THE BEST REGIME AND THE LIMITS
(Books VII and VIII of the Politics)
Throughout the Politics, Aristotle has contrasted the life of political rule with despotism. We find political rule, in the first place, in Aristotle's political philosophy, in his activities in writing the Politics. Aristotle arbitrates the conflict between democratic and oligarchic justice, for example, and advises statesmen and citizens how to reform the regimes that embody these partial conceptions of justice and even advises tyrants how to reform tyranny itself. His reflections about human life and its relation to politics both grow out of and inform these activities. His inquiry into politics is therefore a kind of statesmanship. Aristotle rules by formulating new principles of political life and offering new political organizations based on them. And yet he is also ruled, especially by the opinions on which he builds his political theory. His rule, moreover, depends on statesmen and citizens in their various regimes to deal with the particulars of time and place. They too must exercise political rule, and their activities will then imitate Aristotle's without being merely imitations. Like all political rule, Aristotle's allows freedom. Despotism, in contrast, which insists on absolute rule and treats others as slaves or instruments, neither permits others their independence nor achieves the community with them that is possible only for independent human beings.
At the beginning of Book VII, when Aristotle turns to a consideration of the best regime, he explicitly raises the question of what is the best way of life, and explores the possibility that it resides not in political life but in some sort of theoretical or philosophic life. In spite of the ambiguity of Aristotle's discussion of the best way of life, and in spite of the weight of the first six books of the Politics