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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsA Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter V
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A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter V Post by :petertwist Category :Nonfictions Author :Aristotle Date :January 2011 Read :2933

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A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter V

We proceed next to consider in what manner property should be
regulated in a state which is formed after the most perfect mode of
government, whether it should be common or not; for this may be
considered as a separate question from what had been determined
concerning (1263a) wives and children; I mean, whether it is better
that these should be held separate, as they now everywhere are, or
that not only possessions but also the usufruct of them should be in
common; or that the soil should have a particular owner, but that the
produce should be brought together and used as one common stock, as
some nations at present do; or on the contrary, should the soil be
common, and should it also be cultivated in common, while the produce
is divided amongst the individuals for their particular use, which is
said to be practised by some barbarians; or shall both the soil and
the fruit be common? When the business of the husbandman devolves not
on the citizen, the matter is much easier settled; but when those
labour together who have a common right of possession, this may
occasion several difficulties; for there may not be an equal
proportion between their labour and what they consume; and those who
labour hard and have but a small proportion of the produce, will
certainly complain of those who take a large share of it and do but
little for that. Upon the whole, as a community between man and man so
entire as to include everything possible, and thus to have all things
that man can possess in common, is very difficult, so is it
particularly so with respect to property; and this is evident from
that community which takes place between those who go out to settle a
colony; for they frequently have disputes with each other upon the
most common occasions, and come to blows upon trifles: we find, too,
that we oftenest correct those slaves who are generally employed in
the common offices of the family: a community of property then has
these and other inconveniences attending it.

But the manner of life which is now established, more particularly
when embellished with good morals and a system of equal laws, is far
superior to it, for it will have the advantage of both; by both I mean
properties being common, and divided also; for in some respects it
ought to be in a manner common, but upon the whole private: for every
man's attention being employed on his own particular concerns, will
prevent mutual complaints against each other; nay, by this means
industry will be increased, as each person will labour to improve his
own private property; and it will then be, that from a principle of
virtue they will mutually perform good offices to each other,
according to the proverb, "All things are common amongst friends;" and
in some cities there are traces of this custom to be seen, so that it
is not impracticable, and particularly in those which are best
governed; some things are by this means in a manner common, and others
might be so; for there, every person enjoying his own private
property, some things he assists his friend with, others are
considered as in common; as in Lacedaemon, where they use each other's
slaves, as if they were, so to speak, their own, as they do their
horses and dogs, or even any provision they may want in a journey.

It is evident then that it is best to have property private, but to
make the use of it common; but how the citizens are to be brought to
it is the particular (1263b) business of the legislator. And also
with respect to pleasure, it is unspeakable how advantageous it is,
that a man should think he has something which he may call his own;
for it is by no means to no purpose, that each person should have an
affection for himself, for that is natural, and yet to be a self-lover
is justly censured; for we mean by that, not one that simply loves
himself, but one that loves himself more than he ought; in like manner
we blame a money-lover, and yet both money and self is what all men
love. Besides, it is very pleasing to us to oblige and assist our
friends and companions, as well as those whom we are connected with by
the rights of hospitality; and this cannot be done without the
establishment of private property, which cannot take place with those
who make a city too much one; besides, they prevent every opportunity
of exercising two principal virtues, modesty and liberality. Modesty
with respect to the female sex, for this virtue requires you to
abstain from her who is another's; liberality, which depends upon
private property, for without that no one can appear liberal, or do
any generous action; for liberality consists in imparting to others
what is our own.

This system of polity does indeed recommend itself by its good
appearance and specious pretences to humanity; and when first proposed
to any one, must give him great pleasure, as he will conclude it to be
a wonderful bond of friendship, connecting all to all; particularly
when any one censures the evils which are now to be found in society,
as arising from properties not being common, I mean the disputes which
happen between man and man, upon their different contracts with each
other; those judgments which are passed in court in consequence of
fraud, and perjury, and flattering the rich, none of which arise from
properties being private, but from the vices of mankind. Besides,
those who live in one general community, and have all things in
common, oftener dispute with each other than those who have their
property separate; from the very small number indeed of those who have
their property in common, compared with those where it is
appropriated, the instances of their quarrels are but few. It is also
but right to mention, not only the inconveniences they are preserved
from who live in a communion of goods, but also the advantages they
are deprived of; for when the whole comes to be considered, this
manner of life will be found impracticable.

We must suppose, then, that Socrates's mistake arose from the
principle he set out with being false; we admit, indeed, that both a
family and a city ought to be one in some particulars, but not
entirely; for there is a point beyond which if a city proceeds in
reducing itself to one, it will be no longer a city.

