The polis in Aristotle’s Politics

            The polis is the end of both the household and the village, providing both with their completion in the fullest sense. The polis allows for man to reach his end, or what is best.  Aristotle states, “Again, that for the sake of which [a thing exists], or the end, is what is best; and self-sufficiency is an end and what is best.”[1] Because the polis allows for self-sufficiency it is best above the other two. The polis is superior to the household and village because, “the whole must of necessity be prior to the part…”[2] The household and village are not capable of aiming at the highest and comprehensive goods since they only look and aim at the daily and non-daily needs of life. Since the polis aims at the highest and most comprehensive good, and the others do not, the polis must be superior to them both. Unlike the village, within the polis one can commit the great and noble deeds. Leo Strauss states, “the chief purpose of the city is the noble life…”[3] Yet our modern understanding of state is a partnership that provides for the common defense, ensures domestic tranquility, observes contracts, promotes the prosperity of the people, and provides for the execution of justice. The idea of self-sufficiency or the end of human life are not a concern of the modern state.

Therefore, the translation of polis as “state” is unwarranted. The understanding of state is far different than polis. H.D.F. Kitto states, “It is a bad translation, because the normal polis was not much like a city, and was very much more than a state.”[4] The modern understanding of the purpose of the “state” is that it should secure one’s ability to be happy, along with provide for common defense, ensure domestic tranquility, observe contracts, secure the prosperity of the people and provide for the execution of justice.  Yet the state, unlike the polis does not actually go so far as to ensure man reaches his end. The main purpose of the modern state is to “enable its members to exchange goods and services by protecting them against violence among themselves and foreigners….”[5] The modern state has very little interest in the moral condition of the citizens. Leo Strauss tells us, “In modern times it came to be believed that it is wiser to assume that happiness does not have a definite meaning since different men…have entirely different views as to what constitutes happiness.”[6] As a result to this, Strauss states, “Hence happiness or the highest good could no longer be the common good at which political society aims.”[7] We therefore see that the modern state differs most drastically from the polis on this matter. The ancient polis was aimed at the happiness of individuals, and the people believed in an ultimate good; although this ultimate good may not be the same for all, Aristotle believed there was not  much difference to matter.

The natural state of man can be said to be the polis. The political rule of the polis is the rule among equals. Within the polis everyone ought to be capable of ruling and being ruled. This is the fundamental aspect of the polis, that it is the partnership among equals. Other such partnerships that Aristotle mentions later in the Politics are the tribe and empire, which bothof these has a rule other than that of equals. Modern states are typically either nations (in a much more modern sense of the word) or empires. The understanding of state then is actually not political at all since the rule of the empire is that of master-slave and the tribe lacks civilization or a regime. Thus the alternatives to the polis are in fact non-political.

Aristotle believes that man cannot strive for his ultimate good outside of the polis. Man outside of the polis is not complete and therefore not a man living to his end. The purpose of the politics is to complete or create the good life, or human. The purpose of the polis is to allow man to achieve his ends, thus the political and polis goes hand in hand. The end of human existence, according to Aristotle, is happiness. “Each individual strives for happiness as he understands happiness”, states Leo Strauss, “This striving, which is partly competitive with and cooperatively with the strivings of everyone else, produces or constitutes a kind of web…”[8] The “web” is defined by Strauss as a “society”[9], the understanding of the polis as a society was to promote and help obtain happiness. By allowing man to be fully self-sufficient the city also allows man to strive for what one considers to be happiness.

Aristotle’s understanding of the political comes with his discussion of man as a political animal.Man enters into household and village to provide for his daily and non-daily needs and into the polis to provide for self-sufficiency. Outside of the political, as Aristotle quotes Homer, “he is ‘without clan, without law, without hearth’”.[10]Man is not man when he is outside of the polis, as Aristotle claims “[he] is either a mean sort or superior to man…”[11]From Aristotle’s quote of Homer we find that the political provides from clan (family, household), law (moral virtue, justice and the good), and the hearth. As for Aristotle, man outside of the political is either below man (thus not comprehending justice, injustice, good and bad) or superior to him.

Thus, man must be by nature a political animal because outside of the political he is not a man at all. Above all other creatures, man is a political animal because, “[man] alone has a perception of good and bad and just and unjust and other things [of this sort]…”[12]  The polis attempts to do what nature cannot, promote the good and just while punishing the bad and unjust. Because man alone has knowledge of good and just, bad and unjust he enters into the city because nature is unable to promote one and discourage the other. And ultimately Leo Strauss observes within Aristotle:

The city is by nature, i.e. the city is natural to man; in founding cities men only execute what their nature inclines them to do. Men are by nature inclined to the city because they are by nature inclined to happiness, to living together in a manner which satisfies the needs of their nature in proportion to the natural rank of these needs; the city, one is tempted to say, is the only association which is capable of being dedicated to the life of excellence.[13]

Man’s own nature is what pushes him into the polis, the polis as defined by Aristotle is the only institution that can allow man to be truly happy.  Man by nature strives to be happy, outside of the polis man cannot achieve the natural ends of man and thus man must live within the polis to be truly happy.     

            And yet finally Aristotle asserts the superiority of the polis over man himself. The polis is superior to the individual because household is superior to the individual and the polis is superior to the household. Aristotle states, “For if the individual when separated [from the city] is not self-sufficient, he will be in a condition similar to that of the other parts in relation to the whole.”[14] The relationship between the man and polis for Aristotle is that of the non self-sufficient and the self-sufficient, and the part and the whole. Man’s relationship to the polis as Aristotle sums it up, “One who is incapable of participating or who is in need of nothing through being self-sufficient is no part of a city, and so is either a beast or a god.”[15] The political, therefore, is the relationship between man and the polis. The partnership within the polis, or the regime, sets down the laws, and provides for family life. Without the regime the polis cannot exist, within the polis every person is capable of ruling or being ruled and thus the regime is the rule between equals. This type of rule is the most political of all rules.

            The modern conception of the state differs greatly from that of the polis. The polis is aimed at the complete life; the polis is the means of reaching the highest good or ultimate happiness. The state on the other hand is only concerned with the external; it is limited in the aspects of life. As a result, the word state cannot be used for polis and such the word polis has no English meaning. Political is the total relationship between people, and between men and the polis.

 [1]Aristotle’s Politics book 1 chapter 2 lines 1252b  33-34 & 1253a1

 [2]Aristotle’s Politics book 1 chapter 2 line 1253a 20

 [3]The City and Man by Leo Strauss, part 1 “On Aristotle’s Politics” page 31.

 [4]The City and Man by Leo Strauss, part 1 “On Aristotle’s Politics” page 31.

 5]The Greeks: The Polis ch. 5 by H.D.F. Kitto page 1 on word document.

