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Aristotle: “Politics”, Book Six, Part 1, 350 B.C.E.
We have now considered the varieties of the deliberative or supreme power in states, and the various arrangements of law-courts and state offices, and which of them are adapted to different forms of government. We have also spoken of the destruction and preservation of constitutions, how and from what causes they arise.
Of democracy and all other forms of government there are many kinds; and it will be well to assign to them severally the modes of organization which are proper and advantageous to each, adding what remains to be said about them. Moreover, we ought to consider the various combinations of these modes themselves; for such combinations make constitutions overlap one another, so that aristocracies have an oligarchical character, and constitutional governments incline to democracies.
When I speak of the combinations which remain to be considered, and thus far have not been considered by us, I mean such as these: when the deliberative part of the government and the election of officers is constituted oligarchically, and the law-courts aristocratically, or when the courts and the deliberative part of the state are oligarchical, and the election to office aristocratical, or when in any other way there is a want of harmony in the composition of a state.
I have shown already what forms of democracy are suited to particular cities, and what of oligarchy to particular peoples, and to whom each of the other forms of government is suited. Further, we must not only show which of these governments is the best for each state, but also briefly proceed to consider how these and other forms of government are to be established.
First of all let us speak of democracy, which will also bring to light the opposite form of government commonly called oligarchy. For the purposes of this inquiry we need to ascertain all the elements and characteristics of democracy, since from the combinations of these the varieties of democratic government arise. There are several of these differing from each other, and the difference is due to two causes. One (1) has been already mentioned- differences of population; for the popular element may consist of husbandmen, or of mechanics, or of laborers, and if the first of these be added to the second, or the third to the two others, not only does the democracy become better or worse, but its very nature is changed. A second cause (2) remains to be mentioned: the various properties and characteristics of democracy, when variously combined, make a difference. For one democracy will have less and another will have more, and another will have all of these characteristics. There is an advantage in knowing them all, whether a man wishes to establish some new form of democracy, or only to remodel an existing one. Founders of states try to bring together all the elements which accord with the ideas of the several constitutions; but this is a mistake of theirs, as I have already remarked when speaking of the destruction and preservation of states. We will now set forth the principles, characteristics, and aims of such states.
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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