There is also another point at which it will still continue to be a
city, but it will approach so near to not being one, that it will be
worse than none; as if any one should reduce the voices of those who
sing in concert to one, or a verse to a foot. But the people ought to
be made one, and a community, as I have already said, by education; as
property at Lacedsemon, and their public tables at Crete, were made
common by their legislators. But yet, whosoever shall introduce any
education, and think thereby to make his city excellent and
respectable, will be absurd, while he expects to form it by such
regulations, and not by manners, philosophy, and laws. And whoever
(1264a) would establish a government upon a community of goods,
ought to know that he should consult the experience of many years,
which would plainly enough inform him whether such a scheme is useful;
for almost all things have already been found out, but some have been
neglected, and others which have been known have not been put in
practice. But this would be most evident, if any one could see such a
government really established: for it would be impossible to frame
such a city without dividing and separating it into its distinct
parts, as public tables, wards, and tribes; so that here the laws will
do nothing more than forbid the military to engage in agriculture,
which is what the Lacedaemonians are at present endeavouring to do.

Nor has Socrates told us (nor is it easy to say) what plan of
government should be pursued with respect to the individuals in the
state where there is a community of goods established; for though the
majority of his citizens will in general consist of a multitude of
persons of different occupations, of those he has determined nothing;
whether the property of the husbandman ought to be in common, or
whether each person should have his share to himself; and also,
whether their wives and children ought to be in common: for if all
things are to be alike common to all, where will be the difference
between them and the military, or what would they get by submitting to
their government? and upon what principles would they do it, unless
they should establish the wise practice of the Cretans? for they,
allowing everything else to their slaves, forbid them only gymnastic
exercises and the use of arms. And if they are not, but these should
be in the same situation with respect to their property which they are
in other cities, what sort of a community will there be? in one city
there must of necessity be two, and those contrary to each other; for
he makes the military the guardians of the state, and the husbandman,
artisans, and others, citizens; and all those quarrels, accusations,
and things of the like sort, which he says are the bane of other
cities, will be found in his also: notwithstanding Socrates says they
will not want many laws in consequence of their education, but such
only as may be necessary for regulating the streets, the markets, and
the like, while at the same time it is the education of the military
only that he has taken any care of. Besides, he makes the husbandmen
masters of property upon paying a tribute; but this would be likely to
make them far more troublesome and high-spirited than the Helots, the
Penestise, or the slaves which others employ; nor has he ever
determined whether it is necessary to give any attention to them in
these particulars, nor thought of what is connected therewith, their
polity, their education, their laws; besides, it is of no little
consequence, nor is it easy to determine, how these should be framed
so as to preserve the community of the military.

Besides, if he makes the wives common, while the property (1264b)
continues separate, who shall manage the domestic concerns with the
same care which the man bestows upon his fields? nor will the
inconvenience be remedied by making property as well as wives common;
and it is absurd to draw a comparison from the brute creation, and
say, that the same principle should regulate the connection of a man
and a woman which regulates theirs amongst whom there is no family

It is also very hazardous to settle the magistracy as Socrates has
done; for he would have persons of the same rank always in office,
which becomes the cause of sedition even amongst those who are of no
account, but more particularly amongst those who are of a courageous
and warlike disposition; it is indeed evidently necessary that he
should frame his community in this manner; for that golden particle
which God has mixed up in the soul of man flies not from one to the
other, but always continues with the same; for he says, that some of
our species have gold, and others silver, blended in their composition
from the moment of their birth: but those who are to be husbandmen and
artists, brass and iron; besides, though he deprives the military of
happiness, he says, that the legislator ought to make all the citizens
happy; but it is impossible that the whole city can be happy, without
all, or the greater, or some part of it be happy. For happiness is not
like that numerical equality which arises from certain numbers when
added together, although neither of them may separately contain it;
for happiness cannot be thus added together, but must exist in every
individual, as some properties belong to every integral; and if the
military are not happy, who else are so? for the artisans are not, nor
the multitude of those who are employed in inferior offices. The state
which Socrates has described has all these defects, and others which
are not of less consequence.

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A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter VI A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter VI

A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter VI
It is also nearly the same in the treatise upon Laws which was writafterwards, for which reason it will be proper in this place toconsider briefly what he has there said upon government, for Socrateshas thoroughly settled but very few parts of it; as for instance, inwhat manner the community of wives and children ought to be regulated,how property should be established, and government conducted.Now he divides the inhabitants into two parts, husbandmen andsoldiers, and from these he select a third part who are to be senatorsand govern the city; but he has not said whether or no the husbandmanand artificer

A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter IV A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter IV

A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter IV
des, those who contrive this plan of community cannot easily avoidthe following evils; namely, blows, murders involuntary or voluntary,quarrels, and reproaches, all which it would be impious indeed to beguilty of towards our fathers and mothers, or those who are nearlyrelated to us; though not to those who are not connected to us by anytie of affinity: and certainly these mischiefs must necessarily happenoftener amongst those who do not know how they are connected to eachother than those who do; and when they do happen, if it is among thefirst of these, they admit of a legal expiation, but amongst thelatter