Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2001.04.24

Kostas Kalimtzis, Aristotle on Political Enmity and Disease. An Inquiry into Stasis.   Albany:  State University of New York Press, 2000.  Pp. xvii, 233.  ISBN 0-7914-4681-6.  $62.50.  ISBN 0-7914-4682-4.  $20.95.  

Reviewed by Anatole Mori, Department of Classical Studies, University of Missouri-Columbia (
Word count: 2435 words

This book is a revision of the author's doctoral thesis, written at the University of South Florida under the direction of Prof. John Anton. In this fine contribution to the SUNY Ancient Greek Philosophy series, Dr. Kalimtzis demonstrates that political friendship is a vital component of Aristotle's political theory. Although numerous scholars have questioned the role of homonoia and its relation to other types of friendship,1 K. approaches the problem from a different perspective: the definition of the nature and causes of stasis and the threat it poses to the polis. K. explains that in a polis suffering from stasis, the political friendship of the citizens has been disrupted due to a perception of injustice. Such perceptions lead citizens to seek private honor and gain instead of focusing their attention on the welfare of the polis.

K. criticizes modern commentators who have largely interpreted stasis according to post-Enlightenment ideas of political conflict. Modern definitions of revolution are diverse, whereas the ancient Greeks unanimously condemned stasis. As K. observes, from Homer onwards the ancient Greeks saw stasis as a severe threat to political freedom. On Aristotle's view, stasis represented an arrest of the political processes of a healthy polis. The health of the polis corresponded directly to the participation of its citizens in political friendship, homonoia, which is correctly translated, according to K., as "together-mindedness." K.'s study is intended to correct the assumption that stasis denoted only "conflict resolution and consensus building between warring factions" (p. xiv), since this assumption considerably mitigates the negative connotations of stasis not only for Aristotle but also for Greek society as a whole.

On the whole the book is clear, well-written, and rewards the patient reader. K.'s examination of his topic is thorough, and his arguments are largely persuasive, displaying sensitivity to the nuances of historical context and the subtleties of Aristotelian thought. In the first five chapters K. examines references to stasis in non-philosophical writing, Plato's ideas of political injustice in the Republic, and the connections between Aristotle's views on justice, friendship, and stasis in the Nicomachean Ethics, the Eudemian Ethics, and the Politics. In the following five chapters K. focuses on the material, efficient, formal, and final causes of stasis, and he concludes with a discussion of Aristotle's practical recommendations for its prevention. The index and the reference list, divided into primary and secondary sources, are serviceable; an index of passages cited in the text has unfortunately not been provided.

K. begins by correcting current definitions of stasis. In particular, he notes that terms like "revolution" fail to translate the negative connotations of stasis in the Greek mind, and that reliance on a noun form (e.g., "revolutionaries," "factionaries") implicitly limits stasis to a few participants. By contrast, Greek usage usually prefers the impersonal verb form ("to be in a state of stasis"), which "conveys the meaning of a conflict that engulfs the entire polis, not just its combatant factioneers" (p. 7). K. notes that Homer and Hesiod regarded stasis as divine punishment and a plague on society. Later poets and political writers associated stasis with disease (nosos), and while this conceptual commonplace is not explicit in Aristotle's discussion, it precludes a positive interpretation of stasis. To provide a broader context for the Aristotelian material, K. analyzes Thucydides' description of the advanced stages of stasis at Kerkyra (3.81-84). Here K. finds five generic themes characteristic of stasis, including the rhetorical replacement of common values by values of private interest, the use of terror and fraud to satisfy desires for honor (philotimia) and unfair gain (pleonexia), and the unfettered passions that generally rule a state convulsed by stasis. Thucydides' historical account of Kerkyra shows stasis to be an irrational and destructive process whose ends are endlessly various and unpredictable.

In the second chapter, K. explores Plato's philosophical explanation of the underlying causes of stasis, showing how Plato's theory informed Aristotle's later work. Plato applied the concept of stasis to composite units, such as the body, soul, or social groups, whose cooperating parts cease to operate in accordance with their nature, thereby interrupting the telic operation of the entire organism (p. 18). Plato therefore defined stasis not by reference to specific features, such as violence or unconstitutionality, but as an aberrant condition due to a disruption of the work of the organism. In political terms, when reason ceases to govern, justice ceases its work of ensuring cooperation, friendship, and like-mindedness within the polis. K. notes here that translations of homonoia as "concord" or "unanimity" misleadingly emphasize concepts of agreement, whereas in Plato's view homonoia, rightly translated by G. R. Morrow as "a community of mind," properly refers to the "the natural form of internal communication that occurs whenever justice binds the parts of a whole" (p. 27). K. concludes that, while Aristotle criticized Plato's unrealistic theory of the linear deterioration of the just constitution into deviant constitutions, he adopted Plato's theory of the essential work of political justice in connection with the healthy operations of the soul and the polis.

