Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, his writings and teachings covered many areas of information. His expertise expanded from science to logic, and his ideas shaped many subjects that are commonly used today. Aristotle’s influence can also be found in Christianity, virtue, and ethics, just to name a few. His thoughts and rational can be found in many places, including the United States government, if you know what you are looking for.
Aristotle was the student of Plato and grew to be the teacher and mentor of Alexander the Great. His work was well thought out and very influential. Many subjects that are commonly used to date would not be the same, or may not have expanded nearly as far as they have, if they had not been influenced by Aristotle. He had strong view points on many topics, one being government rule. He was very much focused on the holds of the government on the people and the way that the government was laid out. He developed a philosophical view on the proven strengths and weaknesses of many types of government and the problems they may cause.
In the United States, our founding fathers turned, in part, to Aristotle’s wisdom and guidance to lead the creation of our democracy, and guide their search for a fair and just government for their citizens; however, Aristotle’s theory was based on a small city-state type people and not a large, highly populated setting. The founding fathers of the United States government did not heed his warnings on the affects of a government that becomes so large it cannot be overthrown can quickly or the logic that a governments such as this can quickly become a tyranny.
Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. as a native of Stagira, Thrace. He was a star pupil of Aristocles, who was nicknamed Plato. Aristotle and Plato did not always see things the same way; after all, philosophy involves a great deal of thinking and everyone’s thought process works differently depending on their background, raising, and life experience (Aristotle 2009).
Aristotle, however, was not just a philosopher he was also a scientist, so he looked for scientific reason and pattern in what he learned and taught. After Plato died, Aristotle decided that he would go on his own adventure which led him to thirteen year old Alexander the Great and later opened his own school of philosophy which he named Lyceum .
The government where Aristotle was from was different than the one we are used to today. Each city was mostly run independent from all others. Each had rules, customs, and traditions that may have slightly differed from the surrounding cities. These differences could be as simple as who was accepted as a citizen, and even the terms for citizenship the terms differed considerably throughout the land. Aristotle took note of the types of government that he felt was right and wrong as he had witnessed. According to the Constitutional Rights Foundation they are:
“Rulers Right —————–(Common Interest)———————- Wrong (Personal Interest)
One —————————- Kingship ————————————Tyranny
Few —————————–Aristocracy ——————————-Oligarchy
Many —————————Polity —————————————-Democracy”
Aristotle felt that the “Kingship” was flawed due to there being only one person involved and there being room for emotional mistakes from the king. In a monarchy there is no room for emotion; however, it is almost impossible to avoid emotions affecting one’s decision. For this reason, Aristotle felt that a king should not be able to make decisions without some form of group being in partial decision to level out and block emotional decisions that did not benefit the people. Aristotle felt that over time, the power of being king leads to the feeling of domination and neglect to duties which would eventually lead to tyranny, a self serving king who makes decision based on personal want instead of need of the people he rules .
An aristocracy is a society that is ruled by the wealthy. Among the wealthy at this time were the school educated men that were able to pay for an education. Education in itself gave them “superior intellect”. When this type of government is ran right, all citizens benefit, but if the rulers become greedy and ignore the needs of all, it can become corrupt and lead to a society that is ruled by the rich, for the rich.
Aristotle saw democracy as a failed form of government. Then as it is now, a democracy was run by the people, for the people. However, in the day of Aristotle, many were barely educated or not educated at all, and anyone could vote or be voted for. In this time, most of the people were poor and under educated at best. They had more votes than the upper class and this power caused corruption. They overtaxed and confiscated property to gain more attempting to bring themselves out of poverty.
In other words he felt that “a democracy could easily become a tyranny with many heads.” He did however feel that democracy could have strong points if structured sufficiently. “There is this to be said for the Many,” he wrote in The Politics. “Each of them by himself may not be of a good quality; but when they all come together it is possible that they may surpass…the quality of the few best”. After which, Aristotle decided that, in the chart above, if two of the wrong types of government were mixed together in one government it would create a “two wrongs equal a right” situation balancing out into a properly ran government .
“A happy man must have external goods, goods of the body (e.g. health), and goods of the soul (virtue) (Politics 2012). Some think that a very moderate amount of virtue is enough, but set no limit to their desires of wealth, property, power, reputation and the like. But experience shows that happiness… is more often found with those who are most highly cultivated in their mind and in their character, and have only a moderate share of external goods, than among those who possess external goods to a useless extent but are deficient in higher qualities.
Activity is not to be construed too narrowly: thinking is activity. Not that a life of action must necessarily have relation to others, as some persons think, nor are those ideas only to be regarded as practical which are pursued for the sake of practical results, but much more the thoughts and contemplations which are independent and complete in themselves .”
In essence, Aristotle is speaking of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that we in the United States share. When contemplating how to run our early government, our founding fathers turned to the elements of government, the deliberative, the executive, and the judicial spoken of by Aristotle (Politics 2012) . He believed that splitting the government into segments that did not allow full decision making privilege to any one part was ideal for government, since it would remove the emotional self serving bias that is human nature. Our founding fathers agreed, since the country was new and many wanted more than even the land would allow, they felt that balancing the governmental power was best for the sake of all involved .
In the case of the American government, the system is set up with the executive, legislative, and judicial portions making up our government. The balance of governmental power is known as checks and balances, basically, no one part of the government can make a complete self-weighted decision affecting the citizens, without first having it passed through the other sections. All officials are placed in office via election of some sort and all may be removed if the people feel that they are not correctly representing the majority point of view.
Given the ideas of that were presented by Aristotle, the framers of the constitution left the people a way out if they felt their government was overpowering. At anytime the American people may rise up and take back the government, removing all persons from office. However, this is not something that has ever been done and probably never will be done.
The amount of power held by the United States government and the sheer numbers of the American public would cause a definite chaos if the current government was abolished. The amount of turmoil that would be caused and the up rise of serious danger that people would witness, if the weight of the government were removed, is something that the majority is not willing to face .
Many believe that America is a “free country” which is not the case at all. The constitution gives us freedoms, but not a declaration that it is a free country. As with everything in life, for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The action always determines the reaction. So in essence you may be free to do as you wish, but if there is a negative outcome, you will face a negative outcome (i.e., jail) .
Our government, while established long after Aristotle’s death, was greatly affected by him. The ideas that were created by Aristotle while studying government have been very beneficial to the United States people. However; the founders of our government could not have imagined how large our country would grow or the power that was needed to contain the numbers. Choosing a government that is best suited for a small population of people may not have been the best choice for our current time, but it has developed into a semi-successful solution for the current American public.
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Miller, F. (2002, July 19). Aristotle’s Political Theory. Retrieved August 22, 2010, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-politics/
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(2012). Politics. Retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/ari/pol/pol07.htm
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University, M. (1996). Tape 5: aristotle, the politics. Retrieved from http://www.humanities.mq.edu.au/Ockham/y6704.html