On the Basis of Democracy: Aristotle Part 1

I am so happy to be writing again. I took nearly a month off because the election just made me really want to stay out of politics. It was so demoralizing and embarrassing. Just glad that it’s over. Now with the election over and the reaction starting to cool down, I want to swing my blog into more a history based content. My true passion is history. This specific blog post is going to analyze some of the classic political writings and philosophers. Don’t worry I won’t bore you to death with just some biographies. I want to present a logical argument for a representative democracy. My last post touched on this with Alexander Hamilton writing the 68th Federalist paper. Just to recap, Hamilton presents an argument for the Electoral college that says that a small group of people who have the ability to make a decision is better than having it rest just on the everyday person. Hamilton argues that its crops out the corruption and makes sense when trying to determine who should be elected. Hamilton’s brilliant argument became my own in my defense of the Electoral college. I want to build on the representative nature of the Electoral college that makes our democracy so unique.

I want to introduce two figures of political history. One is an ancient greek and the other an Englishmen from the 17th century. Hamilton was so well versed in all political philosophers. It shows in his Federalist paper 68. I think that its important to know about where the founding fathers got their inspiration and at times their whole concept. Many people who I know and meet, are understandably ignorant on political philosophy. Unless you are a political fanatic or you love philosophy then you probably don’t know much about these two figures. For the sake of this blog post, I want present some of the most relevant theories of Aristotle and John Locke that regard democracy.

Democracy is synonymous with America. Democracy in latin means commoner. Democracy is associated with freedom. Democracy is in the words of Thomas Jefferson: ‘We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union’. (If you didn’t know, the preamble of the constitution starts like that) The question or argument that I will be presenting is simply what is the basis for a democracy? Why is Democracy such a successful system of government? These are just some of the questions that may or may not be answered because I don’t believe there is just one answer. History is not an exact science when it comes to the ‘Why’. (Also known as the five W’s: What, When, Where, Who and Why. A simple way to remember how to think about a historical topic)

Aristotle was greek philosopher and lived from 384 to 322 BCE. He wrote on hundreds of different topics ranging from family life to science to politics. One of his political writings is on democracy. First, you have to realize that Aristotle was a student of Plato who had a more utopian view of society. Aristotle was the first realist. He thought that the political community was the top of society. The political community is responsible for the education, health and governance of the rest. In his writings on the best democracy he lays out a few main points. One of these points about political community being a guide: “that human life has a telos and that the political community should provide education and laws that will lead to people pursuing and achieving this telos. Given that this is the case, a regime that allows people to do whatever they want is in fact flawed, for it is not guiding them in the direction of the good life.”  This is just a summary but in simpler terms, Aristotle believes that everyone has a spirit of good in them. This spirit of good needs to guided by the political community aka the democratic government to reach what he calls the good life or happy life.

Similar to Plato, who also believed that there was level of happiness that could be achieved that was above anything in the human experience. However unlike Plato, Aristotle believed that the best democracy was made up of farmers. His reasoning is that farmers or herders are less likely to assemble and own less land.  They offer a democracy the least path of resistance. You might conclude that some of the success of American democracy can be credited with large farming industry starting before and going well after the revolution. Aristotle thinks that a democracy made up of farmers and ruled by “This is a reason why the authoritative offices can be in the hands of the wealthy, as long as the people retain control of auditing and adjudication: “Those who govern themselves in this way must necessarily be finely governed. The offices will always be in the hands of the best persons, the people being willing and not envious of the respectable, while the arrangement is satisfactory for the respectable and notable. These will not be ruled by others who are their inferiors, and they will rule justly by the fact that others have authority over the audits” .  For the purpose of this argument, I think that Aristotle makes an interesting point with  words that I underlined. Let me explain.

What Aristotle means by authority over the audits is that the people must retain control of the budgets of public spending and they should be liable to be persecuted if there is wrongdoing. Aristotle considers adjudication as a right to fair trial by being judged by your peers. I find it so interesting that in ancient greek times, Aristotle is basically laying some constitutional principles that our founding fathers definitely included in our democracy. I also feel that politicians being liable to persecution is not met across the board with all public officials. I think that sometimes politicians are protected for personal gain and to avoid political suicide. Politics is literally a house of cards, because politicians depend on each other more than they let on.

I think Aristotle remains one of the most amazing and interesting philosophers. These writings occurred well over 2000 years ago. It makes you think about just how smart the Greeks were. Let me be honest though, the Greeks did not make the perfect government by any means. Their democracy in Athens was a true democracy with a senate. The voting took place with only land owning men. The politics were corrupt and dirty. There were demagogues that rose up and messed up their elections. However, the greeks set the stage for the Roman Empire which lasted 8 centuries and used a form of democracy for some of that time.

One of things I love about Aristotle is that he is a realist. His perspective mirrors my own in that the most capable people should be in a position to run the government. However, their power should not go unchecked. In a very indirect way, Aristotle is advocating for checks and balances,  the part where he says: “authoritative offices can be in the hands of the wealthy, as long as the people retain control of auditing and adjudication:” . The people need to be in control of the government. I believe this is a problem in our American democracy. We don’t hold the government accountable for anything. When it comes to spending our money or making foreign policy decisions.

To wrap this post up, I want to say in Aristotle’s view of democracy he had envision a simple concept where by the political community and the wealthy educate and govern the farmers and herders. However, the farmers and other common folk hold the purse strings and judge their peers. Aristotle contemplates a fair system of democracy that I believe gave us the foundation to America. America started out as farming settlement in North America. The wealthy men of the settlement decide to wage a revolution and break free from Britain over a variety of reasons including taxes. The ruling class has always been primarily wealthy. However, the biggest change is the modernization of farming which has led to its decline. This is the challenge to our future democracy.

Stay Tuned within a week for Part 2 on John Locke. Thank you for reading! Have a great day!

Citation text: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Advertisements

One thought on “On the Basis of Democracy: Aristotle Part 1

  1. Pingback: On the Basis of Democracy: John Locke, Part 2. – Garrett's Life Experience's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s