BMCR 2003.02.07

Aristotle: Political Philosophy

, Aristotle : political philosophy. Founders of modern political and social thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. xii, 520 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 0198782004 $24.95 (pb).

Richard Kraut has written a long and provocative book expounding and championing Aristotle’s social and political philosophy. He thinks there are unrecognized and undervalued riches in Aristotle’s political thought and that Aristotle or his twenty-first century exponents deserve a voice in contemporary debates about social issues. Kraut’s enthusiasm for Aristotle’s social philosophy is almost boundless. He even has a few good words for Aristotle’s defense of natural slavery. In ambition and scope his book is comparable to Miller 1995. Though it is addressed primarily to newcomers to Aristotle’s social thought, Kraut has his eye just as much on seasoned Aristotle scholars and political theorists; and for anyone interested in the subject, no matter what his level of expertise, it is definitely a good read. Kraut writes a lucid, leisurely, and expansive prose. Reading his book is a bit like reading a novel by Anthony Trollope: the pages turn easily and quickly. The excitement of original ideas in every chapter makes the book difficult to put down; one wonders what its author will come up with next. But a big book, filled with original interpretations of a text that has been closely studied by very good scholars for a very long time, makes a big target. In this review I waft a few friendly arrows at the target. Some are from Kraut’s own quiver. For his book is sometimes at variance with his commentary on Politics VII and VIII (Kraut 1997). When it is, the commentary invariably seems more accurate than the book; so I occasionally wind up citing Kraut against himself.

Before discussing individual chapters it will be well to say something about Kraut’s global interpretation of the Politics. He is opposed to the reading of the treatise represented in an earlier generation by Werner Jaeger and currently by Eckart Schütrumpf that separates the utopian parts of the Politics that focus on virtue and Aristotelian happiness (Books VII and VIII) from the more empirical and realistic parts that are especially concerned with political stability (Books IV-V-VI) (pp. 182, 376-77, 428 n. 2, 437 n. 12). Taking his lead from a sentence in the final chapter of the Nicomachean Ethics, the chapter in which Aristotle makes his transition from ethics to politics, Kraut claims that “the Politics has a single goal throughout: it is a study of how the polis can contribute to human well-being” (p. 378). This is the sentence from the Ethics : “Perhaps we should be satisfied if, when all the things are present through which we seem to become decent, we get some share of virtue” ( EN X.9.1179b18-20: Kraut’s translation). “The sentence just cited,” Kraut says, “shows that in writing the Politics Aristotle’s eyes are always fixed on the goal of virtue—not necessarily perfect virtue, but at least ‘some share of virtue'” (p. 379: see also pp. 96, 433-37). Kraut paints an attractive picture of Aristotle, the political philosopher. In his view Aristotle is not a conservative or reactionary interested in maintaining the status quo, but a reformer who thinks that a good man, living under a bad or an inferior political system (as we all do), should engage with those in power, work to ameliorate their excesses, and try to bend the system towards the ideal (pp. 352-53, 372-83, 473-74).

The book’s introductory chapter is entitled ‘Aristotle’s Political World and Writings.’ The discussion of Aristotle’s political world focuses on whether the rise of Macedonian power, the conflict between Athens and Macedon, and Aristotle’s connections with the Macedonian court had much of an influence on his political writings. Kraut thinks they did not (p. 9). The discussion of Aristotle’s political writings focuses on the relation of the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics. Since Kraut’s book appears in the series “Founders of Modern Political and Social Thought” and since a third of it is devoted to the Nicomachean Ethics, this focus is understandable: he needs to justify lavishing so much attention on a treatise that is so often studied in isolation from the Politics. His first point is that in Aristotle’s view the Nicomachean Ethics, as a treatise on character, and the Politics, as a treatise on constitutions and cities, are two branches of politics in the broad sense of the term (pp. 16-17). He says that by ‘politics’ in its broad sense Aristotle “designates the study of human well-being and character” (p. 16)—a designation that would seem, however, to fit just one of its branches. A statement earlier in his book is better: “since [in Aristotle’s view] politics [in the broad sense] is the science that controls all other practical disciplines, its proper business is to undertake an investigation of the human good [the subject of the Nicomachean Ethics ], and to regulate human affairs in the light of what it discovers [the subject of the Politics ]” (p. 1). Kraut’s second point is that there is a logical, as well as a typological, relation between the two treatises. The logical progression is from the Nicomachean Ethics to the Politics : “the former provides the foundations for the latter, but it is only through the latter that the former can achieve its practical purpose” (p. 17). These two points lead up to a discussion of the chronological relation of the two treatises. His view here is that “[t]he Politics (or much of it) was written first, even though it is to be studied second” (p. 17). The parenthetical qualification allows for the possibility, touched on later (pp. 182-83), that the Politics was not written all at one stretch but that different parts were written at different periods in Aristotle’s philosophical career. Kraut maintains only that “large portions” of the Politics antedate the Nicomachean Ethics (p. 19). He thinks, nevertheless, that one can use the chronological priority of the Politics to resolve questions of internal consistency: “if we find Aristotle endorsing a certain doctrine in the Nicomachean Ethics, that gives us an excellent reason to reject the hypothesis that this same doctrine is affirmed by one book of the Politics but then contradicted or silently abandoned in another” (p. 19). But it is difficult to see how this interpretative principle can be applied with much confidence once the possibility is allowed that not all of the Politics antedates the Nicomachean Ethics. There is the additional problem that one large part of the Nicomachean Ethics was probably written before the Politics was even begun. Kraut notes that the books common to the Eudemian and Nicomachean Ethics ( EN V-VI-VII = EE IV-V-VI) are widely assumed to be originally a part of the Eudemian Ethics and that the Eudemian Ethics is thought by most scholars to antedate both the Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics (p. 18).

