Saturday, November 24, 2007

Aristotle on Democracy

It's paper writing season here at the ITI and I just finished writing a 7 pager on a particular point in Aristotle's Politics. Whilst doing some research I came across an interesting passage in Peter L. Phillips Simpson's A Philosophical Commentary on the Politics of Aristotle. He makes a rather provactive (but spot on) application of Aristotle's assertion that democracy is an intrinsically deviant and corrupt form of government:

"A modern liberal democracy does not rule for noble living (it does not use rule to make people virtuous), but rather for allowing everyone the freedom to pursue, as far as possible, their own idea of advantage (or of happiness). Thus such a modern liberal democracy is not ruling for the common advantage. It is really ruling for the advantage, or for the continuance in rule, of those who believe that the regime should not use rule to make people virtuous. It is accordingly a deviant regime and is ruling for the advantage of the rulers only. By contrast, a modern regime that did rule to make people virtuous, and used the laws to prohibit vicious and promote virtuous behavior, would, according to Aristotle, be ruling for the common advantage. Hence it would be a correct regime. The fact that it was preventing people from living as they liked, and was forcing them instead to live in ways the rulers liked, would not, contrary to prevailing modern opinions, make it deviant or unjust" (p. 153).
Click here for Boniface's post "Do Vice Laws Work?" on the question of whether or not our laws should or could be used to try to instill virtue and discourage vice.

1 comment:

Gimignano said...

This is of much interest to me, because since taking a course on Plato's Republic, where the philosopher claims that democracy leads to tyranny, I have encountered many important persons who have said the exact same thing. I have seen, in context, G. K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot, and JRR Tolkien all claim that democracy leads to slavery. St. Thomas Aquinas also said that Monarchy is best. I knew Aristotle would join this group one day....
Also, I gave an inactive email last time ( If you still care to forward me your paper on the Papacy, you may do so here: