselves the victims of a “bait and switch.” For we were as- sured at the start that we would come to understand political rule, and how it is distinctive, by analyzing the city, as a whole, into its component parts and studying them; then in the third chapter we were told that the parts of the city are the households—and so we proceeded to a lengthy study of the household; but this study has culminated in the declaration that we cannot understand the household, in its most serious concern (for virtue), until we carry out a fresh study of the city as it is given its integral character by the regimes—looking rst and foremost at what has been said about the best regime. If we resist the temptation to throw up our hands at this apparent circularity, if instead we sit back and think a bit, we realize that this initially frustrating outcome has put us in a position to draw a disconcerting lesson about the household or family in its relation to the city (and vice versa). The household, which remains as a building block of the city, has a power- ful and deep tendency to drag the citizenry and civic life down or back to immersion in merely “economic” concerns. If the household is to become liberated from material wants enough so that it can make the cultivation of virtue its chief priority, then the household has to resist this undertow. The virtues of the members of the family must be oriented to participation in, or contribution to, the virtue that can be achieved through civic self- government and civic culture as ordered by a regime with a proper view of virtue as the high, trans-economic goal of politics. But how clearly do actual regimes descry this goal? Some of Aristotle’s last words in book 1 stir the hope that he will re- turn to a renewed study of the relations within the household, as part of or as a sequel to the study of regimes that he will now elaborate, and that he will thus present a completion of his teaching about the management of the household with a view to the cultivation of virtue. Such a hope is never realized (Newman ad 1260b8; Jaeger 1962, 272). Aristotle foreshad-


Book One: The Distinctiveness and Supremacy of the Political

ows this disappointment by here inditing, “Setting aside the present rea-

sonings, as having reached completion/perfection (telos), let us speak making

.” (1260b21–22). Aristotle has completed what he

has designed as the teaching of book 1. His intention from the beginning was to study the household only with a view to disclosing certain speci c truths relevant mainly to an understanding of the conceptual problematic of politics. Yet we are thus left with, or returned to, a very grave practical problem. The family’s moral ethos looks to and takes its bearings by the regime in which the family is situated. As we already know from the closing

pages of the Ethics, and as will become still more starkly evident in the rest of the Politics, few if any actual regimes are seriously enough concerned with moral virtue. Doesn’t this imply that most families will be shaped, and sti ed, morally and spiritually, by the unserious regimes in which they are located? But is not one main practical purpose of Aristotle’s writing, to make this unhappy truth and its reasons more clear to morally se