In Chapter Two Kraut discusses some objections to Aristotle’s universalism, his view that some broad generalizations about human well-being hold true at all times and places (pp. 22, 49). Kraut is attracted to this view because he thinks that one can construct two lists, one of things that are good for all human beings such as friendship, pleasure, understanding, health, and humor, and another of things that are universally bad such as misery, physical incapacitation, humiliation, pain, hunger, and loneliness (pp. 32, 47-48). The view that stands in the way of such universalism, according to Kraut, is subjectivism, the doctrine “that what makes something good for me is the favorable attitude I have towards it—my desire for it, or my belief that it is good, or my intention to pursue it” (p. 22). The goal of Chapter Two is to advance universalism by undermining subjectivism. But one wonders whether Kraut is chasing the right quarry. Subjectivism, as he acknowledges (pp. 22, 50 n. 1), is usually opposed, not to universalism, but to objectivism, the view that one can have mistaken beliefs about what is intrinsically good or bad. Universalism, for its part, is usually opposed, not to subjectivism, but to relativism, as a remark of Kraut’s on the diversity of cultures almost acknowledges (p. 21). Once these oppositions are straightened out, it should be clear that it is relativism, not subjectivism, that stands in the way of universalism. Kraut points out that subjectivism is itself universal in scope in the sense that the doctrine is meant to apply to all human beings at all times (p. 23). Its weakness in his view is that it does not direct us toward particular goals (p. 49): it is universal in form but not in content. Kraut is right that subjectivism is universal in form—that is to say, that subjectivists think their theory applies to all people at all times—but wrong to suggest that it cannot also be universal in content, postulating a common stock of first-order attitudes and desires across all people. For if subjectivism does not direct us to particular goals, it does not direct us at all, which means that with respect to content it is neutral as between relativism and universalism. Subjectivism is compatible with universalism since it leaves open the possibility (for which there would seem to be some evidence) that the subjective attitudes of human beings converge—that the overwhelming majority of human beings have a positive attitude towards friendship, pleasure, understanding, health, and humor, and a negative attitude toward misery, physical incapacitation, humiliation, pain, hunger, and loneliness. And if subjectivism and universalism are compatible, one cannot advance the one by undermining the other.

In this next chapter Kraut discusses Aristotle’s account of human well-being in Nicomachean Ethics I and X.7-8 and briefly surveys other topics covered in the treatise. His discussion focuses on the function argument of EN I.7 as the spring from which Aristotle’s Ethics flows. The most important aspect of the argument in Kraut’s view is Aristotle’s claim that what sets human beings off from plants and the lower animals is their capacity to reason (p. 68), where the capacity to reason is understood as the capacity to theorize and deliberate and to reshape one’s emotions (p. 69). The conclusion of the argument, that “[1] the human good turns out to be activity of soul in accordance with virtue, and [2] if there are more than one virtue, in accordance with the best and most perfect” ( EN I.7.1098a16-18), has been variously interpreted. Kraut reaffirms his view, argued for at length in his Aristotle on the Human Good, that ‘best and most perfect virtue’ refers to theoretical wisdom rather than to some composite of the moral and intellectual virtues (p. 77, n. 27). The conclusion of the function argument thus foreshadows the ringing endorsement of the philosophical life in EN X.7-8. One problem with this interpretation is that the premises of the argument do not support so narrow a conclusion. The premises claim that what is distinctive of human beings is their capacity to deliberate as well as to theorize. Indeed, as Kraut reads Aristotle, the capacity to deliberate is more distinctive of human beings than the capacity to theorize; for he attributes to Aristotle the view that only a handful have the intellectual aptitude to lead a philosophical life (p. 94). How can anything for which few humans have an aptitude be the human good? Another problem arises when the Ethics is read in conjunction with the Politics. For Kraut thinks that the philosophical and political lives that Aristotle describes are competing alternative careers. “Members of Aristotle’s school,” he writes, “who arrived at his door in a state of uncertainty about whether to devote themselves to theoretical studies or the practical life are advised that their own well-being will be best served by the former alternative” (p. 94: see also Kraut 1989, pp. 23-27). But every citizen of Aristotle’s ideal polis leads a political life (p. 205). So none of his citizens can be philosophers if philosophy and politics are competing alternative careers. These problems disappear if the political and philosophical lives that Aristotle describes are regarded as personifications of abstractions, each life being one aspect of a good life. There are good grounds for reading Aristotle this way since he uses the particle signaling abstraction— hêi or qua (e.g. “being qua being”)—in describing these lives in EN X.7-8. He says that the person who theorizes ” qua human and living with a number of others, chooses to do the things that accord with virtue” ( EN X.8.1178b5-6) and that a person does not lead a life devoted to theorizing qua human but qua containing something divine ( EN X.7.1177b27-28). Aristotle’s idea, then, is that a person lives a political life qua human and a philosophical life qua demigod. Kraut himself falls into this way of speaking. He says, for example, that Aristotle’s “citizens will engage in both political and quasi-philosophical activity, and a defense of both aspects of their lives is needed” (p. 206), thus implicitly adopting the dual-career interpretation he rejects in his earlier book.

The longest chapter in Kraut’s work, 80 pages in length, is devoted to Nicomachean Ethics V, the book on justice, the moral virtue directly connected with politics. Aristotle begins his discussion by distinguishing two forms of justice, usually referred to as ‘universal’ and ‘particular justice’, though Kraut prefers the more wordy ‘justice in the broad sense’ and ‘justice in the narrow sense’. Aristotle then equates universal justice with (1) lawfulness and (2) the whole of virtue (in its other-regarding aspect). The first equation presents an obvious difficulty. Laws are sometimes unjust; hence, in obeying the law a universally just man may be required to do something unjust. Consequently, “lawfulness cannot provide a standard of what is just” (p. 103). One way to resolve this problem is to suppose that universal justice is equated with obedience to ideal law. But this is an interpretation that Kraut resists (p. 112). He thinks that Aristotle intended the equation to hold even when the law is the less than ideal law of actual poleis, and tries to resolve the problem from this perspective. He points out that Aristotle regards the rule of law itself as a just institution—”all legal systems [in Aristotle’s view], even defective ones, have some degree of justice”—and that the rule of law is undermined unless laws, even unjust ones, are generally obeyed (p. 115 including n. 26). But Kraut also maintains that universal justice involves more than passive obedience: Aristotle’s universally just man in his view is an active participant in the political life of his polis as juror and legislator (p. 107). It is difficult to see how such a man, when serving as a juror in a polis with unjust laws, can fail to be tainted by the injustice of the laws he is called upon to apply. Believing that jurors are subordinate to legislators, the just man when serving as a juror is, in Kraut’s words, an “ally” of the legislator and is prepared, as such an ally, to apply “even those laws that he himself would like to be repealed” (p. 110). His reason presumably for wanting a law repealed is that he regards it as unjust. On Kraut’s interpretation, then, the problem does not disappear: the universally just man, in applying an unjust law, may find himself sharing in an unjust action-exiling or imprisoning or executing a defendant for failing to observe an unjust law. If laws can be unjust, there will always be occasions when it is just to disobey them; and lawfulness will thus not provide a standard for just actions.

