Nov 6, 2016
Aristotle on Three Parts of the Polity
In our polarized, nominally democratic, political processes, there are a number of things that often get lost. In my view, Aristotle sets his finger right on one of these, in a distinction he makes at a number of places in his works, most explicitly in the Politics. One can analyze contemporary politics in terms of an ongoing, argumentative clash between the interests of those who possess wealth, on the one side, and the many, who tend to be poor but also free, on the other. This certainly does capture part of the political dynamic.
Aristotle even goes so far as to say that the wealthy, powerful, and few have some legitimacy to their claims and arguments they make. And likewise, he says, so do the many, the free, those who are not wealthy. And, yet more importantly, as they press their own positions, they inevitably go further than they ought to, mistaking what highly qualified justice their side possesses for justice itself, and thereby engaging in some measure injustice, if their side wins. What's left out of the picture is what both of those sides also try to claim for themselves - virtue, that is moral goodness, excellence of character. Virtue itself puts forth claims, and they don't coincide with those of either set of interests, any party that claims to represent them. And without the virtuous - who would feel almost equally ill at ease in either of our major political parties here in the United States - the political community ends up becoming impoverished in important ways.
There's much more to be written about this topic, as I'll do once our election is over, the votes are counted, and we move on as a divided nation to our next particular set of political battles. . . .