 [6]The City and Man by Leo Strauss part 1 “On Aristotle’s Politics” page 32

 [7]The City and Man by Leo Strauss part 1 “On Aristotle’s Politics” page 31

 [8]The City and Man by Leo Strauss part 1 “On Aristotle’s Politics” page 31

 [9]The City and Man by Leo Strauss part 1 “On Aristotle’s Politics” page 32

 [10]The City and Man by Leo Strauss part 1 “On Aristotle’s Politics” page 32

 [11]Aristotle’s Politics book 1 chapter 2 lines 1253a  4-5

[12]Aristotle’s Politics book 1 chapter 2  line 1253a  4

 [13]Aristotle’s Politics book 1 chapter 2 line 1253a 16-17

 [14]The City and Man by Leo Strauss, part 1 “On Aristotle’s Politics” page 41

 [15]Aristotle’s Politics book 1 chapter 2 line 1253a  26-28

 [16]Aristotle’s Politics book 1 chapter 2 line 1253a 28-29

Published in: on March 24, 2008 at 16:20  Comments (1)  

Communization of Thought and Plato’s Republic

Former Associate Justice of the United States Potter Stewart once said, “Censorship reflects society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” Plato’s Republic presents the question of whether or not one can have private thought in the perfectly just city. This question expands itself into whether or not any regime, just or unjust, can survive without at least nominal communization of thought. It appears throughout history that communization of thought has always been attempted on some scale. Does the perfectly just city, however, require the communization of thought as every other city does?

Three central questions loom over us at the present time. Is it possible to have communization of thought, totally or at all? Can a regime survive with or without communization of thought? And finally, can the perfectly just city as Plato describes in the Republic have communization of thought and still be just?

In order to find whether it is possible to achieve communization of thought, one only need look back through history and find examples. To answer the question of whether or not communization of thought is possible I offer this argument. For 1500 years the Catholic Church was able to control the religious views of Western Europe with little resistance. For seventy years the Soviet Union was able to control the thought of most of Eastern Europe. For twelve years Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were able to indoctrinate the German people into National Socialist thought.[1]

When a class of educated American students is polled on whether communization of thought is possible each of them responds, “No. There is a right to private thought.” Thus they too demonstrate their lower education teachers have indoctrinated them well. In Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan he says, “it is his [the sovereign’s] duty to cause them so to be instructed; and not only his duty, but his benefit also, and security against the danger that may arrive to himself in his natural person from rebellion.”[2] This is an echo from Plato’s Republic, where Socrates asserts that the guardians must be educated so that they do not attack their own city but only their enemies.[3] Hobbes even goes on to say, “the people are to be taught, first, that they ought not to be in love with any form of government they see in their neighbor nations, more than with their own…”[4]  Once again Hobbes echo’s Socrates’ sentiments concerning the education.[5] This education has one goal in mind, to create a communization of thought among the guardian class.

We thus have three examples, out of many, of communization of thought in practice and an author who encourages the education of youth that is similar, though not the same, as that of the just city.

However, can a regime survive a communization of thought? Can it survive without communization of thought? Certainly one can view the Soviet Union and realize that what started the dissolution was the introduction of private thought into society. Socrates even asserts that communization of thought is necessary for the survival of the city.[6] In order to keep peace and order with in the city, and rebellion out of the city, Socrates proposes the introduction of the noble lie. He intends for this lie to make the citizens believe that they are all equals, and that they all have the same mother.[7] However, at the same time it is used to introduce the one person, one job theory through the analogy of the metals. This demonstrates the mixture of myth and law into the city, which allows for the communization of thought to be stronger than when it is simply done through myth or law. The founders of the city will also determine what is proper for the citizens to read, and what the proper manner they should be educated in is. Private thought will only be possible through the rose colored glasses of the regime; that is to say that the citizens may have private thought but it will reflect the beliefs of the regime as have been taught to the citizens. Certainly without some form of communization of thought, the city is unable to survive.

Finally we are asked to inquire whether the perfectly just city is able to have communization of thought, or private thought, and remain just. At the onset of the Republic, Socrates makes it appear that Athens is not a just city. In order to see what justice is Socrates suggests to Glaucon and Adeimantus that they should construct a just city in order to see where justice is at. Socrates does not suggest that they should examine Athens and determine where justice is in the city. By the beginning of book V Socrates is spurred on to discuss the communization of women and children despite not having completely formulated his position in his mind. It is from here that the reader is asked to ponder the question of communization of thought. Throughout the construction of this city, Socrates discusses the education of the citizens. This education leads to a communization of thought, but does not totally outlaw private thought as long as it reflects the regime’s beliefs.

Does this city truly have private thought? Citizens who speak against the beliefs of the regime are to be silenced. The works of Homer are not to be read by the citizens because they reflect a negative understanding of the gods by the regime.[8]  This city does not, in fact, have private thought because all thought is dependent on the beliefs of the regime. The just city will also allow for the philosopher to philosophize without being molested.  It appears that the city constructed by Socrates is not at all able to accommodate the philosopher.

In the process of discussing the city Glaucon says in response to Socrates, “I for one agree that our citizens must behave this way toward their opponents; and toward the barbarians they must behave as the Greeks do now toward one another.”[9] This city that has been constructed by Socrates, Glaucon and Adeimantus is a Greek city. Socrates has already alluded to the fact that the Greek cities are not just, as he seeks to construct the just city instead of examining it. Thus Socrates is asserting that the just city will not have communization of thought. He has demonstrated that it is possible to obtain communization in thought, but it is not the reflection of the perfectly just city. The just city will come into being when the philosopher is king. Freedom of thought is essential for the philosopher, who questions the conventions of the city. The philosopher questions the teachings of the city as if they are only opinion and not truth. Yet this city that has been constructed seeks to assert that their opinion is the truth. The perfectly just city will not stand when thought is communized, but will rather fall into tyranny.

The communization spoken of by Socrates is through myth and law; philosophy aims to correct myth, which is opinion. When the philosopher is king there will be no need for law. The communization of thought referenced in the Republic, and spoken of by Hobbes and implemented by various nations is not proper for the just city. In order for the just city and for communization of thought to coexist, truth must be the basis for the communization of thought.

 [1]Neither the Soviet Union, nor Nazi Germany achieved the success of Sparta, which many scholars say was the basis of the just city in the Republic. However, both nations have similar aspects to Sparta and the just city of the Republic, which makes them both important examples on this question. Neither the Soviet Union nor Nazi Germany achieved communization of thought through both myths nor law as Socrates seeks it in the Republic; instead they achieve it through law only.

 [2]Leviathan, Part II chapter xxx section 6

 [3]“Then, it’s appropriate for the rulers…” Book III, line 389C

 [4]Leviathan, Part II chapter xxx section 7

 [5]416 B “Mustn’t we…”; 465 B “Since they are free…”; 470 E “Now observe…”; I fully recognize that the education spoken of in Hobbes and the education discussed in the Republic are not the same, however the sentiments are similar in so far as it is necessary to educate.

 [6]“For sound rearing and education, when they are preserved, produce good natures; and sound natures, in their turn receiving such an education, grow up still better than those before them, for procreation as well as for the other things, as is also the case with the other animals.” Book IV, line 424A/B

 [7]414 D-415 B

 [8]“We’ll beg Homer and the other poets not to be harsh if we strike out these and all similar things…” 387B

 [9]Plato’s Republic book V line 471b

Piety in Plato’s Republic Books I-IV

 Quotes provided are from Plato’s Republic translated by Allan Bloom copyright 1968. 