Aristotle’s equation of universal justice with both lawfulness and the whole of moral virtue raises questions about his views of the scope of law and the content of morality. What does he mean when he says that “the laws address all matters” ( EN V.1129b14)? Kraut takes him to mean that the law’s scope is universal: “for every ethical virtue there is a law that requires action in accordance with that virtue” (p.113, n. 23). Though Kraut notes that a more restricted reading is possible, this reading ties in with his interpretation of Aristotle’s ideas on the content of morality. Universal justice in Kraut’s view is not simply the sum of the other virtues in their other-regarding aspect. He thinks that Aristotle’s equation of universal justice with both virtue and lawfulness is meant to forge a link between the ethical virtues and the social norms, rules, principles, and laws of the polis in which the person resides (p. 121). Thus, Kraut attributes to Aristotle the view that the exercise of the moral virtues in their other-regarding aspect “always takes place against a background of social expectations that are encapsulated in the form of rules” and that the display of a moral vice in one’s treatment of others is always the violation of an existing social rule or norm (p. 124). This interpretation of Aristotle brings social norms, rules, general principles, and laws into the very center of his ethics, answers to some extent the charge that his descriptions of the moral virtues are vacuous, and implicitly denies that Aristotle is a virtue ethicist, if by a ‘virtue’ ethics is meant an ethics in which right conduct is defined or validated by reference to the moral virtues rather by reference to rules, principles, and laws.

Turning now to particular justice and injustice, Kraut wonders about their distinctness from the virtues and vices discussed in EN II-IV. Aristotle says, for example, that the man who commits adultery out of lust is self-indulgent whereas the one who commits it for profit is unjust ( EN V.2.1130a24-28). But the profit-seeking adulterer would seem to be a cousin of the pimp, who is said at EN IV.1 to be guilty of sordid greed ( aischrokerdeia) (1121b40-1122a3). Why, then, does Aristotle need to recognize yet another vice of particular injustice? Since Aristotle characterizes the man who is unjust in the narrow sense as anisos (unequal or unfair) and pleonektês ( EN V.1.1129a32-33), the question becomes one of the proper interpretation of pleonexia. Kraut suggests that pleonexia is not simply a desire for more and more but “a desire to have more at the expense of others“: the unjust adulterer “does not regard the suffering of others as a cost, but as part of the appeal of acting unjustly” (pp. 138-39, Kraut’s emphasis). But this suggestion, as Kraut himself acknowledges (pp. 139-40), assimilates pleonexia to epichairekakia, the Greek version of Schadenfreude, the vice discussed at EN II.7.1108b1-6. A better idea, due to Charles Young, is that pleonexia is the desire for more and more when gaining involves unfairness, not because it involves unfairness (Young 1989, p. 238).

The most controversial part of Kraut’s interpretation of Aristotle’s ideas about distributive and corrective justice, the two main species of particular justice ( EN V.2.1130b30-1131a1), is his assumption that corrective justice is the same as penal justice (pp. 148-50). There are two reasons for questioning this assumption. The first is the absence of any mention of punishment in EN V.4, the chapter on corrective justice. Punishment is not mentioned in EN V until Aristotle reaches the topic of reciprocity in EN V.5 (see 1132b30). The second reason is that corrective justice is said (1) to treat the parties of a legal action as equals and (2) to restore them to a position of equality ( EN V.4.1131b32-1132a10), whereas neither (1) nor (2) is apparently true of penal justice. In discussing the punishment of an ordinary citizen for assaulting an official, Aristotle claims that the two parties are not treated as equals ( EN V.5.1132b28-30); and in his only extended discussion of punishment in the Nicomachean Ethics at III.5.1113b21-1114a3, he notes that penalties are doubled for offenses committed when a person is drunk, contrary to (2). Aristotle’s corrective justice seems to be concerned, not with punishment, but with restitution or compensation.

When Kraut eventually reaches the Politics in his fifth chapter, his first topic is the organization of the treatise. He sees the work, not as “a shapeless compilation of loosely related essays,” but as a unified whole in which the eight books in their traditional order follow a logical progression (pp. 183-87). “The movement of thought … takes us from what is rudimentary, undeveloped, and defective to what is more fully realized and excellent” (p. 185). Thus, Book I is concerned with the institutions from which the polis develops (the family, slavery, and property); Book II with the false ideals of previous thinkers and of reputedly well-governed existing poleis; and Book III with general questions about citizenship and constitutions preparatory to the discussion of non-ideal constitutions in Books IV-V-VI and of the ideal polis in Books VII-VIII (pp. 185-86). The logical progression from the imperfect to the perfect in the Politics resembles in Kraut’s view the movement of thought in the Eudemian and Nicomachean Ethics and in the Metaphysics. In the ethical treatises the movement of thought culminates in an account of the best human life, and in the Metaphysics it reaches a climax with an account of divine substance in Book XII (pp. 186-87). Kraut notes that this is exactly the progression the epilogue of the Nicomachean Ethics envisages (X.9.1181b15-23): a “careful and exhaustive empirical study” of existing constitutions (like that found in Pol. IV-V-VI) will provide the foundation for an account of the best constitution (p. 187 together with p. 183, n. 5). Kraut thus rejects the transposition of Books IV-V-VI and VII-VIII favored by some modern editors.

There are several points to be made about this view of the structure of the Politics. First of all, the progression that Kraut describes from the undeveloped and defective to the fully realized and excellent fuses two distinct progressions. The progression from the undeveloped to the fully realized is developmental; that from the defective to the excellent is evaluative. A child is an undeveloped, not a defective, human being; a tyranny is a defective, not an undeveloped, monarchy. Once these two progressions are disentangled, the second point is that the defective are conceptually posterior to the excellent ( Pol. III.1.1275b1-2). The defective constitutions in Aristotle’s taxonomy are deviations ( parekbaseis) of the correct, or excellent, ones; they are related to the correct ones as malformed are related to well-formed animals (compare Pol. III.17.1287b39-41 with Gen. An. IV.3.767b6, 4.771a12). If one cannot understand what is contrary to nature until one understands what is according to nature, one will need to study Pol. VII-VIII before IV-V-VI. The third point concerns the epilogue of the Nicomachean Ethics. The problem is that Aristotle’s program does not fit his practice; the description of the ideal polis that we find in Pol. VII-VIII owes more to study of Plato’s second-best polis of the Laws than it does to any empirical investigations. We should note, finally, that the original edition of the Politics on eight papyrus rolls could have left the relation of IV-V-VI and VII-VIII unresolved. It was not until the first codex edition was prepared that the matter had to be settled one way or the other.

