October 18 in the frame of the Day of Spiritual Accord, at 14:00 (GMT + 6), Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan) will host an International conference themed: "Strengthening interfaith and interethnic harmony as an answer to modern world challenges ".
Prof. Dimitris Papadis Professor of Humanities Neapolis University Pafos WHAT TYPE OF DEMOCRACY DOES ARISTOTLE RECOMMEND? Before I attempt to address this question let me start by pointing out the six basics forms of polities that Aristotle raises. These are, on the one hand kingship, aristocracy, and politeia, and on the other hand tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. He considers the first three constitutions (or types of polity) to be good constitutions; whereas the other three are bad constitutions because they consist of alterations and corruptions of the first three. The criterion of classification and evaluation is the idea of the common good: if a constitution serves the common good of a certain political community it is a good; if it does not serve the common good and it serves the interests of the few then it is bad.
The common good or ‘agathon’ in Aristotle is characterized by its contribution to what is good for the community of the city, to autarchy of the polis, and to the moral and spiritual elevation and betterment of its citizens. In brief, the common good is that which helps citizens and the polis to achieve eudaimonia – eudaimonia is the ultimate good and the end (telos) of the human individual as a social being. The common good is, for Aristotle, the political good which expresses or represents analogical equality and the principal virtue of justice.
Democracy in the contemporary sense is that sort of constitution where there is popular sovereignty – that is, the people are the legitimate source of political power. In practice, popular sovereignty today is expressed through the principle of representation and the majority rule. In contrast to the modern notion of popular sovereignty, in ancient Greek democracies which were direct democracies, popular sovereignty meant a sort of identification of those who govern and those who are governed because all citizens shared power and took part in the decision-making as members of the Assembly (‘Ekklisia of Demos’). (Ancient) democracy is for Aristotle the polity in which political power is at the hands of all the adult, male, free citizens who happen to be poor and form the majority . This type of democratic polity, when it is not based on good laws generates a bad type of constitution that is rejected by Aristotle, who recommends another form which he calls ‘politeia’. Politeia is the constitution where power is at the hands of the majority – a constitution that aims at the common good and is based on good and just laws that regulate and govern the political community . Good laws are the laws that safeguard and promote eudaimonia within the context of the polis. Politeia is a mixed constitution for it is a sort of synthesis of oligarchy and democracy. When this mixed polity has more prominent the features of democracy, it is called ‘politeia’; and when oligarchic components are more abundant, then it comes closer to aristocracy. This is because the noble descent and good education are usually found in the circles of well-off families who produce good, beautiful, virtuous, and important offspring. It is often the case that the aristocratic features of physical and intellectual beauty, and of education as well as noble lineage to be found in the oligarchic circles – that is, in wealthy families .
‘Politeia’, then, is a type of polity between oligarchy and democracy. Both of these latter types of polity do not constitute good forms of government because of their class character and the particular interests they represent and try to safeguard. Oligarchy serves the interests of the few and the rich, democracy tries to serve exclusively the interests of the poor. Neither the former nor the latter type of polity can lead polis to eudaimonia.
Aristotle’s rejection of democracy sounds a bit odd in the modern world that has embraced democracy as the best type of political organisation. It is worthwhile, before proceeding, to reflect on the reasons of Aristotle’s rejection of democracy and to note that he does not reject any possible type of democratic governance – but only an extreme form of democracy that has a strict class character. Let us see the reasons:
1. In extreme democracy the principal element is the numerical /arithmetic equality and not meritocracy that is favoured by Aristotle . Extreme democracy bases right and law on arithmetical equality which in turn is founded on freedom . Basing right on arithmetical equality means that the majority decides and that right is what the majority thinks. The democratic citizens assert that every citizen must have equal rights. Therefore, it is so that in democracies the poor are more powerful than the rich or those who excel, since the poor are arithmetically more and it is the opinion of the many that prevails .