The question of piety is raised immediately in the Republic, “I went down to the Piraeus yesterday with Glaucon, son of Ariston, to pray to the goddess; and, at the same time, I wanted to observe how they would put on the festival..” (327A 1-2). This is clear that from the outset Socrates descends into the Piraeus for a religious cause, to pray to the goddess and observe her festival. Regardless of the fact that he has ulterior motives for going to the Piraeus (namely to test Glaucon), it is argued from the outset that he is going to fulfill his pious obligations.

Next we arrive at the house of Cephalous, who, after discussing justice with Socrates leaves the discussion to attend to his sacrifices. It is clear from this point that piety is an essential aspect of human life; Cephalous is near death and therefore must attend to those things which most concern death. Also apparent is that Cephalous has no stomach for philosophy, as after he leaves the discussion of justice becomes philosophic. Does this mean that piety is in conflict with philosophy? No it does not. Piety is an essential part of the comprehensive human activity (polis).

How is this clear? Socrates begins book three by saying, “About gods, then’ I said, ‘such, it seems, are the things that should and should not be heard, from childhood on, by men who would honor gods and ancestors…'”(386a 1-3). The teaching of the gods is an important aspect in the education of the citizens. But there must be a proper method of teaching the gods, and it is in teaching them in a way that they reflect the desired formation of the citizens. But this quote also brings up another important aspect, that being the honor of ancestors. It is clear that the relationship between the gods and the ancestors is close. Thus to honor the gods is in a way to honor one’s ancestors. What is the best way in which to honor one’s ancestors? To act according to how they would want one to live is a possibility. The legislator must aim at educating his citizens to honor the city, one of the ways to do this is to tie the ancestral to the city. By behaving as the gods behave, one is imitating his ancestors as they too were taught in a like fashion. Honoring the ancestors also comes in upholding the city that they helped to create, and again in order to form your citizens properly you must teach them the gods.

Piety within the Republic comes on three levels, the beginning of the dialog is centered on religion and religious piety. Next we find that religious piety is an important aspect to the person, specifically the old and close to death. Third, in order to properly form your citizens the legislator must take care to teach the gods in a manner which train the citizens to be a certain way. Piety must be subordinated to philosophy, specifically political philosophy which is aimed at the comprehensive human good: happiness.

Published in: on February 29, 2008 at 12:15  Comments (3)  

On the meaning of patriotism

What does it mean to be a patriot? This is a central issue throughout the history of Political thought. A patriot simply put can be defined as a good citizen, and thus the question now becomes what does it mean to be a good citizen.

In 2007 a movie named Blue State was made in an attempt to consider this question. Starring Brekin Meyer and Anna Paquin as John and Chloe, Blue State explores what it means to be a good citizen of a republic while showing the audience the examples of bad citizens.

The movie begins in the midst of the 2004 Presidential Election among supports and staff of Democratic candidate John Kerry. John plays an outspoken supporter of the Kerry campaign and hater of the Bush administration. He believes it is not only his right, but his duty to speak out against the policies and administration of President Bush.  One night, during a drunken stupor, John makes a pledge that if President Bush wins a second term as President that he will move to Canada. Now, during every Presidential election season, we hear people proclaim, “if so and so wins the election, I’m moving to (name your country.)”  Well, as one suspects, in November of 2004 President Bush won reelection and John is forced to deal with his promise he made to move to Canada. After realizing he cannot get out of his promise, John is resolved to move to Canada; but first he places signs around town in hopes of finding someone who will go with him.

Enter Chloe, who we see for the first time putting blue streaks in her hair and piercing her right nostril.  She meets with John at a local coffee shop and tells him that she worked for the DNC on the election campaign for John Kerry and that she is a gym teacher. John accepts Chloe as his companion and so begins their journey to Canada. We later find out that Chloe in fact did not work for the DNC but rather she is an apathetic. This brings us to the first point of a good citizen.

John replies to Chloe’s apathy that politics does matter. Aristotle defines politics in the Nicomachaen Ethics as the supreme activity, all other activities are aimed at politics. Why is this? Because politics is aimed at the ultimate good, which is happiness.  The question of whether it is better to engage in politics or in a life of contemplation is also central in this quest. John declares that to engage in politics is the best possible life one could partake in. A good citizen certainly has an obligation to take part in his or her given regime; a citizen according to Aristotle is the person who is capable of governing within the polis. Thus in our republic we are all citizens, once we reach the age of 18, and are capable of ruling. To be apathetic in our regime is to neglect one’s citizenship duties- to be a bad citizen.

Next we have to understand why John and Chloe choose to flee to Canada as the ultimate act of patriotism. John leaves primarily because he swore to do it when drunk; this should teach anyone being drunk is a bad idea. But there is something deeper in why John has chosen to flee his place of birth. John doesn’t agree with the administration and believes the country is lost and wants to make a political statement by leaving our regime in favor of the Canadian regime. But is this true citizenship? The Declaration of Independence makes it clear, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” John is directly contradicting the Declaration’s mandate, if he truly and sincerely believes that our government is defective it is his duty as a citizen to work towards the institution of  a new regime for the future happiness and safety of the American people. This is a lesson that John only learns later on, at the same time when Chloe fully realizes what it means to be a true citizen.

Chloe’s reasons for fleeing America might be considered much more reasonable than John’s. Chloe admits before they cross the border that she is in the U.S. Army and facing a second tour in Iraq. Her fleeing the United States is not only a political statement, but a Federal crime. Chloe knows full well she can never return to the place of her birth. Instead they shes goes with John to Winnipeg,  where a group called “Marry a Canadian” is located to help disaffected Americans find a spouse so they can start their process of becoming a Canadian citizen. When they realize that it is a crack brain idea, they vow to head to Vancouver.

On their way to Vancouver we witness yet another mistake of John’s misguided principles when they run out of gas because John refuses to buy gas that uses oil from the Middle East.  They encounter a man who offers to give them a place to stay for the night and gas to continue their journey. We come to learn that this man fled the United States back in the 1970’s when he was to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. He admits that if he had the chance to do things all over again, he would. His fleeing to Canada was not a political statement, because people in America could careless that he left. He left America because he was fearful for his own well being. He looks down upon the soldiers who flee America because of the war in Iraq because it was their choice to join the military, they were not compelled as he would have been. Thus Chloe resolves to return to the U.S. and face a court martial for going AWOL.

Being a good citizen means that you stay and fight for what you believe in. This is exactly what John realizes as he returns to America and resolves that instead of running away from what he disagrees with he’ll stay and attempt to change things from within; he becomes a California Senator. To be a good citizen one must realize that they have a duty to ensure that the government has not become destructive of the ends it was established for, and further,that if it does, a good citizen will work to correct the ills of their government. John  and Chloe come to realize that fleeing to another country is a cowardly act; it is a selfish act.