After explaining at length why he adopts a practice at variance with his theory of the structure of the Politics (pp. 189-91) and conceding the point about the conceptual priority of the ideal to the less-than-ideal (p. 194), Kraut begins his own exposition of the philosophy of the treatise with Books VII-VIII. In his view Aristotle’s ideal polis is an attractive combination of aristocracy (p. 231, n. 72) and egalitarian democracy (p. 236). Its goal, the full development and exercise of the rational, emotional, and social capacities of its full citizens, is aristocratic; the distribution of goods to its citizens, especially land, education, and political power, is egalitarian, though, as Kraut notes, Aristotle allows for disparities of wealth among his citizens and introduces no mechanism for periodically equalizing their resources (pp. 221-23). Kraut applauds Aristotle’s ideal, but laments its narrowness, its failure, in particular, to encompass women and slaves (pp. 234-39). “[O]ur dissatisfaction with Aristotle’s utopia,” he writes, “can be put this way: he expresses no hope for the entire human race, but only for a small portion of it. He assumes that the most we can realistically wish for is that a small fraction of humankind will understand their good, and will have the resources needed to live together in a self-governing community. When he envisions the best possible future, his vision is occluded, because he cannot see any possibility that all people might live as his ideal citizens do” (p. 230).

One contentious issue in Kraut’s chapter on Pol. VII-VIII is his solution of a well-known puzzle about Aristotle’s ideal polis. The citizens of Aristotle’s best polis, one would hypothesize, would lead the best kind of life, which for Aristotle is a philosophical life, a life of theoretical activity devoted to the investigation and contemplation of the first causes of the universe. But Aristotle makes no provision, in the treatise that has come down to us, for a higher education devoted to the cultivation of theoretical reason; and he also seems to imply at Pol. VII.14.1333a25-29 that only a handful of his ideal citizens will be capable of theoretical activity. Since he says explicitly that his citizens will need philosophy to fill their leisure time ( Pol. VII.15.1334a23, 32), we seem to have an “intolerable paradox” (pp. 197-98). Kraut’s solution is to distinguish a strict and a loose sense of ‘philosophy’. In the strict sense the term signifies the investigation and contemplation of the first causes of the universe; in the loose sense it signifies something akin to philosophy in the strict sense, namely, “listening to musical performances,” an activity well within the mental range of all of Aristotle’s citizens (p. 201).

There are several reasons for scepticism about Kraut’s solution of the puzzle. First of all, the textual basis for the connection of philosophy and music is slender. Within the Politics itself Kraut cites only Aristotle’s question, “Or does [music] contribute something to leisure time and to wisdom ( phronêsis)?” (VIII.5.1339a25-26)—taking phronêsis to be, not practical wisdom, but theoretical wisdom, or sophia (p. 202, n. 22). (For the identification of phronêsis and sophia see Kraut 1997, pp. 139-40.) Secondly, it is far from clear that the passage thought to imply that only a handful of Aristotle’s ideal citizens will be capable of theoretical activity really does have that implication. Here is the passage: “one sort of reasoning is practical, the other theoretical… And we will say that actions are related proportionately: those that belong to the part that is by nature better must be more choice-worthy for those who are capable of attaining all of them [i.e. actions of the desiring, practical, and theoretical parts] or [only] two of them [i.e. actions of the desiring and practical parts]” ( Pol. VII.14.1333a25-29: Kraut’s translation with explanatory material added). This passage, it will be noted, makes a general claim about the actions of human beings, not specifically the actions of citizens; furthermore, it makes no attempt to quantify the group of individuals who are capable of theoretical activity. To infer from it that only a handful of citizens are capable of such activity is thus a large leap. Kraut has, I think, imported an idea from Plato’s Republic. Thirdly, in the debate over the relative merits of the philosophical and the political lives at Pol. VII.2-3, the former life is identified with the theoretical life (1324a28), the life of philosophy in the strict sense, as Kraut acknowledges (pp. 205-6). Thus, when it is said later in the same book that citizens will need philosophy to fill their leisure time, it is natural to suppose that ‘philosophy’ is still being used in the strict sense. Finally, when Aristotle, in the course of his critique of Phaleas’ ideal constitution at Pol. II.7, indicates the need for philosophy in a well-regulated political community, he advocates philosophy for the same reasons he extols theoretical activity in the Nicomachean Ethics —for its painless pleasure, self-sufficiency, and leisuredness (compare Pol. II.7.1267a7-12 with EN X.7.1177a17-b26)—which suggests, though of course it does not entail, the identity of the two. (Note too the use of ‘philosophy’ as a stylistic variant for ‘theoretical activity’ at EN X.7.1177a25.)

In Chapter 7 Kraut both interprets and defends the three fundamental theorems of Pol. I.2: (1) that the polis exists by nature, (2) that human beings are by nature political animals, and (3) that the polis is prior by nature to the household and to each of us. The first thesis in Kraut’s view is part normative and part empirical. Its normative component is the claim “that the process that leads from the primitive household to the city is a process of proper development”; its empirical component is the claim “that impulses not of our own choosing … are the psychological forces behind the development of the city” (pp. 242-43: Kraut’s emphasis). These psychological forces include, in Kraut’s view, the desire for the sort of happiness that Aristotle describes in the Ethics, the sort of happiness that can be found only by living in a polis (ibid.). Kraut argues for thesis (1) along two different lines. Along the first line he appeals to a principle of trichotomy, that desires arise in us either by nature or by habit or by reason ( Pol. VII.13.1332a39-40), claims that the desire to live the sort of life that can only be lived in a polis arises in us neither by means of reasoning nor by habit, and infers that it arises in us by nature (pp. 242-43 including n. 4). This argument is Kraut’s own invention; it is not to be found in Pol. I.2 or anywhere else in Aristotle. Furthermore, it does not seem to cohere well with the rest of the passage containing the principle of trichotomy. The passage goes on to say that “the other animals live by nature most of all, and a small number of them live also by habit, but man lives also by reason. For he alone has reason” (1332b3-5: Kraut’s translation). Since the desire for the sort of happiness that can only be found by living in a polis is a distinctively human desire, the sentences just quoted would seem to associate it more closely with reason than with nature. Thus, the passage to which Kraut refers for the disjunctive premise of his argument seems to cut against its conclusion.