In Chapter 3, K. begins his discussion of Aristotelian stasis with an exploration of the role of justice as it is described in the Nicomachean Ethics. Like Plato, Aristotle connects the activity of the soul with participation in political justice and links happiness with logos and justice in the actualization of the human soul's capacity for engagement in the work of justice (pp. 35-36). K. regards Aristotelian justice as a unity, while arguing for the priority of political justice (participation in the polis) over universal justice (practical excellence as a whole) and particular justice (right conduct of the individual). All three components of justice are joined teleologically, and stasis may emerge from weaknesses in any area. K. observes that for Aristotle the legislator is responsible for promoting standards of universal justice through a "cultural program of paideia" (p. 42) that cultivates true pleasures, meaning pleasures that do not disrupt the well-being of the polis. Particular justice comprises both corrective measures in private transactions and distributive justice, which governs the distribution of communal assets like wealth and honors (p. 45). Distributive justice is concerned with the preservation of mutual satisfaction and the avoidance of pleonexia. While the precise definition of mutual satisfaction may vary depending on the type of constitution in question, Aristotle regards the perception of unfair advantage as a certain cause of stasis. In addition, K. takes exception to arguments favoring distributive justice as the primary feature of an Aristotelian constitution (pp. 46-48). He claims that Greeks historically understood the resolution of financial inequities as a means to the transformation of societal values but that such transformations were geared toward the (re)enfranchisement of social groups, not the attainment of justice through the promotion of individual rights. The Rawlsian concept of distributive justice is therefore at odds with the ancient motivation for social reforms such as, for example, Athenian payment for jury service and Spartan land redistribution.

In the fourth chapter K. shows how Aristotle's theory of justice is allied with his views on political friendship. He emphasizes the critical role of homonoia in order to correct the dominant view that friendship is of little practical significance for Aristotle's political theory. Political friendship refers in general to all types of legal and political compacts, including that particular species of friendship that is also known as homonoia. For Aristotle, this kind of political friendship is institutional, practical, and productive of benevolent feelings, yet at the same time it is rooted neither in common citizenship nor in practical, emotional, or intellectual agreement. K. accordingly asks how it would be possible for citizens linked only by impersonal association within a particular polis to "ignite the affection of friendship" and to carry out prescribed duties toward political friends (p. 54). He locates the solution to the riddle in the concept of "self-liking." The self-liking person is at one with herself, meaning that the orthos logos directs the passions toward good and beneficial choices (p. 62). With the assertion of her own good as an end in itself, the self-liking person asserts mind (nous) as an end, rather than as a means. K. thus defines primary together-mindedness (prote homonoia) as a condition in which citizens "come to recognize each other as political friends when nous itself has emerged as an end of the polis" (p. 63). K. suggests that political friendship, in the particular sense of homonoia, unites the polis by cultivating participation in "the realm of great matters" (τὰ ἐν μεγέθει) (p. 74).

In contrast to scholars who view prote homonoia as discontinuous with practical friendship, K. argues strongly in favor of its utilitarian value. Following Hadreas and contra Cooper, K. translates eunoia not as "well-wishing" but as "good regard" or "intellectual admiration" (p. 77). He then distinguishes between eunoia and homonoia largely because of the impracticality and passivity of the former. "What is expected is that a fellow citizen, whether perfected or like most of mankind a mixture of virtues and deficiencies, is a bearer of assimilated principles in action" (p. 82). Through this active participation of the citizen, the "institutions of the polis, crafted by contracts of compacts in the mode of homonoia, become the abode in which man may come into active communion with the noble within himself and others" (p. 86). The polis and its citizens are therefore mutually dependent: the polis provides institutions which encourage the growth of homonoia among its citizens, while they in turn have designed these same institutions with a view to what constitutes true excellence for society.

We may well ask whether such active communion is possible under less than perfect political conditions. The description at Eth. Nic. 1161a30-34 of the limitations of justice and friendship under deviant constitutions (tyranny, oligarchy and democracy) has persuaded many commentators that it is not. In Chapter 5, K. shows that while homonoia represents the natural state of the polis, stasis is a form of privation that is inversely proportionate to the sovereignty of nous among the citizens. Thus, while deviant constitutions certainly discourage the growth of unqualified prote homonoia, qualified homonoia may nevertheless exist and even incline society toward justice. Unfortunately, the deviant character of qualified homonoia may itself foment stasis and cause social processes to deteriorate further. K. therefore considers the operation of homonoia under three political "classes of privation": deviation and absolute negation (democracy) and deprivation (tyranny). In contrast to Greek forms of government, K. notes that Persian despotism precluded the existence of both homonoia and stasis, because even when a despot enjoys popular consent, his rule is not founded on a constitution and genuine political justice.

