Aristotle's Arguments for Democracy
Aristotle’s arguments for democracy are based on his concepts of the citizen, the city, and the constitution. Since “a citizen…shares for any period of time in judicial and deliberative office” (Barker 84), it is already clear that the people, politai, of the city, polis, are involved in making laws and in the rule of the city regardless of where they live or whether they are involved in litigation. The form of association in which the inhabitants of a city organize their lives is the constitution, politeia. All three Greek words are linked in meaning to the idea that people rule, demos=people, cracy=rule.
Aristotle goes further, though, and like his mentor, Plato, teaches that the aim, indeed “the principle of a constitution is its concept of justice” (Barker 102). However, unlike Plato’s argument in The Republic for an oligarchy ruled by guardian philosopher kings, Aristotle contends that the principle of justice, which is “the promotion of a good quality of life” (Barker 103) fundamentally differentiates democracy from oligarchy. Both the democratic and oligarchic ideas of justice are necessarily faulty in their views of equality because their conceptions are restricted to their own self-defined interests, whereas the true nature of justice is to establish a “proportion between the things produced and those to whom they are distributed” (Barker 103). This is, of course, the famous “Golden Mean” that was so much a part of Greek culture. In terms of justice, this means that “those who have contributed to the end of the city should have privileges in proportion to their contribution to that end” Barker 103).
How does this equality work in an oligarchy and democracy? Is it just for a person who has contributed a dollar to share in an enterprise with an oligarch who has contributed a hundred dollars? It is not just but only if, Aristotle says, the acquisition of property and land wealth is the only reason people come together to form a civil community. Since he...