Kraut’s second line of argument for thesis (1) is a rendition of the genetic argument of Pol. I.2.1252b27-34: “Plants and animals exist by nature because something within them has moved them forward from their embryonic stages to their adult forms ( Physics II.1.192b8-15). But cities have also arisen through such a process of growth, and so they exist by nature as well” (pp. 243-44). The process of growth, Kraut adds, is propelled in plants and animals by the nutritive soul whereas in the case of poleis it is propelled by “the natural desires of human beings to live and meet their basic needs” (p. 244). Aristotle himself does not use the terminology of desire in Pol. I.2, though it is useful in understanding the problem with his argument. All Aristotle says about human motivation in Pol. I.2 is that the union of male and female for the sake of procreation arises, not from choice ( proairesis), but from a natural urge (1252a26-30). Such a natural urge provides a good reason for asserting that the family exists by nature. The question is how the naturalness of the family gets transferred down the developmental chain from the family to the village and from the village to the polis. The problem is that the emergence of the polis from the village appears to involve deliberation ( Pol. I.2.1253a30-1), whereas it was the very lack of deliberation that provided the reason for calling the family ‘natural’. In terms of the species of desire the problem is that the developmental process begins with the natural and nonrational desire to procreate (appetite) and ends with the (apparently) rational desire to live a good life (wish). (I say ‘apparently’ rational since, although wish ( boulêsis) is assigned to the rational part of the soul in the De Anima (III.9.432b5, 10.433a23-25) and the Rhetoric (I.10.1369a2-4), it is placed in the nonrational part at Pol. VII.15.1334b18-25 (see Kraut 1997, pp. 147-48).) How does the naturalness of appetite get transferred to wish? Speaking in defense of Aristotle’s argument, Kraut claims that rational intervention does not necessarily turn poleis into products of human craft, citing the fact that “[w]hole [biological] species may owe their existence to human intervention” (p. 245). But this fact is irrelevant. Kraut has already explained why biological species count as natural: they are ensouled. The question concerns the naturalness of something that does not have a soul.

The expression ‘political animal’ refers, in Kraut’s view, specifically to the desire to live in a polis, though by extension it also refers more generally to the impetus that human beings share with the social insects to lead lives that are not solitary (pp. 248-51). “[Aristotle’s] name for an animal’s drive (whether that animal is human or not) refers,” he says, “to the highest goal to which that drive eventually leads [in some animal or other]” (p. 250). In Aristotle’s world free adult males are political animals in the specific sense; and women, natural slaves, and bees are political animals in the extended sense. Thesis (2), that human beings are political animals by nature, has, on Kraut’s interpretation, both a normative and an empirical component just like thesis (1). Its empirical component is the claim that “human beings have something in them right from the start—a political impetus or impulse—that propels them towards civic life”; its normative component is the claim that “the good towards which this impulse propels them is civic life” (p. 247). Kraut remarks that “[t]he very considerations that lend credibility to [thesis (1)] also support [thesis (2)]” (ibid.). On his interpretation of the two theses it is easy to see why: one is the correlative of the other. They have exactly the same normative and empirical content, expressed from the standpoint of the polis in one thesis and from the standpoint of human beings in the other. This suggests that Kraut may have misinterpreted one thesis or the other. For it seems that one can affirm that human beings are by nature political animals and deny that the polis exists by nature. Human beings are political animals by nature, according to Aristotle, because they have an innate impulse ( hormê) towards a political community ( Pol. I.2.1253a29-30). This impulse must, among other things, be an impulse toward just actions; for a political community cannot come into existence without justice ( Pol. I.2.1253a37-39). Such an impulse is what Aristotle calls a ‘natural’ virtue ( Magna Moralia I.34.1197b38-1198a2), and the point about natural virtues is that they do not become genuine virtues until, through moral training, a person acquires practical wisdom ( EN VI.13). The political impulse of a human being is thus different from that of a bee. In a bee it is a developed capacity to fulfill a particular function in a bee colony, whereas in a human being it is only a capability of acquiring, with the aid of reason, a capacity to play a part in a polis. This distinction may be in the back of Kraut’s mind when he writes that “the instinct that causes [bees] to join together in one common task is the very instinct that … leads free men to want to joint together in a common association” (p. 250; my emphasis). The italicized words suggest that the political impulse does not propel human beings as far as it propels bees. It causes bees to form a colony; it only points human beings in the direction of a political community. To reach such a community human beings must use reason. It seems wrong, then, for Kraut to refer to the political impulse in humans as an ‘instinct’ since it is the very essence of instinct to operate independently of reason.

Kraut devotes most of Chapter 7 to thesis (3), that the polis is prior by nature to each of us ( Pol. I.2.1253a18-29). Aristotle takes this thesis to be an instance of the general principle that the whole is prior to the part. He illustrates the principle by considering the relation of a whole body to a foot or a hand. When the whole is destroyed, the part is likewise destroyed. (Aristotle is presumably contrasting natural with artificial wholes: a wagon can be disassembled without destroying its wheels, axle, and box.) A dead hand, having lost its capacity to function as a hand, is a hand only homonymously, a hand in name only. Aristotle appears to argue that an isolated individual cut off from his polis is like a severed hand: he is “a beast or a god,” a human being in name only. The interpretative puzzle is that this apparent consequence of the thesis is blatantly false: an individual severed from his polis does not cease to be a human being. Kraut’s solution is to interpret the priority in question as priority in goodness, the fourth sense of the term listed in the Categories : “What is better and more to be honored is thought to be prior by nature” (12.14b4-5). His hypothesis is that “the city is by nature prior to each of us in that its good is greater than the good of any single one of its citizens” (p. 265). Although an individual living alone remains a human being as long as he retains the faculty of reason (pp. 261-64), such an individual would be unable “to exercise the other-regarding component of the ethical virtues,” and thereby would, on Kraut’s interpretation, lose “the good of being human and therefore might as well not be human” (p. 268: my emphasis). Kraut’s interpretation may be right, but it does not resolve the interpretative puzzle for on his interpretation the two instances of the priority principle are no longer parallel. An isolated individual is a real human being, whereas a severed hand is a hand in name only. On Kraut’s interpretation an isolated individual resembles not a severed hand but a real hand with nothing to grasp. So why does Aristotle introduce his theory of homonymy?

In his eighth chapter Kraut turns to the topic of slavery. He maintains that Aristotle’s justification of natural slavery is a defense, rather than a radical critique, of slavery as it was practiced in fourth-century Greece (p. 285). Its intent in Kraut’s view is to demonstrate that the institution needs to be reformed—only barbarians should be enslaved—not abolished (p. 278). Kraut looks favorably on Aristotle’s argument, if not on its conclusion. He claims that “Aristotle’s framework for thinking about [slavery] was internally consistent and even contained a limited amount of explanatory power. It was a coherent way of looking at the social world that could not, at that time, have easily been undermined by armchair theorizing” (p. 278). He thinks the flaw in the argument lies in an empirical premise whose falsity Aristotle’s contemporaries could not easily have ascertained (pp. 278, 303). The premises that Kraut attributes to Aristotle are scattered throughout Chapter 8 and never collected together into a continuous argument. In order to evaluate his claims about “Aristotle’s framework” we must try to construct a valid argument from the scattered pieces. The following seems to be Kraut’s rendition of Aristotle’s argument:

1. A slave is “an ensouled piece of property, an ensouled tool” (p. 281).

2. Those who by their very nature lack the capacity for deliberation (but can obey orders) are by nature slaves (pp. 301-3).

3. Those who have the capacity for deliberation are by nature masters.

4. “… by their very nature Asians and Europeans lack the capacity for deliberation” (p. 303).

