It’s the most important work on American democracy and the US in the 1830s. Democracy in America is a very long book 1000 pages though. The truth is that every American and every Political Scientist should read it.
Two ways to look at it:
It’s a historical artifact: it’s historical.
Work of political science and sociology.
The French Revolution ruined the de Tocqueville family wealth. The author studied, Voltaire, Rouseau, Pascal. In the 1830 July Revolution , Tocqueville takes the oath for the new Burbons. Tocqueville wanted to try looking into the US for prison reform. However, he wanted to identify lessons from US democracy, it’s inclination; what should we fear or hope for in this new democratic movement emerging in the US? The Trail of Tears occurred in the 1830s….Also the Nullification Crisis. There was also slavery; bu Tocqueville observed a ‘classless’ society.
The Voluntary Association / Local Sovereignty
American Bible Society; Temperance Society;
The Lady’s Association for the Benefit of Gentle Women of Good Family Reduced In Fortune Below the State of Comfort To Which They Have Been Accustomed.
Voluntary Associations: don’t rely on the government to solve their problems.
Democracy at the local level then is far more robust. Tocqueville and his co-author won a cash prize for their research.
The federal government was very small; voluntary association was central and patriotism is evident.
The Hierarchies of Power could be crushed as long as we are all being treated free and equal….and meeting up to talk about it.
Freedom and Equality are mutually re-inforcing. But then we asked;
Freedom and Equality seem to pull in different direction….
Locke wanted to separate powers; but it’s an institutional device.
How to combine popular rule with political wisdom?
“1835 Democracy in America”
America is a blank slate. Tocqueville thought that France would become like America: democracy is likely to revert back to monarchy.
Equality of conditions: this is the equality of conditions (equality of opportunity). It’s a gradual spread of the concept.
Features of American Democracy:
I) Local government: localism: local democracies are the cradle of civil society in townships. The institutions of putting the democracy in the reach of all the people were not that expensive to build. The people are legislating and organizing. Alexis de Tocqueville told his readers to read Rousseau every day;
The township format itself is Aristotelian. The township exists by nature. There is the old Polis character described by Aristotle which Tocqueville believes is very important for a democratic society.
II) Civil Association: these voluntary groups are immensely powerful and energizing. There is the mother science concept; uniting in associations. Trying to fix common goals; civic association.
Robert Putnam: happy for social capital. The decline in association is the Bowling Alone phenomenon. These are not natural times; It’s a learned activity; the Civic Society goes into decline as our isolation cripples our Civic Associations.
Are we in a couch potato crisis? Yes, in 2018!!
III) Spirit of Religion: America is primarily a puritan democracy; early Puritanisms. Religion will not disappear because of the decline of faith; it’s rather a shift in faith. We can’t separate faith: dignity of the individual. Tocqueville looked at religion purely for social effects.
Increase the number of factions in order to prevent anyone from being the dominant one.
The idea of democracy does claim that this idea that political correctness is a danger.
Moral of the State:
Democracy has made us gentler: broadcast tv has made us indifferent to others in our group.
Bill Clinton “I feel your pain.”
Political Educator: – There is a divine
Restful. We want to ask what kind of people we create.
What is the democratic statecraft? A new political science; it’s based on a novel history of human agency; as any reader knows there is a power in history.
It’s like we are part of an immense process.
Certainly the pendulum has swung away from civil society in many ways. But generally online interactions are positive.
By evaluating the theoretical implications of Aristotle’s The Politics, this essay will accomplish four objectives. First, it will show the structure and definition of the constitutional regimes discussed. Second, this essay will demonstrate the correlation and dynamics between aristocracy and the polity. Third, it will argue that the polity is possible especially with a middle class. Finally, this essay will argue that the aristocracy and polity form the basis of Aristotle’s ideal city.
Aristotle has two distinct theoretical focuses; one is the theory of the ideal city while the other is a variety of constitutional models within realizable cities. The ideal model is discussed most lucidly in Book VII and VIII while the tangible regime options are laid out in Books III and IV. Aristotle divides the just and unjust regimes declaring that any regime acting to serve the common good is just (kingship, aristocracy, polity) and any regime acting to serve those in power is unjust (tyranny, oligarchy, democracy) (1298b26). By structurally dividing his focus, Aristotle wishes to demonstrate not only an abstract ideal city but also “[the best] possible, and similarly also the regime that is easier and more attainable for all” (1288b37) from the six models mentioned.
Pertinent to the understanding of the best possible regime, Aristotle’s The Politics diverges from the Republic in that he supports the value of the collective superiority of the multitude giving them authority within society in democracies and polities. Of the unjust constitutional regimes, democracy favours the implementation of a strict equality where the poor and the rich are treated as equal actors of authority (1291b29-30). Democracy is “the best of the bad sorts” (1289b8) of regimes envisioned and the democracy is desirable to an extent because an equality-based polis could serve to foster more inclusive community interaction much like the polity. Of the other pertinent unjust constitutional regimes, an oligarchy is present when the wealthy and better born have authority over the multitude. Democracy thus argues for a more inclusive citizenship than an oligarchy and so the polity, which is just, mirrors democracy while aristocracy, which is also just, emulates oligarchy.
