“…As a mortar is made by a mortar-maker, so a citizen is made by a citizen-maker…”
There are two preliminary core inquiries that ought to be posed and settled first to the best of our understanding. These are: What is a complete citizen, and what is a State (in the strictest and/or best terms) in which this complete citizen participates in? Turning to Aristotle for insights, we glimpse certain conditions that ought to be met to qualify an individual as a truly fully formed citizen and a State as an established true State. Virtuousness is a hallmark of a fully formed and functioning citizen (this point shall be expounded in later paragraphs). A State on the other hand is comprised of these complete citizens. The State is, as Aristotle puts it, a community of freedmen (shackles being the influences of unnecessary and wanton desires/pleasures as shall be elaborated later).
Aristotle holds that virtue cannot be formed (or perfected for that matter) in isolation. He elucidates the interdependency that exists between the established State and the formation of a true citizen. “But that every one should possess the virtue of a good man is impossible without all the citizens in a well-regulated state were necessarily virtuous.” Systemic luck contributes, at least in the Aristotelian sense, to the formation of a true citizen. And as the citizens are, so is the State and vice versa.
There seems to be a kind of synergistic and interdependent interplay between the growth of a State and the formation/maturation of her citizens. Socrates had also pointed out how both the State and her citizens depended on each other for their development and establishment. Socrates argued, “Governments vary as the dispositions of men vary, and that there must be as many of the one as there are of the other?” Due to the complexity of the interdependent nature between the formation of a State and a citizen, perhaps it would be productive to start with an analysis of imperfect and perfect States (in the Aristotelian sense, juxtaposing it with the Socratic one). After this analysis we proceed to an analysis of a complete citizen. Then we wrap up the inquiry with an analysis of the common good aimed at by both the complete citizen and the perfect State.
In a snapshot, a State has the benefit of all her citizens in view. This benefit (good) does not arise accidentally but arises from an orderly, deserved, and justified coordination of interactions and relations within the State. The good is not one-sided, meaning that it is not meant only for the governing lot but it is for both the governing and the governed alike. Aristotle compares this State to a domestic government similar to a family, in which every member is a beneficiary and in turn a benefactor to his or her full capacity.
The power of the master, though by nature equally serviceable, both to the master and to the slave, yet nevertheless has for its object the benefit of the master, while the benefit of the slave arises accidentally; for if the slave is destroyed, the power of the master is at an end: but the authority which a man has over his wife, and children, and his family, which we call domestic government, is either for the benefit of those who are under subjection, or else for the common benefit of the whole: but its particular object is the benefit of the governed…
While offering these analyses, we shall be highlighting reasons that Aristotle could have had for settling and excusing (tolerating) a democratic state though he (Aristotle) clearly recognized that it (this specific democracy) was a lesser form of the true State. For Aristotle, the true State is a polity that metes out the aforesaid good to its citizens without favor or disfavor and enables (if not reinforces) the participation of its citizens (without exclusion and/or coercion) in the running of its affairs. The good is a public good and the citizens have this public good in view as they involve themselves in the State and individual affairs. As Aristotle says, “When the citizens at large govern for the public good, it is called a state [a perfect polity].”
In the Aristotelian sense, democracy could be an elective tyranny where the majority dominate and tyrannize over minorities (the majority who are typically the poor). But it (democracy) can also be something that functions like a consensus-inclined democracy, where each (adequately-informed) individual, though not fully eminent in virtue yet, “brings in his (her) share of virtue and wisdom; and thus, coming together, they are like one man made up of a multitude, with many feet, many hands, and many intelligences:” The consensus-inclined democracy though, is not comparable to a perfect State (one furnished with fully eminent citizens), is preferred by Aristotle since he (Aristotle) admits of a near-impossibility of finding a State where all her inhabitants are imminently endowed with virtue (knowledge plus practical excellence). This form of a consensus-inclined democracy becomes thus like a second choice due to the practical reality of establishing it and also due to the availability of tools for developing citizens who could reinforce and stabilize this form of governance. These tools obviously are those that deal with education and nurture, especially of the young populace.
