Politics in Minutes (2016)

Aristotle: Politics

Plato’s pupil Aristotle was altogether more methodical than his mentor in his approach to the question of government. First of all, he tried to determine all possible forms of government and then assess the merits of each to determine the optimum form. Aristotle used two criteria: who rules? and for whose benefit? In answer to the second question, he identified two possible answers. Either the government was in the interest of the state as a whole (what he called true government), or in the interest of those in power (corrupt government). As for the first question, he thought government could be by an individual ruler, a small ruling elite or the people. Aristotle settled on three possible forms of ‘true government’ (royalty, aristocracy or constitutional polity) and three ‘corrupt governments’ (tyranny, oligarchy and democracy). Of these, he considered government by the people for the common good as the most desirable, but distinguished this from his second-best choice – democracy – government by the people in their own individual interest.