To be a good citizen you must be active in politics, and you cannot simply turn your back on your country when it has turned its back on you. You must stay and fight, become directly involved in the government. Ultimately, to be apathetic is the sign of a bad citizen because it proves they do not care for their country. John and Chloe are prime examples of two forms of apathy at the beginning of Blue State. John is unwilling to help change the government, but instead flees at the first sign of trouble. Chloe doesn’t care about politics, she doesn’t realize that politics is the most essential part of human life.  Being a patriot, being a good citizen means being active in politics.

For those who are interested you can find more information about the movie Blue State at:

Religion in Modernity: The Solution of a Christian Civil Religion

Civil religion was a vital part of ancient life, religion and politics were joined harmoniously. With the dawn of Christianity, a religion whose focus is not on the state primarily but on the afterlife, the world slowly began to change. Religion was often used to divide rather than unify the commonwealth. Modernity’s problem with Christianity came at the dawn of the Reformation, where Christianity was used to pull people apart and start wars between nations who share ethnic, cultural and religious ties. America is the shinning product of modern thought; the brain child of men such as Niccolo Machiavelli and John Locke. Both men drew an outline of civil religion for the purpose of maintaining and promoting the state. Machiavelli faults Christianity while praising Roman civil religion for its aim towards the commonwealth. Machiavelli’s examination of religion, namely civil religion, in the Discourses on Livy is expanded into a natural Christian religion in John Locke’s Four Letters Concerning Toleration. Picking up on these concerns, John Locke laid down the policy of religious toleration in four letters. The issue at hand is not one of Church and State, but of religion and politics. As Jon Meacham explains in regards to the American situation, “The wall Jefferson referred to is designed to divide church from state, not religion from politics. Church and state are specific things.”[1] This definition explains what is at the heart of Locke’s argument in The Letter Concerning Toleration. Further it even comes to the heart of Machiavelli’s argument. It says that religion and politics do have a place together, but the church and state do not. The importance of civil religion in the maintenance of the state is clear; for without civil religion the state would not be able to hold together her citizens and thus dissolve into oblivion.

            According to tradition the Roman civil religion was founded by Numa Pompilius. Numa was king following Romulus’ assumption into heaven and his deification as the god Quirinus. Numa was chosen by the Roman senate to become king after a period of interregnum. Numa is said to have been a very pious man, as Plutarch tell us:

He banished all luxury and softness from his own home, and while citizens alike and strangers found in him an incorruptible judge and counselor, in private he devoted himself not to amusement or lucre, but to the worship of the immortal gods, and rational contemplation of their divine power and nature.[2]

It was Numa, who according to tradition gave to the Roman people their religion. It was important to provide the Romans with religion because without it they would have fallen victim to the brute passions of a warlike people. The impact of the Roman civil religion is explained by Machiavelli, “It will also be seen by those who pay attention to Roman history, how much religion helped in the control of armies, in encouraging plebs, in producing good men, and in shaming the bad.”[3] Numa instituted many changes to the Roman state whence he became king.

            Among the first things he did, Numa introduced an additional month into the calendar; this month was called Mercedinus. Under Romulus there had only been eleven months, starting with the month of March in honor of Mars, the god of war. March was placed at spot of the third month and January and February went from the end of the year to the first two months. It was fitting for Numa to place January at the beginning of the year, “he wished to take every opportunity of intimating that the arts and studies of peace are preferred before those of war.”[4] January was named for the god Janus, god of doors and beginnings. February comes from the word februa; the month was one of purification filled with offerings to the dead. Within the calendar Numa instituted a number of games and festivals in honor of the gods as Plutarch explains once more, “He also began markets and games and all sorts of occasions for gatherings and festivals. By these institutions he restored to humane and gentle behavior the minds of men who had become savage and inhuman through their love of war.”[5] The intent of the festivals and games were to divert the attention of the people away from war and conquest to the gods.

Among others, Numa introduced a number of new offices, which were of religious significance; among these offices was the Pontifex Maximus whose job it was to declare divine law and to rule over sacred ceremonies; the Pontifex Maximus was fifth in the religious hierarchy behind “the rex sacrorum and three great flamens.”[6] The Pontifex Maximus was also charged to lead the six Vestal virgins. [7] Numa constructed a temple to the goddess Vesta who was the oldest of all Roman goddesses and a symbol of purity. Her priestesses, called Vestal virgins, were given the task of keeping lit the sacred flame. The virgins were to remain as such for thirty years, if they broke their vow of chastity or allowed the sacred flame to go out the offending virgin would be buried alive. This office was the most sacred of all holy offices within the Roman state. The first ten years of a Vestal’s service were spent in training, the second ten were spent performing her duties while the final ten were spent training new Vestals. The Vestal Virgins were so important that it is said when another official passed one that they would order the fasces lowered.

Numa’s legacy on the Roman people lead them to become prosperous, Machiavelli writes, “All things considered, therefore, I conclude that the religion introduced by Numa was among the primary causes of Rome’s success, for this entailed good institutions; good institutions lead to good fortune; and from good fortune arose the happy results of undertakings.” [8] It was through religion, and not war, that the Romans became a successful and great civilization. Under Romulus the Romans acquired their name and ability for warfare but under Numa they acquired their culture, their civilization. Dr. Svetozar (Steve) Pejovich defines culture as, “the synthesis of a community’s traditions, customs, moral values, religious beliefs, and all other informal norms of behavior that have passed the test of time and bind the generations.”[9] Under this definition, it is clear that Numa and not Romulus was the result of Rome’s culture. Rome was so attached to Numa that Machiavelli tells us, “Marveling, therefore, at Numa’s goodness and prudence, the Roman people accepted all his decisions.”[10] The Romans revered Numa for his qualities and virtue, and they wished to imitate them as much as they desired to follow Numa without question. This is how Machiavelli begins to praise of the importance of religion; and how he demonstrates the greatness of Roman civil religion.

Following a discussion of the Roman religion, which is similar to the one given by Machiavelli in the Discourses on Livy, he begins section twelve of the Discourses by saying:

Those princes and those republics which desire to remain free from corruption, should above all else maintain incorrupt the ceremonies of their religion and should hold them always in veneration; for there can be no surer indication of the decline of a country than to see divine worship neglected.[11]

It is the duty of the princes and magistrates of the commonwealth to uphold the religious practices of the people. Religion for Machiavelli is the glue of, and provides for allegiance to, the commonwealth. Machiavelli goes on to say, “The rulers of a republic or of a kingdom, therefore, should uphold the basic principles of the religion which they practise in, and, if this be done, it will be easy for them to keep their commonwealth religious, and, in consequence, good and united.”[12] Without religion the commonwealth cannot keep itself together. Furthermore, as Harvey Mansfield points out, Observance of the divine cult is the cause of greatness in republics.”[13]Religious observance, above all else creates the greatness in republics. But the end to which religion is important in the commonwealth is defined even further by Machiavelli, “And the more should they do this the greater their prudence and the more they know of natural laws.”[14] It is here that religion plays it’s most important role in the commonwealth; for the commonwealth must be in line with the natural laws and natural law is discovered through religion. Without religion one cannot determine the natural law fully, and so one must attach themselves and their commonwealth to religion.

