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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsA Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter IX
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A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter IX Post by :Noel_Springer Category :Nonfictions Author :Aristotle Date :January 2011 Read :2296

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A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter IX

There are two considerations which offer themselves with respect to
the government established at Lacedsemon and Crete, and indeed in
almost all other states whatsoever; one is whether their laws do or do
not promote the best establishment possible? the other is whether
there is anything, if we consider either the principles upon which it
is founded or the executive part of it, which prevents the form of
government that they had proposed to follow from being observed; now
it is allowed that in every well-regulated state the members of it
should be free from servile labour; but in what manner this shall be
effected is not so easy to determine; for the Penestse have very often
attacked the Thessalians, and the Helots the Lacedaemonians, for they
in a manner continually watch an opportunity for some misfortune
befalling them. But no such thing has ever happened to the Cretans;
the (1269b) reason for which probably is, that although they are
engaged in frequent wars with the neighbouring cities, yet none of
these would enter into an alliance with the revolters, as it would be
disadvantageous for them, who themselves also have their villains. But
now there is perpetual enmity between the Lacedaemonians and all their
neighbours, the Argives, the Messenians, and the Arcadians. Their
slaves also first revolted from the Thessalians while they were
engaged in wars with their neighbours the Acheans, the Perrabeans, and
the Magnesians. It seems to me indeed, if nothing else, yet something
very troublesome to keep upon proper terms with them; for if you are
remiss in your discipline they grow insolent, and think themselves
upon an equality with their masters; and if they are hardly used they
are continually plotting against you and hate you. It is evident,
then, that those who employ slaves have not as yet hit upon the right
way of managing them.

As to the indulging of women in any particular liberties, it is
hurtful to the end of government and the prosperity of the city; for
as a man and his wife are the two parts of a family, if we suppose a
city to be divided into two parts, we must allow that the number of
men and women will be equal.

In whatever city then the women are not under good regulations, we
must look upon one half of it as not under the restraint of law, as it
there happened; for the legislator, desiring to make his whole city a
collection of warriors with respect to the men, he most evidently
accomplished his design; but in the meantime the women were quite
neglected, for they live without restraint in every improper
indulgence and luxury. So that in such a state riches will necessarily
be in general esteem, particularly if the men are governed by their
wives, which has been the case with many a brave and warlike people
except the Celts, and those other nations, if there are any such, who
openly practise pederasty. And the first mythologists seem not
improperly to have joined Mars and Venus together; for all nations of
this character are greatly addicted either to the love of women or of
boys, for which reason it was thus at Lacedaemon; and many things in
their state were done by the authority of the women. For what is the
difference, if the power is in the hands of the women, or in the hands
of those whom they themselves govern? it must turn to the same
account. As this boldness of the women can be of no use in any common
occurrences, if it was ever so, it must be in war; but even here we
find that the Lacedaemonian women were of the greatest disservice, as
was proved at the time of the Theban invasion, when they were of no
use at all, as they are in other cities, but made more disturbance
than even the enemy.

The origin of this indulgence which the Lacedaemonian women enjoy is
easily accounted for, from the long time the men were absent from home
upon foreign expeditions (1270a) against the Argives, and afterwards
the Arcadians and Messenians, so that, when these wars were at an end,
their military life, in which there is no little virtue, prepared them
to obey the precepts of their law-giver; but we are told, that when
Lycurgus endeavoured also to reduce the women to an obedience to his
laws, upon their refusal he declined it. It may indeed be said that
the women were the causes of these things, and of course all the fault
was theirs. But we are not now considering where the fault lies, or
where it does not lie, but what is right and what is wrong; and when
the manners of the women are not well regulated, as I have already
said, it must not only occasion faults which are disgraceful to the
state, but also increase the love of money. In the next place, fault
may be found with his unequal division of property, for some will have
far too much, others too little; by which means the land will come
into few hands, which business is badly regulated by his laws. For he
made it infamous for any one either to buy or sell their possessions,
in which he did right; but he permitted any one that chose it to give
them away, or bequeath them, although nearly the same consequences
will arise from one practice as from the other. It is supposed that
near two parts in five of the whole country is the property of women,
owing to their being so often sole heirs, and having such large
fortunes in marriage; though it would be better to allow them none, or
a little, or a certain regulated proportion. Now every one is
permitted to make a woman his heir if he pleases; and if he dies
intestate, he who succeeds as heir at law gives it to whom he pleases.
From whence it happens that although the country is able to support
fifteen hundred horse and thirty thousand foot, the number does not
amount to one thousand.

And from these facts it is evident, that this particular is badly
regulated; for the city could not support one shock, but was ruined
for want of men. They say, that during the reigns of their ancient
kings they used to present foreigners with the freedom of their city,
to prevent there being a want of men while they carried on long wars;
it is also affirmed that the number of Spartans was formerly ten
thousand; but be that as it will, an equality of property conduces
much to increase the number of the people. The law, too, which he made
to encourage population was by no means calculated to correct this
inequality; for being willing that the Spartans should be as numerous
as (1270b) possible, to make them desirous of having large families he
ordered that he who had three children should be excused the
night-watch, and that he who had four should pay no taxes: though it
is very evident, that while the land was divided in this manner, that
if the people increased there must many of them be very poor.

