Aristotle’s Politics


I’ll put my cards on the table.  I actively dislike Greek philosophy.  I will be fair and admit that Aristotle is a fairly good communicator, and despite his worldview, he stumbles across the truth every now and then.  And while he never really gets to a coherent statement on justice, he’s important to read on that point.  Given that many “woke” evangelicals are talking about social justice (but never defining it), Aristotle is at least a starting point.

(1) Every community is established with an aim to some good.

Aristotle begins with the most basic social unit and moves outward (family, village, city).

1.1 If the family is natural, and the movements outward are natural, then the state is a natural unity.

The Art of Getting Wealth

Legitimate economics: managing a household

“Retail trade is not a natural part of the art of getting wealth” (1.9.17).  This is important and will doom his entire project.

Usury: makes a gain out of money itself.  The proper use of money is exchange, not to grow money from money.

I used to hold to that argument. I’m not so sure anymore. It only works if we view value as something objective.  But value is anything but objective.  The whole point of an exchange is that we don’t place equal value on the object.

What is a state? Who is the citizen?  He notes that a citizen under one government might not be one under another. For the sake of argument he will assume democracy.  A citizen is the holder of a definite office, who legislates and judges, etc. (Book 3 ch. 1). A citizen shares in rulership. This is actually a pretty good definition, though it works better on smaller levels.

The chief end of a state is the well-being of the citizens

Justice: implies a relation to persons as well as things; a just distribution (Book 3; chapter 9).  He realizes this discussion is inadequate 9 pages later: “equality or inequality of what?” He hints that what is “just” or equal will be to the advantage of the common good.

Book 4

His famous discussion of monarchy, oligarchy, and democracy.  And their perversions. He defines democracy as the form of govt where the free are rulers (IV.4).  He comes to a surprising and welcome conclusion: the best society is the one with a large middle class.  This comes very close to a biblical worldview. It is not a biblical worldview, however, for Aristotle despises things like retail trade.  But a society with a large middle class is one that understands the value of time, risk, and planning. In other words, it presupposes the doctrine of providence.  Aristotle, however, doesn’t really get this, nor could he.

This is why we should not go to Aristotle for economic wisdom.  For the godly man, time is not evil.  It is limited and under the curse, but it also provides the conditions for planning for the future and building wealth.

Book VII

This book begins on a chilling note: what are the most eligible forms of life?  This sounds a lot like the death camps we would have seen under the worst acts of the Affordable Care Act.  This is also good Greek philosophy.

Before we examine why Aristotle thought it was good to kill some of the babies, we need to see why he said it.  He didn’t believe an overly-populated city was a good thing. That’s a half-truth. Many large cities today aren’t very nice places.  He probably couldn’t see past the city-state idea. You can have many people in a country if you have lots of smaller cities. That’s one example.

With this background, his following comments, while evil, cohere with his system.  This is his argument:

(1) To the size of states there is a limit (1326a 35).

(2) The legislator must mold to his will the frames of newly-born children (1335a 5)

(3) As to the exposure and rearing of children, let there be a law that no deformed child shall live, but that on the ground of an excess in the number of children, if the established customs of this state forbid this (for in our state population has a limit), no child is to be exposed, but when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun (1335b 20-25).

Is it really necessary to refute this?  Where to start? I’ll leave with an observation: given Aristotle’s anti-market views, his state population would always be extremely limited. That made abortion a pressing reality.  Therefore, his bad economics upheld his pro-choice mentality.




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