            But to what religion ought the commonwealth to attach itself, whether it should be a Pagan society or a Christian society. Machiavelli denounces the Church of Rome’s attitude of religion despite calling Christianity a strong religion. Machiavelli recounts the story of the fall of the city of Veii. After the Romans conquered the city they entered the temple dedicated to Juno and asked her statue if she wished to be moved to Rome; as Machiavelli tells us, “To some it seemed that she nodded. To others that she answered, Yes.”[15] This was possible due to the religious piety the Romans were imbued with by their rulers. According to Machiavelli when the soldiers entered the temple they did not enter as marauders, but as pious and religious men. This religious attitude was promoted by the city rulers. A similar religious attitude of the Romans is found wanting in the Christians by Machiavelli. He asserts, “If such a religious spirit had been kept up by the rulers of the Christian commonwealth as was ordained for us by its founder, Christian states and republics would have been much more united and much more happy than they are.”[16] Italy, as attested to by Machiavelli, lacked religious observance in his day (as it might be even said to be lacking now.) He assaults the Church of Rome as the cause of the Italian “irreligious and perverse”[17] nature. Further, the Church did not attempt to unify the Italians under one prince. Machiavelli believes, “no country has ever been united and happy unless the whole of it has been under the jurisdiction of one republic or one prince, as has happened to France and Spain.”[18] These are the greatest faults Machiavelli finds with the Christian religion, at least in regards to Italy. Certainly the Roman religion was a means of unifying the people of the Italian peninsula, like the people of Machiavelli’s time the people of Italy at the time of the Roman republic all shared similar religious convictions. The Romans were able to use the religion to unify Italy, and much of Europe and North Africa under the banner of the Roman city. In the 1200 years of Christian dominance in Europe the continent slowly began to break apart first with a divide between East and West[i] and slowly more with the development of nation-states such as England, France and Spain. The Christian religion was even unable to keep Italy all one nation and it was not for another three hundred years after Machiavelli’s death that Italian unification was realized.

            At least one explanation can be proposed for why the Christian religion failed, while the Pagan religion of the Romans succeeded, which is as Machiavelli points out the different aims of the religions. Christianity has the aim of the after life; they are citizens first and foremost of the city of God. Romans were citizens first and foremost of their own city and the religion was focused on the temporal success rather than salvation in the after life. Christianity, until much later was unable to successfully create a civil religion of itself. The Romans used their religion in order to secure certain outcomes in the city. As Machiavelli accounts:

The Roman people, having created tribunes with consular power, all of whom, save one, were plebians, there occurred in that year pestilences and famine, and certain prodigies took place. Availing themselves of this opportunity in the next appointment of tribunes, the nobles said that the gods were angry with Rome for having abused the majesty of her authority, and that the only way to placate them was to restore the election of tribunes to its proper position.[19]


Machiavelli mentions two other events in the Roman republic, which used the religion in order to seduce the people. The first is in regards to the war with the city of Veii previously mentioned; the Roman generals used religion to keep the soldiers primed for attack. The second is with the tribune Terentillus who wished to pass a law, which Machiavelli does not describe, but the nobles used religion to stir the people into a fear that they did not allow for the law to pass. [20] The Romans used religion for the sake of the city, which with the devotion the people had to religion caused them to have a deep devotion to the city and so that religion could stir the people to its defense. Harvey Mansfield observes, “Machiavelli concludes that Numa’s religion was among the first causes of Rome’s happiness, because it caused good orders, which produced good fortune in successful enterprises.” [21] This observation is the issue Machiavelli has with the Christian religion in regards to the commonwealth.

            It appears that for Machiavelli the biggest concern for Christianity is her inability to rally her followers. As a result of Christianity’s inability to keep Europe unified, individual nations began to spring up. Citizens were forced to choose between remaining loyal strictly to Rome or to their new nation. The kings of France, Spain and England demanded that their subjects be loyal first and foremost to the state and second to the religion. England in a way was able to create a civil religion when Henry VIII separated himself and his kingdom from Rome. He became the new head of religion and was thus able to unify the state and the Church. However, the problem still laid in that the Christian religion is focused on the salvation of souls and not on the preservation of the commonwealth. Machiavelli’s arguments for religion are only strong enough to support that in order to be successful religion must be present in the commonwealth; and that religion be aimed at the preservation of the commonwealth. As J. Patrick Coby explains, “Religion, understood as the fear of God, produces civil obedience”[22] which is what Machiavelli praises about the Roman religion and detests about the Christian. Christianity’s lack of primary concern for the commonwealth creates a lack of concern for the commonwealth within the people and ultimately can lead to civil disobedience. By this civil disobedience, it is to be understood simply as a disobedience to the commonwealth. However, John Locke’s argument for toleration of religion permits the creation of a civil religion that is unconcerned for the salvation of souls but with the continuance of the commonwealth.

            Before divulging into John Locke’s beliefs on religious toleration and how it creates a civil religion, it should be noted that Locke himself does not officially promulgate a civil religion rather he outlines the duties of the magistrate, which in turn can be used to create a civil religion. Within his Four Letters Concerning Toleration, Locke begins by denouncing the belief that religion and/or the civil magistrate has the authority to coerce people into attending a national church. However, too much attention is often paid to that which the magistrate cannot do; that it is often over looked to what Locke says the magistrate can and must do for the preservation of the commonwealth. And it is with what the magistrate can do that the civil religion of Christianity can be born.

            Machiavelli’s analysis of religion in the Discourses can viewed in the same light as Thomas Paine’s discussion of government in  Common Sense.[ii] Machiavelli discusses the role religion in both the Christian and Roman commonwealths, but fails to offer advice on how to cure Christianity’s problems. Similar in style to John Adams’s argument in “Thoughts on Government”, John Locke takes up the task of outlining a new role for religion in the modern commonwealth. Locke’s Four Letters Concerning Toleration is beneficial in helping to reorder the Christian commonwealth for a civil religion based on Christianity. Locke has the benefit of living in a post Reformation world where it is clear that there can no definite church pegged as the true church. As all churches use force and intolerance, Locke states, “That I esteem that Toleration to be the chief Characteristical Mark of the True Church.”[23]  Clearly, as no church in Locke’s time practiced toleration none can be properly said to be the “True Church.”

            Locke uses the term toleration to mean that no person or magistrate has the authority to force another individual into attending a certain church against their own conscience. Time and again Locke suggests that force should not be used by the magistrate, church or individual against anyone in regards to religion. Furthermore, the magistrate or church cannot deprive an individual who fails to attend a national church of their life, liberty or property. The ends of the Church and the Commonwealth are completely different, as Locke describes the Commonwealth as, “a Society of Men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing of their own Civil Interests.” [24] The Church’s end is for the salvation of souls and in order for this to occur members must consent in their consciences to the Church’s doctrines. No person can be forced to believe something that they themselves have not accepted as truth. In his Second Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke explains, “But that which he denies, and you grant, is, that force has any proper efficacy to enlighten the understanding, or produce belief. And from thence he infers, that therefore the magistrate cannot lawfully compel men in matters of religion.”[25] The first characteristic that Christianity must adopt in order to be successful in the modern commonwealth is toleration insofar as the magistrate cannot force any individual against their own conscience to attend a national church under penalty of loss of life, liberty or property.