5. Greeks, on the other hand, have the capacity for deliberation.

6. “… the relationship between a natural slave and a natural master is mutually beneficial” (p 281). (“The slave benefits from slavery … because, were he not a slave [and under the control of a natural master], he would lead a life of idleness, dissolution, and petty immorality” (p. 297).)

7. What is mutually beneficial is just. (“Justice consists in a proportionate exchange of good for good or evil for evil” (p. 299).)

8. Therefore, it is just for Greeks to enslave Asians and Europeans—to own them and treat them as mere tools.

The empirical premise whose falsity supposedly lay beyond the ken of Aristotle’s contemporaries is, of course, premise (4). A critique that finds no flaw in Aristotle’s argument beyond this should satisfy no champion of freedom, for the argument is easily repaired. One need only replace premise (4) with an empirical premise that is true and adjust the rest of the argument accordingly; the new conclusion will be as repugnant as the old. If there are not whole peoples who by their very nature lack the capacity for deliberation, there are individual human beings who do (for there are human beings of every level of mental competence); and by Aristotle’s argument it will be just to enslave them —to make them pieces of property who are ruled primarily for the advantage of their master and only incidentally for their own advantage ( Pol. III.7.1278b32-37). This being the case it would be unfortunate if the argument had no other questionable premise.

Attention usually focuses on premise (2). For Aristotle this is the crux of the argument; and he attempts to establish it by an elaborate argument from analogy ( Pol. I.5.1254a17-b26), an argument that Kraut curiously never examines. Aristotle claims that “he who shares in reason so far as to apprehend it but not to possess it” stands, in respect of ruling and being ruled, to a possessor of reason as the body stands to the soul and as beast stands to man. Since it natural in Aristotle’s view for the body to be ruled despotically by the soul and for lower animals to be ruled despotically by humans, he infers that it is also natural for the semi-rational to be ruled despotically by the fully rational—despotic rule being the rule of a master over slaves ( Pol. I.7.1255b16-18, IV.11.1295b19-22). But, as has often been pointed out, Aristotle’s characterization of the person fitted for slavery as one who shares in reason to the extent of apprehending it but without possessing it resembles his characterization of the desiring soul: “the appetitive and in general the desiring part [of the soul] shares [in reason] in a way, in so far as it listens and is obedient to it” ( EN I.13.1102b30-31; see also Pol. VII.14.1333a16-19, 15.1334b17-28). This means that Aristotle’s defense of premise (2) rests upon an analogy that, by his own principles, is false. For Aristotle maintains that mind ( nous) rules desire not with a despotic but with a political and regal rule ( Pol. I.5.1254b5-6). It follows that the semi-rational individual, being the analogue of the desiring soul, should be ruled politically or regally, not despotically. So, contrary to Kraut’s claim, there is an internal inconsistency in Aristotle’s framework, an inconsistency revealed (as inconsistencies usually are) by armchair theorizing.

The topic of Chapter 9 is Pol. II, a remarkably rich discussion, in Kraut’s view, of the imaginary constitutions of Plato and others and of the real constitutions of the reputedly well-governed poleis of Sparta, Crete, Carthage, and Solonian Athens. Kraut believes that Aristotle’s examination of the utopian schemes of his forerunners provides the foundation for his own utopian scheme in Pol. VII-VIII. He believes in particular that the introduction of the family and private property into Aristotle’s ideal polis in Book VII without argument is not due to blind respect for tradition and antiquity but is rather the fruit of Aristotle’s critique of the utopian scheme of the Republic for abolishing both institutions within the guardian class. He also thinks that the examination of the Laws and of the constitutions of the reputedly well-governed poleis in Book II paves the way for Aristotle’s discussion of the mixed constitution in Book IV. The thread that binds all of this material together, in Kraut’s view, is the problem of avoiding faction and integrating citizens into a single community (pp. 306-8), and the conclusion toward which he builds throughout Chapter 9 is that Aristotle is a ‘communitarian’ in so far as the citizens of his ideal polis “share a single conception of the good and a single education” (p. 356) and “care not only for themselves and their families, but for all the other citizens as well” (p. 355). This is a rather weak sense of ‘communitarian’. The Aristotelian idea that an individual who is polis-less ( apolis) by nature rather than bad luck is either a beast or a god ( Pol. I.2.1253a3-4, 27-29) might be taken to imply that Aristotle is a communitarian in the much stronger sense that a person’s very identity, including his humanness, is constituted by the political community of which he is a part.

In Chapters 10 and 11 Kraut reaches Pol. III and the heart of Aristotle’s political philosophy. Chapter 10 is devoted primarily to Aristotle’s difficult discussion in Pol. III.4 of the question whether the virtue of a good man and of a good citizen are the same or different. From the premise that the virtue of a citizen varies with the constitution under which he lives, whereas the virtue of a good man does not, Aristotle infers right off the bat that the two are distinct ( Pol. III.4.1276b30-34). The primary issue for him is whether they are distinct even in the special case of an ideal constitution. This raises immediately the question of the nature of the political ideal envisaged in Book III. Kraut thinks it differs from that of Books VII and VIII. He thinks that Book III asserts that it is impossible for all the citizens of a polis, even an ideal polis, to be good men, whereas Books VII and VIII assert that it is possible (pp. 364-65 including n. 11). If this is so and if the political offices under an ideal constitution are distributed on the basis of virtue, it would seem to follow that in the ideal polis of Book III the highest offices must be restricted to good men; and this is indeed Kraut’s interpretation. He thinks that Aristotle assumes in Book III that “some citizens will be permanent rulers and others will not; the latter will occupy minor offices, but will always be subordinate to those who are better equipped to govern. They do not need practical wisdom to play their smaller civic role, but merely right opinion. They will be good citizens, but not completely virtuous men” (p. 371). (If these latter citizens had practical wisdom, they would of course be good men ( EN VI.12.1144a36).) The doctrine of Pol. III is that “[r]ule by one or a few is better than rule by many” (p. 359); the ideal polis of Books VII and VIII by contrast “is ruled by many, not few. Every single adult citizen (except those who are too old) is a ruler” (p. 359, n. 5; Kraut’s emphasis). Kraut thinks that these distinct ideals rest on different assumptions and are thus not really in conflict: Book III presupposes the imperfect educational systems of actual poleis, whereas Books VII and VIII assume perfect educational institutions operating under ideal conditions (pp. 360-61). Only such perfect institutions are up to the task of making all citizens good men.

