Favorite Quotes from Aristotle’s Politics

More than 2000 years ago, Aristotle literally wrote the book on politics. Aristotle’s Politics most certainly rivals and probably exceeds Plato’s Republic and Machiavelli’s Prince in its understanding and explanation of political philosophy, though it seems to be less popular than those other works. Aristotle’s Politics was possibly the most influential political book until Montesquieu wrote his Spirit of the Laws, which our Founding Fathers relied on quite heavily in developing the United States Constitution.

In writing The Path to Tyranny: A History of Free Society’s Descent into Tyranny, I used Aristotle’s Politics as a prime source for information on ancient Greek politics and political philosophy in general. Here, I share some of my favorite quotes.

Aristotle’s principles of liberty:

One principle of liberty is for all to rule and be ruled in turn. [Politics Book 6 Part 2]

The majority must be supreme, and that whatever the majority approve must be the end and the just. Every citizen, it is said, must have equality. [Politics Book 6 Part 2]

A man should live as he likes. This, they say, is the privilege of a freeman, since, on the other hand, not to live as a man likes is the mark of a slave. This is the second characteristic of democracy, whence has arisen the claim of men to be ruled by none, if possible, or, if this is impossible, to rule and be ruled in turns; and so it contributes to the freedom based upon equality. [Politics Book 6 Part 2]

Aristotle’s definition of tyranny:

For tyranny is a kind of monarchy which has in view the interest of the monarch only. [Politics Book 3 Part 7]

Aristotle explains the motivations of tyrants:

A tyrant, as has often been repeated, has no regard to any public interest, except as conducive to his private ends; his aim is pleasure. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

The idea of a king is to be a protector of the rich against unjust treatment, of the people against insult and oppression. Whereas a tyrant, as has often been repeated, has no regard to any public interest, except as conducive to his private ends; his aim is pleasure, the aim of a king, honor. Wherefore also in their desires they differ; the tyrant is desirous of riches, the king, of what brings honor. And the guards of a king are citizens, but of a tyrant mercenaries. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

As of oligarchy so of tyranny, the end is wealth; (for by wealth only can the tyrant maintain either his guard or his luxury). [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

Aristotle explains how men became tyrants:

In any of these ways an ambitious man had no difficulty, if he desired, in creating a tyranny, since he had the power in his hands already, either as king or as one of the officers of state. Thus Pheidon at Argos and several others were originally kings, and ended by becoming tyrants; Phalaris, on the other hand, and the Ionian tyrants, acquired the tyranny by holding great offices. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

Panaetius at Leontini, Cypselus at Corinth, Peisistratus at Athens, Dionysius at Syracuse, and several others who afterwards became tyrants, were at first demagogues. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

History shows that almost all tyrants have been demagogues who gained the favor of the people by their accusation of the notables. At any rate this was the manner in which the tyrannies arose in the days when cities had increased in power. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

Aristotle explains the ruthlessness of tyrants:

Another mark of a tyrant is that he likes foreigners better than citizens, and lives with them and invites them to his table; for the one are enemies, but the Others enter into no rivalry with him. [Politics Book 5 Part 11]

From democracy tyrants have borrowed the art of making war upon the notables and destroying them secretly or openly, or of exiling them because they are rivals and stand in the way of their power; and also because plots against them are contrived by men of this class, who either want to rule or to escape subjection. [Politics Book 5 Part 10]

Aristotle explains how tyrants oppress the people:

These are, (1) the humiliation of his subjects; he knows that a mean-spirited man will not conspire against anybody; (2) the creation of mistrust among them; for a tyrant is not overthrown until men begin to have confidence in one another; … (3) the tyrant desires that his subjects shall be incapable of action, for no one attempts what is impossible, and they will not attempt to overthrow a tyranny, if they are powerless. [Politics Book 5 Part 11]

Another practice of tyrants is to multiply taxes, after the manner of Dionysius at Syracuse, who contrived that within five years his subjects should bring into the treasury their whole property. [Politics Book 5 Part 11]

The people, having to keep hard at work, are prevented from conspiring. The Pyramids of Egypt afford an example of this policy; also the offerings of the family of Cypselus, and the building of the temple of Olympian Zeus by the Peisistratidae, and the great Polycratean monuments at Samos; all these works were alike intended to occupy the people and keep them poor. [Politics Book 5 Part 11]

The tyrant is also fond of making war in order that his subjects may have something to do and be always in want of a leader. [Politics Book 5 Part 11]

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One response to “Favorite Quotes from Aristotle’s Politics

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