            Yet this is not all that Locke promulgates in his letters. In fact, this is only the beginning. Acknowledging that the magistrate does not have the authority to force individuals to attend a national church, Locke clarifies his position as to what the role of the magistrate and the commonwealth is in the matter of religion. The magistrate, per his rights as an individual, retains the authority to use words to persuade individuals to religion. Such an example of this persuasion to the faculties of human understanding, include the posting of the Ten Commandments or calling for a day of Thanksgiving throughout the nation. Locke explains, “‘Go and teach all nations,’ was a commission of our Savior; but there was not added to it, punish those that will nor hear and consider what you say.”[26] Preaching, without physical and outward force, is permitted according to Locke within the commonwealth. In fact it “was a commission of our Savior” to “Go and tell all nations.”[27] This is the right of all mankind, including the magistrate, to tell all who they encounter of the Lord.

            However, there is something more simplistic in Locke which calls for a civil religion. All commonwealths must be in line with the natural law and cannot violate it. Therefore, Locke says of the duty of both the commonwealth and the church:

A Good Life, in which consists not the least part of Religion and true Piety, concerns also the Civil Government: and in it lies the safety both of Mens Souls, and of the Commonwealth. Moral Actions belong therefore to the Jurisdiction of both the outward and inward Court; both of the Civil and Domestick Governor; I mean, both of the Magistrate and Conscience. [28]


This is merely only the beginning of the duties granted to the commonwealth in regards to religion. Morality is the basis of a good regime, and morality is acquired through religion. Laws concerning morality may be created within the commonwealth in order to secure the safety and happiness of the citizens. Religion, as we have seen, can be used in the public sector as long as it is not forced upon them, or used to harm the natural rights of citizens. One of the means of incorporating religion into the commonwealth is through moral laws, which promote the laws of nature. Locke explains further in the First Treatise on Government when he says:

If this proves a right to do so, we may, by the same Argument, justifie Adultry, Incest and Sodomy, for there are examples of these too, both Ancient and Modern; Sins, which I suppose, have their Principal Aggravation form this, that they cross the main intention of Nature, which willeth the increase of Mankind, and the continuation of the Species in the highest perfection, and the distinction of Families, with the Security of the Marriage Bed, as necessary thereunto. [29]


This example from Locke demonstrates that not only can the magistrate ban such immoral and unnatural behavior but that he must ban it.[30] The morality of the people will thus be secured and will unify the people under a similar moral code promoted through the law of nature, which is revealed to humanity through God. In his Third Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke argues, “Indeed they all agreed in the duties of natural religion, and we find them by common consent owning that piety and virtue, clean hands, and a pure heart not polluted with the breaches of the law of nature, was the best worship of the gods.”[31] This harkens to Machiavelli’s argument for the Roman religion and further within the commonwealth the best form of worship is to keep to the laws of nature. Machiavelli’s desire for religion to be a unifying force within the commonwealth is secured in part by Locke’s mandate that immoral and unnatural behavior be banned within the commonwealth.

            Yet there is still another way in which Locke secures the commonwealth’s unification and stability and that is that no church is permitted from preaching ideas contrary to the moral law, law of nature, or the commonwealth. As Locke states in his first letter:

No Opinions contrary to human Society, or to those moral Rules which are necessary to the preservation of Civil Society, are to be tolerated by the Magistrate. But of these indeed Examples in any Church are rare. For no Sect can easily arrive to such a degree of madness, as that it should think fit to teach, for Doctrines of Religion, such things as manifestly undermine the Foundations of Society, and are therefore condemned by the Judgment of all Mankind: because their own Interest, Peace, Reputation, every Thing, would be thereby endangered.[32]


The magistrate is permitted to ban opinions which teach the undermining of the authority of the commonwealth. Thus, religion is molded to support the commonwealth and to promote unity within it. There is an inherent obligation of religion to teach its members to obey the laws of the commonwealth. If the religion teaches something contrary to the public good, the magistrate has an obligation not to tolerate it. The religion may also not profess authority to relieve members of allegiance to the prince of the commonwealth. Further Locke states, “That Church can have no right to be tolerated by the Magistrate, which is constituted upon such a bottom, that all those who enter into it, do thereby, ipso facto, deliver themselves up to the Protection and Service of another Prince.”[33] Thus the unity of the commonwealth is preserved in Locke’s teaching by requiring that all churches promote loyalty to the magistrate. Churches must teach the natural law and moral law as well as promote allegiance to the civil magistrate. This is a divorce from early Christian teachings which promote allegiance primarily to the city of God.

            The final piece to the civil religion of John Locke and the promise of a stable and unified commonwealth is through the banishment of those who do not profess a belief in God. In his first Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke explains:

Those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the Being of a God. Promises, Covenants, and Oaths, which are the Bonds of Humane Society, can have no hold upon an Atheist. The taking away of God, tho but even in thought, dissolves all. Besides also, those that by their Atheism undermine and destroy all Religion, can have no pretence of Religion whereupon to challenge the Privilege of a Toleration. As for other Practical Opinions, tho not absolutely free from all Error, if they do not tend to establish Domination over others, or Civil Impunity to the Church in which they are taught, there can be no Reason why they should be tolerated. [34]


Locke’s understanding is in line with Machiavelli’s belief that religion is of the utmost importance in the commonwealth, specifically the republic. As a result those who do not profess a belief in God cannot be tolerated if the commonwealth is to survive. Furthermore, as Voltaire says, “All sects are different, because they come from men; morality is everywhere the same, because it comes from God.”[35] Morality cannot be learned by one who does not believe in God. Without the moral base, a person is apt not to follow the laws of the commonwealth, adhere to their contracts or follow the natural law.

            Simply put John Locke’s civil religion can be outlined as follows:

The magistrate and citizens have a right and divine duty to “tell the nations” of God and Jesus Christ. As such, no law should prohibit public preaching and public displays of religion.The commonwealth should prohibit immoral and unnatural behavior by the citizens. Examples of such: Sodomites, Adulterers, and Murders.The commonwealth should not tolerate religions that preach openly against the authority of the magistrate, or those which preach openly against the laws of nature and morality, which are the basis of civil society.That the commonwealth ought to not tolerate those who openly profess against a belief in God.[36]

This religion can properly called a civil religion as it is aimed not at the salvation of one’s soul, which is the proper place only of the Church as it belongs to speculative opinions, but of the promotion and security of the body politic.

