Aristotle: the Hellenic and Universal Elements in Political Thought Essay

Published: 2020-02-08 04:20:09
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Aristotle was not only a political thinker but also a political scientist. If Plato is considered the first political philosopher Aristotle is rightly called the first political scientist. He studies politics from an empirical and scientific perspective. The method he used in the study of politics was inductive and analytical. He reached the conclusions after collection and analysis of data. He studied the constitution of a number of then existing Greek city-states and thereby laid the foundation of a new subject called the Comparative Politics. His method was therefore, not only inductive and analytical but also empirical and comparative.

Aristotle advocates the doctrine of natural origin of state. The state has come into being following a long process of evolution, from family through village or community to the state. Man is social animal who likes to live with others. This very nature of man gave birth to the institution of family. But family was unable to meet the increasing necessity of human beings. Therefore they created the village or the community. It was the half-way house between the individual and the state. The village or the community was also insufficient to meet the increasing needs of men. Thus state came into being to meet and satisfy the greater needs of human beings.

Aristotle advocates the organic theory of state. The relation between individual and state is essentially organic. State is the whole and individuals are parts of it. This concept of state lays stress on dependence of individual on the state.

Aristotle believes in natural inequalities of human being and supports the institution of slavery. To him slavery is a necessary part of civilized life. He also provides some psychological arguments in support of the institution of slavery.

Aristotle gives a very narrow definition of the concept of citizenship. He emphasizes on active participation in the functioning of governance as the essential part of citizenship. He excludes the common people as well as women from the privilege of citizenship.

He defines constitution as the scheme of arrangement of offices. A constitution determines the character and end of a state. To him state, constitution and government are interchangeable terms. He gives a six-fold classification of government on the basis of number of ruler and purpose of the state. To him revolution is an attempt to change the existing government.

Apart from these issues Dunning says, some Hellenic and Universal elements are also found in Aristotles thought. Following are the Hellenic ideas found in his thought.

His ideas of justice and advocacy of slavery are essentially Hellenic in character. He emphasized the inherent necessity of slavery as the basis of all organizations. He believed in the superiority of Greeks over other races. He considered the city-states as representing the best form of government which can give individuals freedom from economic worries. He gave supreme importance to the system of education and training as directed and controlled by the state to maintain political virtue. He championed the laws of the city states and subjugations of personal motives to the authority of law. All these Hellenic ideas Dunning says, in course of time have either passed out or modified in the modern ages.

On the contrary some universal elements are also found in his political thought. He idealized good life as the aim of the state and gave birth to the idea of Welfare state. His theory of sovereignty of law is an important contribution to the modern political thought. It has been implemented in all countries adopting constitutional democracy. His importance on economic and political freedom is also part of the universal elements. The theory of sovereignty of law gave birth to the idea of constitutional democracy. His idea of public opinion is an important concept. He considered that people are the best judges. He advocated the theory of Golden Mean and the concept of political checks and balances. He also made combination of the individual liberty and state authority.

Aristotle held man to be the final decision maker. The ideas of social justice, democracy and welfare state are derived from it. The idea of separation of power originated from him. Aristotle is also called the father of individualism. He championed and defended the institutions like family and property to protect individual freedom. He first emphasized on the inter-relationship of politics and economics. He is called the father of modern individualism. He is the philosopher of ages and has influence on modern thought.

Aristotles entire political thought has been subject to criticism. His theory of natural origin of state lacks historical support. He could not imagine the nature and size of modern state. His advocacy of the institution of slavery is based on his blind faith in the superiority of the Greeks to other ethnic races.

Aristotles definition of citizenship is narrow and influenced by contemporary Greek idea of citizenship. He excluded majority people along with women from the privilege of citizenship. He confused state with government and constitution and failed to distinguish them from each other. As a matter of fact Aristotles entire political thought is based on his experience of contemporary Greek ideas and practices.

Select Readings
J C Johari- Political Thought (Volume-I)
J P Suda- History of Political thought
E Barkar- History of Political thought (Plato to Aristotle)
G H Sabine- A History of Western Political Theory
Kalyan Kumar Sarkar- Paschatya Rastrachintar Itihas, Sribhumi Publishing House, Kolkata, 2000 (Bengali) Nimai Pramanik and Sushil Ranjan Roy Pashchatya Rashtra Chintar Itihas, Chhaya Prakashani, Kolkata

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