In the latter half of the book K. employs Aristotle's theory of the four causes as a methodological tool for the practical analysis of stasis. The conceptual framework provided by the four causes prescribes the political conditions necessary for a model constitution, while remaining sufficiently flexible to account for a variety of historical contingencies. In Chapter 6, K. considers the material and final causes of stasis: its origins in the perception of injustice, how its ends and means differ from those of justice, and how virtuous citizens may work to prevent it. As we see in Chapter 7, Solon is exemplary in this regard. Solon reformed the Athenian constitution by peacefully persuading the polis, while simultaneously adhering to his belief that citizens must necessarily act during stasis. The virtuous citizen, one who is guided by nous and by eunomia, is tested and proven only by his actions in a crisis, when he is most inclined to "abandon duty, to bend the logos and yield to passions such as fear" (p. 147). In Chapter 8 K. discusses the formal cause of stasis, with the proviso that on Aristotle's view it defies precise definition ("all one can say of stasis is that its recurring trait, beneath all its protean transformations, is its private-interest form," p. 150). Chapter 9 then addresses efficient cause and human agency in the archai or "beginnings" of stasis.

K. admits that the four "becauses" cannot offer absolute mathematical precision as predictors of social conflict. In fact, the success of this methodology depends largely on the intellect and experience of the elevated citizen, the spoudaios or phronimos who has learned to cultivate excellence within himself and consequently seeks to check stasis in the polis: "Deep-seated perceptions of injustice must never emerge in the first place, enmity must be kept in check, and the polis must pay attention to its ends, so that power and gain might never emerge as legitimate goals of political rectification" (p. 179).

On several occasions K. singles out Marxist theory in order to dismiss it for the inadequacy of its allegedly formulaic, unrealistic, and oversimplified schematization of social conflict (pp. 103, 108, 151). K.'s summary rejection of Marxist approaches en masse is unhelpful inasmuch as it only allows us to make a superficial comparison between what are apparently incommensurate conceptual systems. Although K. rightly clarifies the difference between Aristotle's theory of stasis as political disease and later theories that posit social conflict in relatively positive terms, his treatment of modern approaches is, for the most part, unsatisfying. K. does suggest that we might want to consider Aristotle in connection with contemporary politics "in order to discover the elements that could help us define the criteria for a healthy life in the modern era" (p. xvi), yet such an investigation is far enough removed from his project that he omits any reference to, for example, Nussbaum's work on the "capabilities approach" in the definition of women's rights.2 These criticisms aside, I consider K.'s contribution to the field concise, closely argued, and very well focused. His explanations of difficult concepts are clear enough for the needs of advanced undergraduates while his careful treatment of the material makes this volume indispensable for scholars interested in both ancient and modern political theory.

I noted a rather large number of typographical errors, of which the following should be considered representative rather than exhaustive:

p. xi "Lidell and Scott, Greek and English Lexicon" [should be Liddell and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon] p. 33 "who is excluded.; [omit period] it prescribes" p. 72 "It is [through] participation in these matters that citizens come to be friends." p. 79 τά ἐν μεγέθει for τὰ ἐν μεγέθυει p. 97 "The conditions for implementing common resolves, even in their perverse form, as a convergence for common objects, is [are] continuously eroded." p. 162 "The politikos must have [the] ability to think through new particulars" p. 198 "see Grube['s] comments" p. 221 Ancila [Ancilla] to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers p. 222 "Aristotle's Polity: Mixed of [or] Middle Constitution"


1.   E.g., Richard J. Klonoski, "Homonoia in Aristotle's Ethics and Politics," History of Political Thought 17.3 (1996): 313- 325 (not cited by K.). Klonoski similarly concludes that political friendship is critical for the unification of the polis, but K. goes into much greater detail as to the exact character and function of homonoia.

2.   See the recent collection of essays in Sex and Social Justice (Oxford, 1999), as well as "Nature, Function, and Capability: Aristotle on Political Distribution," Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Supplementary Volume 1 (1988), 145-84; "Human Capabilities, Female Human Beings," in Women, Culture, and Development, ed. M. Nussbaum and J. Glover (Oxford, 1995).

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