It is fair to note the near-similarity/complementarity of Aristotle’s understanding of the origin of democracy with that of Socrates. Socrates asserts,
And then democracy comes into being after the poor have conquered their opponents, slaughtering some and banishing some, while to the remainder they give an equal share of freedom and power; and this is the form of government in which the magistrates are commonly elected by lot.
In another vein, Socrates holds “the corruption of the majority is also unavoidable,” Thus in this light, democracy would be the rule of the many poor and yet morally degenerated in some (if not all) senses. Socrates would argue that this form of democracy would be promoting a kind of libertinism which could be defined as the unrestrained gratification of useless and unnecessary pleasures that leads to a “distracted existence he (the said citizen) terms joy and bliss and freedom;” A distracted existence would certainly be contradictory to Aristotle’s notion that men ought to arrange their lives as they ought to be (guided by reason and persuaded by it).
If democracy were thus portrayed in this unfavorable light, why would Aristotle prefer the one we have just described as a consensus-inclined democracy over the majoritarian-ruled democracies? This question is even more urgent given that Aristotle himself admits that individuals tend to be self-biased judges of their own capabilities. “…Being incapable from self-partiality to form a proper judgment of what concerns themselves.” Would any democracy then not be a mob that has this tendency for self-bias multiplied many times over? How serious these self-biases (if they coincided on a particular irrational matter) would replicate and echo, and perhaps (oftentimes than not) express themselves through dogma or other fanatical modes of expressions given the sheer force of their numbers?
Besides this tendency toward self-bias, Aristotle also notes another tendency which disposes individuals to prefer unbridled lifestyles to others. He says the following with respect to this, “for it is more agreeable to many to live without any control than as prudence would direct.” The joint tendencies for self-partiality and a propensity toward excesses (excessive gratification of desires) would probably make the possibility of attaining a consensus in any democracy almost an unfeasible endeavor.
Though both the Socratic and Aristotelian thoughts overlap in many complementary ways, there is one important difference that underlies their point of departure (at least conceptually) from the other. Socrates holds even a more radical view with respect to the multitude than Aristotle does. While Aristotle tends to be more optimistic about the ability of the Many (the masses) to aspire to the truth (through his use of the analogy of a picture being composed of various beautiful elements that were dispersed in the originals ones), Socrates seems to hold the contrary view. Socrates believes that the multitude has even a higher potential of distorting a near-truth further and unlike Aristotle he perhaps sees no comfort in investing hope in the number of the multitudes.
In the dialogue CRITO, Socrates argues, “that some opinions, and the opinions of some men only, are to be valued, and that other opinions, and the opinions of other men, are not to be valued.” But Aristotle would rather not disregard the opinions of the multitude for he holds that though each individual might not know truth(s) in it entirety, their opinions are not far removed from the truth; that these multitudes’ opinions at least partake in some partial but crucial portions of truth. Aristotle believes that if each individual chips in their opinions, the partial truths in them would eventually accumulate and hence making the whole truth supervene in the process of sharing these opinions. He argues the following:
“…Thus is it with respect to the manners and understandings of the multitude taken together; for which reason the public are the best judges of music and poetry; for some understand one part, some another, and all collectively the whole; and in this particular men of consequence differ from each of the many; as they say those who are beautiful do from those who are not so, and as fine pictures excel any natural objects, by collecting the several beautiful parts which were dispersed among different originals into one, although the separate parts, as the eye or any other, might be handsomer than in the picture.”
In this way, it is easier to see why Aristotle would favor a consensus-included democracy since democracy by virtue being the rule of the many, would provide a platform for sharing (and accrual) of these half-truths infused opinions.
Though Aristotle excuses (tolerates) the consensus-inclined democracy, he does this after qualifying two central conditions. One is the place where Supreme Power is to be lodged. Second is the emphasis he (Aristotle) has put on the development of a complete citizen who has the potential to participate in a consensus-inclined Democracy, the truly free and complete (in the sense not ignorant/indoctrinated) citizen.