            Machiavelli’s praise of Rome is clear because it promoted and made secure the Roman state. His opinions of Christianity as being a divider and not a unifier are made clear by Locke as Christianity promotes speculative opinion, which is open to interpretation. Locke promulgates a modern ideal for civil religion by permitting the state to publicly teach religion (so long as it does not force individuals to attend or believe in a national church), to create laws for the moral excellence of the people, to ban religions which preach against morality, the laws of nature and the authority of the commonwealth, and to ban individuals who openly preach that there is no God. These concepts can be found throughout the new Rome, or the United States. Religion was for Modernity the major obstacle to the creation of the modern nation state. In order to be successful religion had to be placed into a proper role. This role resembles the one religion played in the ancient cities like Egypt, Athens and Rome. Machiavelli and Locke together promulgate the necessity of civil religion within the modern commonwealth as a means of promoting unity and stability.


 [1]Jon Meacham, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation. (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks), 2006. Introduction page 19.

[2] Plutarch,  83

[3] Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Discourses. Translated  by Leslie J. Walker, S.J. New York, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2003.  Book I section 11 pg. 140

[4] Plutarch, 98

[5] Cicero, 41

[6] Hus, Alain. Greek and Roman Religion. Translated  by S.J. Tester. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1962. pg. 103

[7] Hus, 103

[8] Machiavelli,  141 Book I section 11

[9]Svetozar (Steve) Pejovich, “Why is Culture Important?”, Walter Eucken Institut. Freiburg, Diskussionpapiere/Vortragsliste Nr. 288 (2003),  (accessed on September 13, 2007)

[10] Machiavelli.

[11] Ibid. section 12


[13]Mansfield, Harvey, Machiavelli’s New Modes of Orders: A Study of the Discourses on Livy, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), 1979. pg. 73

[14]Machiavelli, section 12





[19]Ibid. section 13

[20]Ibid. “One note also in the siege of the city of Veii….” & “There had arisen in Rome a number of tumults occasioned by Terentillus….”

[21]Mansfield, 73

[22]Coby, J. Patrick, Machiavelli’s Romans: Liberty and Greatness in The Discourses on Livy, (New York: Lexington Books), 1999. pg. 68

[23]Locke, John, A Letter Concerning Toleration, edited by James H. Tully, (Indiana: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.), 1983. pg. 23

[24]Ibid. pg. 26

[25]John Locke, Second Letter Concerning Toleration, in The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, volume 5, Four Letters concerning Toleration 12th Edition, edited by T. Longman, (London: Rivington), 1824. John Locke did not admit to writing the first Letter Concerning Toleration until close to his death; thus in the second letter Locke writes in the third person when speaking of the initial letter.



 [28]Locke, page 47

 [29]John Locke, Two Treatises of Government, edited by Peter Laslett (New York: Cambridge University Press), 1988. pg. 183 paragraph 59.

[30]A further example of this can be found in Locke’s statement, “Those that are Seditious, Murderers, Thieves, Robbers, Adulterers, Slanders, etc. of whatsoever Church, whether National or not, ought to be punished and suppressed. But those whose Doctrine is peaceable, and whose Manners are pure and blameless, ought to be upon equal Terms with their Fellow-Subjects.”, Locke, Letter on Toleration page 54.

 [31] Locke, John, Third Letter Concerning Toleration. in The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, volume 5, Four Letters concerning Toleration 12th Edition, edited by T. Longman, (London: Rivington), 1824.

 [32]Locke, pg. 47

[33]Locke, pg. 50

[34]Ibid.  pg. 51

[35]The Quotations Page, Voltaire, copyright 2007, accessed on December 5, 2007

[i]The Great Schism of 1054 officially split Europe between East and West, or Orthodox and Catholic. A separation was already begun however when Charles the Great was crowned Caesar of the Roman Empire.

[ii]In a brief introduction to John Adams’ essay “Thoughts on Government” in The Portable John Adams, John Patrick Diggins says, “Adams’s essay was a response to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense…Adams believed, as he told Abigail, that Paine was more interested in tearing down government than in giving any thought to reconstituting it.” I believe that this is a similar situation with Machiavelli’s argument of religion in the Discourses and Locke’s argument of religion in the Letter Concerning Toleration. Machiavelli provides thoughts on how to reconstitute the Christian religion to create the proper aims religion ought to have in the commonwealth.

Plato and Aristotle’s Regimes: Republic and Politics.

There might be some confusion concerning the nature of politics and the type of regimes. Today we tend to think of a number of regimes, although many of them are simply the same regime with a different title. We call the government in England a Constitutional Monarchy, yet it simply is a Monarchy. China we say is a Communist regime, yet really all the political form of Communism is Oligarchy. All the regimes currently in use today can be boiled down to a list of just a handful. These regimes were originally defined and stated by Plato and Aristotle, two classical Greek philosophers who concerned themselves heavily with the nature of the polis. To get an idea of what the regimes are, this essay will attempt to outline the various forms of government as laid down by both men. In order to deal with the two authors it will be prudent to describe Plato’s regimes first followed by Aristotle.

In Book VIII of the Republic, Plato speaks of the degenerate regimes after having spent considerable time describing an Aristocracy. Aristocracy in the classical sense is not rule by the few, or rule by the wealthy. Aristocracy for Plato meant rule by the virtuous. The ideal city would be ruled by a Philosopher king, but because no philosopher will want to rule in the city there must be a handful of virtuous individuals willing to rule.

The first degenerate regime that flows directly from Aristocracy is Timocracy. This form of government is rarely spoken of and is largely forgotten compared to the remaining regimes. Timocracy is the rule by the honorable, or more simply a Warlord. Timocracy comes about when instead of concerning oneself with virtue itself, one concerns themselves with the seeking of honor. The primary means of attaining honor is on the battlefield, and thus the idea of a military leader leading the city falls into a Timocratic regime.

From the Timocrat comes the Oligarch, the son of the man who is more concerned about his honor than about wealth. When honor is lost and you have nothing else, then you are empty. The Oligarch as a result is a stingy person who spends little but acquires much. Oligarchy is defined by a few very wealthy individuals ruling the city over the less fortunate and often impoverished inhabitants. Oligarchy is the most popular form of government and the wealthy are often times viewed as the best individuals and therefore most worthy of ruling. Today Oligarchy is often confused with Aristocracy due to their elitist tendencies. With the fall of Oligarchy, so goes the way of the virtuous regimes. Oligarchy, Timocracy and Aristocracy represent the various parts of the soul for Plato, and also different virtues or, in the case of Aristocracy, virtue itself. The three parts of the soul that correspond with the three regimes are: Rational part with Aristocracy, the Spirited part with Timocracy and the Appetitive part with Oligarchy.

The first regime lacking virtue is democracy, or rule by the people. The democrat comes about because of the lack of equality in the Oligarchy. In the Oligarchy limits are placed on how much one can spend, preventing the democrat from being allowed to do as he sees fit. This coupled with the lack of equality brings about the Democracy. Democracy is ruled on two principles: Freedom and Equality. Because of its nature Democracy lacks virtue but it is not totally depraved. Democracy is the best possible regime while Aristocracy is the regime most wished for.

Finally Plato ends his account of the regimes with Tyranny, the most dreaded and depraved form of government developed by mankind. Tyranny is the exact opposite of Aristocracy. The tyrant comes to rule because he desires all. Tyranny is characterized by the lack of concern for one’s subjects and a desire to obtain all one wishes for. The tyrant cares nothing for his people or his city, only for his own selfish gains. Where the Aristocrat rules for the sake of the city, the tyrant rules for the sake of self. With the end of the analysis of the tyrant and tyranny comes the end of Plato’s discussion of the regimes within the Republic.