Just how strong are the grounds for thinking that the political ideal of Book III is different from that of Books VII and VIII? This question is worth addressing, for a simpler interpretation of Pol. III.4 is available if the ideals are the same. To begin with, it is not so clear that the ideal polis of Books VII and VIII is ruled by many not few, as Kraut maintains. He seems to have forgotten that every adult male in Aristotle’s ideal polis serves as a hoplite before becoming a ruler. As he writes himself in his commentary on 1329a2-17: “Aristotle’s proposal is that each citizen go through two stages: in the earlier, he is a soldier and not allowed to take part in political decisions; in the later, he is one of the rulers and no longer a soldier” (Kraut 1997, p. 106). A citizen begins his military service when he is twenty-one ( Pol. VII.17.1336b37-40 together with VIII.4.1339a4-10). Aristotle does not say when it ends, but the requirements of defense would likely require a long enlistment. It is plausible to suppose that the military stage of a citizen’s life would comprise the entire period preceding his marriage at around his thirty-seventh year ( Pol. VII.16.1335a28-29). On this scenario a citizen would be a hoplite for sixteen years and a ruler for thirty-three, assuming that citizens retire from political life at seventy (see VII.9.1329a27-34). Although a citizen would be a ruler for twice as long as he is a hoplite, it is none too clear, once one allows for attrition due to accident, disease, warfare, and old age, that the rulers will outnumber the hoplites and the superannuated citizens together; and if they do not constitute a majority of the citizens, the constitution of the ideal city of Books VII and VIII cannot be accurately characterized as rule by the many, not the few. Aristotle always counts minority rule, no matter how large the absolute number of rulers, as rule by the few (see Pol. III.8.1279b22-25).

Another difference that Kraut finds between the earlier and later parts of the Politics is that one part claims (at 1276b37-38) that “in no city can all citizens be good men” (p. 365, n. 11: Kraut’s emphasis), and the other part claims (at VII.13.1332a32-38) that all the citizens of the best possible city are good men (p. 365). But on closer examination the two parts can perhaps be reconciled. At 1332a32-38 Aristotle is using the word translated ‘citizen’ in a narrow sense that excludes the hoplites in his city, for in this passage the citizens are identified with those “who share in the constitution,” that is, with those who rule. The hoplites in Aristotle’s ideal city have not yet acquired practical wisdom and are not yet good men (VII.9.1329a2-17). Consequently, if they are counted as citizens, as they sometimes are in Book VII (see 9.1329a30-31), not all of his citizens are good men; and the apparent contradiction between the two parts of the Politics vanishes.

We are now in a position to evaluate Kraut’s idea “that in the best regime [of Book III] there will be hierarchies of merit and authority” (p. 366), high offices being held permanently by men of practical wisdom and lower offices by ordinary people who possess only correct opinion. The offices that Kraut presumably has in mind are those of juror and assemblyman, since these were the offices in a Greek polis for which the eligibility requirements were lowest. But in Nicomachean Ethics VI.8 one species of practical wisdom is said expressly to be concerned with the deliberative and judicial parts of politics (1141b29-33). Aristotle apparently expects the jurors and assemblymen in any ideal city to be men of practical wisdom. Which citizens, then, need only correct opinion? Aristotle gives us a clue when he reverts to the topic of the virtue of the good man and of the good citizen in Book VII. He writes: “since we say that the virtue of a citizen and a ruler is the same as that of the best man, and that the same man should be ruled first and a ruler later …” (14.1333a11-13). The men in Aristotle’s ideal polis are ruled first while they are hoplites and rule later when their enlistment is over. But correct opinion is precisely the virtue of the man who is ruled ( Pol. III.4.1277b28-29). Thus, correct opinion and practical wisdom are the virtues of two stages in a citizen’s life, not the virtues of two types of citizen. (There is a line in modern texts of the Politics to the effect that it is not necessary for a good citizen to be a man of practical wisdom (III.4.1277a15-16), but the word translated ‘citizen’ ( politên) is an editor’s conjecture with no manuscript support.)

The continuing discussion of Pol. III in Chapter 11 winds its way towards Aristotle’s account of total or absolute kingship ( pambasileia), the unrestricted rule of a godlike man. Kraut thinks that Aristotle’s views on absolute kingship progress through three stages in Pol. III, Pol. VII.14, and Nicomachean Ethics VIII.10 respectively. He thinks that “[Aristotle’s] final conclusion in Book III is that when there is one kingly person, he should rule; when several, they should share rule; and there is no reason to wish for one of these situations rather than the other” (p. 411, n. 29). In Book III the best regimes are thus kingship and aristocracy (p. 411). Although the rulers in both must have a kind of virtue that exceeds human virtue and makes them like gods, this only means in Kraut’s view that they are extraordinarily virtuous human beings: “Nothing [Aristotle] says in Book III rules out the possibility that, in his opinion, some human beings have or have had the godlike qualities needed to be genuine kings” (p. 422, n. 40). In Book III kingship is “a real though remote possibility” (ibid.). In Book VII rule by one or a few extraordinary individuals remains Aristotle’s highest ideal ( Pol. VII.14.1332b16-23), but Kraut argues that the ideal now requires that these extraordinary individuals be an entirely different race: “not only must they be superior in soul, but they must have a corresponding superiority in body, so that their distinctness from the human race is manifest to all” (p. 422). Aristotle’s political ideal in Kraut’s view now moves beyond our highest hopes into the empyrean: “Aristotle takes it to be obvious that there have never been individuals who have both the physical and psychological superiority spoken of in VII.14. That is why kingship is taken to be a real though remote possibility in III, whereas VII and VIII merely imagine the possibility of a city ruled by superhuman beings” (p. 422, n. 40). Kraut thinks that the final stage of the evolution of Aristotle’s view of kingship comes in the Nicomachean Ethics. In this treatise, on Kraut’s view, Aristotle advances one final step and asserts his definite preference for monarchy: “In the Nicomachean Ethics [Aristotle] holds that rule by one person is best” (p. 411, n. 29).

What are we to make of this view of Aristotle’s development? To begin with, Aristotle’s words in Pol. VII.14 seem to imply that rule by one or a few extraordinary individuals is more than a theoretical possibility. He says that such individuals are “not easily found,” not that they are not to be found ( Pol. VII.14.1332b23). This is consistent with what he says in Nicomachean Ethics VII.1 of the heroic and divine virtue that is “above us”—the virtue supposedly possessed by the kingly man. A man of such virtue, he says, is “rare”, not nonexistent (1145a27-28). Kraut recognizes this objection. Indeed, his note on Pol. VII.14 in his commentary on Books VII and VIII makes this very point. “Aristotle,” he says in his earlier work, “does not claim that in principle such a supreme individual could not some day arise, and he does not deny that this situation ever existed in the past” (Kraut 1997, p. 135). Wishing to reject his earlier interpretation, Kraut denies that Aristotle’s words mean what they seem to mean: “When Aristotle says that this manifestly superhuman race is ‘not easily found’ (1332b23), I take him to be understating his point for humorous effect” (p. 225, n. 64). Kraut’s response to a similar ploy on the part of Werner Jaeger is apropos. To save his thesis of a conflict between the empirical and utopian parts of the Politics in the face of the contrary evidence of Pol. IV.1 Jaeger attempts to skirt the clear sense of Aristotle’s words by claiming to find in them “an undertone of polemic against the mere construction of ideals” (Jaeger 1948, p. 269). What Kraut says of Jaeger would seem to apply to himself: “The fact that Jaeger must appeal to an ‘undertone’ that he detects in Aristotle’s words, and not the words themselves, reflects the weakness of his case” (p. 428, n. 2).