Aristotle first notes people’s vulnerability to passions of all sorts and the limits of written laws. He argues that since the “soul is subject to so many passions,” it would be imprudent to entrust supreme powers to a few exceptional or seemingly eminent persons. While he agrees that the many are better able to see than one is capable of, he gives the assembly itself (of such individuals) more credence in their power to discern and collectively exercise power than in their numbers themselves (in the individuals forming the assembly). The assembly should act more as one unified body than through the force of their numbers. Aristotle says,
The power is not in the man who is member of the assembly, or council, but the assembly itself, and the council, and the people, of which each individual of the whole community are the parts, I mean as senator, adviser, or judge; for which reason it is very right, that the many should have the greatest powers in their own hands; for the people, the council, and the judges are composed of them, and the property of all these collectively is more than the property of any person or a few who fill the great offices of the state:
Thus the Supreme Power ought to be lodged in the legislative activity/capacity of this assembly of truly free men.
On the other hand, concerning the written laws (for instance a constitution), and their lack of exactness in determining particularized and complex incidences, Aristotle urges that several (as opposed to just one or a few) magistrates (true free servants of the law) ought to be appointed to act as the aides of the laws.
Since then laws comprehend some things, but not all, it is necessary to enquire and consider which of the two is preferable, that the best man or the best law should govern; for to reduce every subject which can come under the deliberation of man into a law is impossible. No one then denies, that it is necessary that there should be some person to decide those cases which cannot come under the cognizance of a written law: but we say, that it is better to have many than one; for though every one who decides according to the principles of the law decides justly; yet surely it seems absurd to suppose, that one person can see better with two eyes, and hear better with two ears, or do better with two hands and two feet, than many can do with many:”
His (Aristotle’s) contention that these servants of the law should not be elected but rather ought to be appointed on a meritocracy basis is consistent with his other notion that the flute ought to be given to the one who can play it. He argues, “…for with respect to musicians who play on the flute together, the best flute is not given to him who is of the best family, for he will play never the better for that, but the best instrument ought to be given to him who is the best artist.” The then consensus-inclined democracy would be under the guardianship of the assembly itself, and only would it in times of difficulty (for instance in the interpretation/application of the law) be under the magistrates’ discretion to facilitate the deliberation of the laws. In addition to the aforementioned magistrate’s discretion, they (the magistrates) are as Aristotle proposes to be helped in their task by their subordinate staff (reverting to the Aristotelian notion that two see better than a one).
Though the magistrates, and their subordinate staff, oversee almost the entire affairs concerning the interpretation and application of the laws, they still fall shy of having supreme power lodged in them. But where then is the ultimate seat of supreme power to be conclusively lodged? Aristotle identifies that the magistrate who is a servant of the law is indeed of a lower status compared to the moral law [the unwritten law] and those whose wills are inwardly governed by moral law [the unwritten law]. “Moreover; the moral law [the unwritten law] is far superior and conversant with far superior objects than the written law; for the supreme magistrate is safer to be trusted to than the one, though he is inferior to the other.” Moral law [or the unwritten law] is thus entrusted the responsibility of overseeing the realm of the Supreme Power.
The better one cultivates the moral will [or the will entrenched in prudence and also has public good in view] in themselves, the better they become at resisting the distractions and the influences of the wide-ranging passions. Otherwise without this moral education and cultivation geared toward the exercise of prudence and moderation, the citizens would only function like semi-complete beings who, in the Socratic sense, would be prone to acting like children fleeing away from the law.
…They will spend that which is another man’s on the gratification of their desires, stealing their pleasures and running away like children from the law, their father: …they have been schooled not by gentle influences but by force, for they have neglected her who is the true Muse, the companion of reason and philosophy, and have honoured gymnastic more than music.
And due to want of moral education and training would they act in this way.
