Aristotle
Politics
TIPS FOR READERS

Although  Jowett is better
known for his Plato, his
potent, declamatory
prose is just as suitable
for Aristotle.

No good introduction
of Aristotle is
available for younger
readers.  However,
Mortimer J. Adler has
given us his
Aristotle
for Everybody, which
he initially planned to
name Aristotle for
Children.   He claims
that it is suitable for
ages twelve and
above, but I feel that
a student in their
mid-teens would
benefit more from this
introductory guide.
Aristotle lacks the flash and dazzle of Plato.  His careful
taxonomy of political systems, his systematic approach to
each topic he raises, his thoughtful balancing of various
considerations -- all this lacks the excitement of the
Republic, with its philosopher-kings and ambitious plans for
social engineering.  But if politics truly aspires to become
political science, to grounds its beliefs in rigor and a
impartial sifting of evidence, it roots will be traced back to
this monument of Western thought.  

"Man is more of a political animal than bees of any other
gregarious animals," Aristotle writes.  This inherent
tendency to social organization combines with other
unique attributes of humans -- their language, their
distinctions between good and evil, unjust and unjust.  
Even at this stage, Aristotle has already moved beyond
philosophy into the realms of anthropology and sociology,
In this nuanced approach he is actually more modern and
forward-looking than Plato, who prefers to operate at the
level of theory.   Aristotle not only makes grand
pronouncements on high, but sifts through the available
evidence -- from history, from mythology, from the great
poets -- as he pieces together his comparative study of
political systems.  

But for all his care, Aristotle sometimes veers off course --
and his errors are sometimes large ones.  Although some
"affirm that the rule of a master over slaves is contrary to
nature, and that the distinction between slave and
freeman exists by law only, and not by nature," Aristotle
disagrees.  He remarks: "For that some should be rule and
others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but
expedient;  from the hour of their birth, some are marked
out for subjection, others for rule."

But even in Aristotle's errors there are important lessons
for us.  His mis-steps show how even a cold, rational
approach can fall under the sway of the biases and
practices of the surrounding environment.  As such, the
study of a work such Aristotle's
Politics heightens our
awareness of the mutability of values and perspectives,
and as such should give us a much needed dose of
humility as we offer our own verdicts and pronouncements.