As for the third stage of Aristotle’s alleged development, one must remember Kraut’s view of the chronological relation of the Politics and the Nicomachean Ethics. Though he thinks that the former treatise (“or much of it”) was written before the latter, he acknowledges that EN V-VI-VII is widely assumed to antedate the Politics. Can we be sure that EN VIII was written after Pol. III and VII? It is difficult to be confident since EN VIII and IX have some of the marks of an independent treatise on friendship. And even if EN VIII was written after the Politics, there is no reason to expect it to contain Aristotle’s most mature thoughts on political philosophy. Aristotle is not, after all, advancing his political philosophy in VIII.10. He uses the taxonomy of constitutions in VIII.10 to mirror the various relationships in the household and the kind of friendship appropriate to each. The paternal friendship of a father for his children is the mirror image of the relation of a king to his subjects. Aristotle has good reason to revert to the simple scheme of Pol. III.7: the more subtle taxonomies that supercede it would be out of place in an essay on friendship. The third stage of Aristotle’s alleged development would thus appear to be as illusory as the second.

Chapter 12, the last substantive chapter in this book, is devoted to Aristotle’s examination of non-ideal constitutions in Pol. IV-VI. One theme of this chapter is Aristotle’s view of the proper combination of mass and elite. Kraut claims that “a significant portion of Aristotle’s political thought is devoted to precisely this issue: how should elite and ordinary people be combined so that each is encouraged to play the role that it performs best?” (p. 463). The answer, according to Kraut, depends upon the constitution. (1) In oligarchies and democracies mass and elite should be balanced: “In [Aristotle’s] best democracy, the people have somewhat more power than do the elites; and in his best oligarchy somewhat less; but in either case, a rough parity between the two forces is maintained” (p. 463). (2) In polities, or middling constitutions, the animosity between mass and elite is minimized by concentrating power in the hands of those who, being neither rich nor poor, stand between mass and elite—owners of small plots who possess slaves and are freed from hard physical labor (p. 439). The rule of such ordinary people, on this interpretation, is preferable to that of a traditional elite: “What IV.11 [the chapter on the middle constitution] tells us is that even though [Aristotle] is willing to grant considerable power to these traditional elites in certain circumstances, he nonetheless has contempt for them and would prefer to do without them” (p. 443). (3) In Aristotle’s ideal polis, Kraut claims, mass and elite are both entirely eliminated (p. 442). “[W]e can say that in a sense Aristotle is not only a democrat but a radical democrat. He thinks that a city that eliminates elites entirely is far superior to one that merely restricts their power by balancing it against the power of the people” (p. 462; see also p. 361). Kraut thinks, in fact, that Aristotle goes too far: “one legitimate objection that can be made to Aristotle’s thinking is that he is too democratic. It seems naive to suppose that a political community can do without elites entirely” (p. 462).

The idea that Aristotle’s ideal polis eliminates elites entirely runs counter to the interpretation of our leading expert on mass and elite in Greek culture and politics, Josiah Ober. Ober maintains that “[t]he political sociology of Aristotle’s ideal state is … based upon exclusionary and elitist principles. … In common with modern elitist thinkers, [he] assumes that only a small minority of the members of society are naturally capable of ruling, that the members of the elite are conscious of their superiority and able to form a cohesive ruling group, and that the masses can … be permanently excluded from access to political power without the state’s incurring a serious risk of revolution” (Ober 1991, p. 131). As Ober explains in an earlier work, “Aristotle’s ideal citizens are intended to be only a small fraction of the total population of the polis: a leisured ruling elite whose members would make their living by extracting the surplus value of the labor of a population of ‘natural’ slave farmers and noncitizens craftsmen and merchants” (Ober 1989, p. 33). Although Kraut cites both of these works (p. 439, n. 15), he neglects to mention that they adopt a position diametrically opposed to his own.

Since Kraut and Ober agree in their description of Aristotle’s ideal polis, they must be using the terms ‘mass’ and ‘elite’ differently. Though Kraut never states clearly what he means by ‘mass’ and ‘elite’, the following definitions would seem to capture his use of the two terms. A man is one of the mass if, and only if, (1) he works for a living—is a farmer, craftsman, trader, or unskilled worker—and (2) is a citizen or a potential citizen (that is, a free-born native) (p. 24, n. 4; see also p. 513 s.v. ‘mass’). A member of an elite, by contrast, lives off the labor of others and has privileges and powers not accorded to other citizens. For Kraut, in other words, the terms are defined within the citizen body only and not, as with Ober, within the total adult male population. Since no one who works for a living is either a citizen or a potential citizen of Aristotle’s ideal polis and since wealth, education, birth, and political power are possessed by its full citizens in roughly equal measure, his ideal polis contains, by these definitions, neither elite nor mass, and is radically egalitarian. But this is like calling an exclusive club radically egalitarian because its members have equal privileges and do not acknowledge the existence of nonmembers. Kraut is aware of, and indeed emphasizes in other parts of his book, the narrowness of Aristotle’s ideal. So why does the book end with such stress on Aristotle’s radical egalitarianism? The answer is that Kraut is enchanted with Aristotle’s ideal polis and the splendid lives led by its citizens and finds it difficult, if the narrowness of the ideal is ignored or somehow eliminated, to imagine a better (see pp. 480-81).1


Jaeger, Werner 1948. Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kraut, Richard 1989. Aristotle on the Human Good. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Kraut, Richard 1997. Aristotle Politics : Books VII and VIII. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Miller, Fred D., Jr. 1995, Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s Politics. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Ober, Josiah 1989. Mass and Elite in Democratic Athens. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Ober, Josiah 1991. “Aristotle’s Political Sociology: Class, Status, and Order in the Politics” in Essays on the Foundations of Aristotelian Political Science edited by Carnes Lord and David K. O’Connor. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Young, Charles 1989. “Aristotle on Justice,” The Southern Journal of Philosophy 27 (Supp.): 233-49.


1. I am indebted to Jean Roberts and an anonymous referee of this journal for helpful comments on an earlier draft of this review.