There are three just regimes that compete in the conceptualization of equality arguing that certain individuals and social classes are to be the ideal and only rightful authority in the state. They are the outstanding person (kingship), the few (aristocracy) and the many (polity). Although Aristotle claims that kingship and aristocracy are the best forms of government, he admits their improbability having asserted the collective superiority argument that “aristocracy would be more choiceworthy for cities than kingship” (1286b1-3). This is only possible with the unlikely superhuman leader. While both kingship and aristocracy are established on the basis of virtue, Aristotle also warns subsequently that it is “rare to discover men who were very outstanding in virtue, especially since the cities they inhabited were so small” (1286b7-9). Here, he asserts that there is a minimal chance of either an aristocracy or superhuman kingship from arising. Fortunately, the third just regime type called the polity does not require virtue (1294a23) as a prerequisite for authority.
The relationship between aristocracy and polity is very complex because they are similar but different. Aristotle admits that aristocracies “either fall outside [the range] of most cities, or border on so-called polity; hence we may speak of both as one” (1295a30-33). Aristocracy and polity are then one in the same to an extent but can be differentiated by the provision of virtue and the openness to the multitude. Based on the three principles “disputing over equality in a regime, freedom, wealth and virtue” (1294a20-21), aristocracy is a mixture of the three while the polity only includes freedom and wealth (1294a23). An aristocracy would not accept ‘vulgar persons’ because of the prerequisite of virtue where as a polity’s citizens are free but wealthy and do not require virtue like aristocracy. While the polity and aristocracy differentiate on the basis of virtue, the polity is unique from democracy because it is just and allows for private property to be assured where democracy does not.
To further understand the polity, Aristotle uses the recurring motif in his work of the mean. The polity is the mean between oligarchic and democratic orders (1293b33). While there are several varieties of oligarchy and democracy, the polity is Aristotle’s best form of practical government over the other just constitutional models and stands to improve both unjust regimes. Since the polity strictly requires wealth and freedom (1294a17), the wealthy have more influence than the multitude on the institutions of government. Therefore, it is not entirely democratic but neither is it oligarchic and engages in mixing of legal organization, election of public office and merit between the two undesirable regimes as explained in Book IV, chapter nine.
The question remains as to whether the polity’s existence in reality is feasible. The polity first must be said to be the fifth regime type, which Aristotle admits, “because it has not often existed, it is overlooked by those who undertake to enumerate the kinds of regimes” (IV.7 1293a40). The polity has the curious inclinations of a free state with a wealth distributed (unlike Aristotle’s democracy) based on merit. Applying the theory of the mean, if there is a better mixture in the polity then the longevity of the regime is ensured. Unfortunately, where the optimum mixture lies is not conclusive and never indicated lucidly by Aristotle. This is likely due to the lack of examples of polity as mentioned above. The polity is not impossible but merely improbable, much like another form of mean called the ‘middling class’.
Polity is possible and would best function with the mean of the ‘middling class’. It is crucial for the viability of the polity that the domination of the middle class occurs by outnumbering the two extremes of rich and poor. Poverty and great wealth are morally corrupted extremes according to Aristotle because the ‘overly handsome, overly strong…or the reverse of these things, overly indignant, overly weak…[makes it] difficult to follow reason” (1295b6-7). The centrifugal forces of class interest would tear the polity apart, however Aristotle correctly observes that relative calm is possible with an expansive middle group. It is evident that these two means of polity and middle class parallel each other. It must be noted that at the time of Aristotle these means were both scarce.
Since polity and aristocracy are so closely related, Aristotle mixes aristocracy with polity over the issue of virtue as a mean when dealing the middle class theory. Aristotle states that if he was correct in Nicomachean Ethics “in believing that the happy life is one in accordance with virtue and unimpeded, and that virtue is a mean, then the middling sort of life is best” (1295a38). Aristotle ideally desired a strong virtuous middle-class, which would require a significant number of citizens only possible with a polity. Thus a polity must mix not only democracy and oligarchy but elements of aristocracy as well. Aristotle’s mean theory is remarkably apt for modern liberal democracies, which require a durable middle class. The middle class is the balanced centre that ensures neither the two extreme classes gain full control under their political self-interest. “Where the multitude of middling person predominates either over both of the extremities together or over one alone, there a lasting polity is capable of existing” (1296b36-38) similar to when there is a properly mixed polity. Conclusively, with the recent emergence of the domination of the middle class in the 20th century, Aristotle would likely be pleased with that element of modern society.
Polity falls short of the ideal city because nothing can compare to the abstract ideal city extrapolated in Book VII and VIII. However, the necessity of virtue and public education are discussion points in regard to the polity and in Book VII. In the description of the polity, Aristotle supports the “wealthy [being] reared in similar fashion to those of the poor, and they are educated in a manner such that the children of the poor can also [afford it]” (1294b23-25). This and virtue are elements of the ideal city in Book VII. Therefore the polity sets the groundwork for the ideal city Aristotle wishes to create. Identified in the polity, the designs of the best possible constitution play into the ideal city. The polity and aristocracy are precursors to the theoretical ideal city of Books VII and VIII. The intersecting relationships between polity and democracy, polity and aristocracy in addition to aristocracy and oligarchy are complex and subject to interpretation. The various constitutional models all have benefits but Aristotle’s best possible regime is indeed the polity.
Aristotle, The Politics. Carnes Lord trans, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1985.
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