China in Transition: Communism, Capitalism, and Democracy

By Ronald M. Glassman | Go to book overview
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Chapter I
The Theory of the Majority Middle Class and Democracy

The link between a majority middle class and democracy was highlighted by Aristotle centuries ago. 1 He noted that the disappearance of kingship and military aristocracy occurred as Greek society became more commercialized. Naval expeditions and citizens' armies became the new organizations of war as the commercial middle classes grew in number. Aristotle also noted that the rise of commerce and the commercial middle class was accompanied by a rational scientific worldview, the disruption of traditional property arrangements, and the growing desire on the part of the middle and poorer classes for political participation.

Kingship has now gone out of fashion; and any government of that type which emerges today is a personal government or tyranny. Kingship is a government by consent, with sovereign authority in matters of major importance; and such a government is now an anachronism. Equality is generally diffused; and there is nobody outstanding enough for the grandeur and the dignity of the office of king. There is thus no basis of consent for such a form of government; and when it is imposed by fraud or by force, it is instantly regarded as a form of tyranny. . . .

Kings cease to be kings when their subjects cease to be willing subjects, though tyrants can continue to be tyrants whether their subjects are willing or no. 2

The desire for political participation among the growing middle class produced an era of revolution and counterrevolution in ancient Greece. 3 Aristotle observed that where the rich were the most powerful class, they established exclusionary oligarchies as the form of government, wherein only those with large property holdings could vote or hold political offices. Where the poor were very numerous and well organized, they established what Aristotle called "extreme democracy"--extreme because the poor, badly educated, and tending toward "mob

-3-

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