Aristotle defies the equality of citizens based on arithmetical criteria. Yet he accepts the ontological and political equality – equality before the law and equal political rights for all the male citizens (not for the slaves). He accepts the arithmetical-mathematical equality with regard to the notion of justice only when and if it refers to people who are equal in terms of quality. Equal, that is, in terms of excellence, of their achievements and social contribution, of their overall qualifications and talents. When we have people who are unequal in the aforementioned respects, then justice expresses the unequal not the equal . This means that people who excel in virtue must have more rights in taking up offices and in receiving awards in relation to others who are equal in terms of freedom. The apotheosis of arithmetical equality that is based on freedom is found in the taking up of public offices via the method of lottery: here all are seen as arithmetically equal and free to take a public office – and all means all: rich, poor, educated, uneducated, virtuous or not, excellent or not, talented or not. Freedom, in this case, appears to be the foundation and the substance of extreme democracy.
2. Aristotle rejects extreme democracy because it fosters extreme freedom. Extreme democracy means to do whatever you like . Aristotle does not agree with this as he is an admirer of polis – that is a constitutional community that lives according to laws that serve the purpose of eudaimonia. Man cannot do whatever he wants for absolute freedom is against social and political order and life. Aristotle writes:
“While in the democracies thought to be the most democratic the opposite of what is expedient has come about. And the cause of this is that they define liberty wrongly (for there are two things that are thought to be defining features of democracy, the sovereignty of the majority and liberty); for justice is supposed to be equality, and equality the sovereignty of whatever may have been decided by the multitude, and liberty doing just what one likes. Hence in democracies of this sort everybody lives as he likes. But this is bad; for to live in conformity with the constitution ought not to be considered slavery but safety” .
Freedom for Aristotle is the freedom that is limited by the laws and institutions of the polis and protects the real interests of the people. Absolute freedom means, in fact, enslavement to egoism, passions, and the folly of man and leads to the destruction of both the individual and the polis . Aristotle was aware of the ultimate value of freedom for the social, political and cultural life of man, for his self-realisation and true happiness. He understood that the relation between relative freedom and law is a harmonious relation for the laws determine and prescribe the limits of individual and political freedom. Interesting too is the relation between freedom and equality because (a) equality presupposes freedom; and (b) inequality is generated by freedom as the free man has the capacity to use his talents, skills, rights and capabilities as he wishes.
3.Aristotle rejects the extreme class democracy because, according to his view, this type of democracy does not respect the law but functions according to resolutions (‘psifismata’) that serve class and factional interests, mainly the interests of the many and the poor. In this type of democracy, the people act as the absolute monarch, for the people do not obey the law and the demagogues become key personalities. This democracy resembles tyranny. In democracy, we have resolutions; in tyranny, we have commands. In democracy, the demagogues reign; in tyranny, we have flatterers.
Aristotle prefers a type of democratic government than other forms of polity for he can see that the future belongs to a good type of democratic polity that would safeguard political stability and social cohesion – and this happens because only in this type of polity all the citizens take part in power. Good polity must be founded on good laws, decisions must be taken by the majority and through equal participation of all citizens, and the public officers must be elected according to merit. Public officers should be virtuous, excellent people independently of their wealth. Aristotle writes that:
“It is more proper for the multitude to be sovereign than the few of greatest virtue. For it is possible that the many, though not individually good men, yet when they come together may be better, not individually but collectively; for where there are many, each individual, it may be argued, has some portion of virtue and wisdom, and when they have come together, just as the multitude becomes a single man with many feet and many hands and many senses, so also it becomes one personality as regards the moral and intellectual faculties. This is why the general public is a better judge” .
Aristotle has a reservation concerning the participation of common people in high and very important offices/positions fearing that they might show lack of sound judgment and thus injustice might occur. On the other hand, he thinks that it is dangerous if these people do not have access to political offices at all because the polis in which the many are barred from political office and participation is a polis full of enemies and in constant danger. All people, therefore, must have right to take part in the decision-making process and take up public offices, and to participate in the judicial and legislative power .
