Aristotle’s argument against democracy – but was he right?
Aristotle belived the best type of government was by monarchy, or, at the very least, by aristocracy. Democracy was not to be encouraged! To better understand this seemingly somewhat out-dated and extreme “right wing” view, we must look at his philosophical reasonings for his proposition.
Aristotle linked politics with ethics, and believed society’s ethics should come before an individual’s ethics. Ethics concern a mans’ virtues, and Aristotle considered the greatest of all virtues to be magnaminity. Magnanimity is the virtue of being great of mind and heart, and is defined in the OED as “behaviour that is kind, generous and forgiving, especially towards an enemy or competitor.” And herein lies the first clue to his postulation on governement – it is easier for a great ruler to be magnanimous than for a body of people to do so in a democracy.
Like Socrates and Plato before him, Aristotle believed that the job of a ruler was to rule, and to do other work would be a handicap in his industry as a ruler. And rulers should be philosophers. His tutor Plato had stated in his manifesto “Republic” that kings should become philosophers or that philosophers should become kings; and in reality it was probably more likely that the former would happen.
An analogy to best describe Aristotle’s views on the supremacy of a monarchal government is that of the musical harmony created by an orchestra. The orchestra has ony one conductor. This leader is responsible for the total musical output of the whole orchestra. This is his sole job, whilst playing no instrument himself. Each member of the orchestra has a particular job. On the command of the conductor he is to play the instrument assigned to him (based on his individual merit and ability to play that instrument) only when instructed to so do so. The lead violinist has a greater importance than the oboe player. As stated, the ability to play an instrument will vary amongst the orchestra members, and so the assigning of the instruments will be decided by determining the merit and abilities of the performers. If each player were to be given equal status, importance and freedom to “go solo”, the resultant composition would be far from harmonious!
Analogies are imperfect ways to present arguments, and parallels between governments and states with those of musical ensembles may well stretch the elasticity of reason to breaking point, but I shall end the essay with a quote from the great man – “To lead an orchestra, you must turn your back on the crowd.”
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