Aristotle does not entirely agree with Plato’s assessment of regimes in the Republic. His Politics is largely a rebuttal of the arguments made in the Republic. Aristotle defines three chief regimes: Kingship, Aristocracy and Polity. These regimes all have a degenerate regime corresponding with it: Tyranny, Oligarchy and Democracy. One will immediately identify that Aristotle lacks the Timocratic regime and instead replaces it with Polity, a mixture of Oligarchy and Democracy.

Kingship is a fairly self explanatory regime, for Aristotle it is the most desired regime but due to its ability to quickly turn into tyranny it is not the best possible regime. Kingship is simple, it is the rule by one person who is king. In the Kingship there is only one citizen and that is the King himself. This can be compared in some manner to Plato’s discussion of the Philosopher King, although the king in such a regime need not necessarily be a Philosopher but not a Tyrant either.[1]

Aristocracy is essentially the same regime for both Plato and Aristotle, the rule by the virtuous.

Polity as said above is a mix between Oligarchy and Democracy. Depending on the rulers it can either be more heavily Oligarchic or more heavily Democratic. The difference between the two being that an Oligarchic Polity would be ruled by a few selected wealthy individuals, while the Democratic Polity would be ruled by the people in general. This regime is what Aristotle calls the best possible regime because it involves the rule by the middling class. The middling class often makes up the most of all inhabitants in a city and thus the regime which allows for them to be citizens allows for the most participation in the operation of the city. Many often compare this to a Republic, but that is a false comparison as will be shown briefly.[2]

Oligarchy and Democracy are the same as in Plato and therefore require no additional attention. It should be noted, however, that Aristotle defines four types of democratic regimes unlike Plato. The first, considered the best and the oldest by Aristotle is democracy ruled by the farming sort. The second, similar to the first, is based around those who are herdsmen. The herding Democracy is exemplified by it’s military capabilities, as Aristotle states, “they are particularly well exercised with respect to their dispositions as well as useful with respect to their bodies and capable of living in the open.”  The third sort is made up of the middling class, or the merchants and exists in the city.[3]  This democracy is prone to more individuals being involved in the regime because of the proximity of living in the city. The fourth democracy laid out by Aristotle is where all are included in citizenship. Citizenship for Aristotle means those who are able to participate in the ruling of the polis. Therefore, this last sort admits people into the rank of citizenship who are unsuited for ruling the polis, including slaves. In this instance, slaves would apply to anyone who is unable to rule themselves and not the slaves who have been conquered in war.

Book Four of Aristotle’s Politics offers us another list of democracies, this time five. The first democracy in book four is based on the equality between the poor and rich, where neither class is preeminent in society. The second is where, “the offices are filled on the basis of assessments…”[4] The next two regimes are where those of unquestioned descent, and those who are citizens fill the offices but the law rules. The fourth is where the multitude, not the law, rules. The fifth democracy is similar in make up to the previous democracies except that the multitude, not the law, rule.

The best regime, and best way of life according to Aristotle are the same. The best way of life is the mirror image of the best regime. While Kingship is the regime most desired, and Polity the best attainable regime it is the mixed regime that is the best regime. The mixed regime contains elements of each individual regime, just as the best person is a mixture of all the different virtues. The regime must incorporate virtue, the farming class and the middling class. It is this regime, the mixed regime, which must properly be defined as a Republic. A Polity as stated before is a regime of Oligarchy and Democracy, while a Republic is a mixed regime with multiple regimes tied into it. Take for example the American regime, which is not a Polity at all but is a Republic. We have the element of Kingship in the President, we have the element of Democracy in the House of Representatives, we have the element of Oligarchy in the Senate and we have Aristocracy in the Supreme Court. Such a regime is the best possible regime because it allows for the virtues of each regime to be apart of the city; just as the the virtuous person participates in each individual virtue, so does the city participate in the virtues exemplified by the various regimes in a mixed regime.

Aristotle’s Politics Book III

Aristotle’s Politics Book IV

Aristotle’s Politics Book VI


Aristotle’s Politics Book IV

The Marriage Manifesto

The Marriage Manifesto

In the first place, it has been argued that to deny homosexuals the right to marry other homosexuals is denying them their civil rights, namely the right to marriage. While it is true that we do desire to ban homosexual marriage, we in no way are seeking to ban homosexuals the right to marry; so long as the two saying “I do” are of separate sexes. This is an argument that really holds no water. Yes civil rights are important, no one is willing to say that someone’s civil rights should be violated simply because that is the will of the majority. However the government can, and has in the past, suspended the rights of certain groups for the betterment of society. This is a practice that has long since been supported by some of the great thinkers of our world. Homosexual marriage has never been offended until now, simply speaking before modern times there was rarely a large push for homosexuals to be permitted to marry other homosexuals. The closest offense we can find is the U.S. requiring Utah to ban polygamy before it could enter as a state in 1896. In Reynolds v. United States., 98 U.S. 145 (1878 ) the Supreme Court ruled that polygamy was not constitutionally protected by the 1st Amendment. Was this not a violation of civil rights as well? But you don’t hear promoters of homosexual marriage bringing up the case of polygamy.

From there we find ourselves at the second point, homosexual marriage supporters rarely want to bring in the issue that legalizing such marriage would bring about. Of course this would be the case, most don’t wish to open up the argument of incestuous and polygamist marriages. Why is it that homosexual marriages are so important to legalize, but talking about other illegal marriages is something that has nothing to do with legalizing homosexual marriages? Lets not forget that incestuous and polygamist marriages were legal in this country at one point in time. Homosexual marriage has never been legal in any country or state until the Netherlands approved it. It is difficult for at least me to fathom why homosexual marriage should be legalized but in the same case incestuous and polygamist marriages shouldn’t be. I am not in favor of legalizing either of those two, but it seems foolish to me that one can say that the one should be legalized but the other two shouldn’t be.

And finally we come to the third, homosexual couples should be granted the same rights as heterosexual couples. Lets face it in many cases it costs more, tax wise, for a heterosexual married couple, then for a non-married couple that is either hetero or homosexual. Of course we move into the issue of hospital visits, this of course is a false idea as well. We take the Schiavo case where the family wanted to take custody of their daughter out of the hands of their son-in-law. While their attempts finally failed it is obvious that if Schiavo had written a will, her desires would have been enforced to the extent of the law. Any person, homosexual or heterosexual, has the right to write out a final will and testament which gives doctors, family and friends knowledge of exactly what the individual wished for. While a hospital may try and deny access of a homosexual partner on behalf of the family’s desire, a will must be enforced according to the law. If things are done in accordance to the law, everyone is given their equal rights. It is a common misconception that heterosexual couples are granted rights that far outweigh those of the rights of homosexual couples. If heterosexual couples really did have more rights, some civil rights lawyer would have argued on behalf of single people everywhere to get equal protection.


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