Citizens and Statesmen: A Study of Aristotle's Politics

By Mary P. Nichols | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

It has been fashionable in the past for Aristotelian scholars to present Aristotle's political theory as a product of his times, from which we can learn much about Greek thought but little that has contemporary interest or application. Recently, however, political theorists have found in Aristotle lessons for our own time, especially in their search for an alternative to liberalism. While some find in Aristotle's teaching support for participatory democracy, others turn to Aristotle for a view of the rule of a virtuous elite whose merits justify their authority over others. Strangely enough, Aristotle lends support to both democrats and aristocrats. While the former criticize liberalism for its exclusion of the great majority from direct political activity, the latter do so for its failure to give prominence to virtue. Each side of this contemporary debate, however, grasps only one side of Aristotle's complex political theory. Only by recognizing the partial truth in both democratic and aristocratic interpretations of Aristotle can we come to a more comprehensive understanding of his thought—and a more comprehensive understanding of political life—than offered either by liberalism or its critics. I intend to provide that understanding by examining Aristotle's view of citizenship and statesmanship in his Politics. Aristotle shows how human beings realize their freedom—and fulfill their highest natural capacities—through the activities of citizens and statesmen. His demonstration of the limits and opportunities inherent in these activities in his Politics reveals the connection between the freedom that democrats seek through political participation and the virtue that aristocrats seek through elite rule. Without understanding this connection, neither democrats nor aristocrats will have an adequate grasp of either freedom or virtue. Nor will they present a persuasive case against a liberalism that leaves insufficient room for citizens and statesmen.

Stephen G. Salkever notes that Aristotle is attractive to democrats

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