Politics, Books VII and VIII

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ARISTOTLE. Politics, Books VII and VIII. Translated with a Commentary by Richard Kraut. Clarendon Aristotle Series. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997. 229 pp. Cloth, $58.00; paper, $22.00--Aristotle's Politics has received much attention in recent years. Neglected until the later Middle Ages, perhaps because of its disdain for monarchy, it is now a favorite text among historians of politics and political theorists. One of the newest additions to the scholarship is Richard Kraut's commentary on books 7 and 8 in Oxford's formidable Clarendon Aristotle series. Aristotle's style is terse and speculative--a style that invites the commentary format.

It is unclear whether books 7 and 8 belong at the end of the treatise (many place them between books 3 and 4), but what is clear is that they are of a piece and can be read alone to great effect since in them Aristotle describes his ideal city/state. The topic of utopias is of perennial interest to philosophers, and this portion of Aristotle also appeals to the philosophical historians whose minds are filled with Plato's more renowned Republic. Whether Aristotle really means for the measures he recommends to be carried out in some existing place is as difficult a question to answer as it is with regards to Plato. This is just one of the many fascinating questions that keep appearing and reappearing in this astute, varied, and surprisingly comprehensive (given the sheer amount that has been written on these topics) commentary.

Aristotle starts by saying that the best city is one in which all the citizens are happy. Happiness, as explained in his ethics, is the result of living a virtuous life; thus the city that allows citizens to lead virtuous lives is the best city. A kind of aristocracy emerges in which the citizens are able to perfect the human capacity for virtue, living in a community fueled by slave labor and provided for by its craftsmen, foreign and resident alien inhabitants. The latter types of people are not citizens because their "vulgar" work bars them from virtue. Aristotle wants his citizens to be at leisure, unlike these workers. They must not, however, simply amuse themselves. Aristotle focuses on civic duty--marriage is a duty and so is the procreation and education of citizen children. …