Aristotle and the theory of Law and Statecraft | Aristotle Thoery

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of philosophy within the Lyceum and the wider Aristotelian tradition He known as The Philosopher in West he gave the idea and the theory of statecraft  
Aristotle and the theory of Law and Statecraft | Aristotle Thoery
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Introduction 

The Greek philosopher Aristotle made significant and lasting contributions to nearly every aspect of human knowledge, from logic to biology to ethics and aesthetics. Though overshadowed in classical times by the work of his teacher Plato, from late antiquity through the Enlightenment, Aristotle’s surviving writings were incredibly influential. In Arabic philosophy, he was known simply as “The First Teacher”; in the West, he was “The Philosopher.

Life and teachings 

Aristotle (384–322 B.C.)Born in the north of Greece, Aristotle came from a family linked to the kingdom of Macedon. His father worked for the king as a court doctor.

When Aristotle grew up, he studied philosophy at Plato’s Academy for 20 years, leaving when Plato died. He traveled and then tutored the king of Macedon’s 13-year-old son, Alexander (the future Alexander the Great).

When Alexander became king of Macedon in 335 B.C., Aristotle returned to Athens to set up his own school, called the Lyceum. He studied, catalogued, lectured, debated, and wrote about every area of human knowledge.

Aristotle exile

Aristotle spent many years teaching in Athens, which was under the control of Macedon. When Alexander the Great died, however, anti-Macedonians took control of Athens. Linked to Macedon, Aristotle was accused of not accepting the gods of Athens, one of the same charges leveled against Socrates. Unlike Socrates, however, Aristotle did not stand trial. He fled to a home in the countryside, saying, as the story goes, that he did not want Athens to “sin twice against philosophy” (its first sin being the execution of Socrates). Aristotle died the following year in exile.

Major work

The writings of Aristotle amount to the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy. 

  • Nicomachean Ethics
  • Politics
  • Metaphysics
  • Poetics
  • On the Soul (De Anima)


Aristotle’s Politics

When describing man as a ‘political animal’, Aristotle argues that the polis – or city state – is humanity’s natural habitat. Politics, meaning ‘things concerning the polis’, explores the best ways that man might live in society and describes how royalty, aristocracy and constitutional government corrupt to become tyranny, oligarchy and democracy. For Aristotle, different species have naturally occurring and fixed characteristics.

Although Plato had been his teacher, Aristotle disagreed with much of Plato’s philosophy. Plato was an idealist, who believed that everything had an ideal form. Aristotle believed in looking at the real world and studying it.

Like Plato, Aristotle, wrote extensively on the subjects of tyranny and the rule of law. He hoped that his Politics, a collection of essays on government, would provide direction for rulers, statesmen, and politicians.

Law and statecraft 

In The Politics, Aristotle rejected Plato’s ideal state. He said that it fails to address conflicts that will arise among its citizens. He claimed Plato’s ideal state will

Contain two states in one, each hostile to the other. Plato makes the guardians the warriors into a mere occupying garrison, while the husbandmen and artisans and the rest are the real citizens. But if so, the suits and quarrels and all the evils which Socrates affirms to exist in other states, will exist equally among them. He says indeed that ‘having so good an education, the citizens will not need many laws, but then he confines his education to the guardians.


Unlike The Republic, The Politics does not depict an ideal system of government. Instead, Aristotle explored practical constitutions that city-states can realistically put into effect. His aim was to “consider, not only what form of government is best, but also what is possible and what is easily attainable.”

He studied the different governments in Greece’s many city-states. He identified six different kinds of constitutions, and he classified them as either “true” or “defective.” 

He stated that

Governments which have a regard to the common interest are constituted in accordance with strict principles of justice, and are which true forms; but those which regard only the interest of the rulers are all defective and perverted forms, for they are despotic.

  1.  “True” constitutions served the common interests of all citizens. “Despotic” constitutions served only the selfish interests of a certain person or group. 
  2. Tyranny perverts monarchy, because it “has in view the interest of the monarch only.” To Aristotle, tyranny is the
  3. Arbitrary power of an individual. Responsible to no one which governs with a view to its own advantage, not to that of its subjects, and against their will.
  4. Aristotle wrote, “No freeman, if he can escape from such a government.”
  5. Aristotle believed that tyranny is the “very reverse of a constitution.” He explained that
  6. “Where the laws have no authority there is no constitution. The law ought to be supreme over all”.

Aristotle stressed that these laws must uphold just principles, such that “true forms of government will of necessity have just laws, and perverted forms of government will have unjust laws.”   

Aristotle held views similar to Plato’s about the dangers of democracy and oligarchy. He feared that both pitted the rich against the poor. But he recognized that these types of governments took many forms. The worst were those without the rule of law. In democracies without law, demagogues (leaders appealing to emotions) took over.

For in Democracies where the laws are not supreme, demagogues spring up. This sort of democracy.  Monarchy is to other forms of tyranny. The spirit of both is the same, and they alike exercise a despotic rule over the better citizens.  Such a democracy is fairly open to the objection that it is not a constitution at all; for where the laws have no authority, there is no constitution. The law ought to be supreme over all. 

Aristotle made the same argument about oligarchies.

When the rulers have great wealth and numerous friends, this sort of family individuals rule and not the law.

Aristotle stated that “the rule of law is preferable to that of any individual.” This is because individuals possess flaws and could tailor government to their own individual interests, whereas the rule of law is objective.

He who bids the law rule may be deemed to bid God where Reason alone rule, but he who bids man rule adds an element of the beast for desire is a wild beast and passion perverts the minds of rulers even when they are the best of men. The law is reason unaffected by desire.

Rulers must be “the servants of the laws,” because “law is order, and good law is good order.”

In addition to law, Aristotle believed a large middle class would protect against the excesses of oligarchy and democracy:

The best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes. For the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant.

Best statecraft is polity 

In fact, one of Aristotle’s true forms of government is a polity, a combination of oligarchy and democracy. This type of state arises when the middle class is strong.  The goal of Aristotle’s concept of ‘polity’ is not only to accomplish the best form of government, but also to achieve the form of the best life.

The right kind of democracy is a polity: An ideal democracy that governs for the interests of all, not just the leadership.

The success of a polity is dependent on the quality of the leadership and accomplish of the common interest.

Nonetheless, the general principles – quality of laws, virtue, and the middle class – are worth considering.

Critically, “There are two parts of good government; one is the actual obedience of citizens to the laws, the other part is the goodness of the laws which they obey.” We must pay close attention to the content of the laws we’re following: They must constantly be reevaluated to make sure they remain consistent with the common interest.

A great democratic system should govern in their interests, cultivating a happy medium. This is one of the key characteristics of the polity.

The happy life is the life according to unrestricted virtue, and that virtue is a mean (average), then the life which is in a mean, and in a mean attainable by everyone, must be the best.

 It is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered, in which the middle class is large, and larger if possible than both the other classes (rich and poor).

The good fortune of a state in which the citizens have a moderate and sufficient property. Larger middle classes produce more stable states.  The middle class is key in the establishment and maintenance of a polity. Because they are not in extreme need nor extreme wealth, their assessment of the common interest will produce the greatest benefit for all members.

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Aristotle Philosphy

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