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Private Property and the Rule of the Middle Class in Aristotle’s Politics

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Private Property and the Rule of the Middle Class in Aristotle’s Politics

In his discussions of constitutions and cities in Politics, Aristotle makes it very clear that his top priority is to provide people with the opportunity to pursue and achieve the good life. An integral part of this is the stability of the constitution. Although Aristotle explicitly states that a kingship is the best system of rule for any given generation, its lack of stability from one generation to the next disqualifies it from being the best in reality. In his attempts to find a constitution with stability, Aristotle comes to the decision that the middle class would be the ruler of such a constitution. This, he says, will minimize the corruption that can easily take place within the rich or the poor, and will ensure lasting stability. In order to enable the middle class to take a role of power, Aristotle allows them to obtain wealth, and more specifically private property—a huge diversion from the opinion of Aristotle’s mentor, Plato put forth in the Republic.

Towards the beginning of Aristotle’s discussion about the different constitutions, he makes the claim that in certain situations, a kingship is the most virtuous of all types of government. “There may, however, be a particular sort of society in which absolute kingship ought to be instituted. This is the sort of society in which one family, or person, is of merit so outstanding as to surpass all the other members…there should be absolute kingship” (III.17). When Aristotle speaks about “virtue,” describes a constitution as “good,” or issues any other form of praise, he is almost always speaking about the ability of the constitution to provide its citizens with t...

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...a luxury but a necessity for the stability of the just city, and the pursuit of the good life.

Aristotle’s arguments for the rule of the middle class and the existence of private property are very convincing. He successfully shows that a government, which best allows its citizens to live the good life must necessarily be stable. To achieve that stability, those who rule should be chosen because of their ability to maintain control when other classes challenge them, and for their reluctance to corrupt and start ruling for their own self-interest. The middle class was the obvious choice—the poor and rich could never unite to mount an effective challenge. In order for the middle class to have the potential to rule, wealth, luxury, and specifically property must be allowed. Aristotle’s arguments for all of these things are solidly grounded and correct.
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