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Aristotle: “Politics”, Book Five, Part 11, 350 B.C.E.
Monarchies, in a word, are preserved by means contrary to what I have already mentioned as the cause of their destruction; but to speak to each separately: the stability of a kingdom will depend upon the power of the king’s being kept within moderate bounds; for by how much the less extensive his power is, by so much the longer will his government continue; for he will be less despotic and more upon an equality of condition with those he governs; who, on that account, will envy him the less.
It was on this account that the kingdom of the Molossi continued so long; and the Lacedaemonians from their government’s being from the beginning divided into two parts, and also by the moderation introduced into the other parts of it by Theopompus, and his establishment of the ephori; for by taking something from the power he increased the duration of the kingdom, so that in some measure he made it not less, but bigger; as they say he replied to his wife, who asked him if he was not ashamed to deliver down his kingdom to his children reduced from what he received it from his ancestors? No, says he, I give it him more lasting. Tyrannies are preserved two ways most opposite to each other, one of which is when the power is delegated from one to the other, and in this manner many tyrants govern in their states. Report says that Periander founded many of these. There are also many of them to be met with amongst the Persians. What has been already mentioned is as conducive as anything can be to preserve a tyranny; namely, to keep down those who are of an aspiring disposition, to take off those who will not submit, to allow no public meals, no clubs, no education, nothing at all, but to guard against everything that gives rise to high spirits or mutual confidence; nor to suffer the learned meetings of those who are at leisure to hold conversation with each other; and to endeavour by every means possible to keep all the people strangers to each other; for knowledge increases mutual confidence; and to oblige all strangers to appear in public, and to live near the city-gate, that all their actions may be sufficiently seen; for those who are kept like slaves seldom entertain any noble thoughts: in short, to imitate everything which the Persians and barbarians do, for they all contribute to support slavery; and to endeavour to know what every one who is under their power does and says; and for this purpose to employ spies: such were those women whom the Syracusians called potagogides Hiero also used to send out listeners wherever there was any meeting or conversation; for the people dare not speak with freedom for fear of such persons; and if any one does, there is the less chance of its being concealed; and to endeavour that the whole community should mutually accuse and come to blows with each other, friend with friend, the commons with the nobles, and the rich with each other. It is also advantageous for a tyranny that all those who are under it should be oppressed with poverty, that they may not be able to compose a guard; and that, being employed in procuring their daily bread, they may have no leisure to conspire against their tyrants. The Pyramids of Egypt are a proof of this, and the votive edifices of the Cyposelidse, and the temple of Jupiter Olympus, built by the Pisistratidae, and the works of Polycrates at Samos; for all these produced one end, the keeping the people poor. It is necessary also to multiply taxes, as at Syracuse; where Dionysius in the space of five years collected all the private property of his subjects into his own coffers. A tyrant also should endeavour to engage his subjects in a war, that they may have employment and continually depend upon their general. A king is preserved by his friends, but a tyrant is of all persons the man who can place no confidence in friends, as every one has it in his desire and these chiefly in their power to destroy him. All these things also which are done in an extreme democracy should be done in a tyranny, as permitting great licentiousness to the women in the house, that they may reveal their husbands’ secrets; and showing great indulgence to slaves also for the same reason; for slaves and women conspire not against tyrants: but when they are treated with kindness, both of them are abettors of tyrants, and extreme democracies also; and the people too in such a state desire to be despotic. For which reason flatterers are in repute in both these: the demagogue in the democracy, for he is the proper flatterer of the people; among tyrants, he who will servilely adapt himself to their humours; for this is the business of [1314a] flatterers. And for this reason tyrants always love the worst of wretches, for they rejoice in being flattered, which no man of a liberal spirit will submit to; for they love the virtuous, but flatter none. Bad men too are fit for bad purposes; “like to like,” as the proverb says. A tyrant also should show no favour to a man of worth or a freeman; for he should think, that no one deserved to be thought these but himself; for he who supports his dignity, and is a friend to freedom, encroaches upon the superiority and the despotism of the tyrant: such men, therefore, they naturally hate, as destructive to their government. A tyrant also should rather admit strangers to his table and familiarity than citizens, as these are his enemies, but the others have no design against him. These and such-like are the supports of a tyranny, for
it comprehends whatsoever is wicked. But all these things may be comprehended in three divisions, for there are three objects which a tyranny has in view; one of which is, that the citizens should be of poor abject dispositions; for such men never propose to conspire against any one. The second is, that they should have no confidence in each other; for while they have not this, the tyrant is safe enough from destruction. For which reason they are always at enmity with those of merit, as hurtful to their government; not only as they scorn to be governed despotically, but also because they can rely upon each other’s fidelity, and others can rely upon theirs, and because they will not inform against their associates, nor any one else. The third is, that they shall be totally without the means of doing anything; for no one undertakes what is impossible for him to perform: so that without power a tyranny can never be destroyed. These, then, are the three objects which the inclinations of tyrants desire to see accomplished; for all their tyrannical plans tend to promote one of these three ends, that their people may neither have mutual confidence, power, nor spirit. This, then, is one of the two methods of preserving tyrannies: the other proceeds in a way quite contrary to what has been already described, and which may be discerned from considering to what the destruction of a kingdom is owing; for as one cause of that is, making the government approach near to a