Nor was he less blamable for the manner in which he constituted the
ephori; for these magistrates take cognisance of things of the last
importance, and yet they are chosen out of the people in general; so
that it often happens that a very poor person is elected to that
office, who, from that circumstance, is easily bought. There have been
many instances of this formerly, as well as in the late affair at
Andros. And these men, being corrupted with money, went as far as they
could to ruin the city: and, because their power was too great and
nearly tyrannical, their kings were obliged to natter them, which
contributed greatly to hurt the state; so that it altered from an
aristocracy to a democracy. This magistracy is indeed the great
support of the state; for the people are easy, knowing that they are
eligible to the first office in it; so that, whether it took place by
the intention of the legislator, or whether it happened by chance,
this is of great service to their affairs; for it is necessary that
every member of the state should endeavour that each part of the
government should be preserved, and continue the same. And upon this
principle their kings have always acted, out of regard to their
honour; the wise and good from their attachment to the senate, a seat
wherein they consider as the reward of virtue; and the common people,
that they may support the ephori, of whom they consist. And it is
proper that these magistrates should be chosen out of the whole
community, not as the custom is at present, which is very ridiculous.
The ephori are the supreme judges in causes of the last consequence;
but as it is quite accidental what sort of persons they may be, it is
not right that they should determine according to their own opinion,
but by a written law or established custom. Their way of life also is
not consistent with the manners of the city, for it is too indulgent;
whereas that of others is too severe; so that they cannot support it,
but are obliged privately to act contrary to law, that they may enjoy
some of the pleasures of sense. There are also great defects in the
institution of their senators. If indeed they were fitly trained to
the practice of every human virtue, every one would readily admit that
they would be useful to the government; but still it might be debated
whether they should be continued judges for life, to determine points
of the greatest moment, since the mind has its old age as well as the
body; but as they are so brought up, (1271a) that even the legislator
could not depend upon them as good men, their power must be
inconsistent with the safety of the state: for it is known that the
members of that body have been guilty both of bribery and partiality
in many public affairs; for which reason it had been much better if
they had been made answerable for their conduct, which they are not.
But it may be said the ephori seem to have a check upon all the
magistrates. They have indeed in this particular very great power; but
I affirm that they should not be entrusted with this control in the
manner they are. Moreover, the mode of choice which they make use of
at the election of their senators is very childish. Nor is it right
for any one to solicit for a place he is desirous of; for every
person, whether he chooses it or not, ought to execute any office he
is fit for. But his intention was evidently the same in this as in the
other parts of his government. For making his citizens ambitious after
honours, with men of that disposition he has filled his senate, since
no others will solicit for that office; and yet the principal part of
those crimes which men are deliberately guilty of arise from ambition
and avarice.

We will inquire at another time whether the office of a king is useful
to the state: thus much is certain, that they should be chosen from a
consideration of their conduct and not as they are now. But that the
legislator himself did not expect to make all his citizens honourable
and completely virtuous is evident from this, that he distrusts them
as not being good men; for he sent those upon the same embassy that
were at variance with each other; and thought, that in the dispute of
the kings the safety of the state consisted. Neither were their common
meals at first well established: for these should rather have been
provided at the public expense, as at Crete, where, as at Lacedaemon,
every one was obliged to buy his portion, although he might be very
poor, and could by no means bear the expense, by which means the
contrary happened to what the legislator desired: for he intended that
those public meals should strengthen the democratic part of his
government: but this regulation had quite the contrary effect, for
those who were very poor could not take part in them; and it was an
observation of their forefathers, that the not allowing those who
could not contribute their proportion to the common tables to partake
of them, would be the ruin of the state. Other persons have censured
his laws concerning naval affairs, and not without reason, as it gave
rise to disputes. For the commander of the fleet is in a manner set up
in opposition to the kings, who are generals of the army for life.

(1271b) There is also another defect in his laws worthy of censure,
which Plato has given in his book of Laws; that the whole constitution
was calculated only for the business of war: it is indeed excellent to
make them conquerors; for which reason the preservation of the state
depended thereon. The destruction of it commenced with their
victories: for they knew not how to be idle, or engage in any other
employment than war. In this particular also they were mistaken, that
though they rightly thought, that those things which are the objects
of contention amongst mankind are better procured by virtue than vice,
yet they wrongfully preferred the things themselves to virtue. Nor was
the public revenue well managed at Sparta, for the state was worth
nothing while they were obliged to carry on the most extensive wars,
and the subsidies were very badly raised; for as the Spartans
possessed a large extent of country, they were not exact upon each
other as to what they paid in. And thus an event contrary to the
legislator's intention took place; for the state was poor, the
individuals avaricious. Enough of the Lacedaemonian government; for
these seem the chief defects in it.

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