Citizens and Statesmen: A Study of Aristotle's Politics

By Mary P. Nichols | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
TURNING REGIMES INTO POLITIES

(Books IV, V, and VI of the Politics)

In Books IV, V, and VI of the Politics, Aristotle describes the various forms of regime and the ways in which they change from one form to another. By this means Aristotle shows statesmen how to reform their regimes, how to replace despotism with politics. He lays the ground for this in the earlier books of the Politics: in the first two books, for example, he argues for the superiority of political to despotic rule; in Book III, he demonstrates that the many and those of outstanding virtue can share in political rule. Now, in Books IV, V, and VI, he teaches statesmen to transform their regimes in the direction of polities based on political rule. I shall investigate Aristotle's teaching in these books, first by discussing the diverse ends of the statesman and how he can serve those ends by founding polities. I shall then turn to Aristotle's discussion of regimes in Book IV, in which he shows that certain forms of democracy and oligarchy, the two most common but deviant regimes, can approach a correct regime, polity. 1 When Aristotle treats regime change in Book V, he shows how deviant or tyrannical regimes can be transformed into versions of polity, and thereby teaches human beings how they can improve their regimes. He contrasts his approach with Socrates' account of regime change in the Republic, where Socrates describes an inevitable decline of regimes due to forces beyond human control. Aristotle thus points the way from tyranny to freedom: tyrannical rule in political communities can be overcome and human beings can direct and improve political life. Finally, I shall discuss Aristotle's reformulation of the democratic principles of freedom and equality in Book VI, a reform as necessary to the founding of polities as the reform of tyranny in Book V. Aristotle replaces democratic license with deliberative choice, and shows how

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