tyranny, so the safety of a tyranny consists in making the government nearly kingly; preserving only one thing, namely power, that not only the willing, but the unwilling also, must be obliged to submit; for if this is once lost, the tyranny is at an end. This, then, as the foundation, must be preserved: in other particulars carefully do and affect to seem like a king; first, appear to pay a great attention [1314b] to what belongs to the public; nor make such profuse presents as will offend the people; while they are to supply the money out of the hard labour of their own hands, and see it given in profusion to mistresses, foreigners, and fiddlers; keeping an exact account both of what you receive and pay; which is a practice some tyrants do actually follow, by which means they seem rather fathers of families than tyrants: nor need you ever fear the want of money while you have the supreme power of the state in your own hands. It is also much better for those tyrants who quit their kingdom to do this than to leave behind them money they have hoarded up; for their regents will be much less desirous of making innovations, and they are more to be dreaded by absent tyrants than the citizens; for such of them as he suspects he takes with him, but these regents must be left behind. He should also endeavour to appear to collect such taxes and require such services as the exigencies of the state demand, that whenever they are wanted they may be ready in time of war; and particularly to take care that he appear to collect and keep them not as his own property, but the public’s. His appearance also should not be severe, but respectable, so that he should inspire those who approach him with veneration and not fear; but this will not be easily accomplished if he is despised. If, therefore, he will not take the pains to acquire any other, he ought to endeavour to be a man of political abilities, and to fix that opinion of himself in the judgment of his subjects. He should also take care not to appear to be guilty of the least offence against modesty, nor to suffer it in those under him: nor to permit the women of his family to treat others haughtily; for the haughtiness of women has been the ruin of many tyrants. With respect to the pleasures of sense, he ought to do directly contrary to the practice of some tyrants at present; for they do not only continually indulge themselves in them for many days together, but they seem also to desire to have other witnesses of it, that they may wonder at their happiness; whereas he ought really to be moderate in these, and, if not, to appear to others to avoid them-for it is not the sober man who is exposed either to plots or contempt, but the drunkard; not the early riser, but the sluggard. His conduct in general should also be contrary to what is reported of former tyrants; for he ought to improve and adorn his city, so as to seem a guardian and not a tyrant; and, moreover., always to [1315a] seem particularly attentive to the worship of the gods; for from persons of such a character men entertain less fears of suffering anything illegal while they suppose that he who governs them is religious and reverences the gods; and they will be less inclined to raise insinuations against such a one, as being peculiarly under their protection: but this must be so done as to give no occasion for any suspicion of hypocrisy. He should also take care to show such respect to men of merit in every particular, that they should not think they
could be treated with greater distinction by their fellow-citizens in a free state. He should also let all honours flow immediately from himself, but every censure from his subordinate officers and judges. It is also a common protection of all monarchies not to make one person too great, or, certainly, not many; for they will support each other: but, if it is necessary to entrust any large powers to one person, to take care that it is not one of an ardent spirit; for this disposition is upon every opportunity most ready for a revolution: and, if it should seem necessary to deprive any one of his power, to do it by degrees, and not reduce him all at once. It is also necessary to abstain from all kinds of insolence; more particularly from corporal punishment; which you must be most cautious never to exercise over those who have a delicate sense of honour; for, as those who love money are touched to the quick when anything affects their property, so are men of honour and principle when they receive any disgrace: therefore, either never employ personal punishment, or, if you do, let it be only in the manner in which a father would correct his son, and not with contempt; and, upon the whole, make amends for any seeming disgrace by bestowing greater honours. But of all persons who are most likely to entertain designs against the person of a tyrant, those are chiefly to be feared and guarded against who regard as nothing the loss of their own lives, so that they can but accomplish their purpose: be very careful therefore of those who either think themselves affronted, or those who are dear to them; for those who are excited by anger to revenge regard as nothing their own persons: for, as Heraclitus says, it is dangerous to fight with an angry man who will purchase with his life the thing he aims at. As all cities are composed of two sorts of persons, the rich and the poor, it is necessary that both these should find equal protection from him who governs them, and that the one party should not have it in their power to injure the other; but that the tyrant should attach to himself that party which is the most powerful; which, if he does, he will have no occasion either to make his slaves free, or to deprive citizens of their arms; for the strength of either of the parties added to his own forces will render him superior to any conspiracy. It would be superfluous to go through all particulars; for the rule of conduct which the tyrant ought to pursue is evident enough, and that is, to affect to appear not the tyrant, but the king; the guardian of those he governs, not their plunderer, [1315b] but their protector, and to affect the middle rank in life, not one superior to all others: he should, therefore, associate his nobles with him and soothe his people; for his government will not only be necessarily more honourable and worthy of imitation, as it will be over men of worth, and not abject wretches who perpetually both hate and fear him; but it will be also more durable. Let him also frame his life so that his manners may be consentaneous to virtue, or at least let half of them be so, that he may not be altogether wicked, but only so in part.
Translated by Benjamin Jowett. The copyright for the original of this document is held in the Public Domain. Font, formatting, spelling modernizations, typo/transcription corrections, and explanatory footnotes for this version of Aristotle’s “Politics” Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and Self-Educated American.
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