In view of these conditions that Aristotle placed with respect to the establishment of a consensus-inclined democracy, it then (perhaps) makes some logical sense as to why Aristotle would consequently place a lot of emphasis on the education and nurture of the citizens. For it can clearly be deduced that a complete citizen is the one who harmonizes with the moral will [or the will entrenched in prudence and always has in view the public good as opposed to the private good or gain]. Aristotle identified that iniquity and ignorance are among the chief obstacles to being a complete, skilled and fully informed citizenry. “…Virtue and education may most justly claim the right of being considered as the necessary means of making the citizens happy…” For these two tools (virtue and education) instill in the budding citizenry (the young), prudence, moderation and resistance to the wanton passions and the tendency for self-partiality.
A government based on the majoritarian tyranny over the rest (without consideration of her minorities) and the one based on just imperfect and rigidly written/formal constitution, is inferior to the one (government) whose citizens have matured (in some degree or completely) morally.
…From whence it is evident, on the very same account, that a government of written laws is not the best; and yet general reasoning is necessary to all those who are to govern, and it will be much more perfect in those who are entirely free from passions than in those to whom they are natural. But now this is a quality which laws possess; while the other is natural to the human soul.
Without the guidance of the exegetic ability entrenched in the ability to reason, even a perfectly written set of laws would still be a source of dispute due to varied emotionally invested interpretations of the laws.
By way of conclusion, it is evident how Aristotelian thought is complementary to Socratic thought. Both recognized the influences of the environment (systems of governance) on the individual’s development and the effect of the latter on the former. On systemic luck/influences, Socrates himself says, “…–he is like a plant which, having proper nurture, must necessarily grow and mature into all virtue, but, if sown and planted in an alien soil, becomes the most noxious of all weeds, unless he be preserved by some divine power.” And with respect to a complete citizen, Socrates encourages the use of education for this end. “And to men like him…when perfected by years and education, and to these only you will entrust the State.” To be completely free, in the Aristotelian sense, therefore amounts above all to being eminent in virtue and morality.
The truly complete citizens would harmoniously uphold the law.
Moreover, let the people be free, and they will do nothing but in conformity to the law, except only in those cases which the law cannot speak to…. but when many persons equal in virtue appeared at the time, they brooked not a superiority, but sought after an equality and established a free state; but after this, when they degenerated, they made a property of the public.
The making of a truly complete citizen therefore, at least foremost in Aristotelian sense and more so in the Socratic one, is highly dependent on the micro individual capacities as much as it is dependent on the macro institutionalized forms of nurture, education and the structure of governance.
Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government. . Kindle Edition. Edited by T. Taylor, with Porphyry’s Introduction, 9 vols. 1812; under editorship of J. A. Smith and W. D. Ross, 1908.
Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 35078-35079). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition… translated by Benjamin Jowett (1817-1893) of the University of Oxford. Plato (2012-03-19).
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 38). [1276a]. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 40). [1277a]. Kindle Edition.
 Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 35078-35079). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 42). [1279a]. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 43). [1279b]. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 46). [1282a]. Kindle Edition.
 Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 35308-35310). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
 Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 34161-34162). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
 Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Location 35398). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 55). [1287b]. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 102). [1319b]. Kindle Edition.
 I thank Professor Bernard Yack (Brandeis University, Classical Political Thought Class) for enabling me realize this crucial distinction.
 Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 3795-3796). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (pp. 46-47). [1283a]. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 46). [1281a]. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 48). [1282a]. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 55). [1287b]. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 48). [1283a]. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 55). [1287b]. Kindle Edition.
 Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 35144-35146). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 49). [1283b]. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 53). [1286a]. Kindle Edition.
 Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 34200-34201). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
 Plato (2012-03-19). The Complete Works of Plato [Annotated] (Kindle Locations 34115-34116). Latus ePublishing. Kindle Edition.
 Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 53). [1286b]. Kindle Edition.
 “…We want a complete citizen, one in whom there is no deficiency to be corrected to make him so.” Aristotle (2012-05-12). Politics: A Treatise on Government (p. 37). [1275b]. Kindle Edition.