We will now turn to the best type of democracy which Aristotle calls ‘politeia’. This is the type of constitution which Aristotle recommends. Probably, we should call it ‘nomocracy’ because in it the law / nomos has a predominant position as the highest political principle regulating both governance and policy.
In polity, the highest political principle is governance by law – the good law. Those who govern do so, in other words, in order to decide about the particulars of a multidimensional everyday life, for which general laws do not provide. The constitution of polity does not mean only a state of popular sovereignty – government of the majority over a minority. It is first and foremost a polity that the laws govern – they have the ultimate power over both majority and minority. The power that majority has in this system must be (and is) within the framework of the sovereignty of the laws: so both the rights of the minority are preserved, and the rulers cannot exercise their power in an arbitrary manner. Both the kind and quality of the laws depend on the type of the constitution and on the quality of citizens. There are, therefore, many differences with regard to the laws of democracy, oligarchy, aristocracy, and tyranny.
Regarding the relation between the law and the ruler Aristotle’s stance is clear-cut. According to him, it is better that the laws govern, rather than one or more rulers. The rulers have to follow the law, to govern in the name of the law and both their behaviour and decisions must be limited and governed by the letter and spirit of the law. The rulers must govern as the guardians and servants of the laws and only the laws . Aristotle compares law with God and the human being with a beast because of his passions. The law is like mind/reason without passions; the rulers, on the other hand, even the most excellent, can be under the influence of desire and anger .
Polity is, according to Aristotle, the constitution of the middle. It can be a mixed polity consisting of rich, poor, and citizens of the middle class. When the middle social class is more numerous and more powerful in the polity – i.e. when the majority of the citizens are of satisfactory economic position and also have moral excellence which is the middle between the two extremes, that is between exaggeration and lack – then the ideal form of polity is established in the sense of a mixed constitution of the middle class. This kind of polity has duration and guarantees security because it offers not only a safe and peaceful life, but also the well-being of the community’s members, that is, eudaimonia. It is clear that with respect to eudaimonia an economic middle ground is the best case .
When politeia happens to be the constitution of the middle class, it guarantees the greatest security and endurance because the people who belong to this social class are neither jealous of the wealth of the rich nor do they possess so much wealth so that the poorer would become jealous of them. The possession of a moderate amount of wealth together with the possession of moral excellence [virtue] make the human being moderate and prudent and thus he can follow the rules of reason and common sense. Moderate economic position protects the individual from the development of passions and excessive desires. Citizens of the middle class are not obsessed with power, and are people with no insecurities and complexes. They are the best people to serve and promote the common good – that is the good of the rich, the poor and the middle class.
Aristotle proposes the constitution of politeia because this kind of polity is both democratic and aristocratic. It is democratic because all the citizens have the right to vote. It is aristocratic because the offices are distributed according to merit, excellence, and education. Aristotle does not believe in the arithmetic equality and justice but in the analogical and meritocratic equality and justice. For him justice is to give equal to people who are equal; and injustice is to give to people who are not equal, the equal. The kind of democracy that sees as equal the people who are not equal in merit is not just. This type of democracy is a political system that is not creative and productive and it does not contribute to real progress. Of course, all citizens are equal because they are free, because they are human beings and because they are equal before the law. They are however unequal in terms of virtue and knowledge and in many respects in terms of physical, and intellectual attributes. Aristotle respects the values of freedom and equality as much as they should be respected, on the other hand he accepts intellectual inequalities and he thinks that those inequalities must be utilized in a proper way for the common good. So he is both democratic and a radical aristocratic in his views. With his heart, Aristotle is an aristocrat; with his mind, he is a democrat. The prism through which Aristotle sees the world is teleological. He sees everything via its purpose, and the ultimate purpose for him is the common good and eudaimonia of virtue. That is why, he proposes the constitution of politeia which is at the same time democratic and aristocratic.