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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsA Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter VII
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A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter VII Post by :Ann_C. Category :Nonfictions Author :Aristotle Date :January 2011 Read :3344

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A Treatise On Government - BOOK II - Chapter VII

There are also some other forms of government, which have been
proposed either by private persons, or philosophers, or politicians,
all of which come much nearer to those which have been really
established, or now exist, than these two of Plato's; for neither have
they introduced the innovation of a community of wives and children,
and public tables for the women, but have been contented to set out
with establishing such rules as are absolutely necessary.

There are some persons who think, that the first object of government
should be to regulate well everything relating to private property;
for they say, that a neglect herein is the source of all seditions
whatsoever. For this reason, Phaleas the Chalcedonian first proposed,
that the fortunes of the citizens should be equal, which he thought
was not difficult to accomplish when a community was first settled,
but that it was a work of greater difficulty in one that had been long
established; but yet that it might be effected, and an equality of
circumstances introduced by these means, that the rich should give
marriage portions, but never receive any, while the poor should always
receive, but never give.

But Plato, in his treatise of Laws, thinks that a difference in
circumstances should be permitted to a certain degree; but that no
citizen should be allowed to possess more than five times as much as
the lowest census, as we have already mentioned. But legislators who
would establish this principle are apt to overlook what they ought to
consider; that while they regulate the quantity of provisions which
each individual shall possess, they ought also to regulate the number
of his children; for if these exceed the allotted quantity of
provision, the law must necessarily be repealed; and yet, in spite of
the repeal, it will have the bad effect of reducing many from wealth
to poverty, so difficult is it for innovators not to fall into such
mistakes. That an equality of goods was in some degree serviceable to
strengthen the bands of society, seems to have been known to some of
the ancients; for Solon made a law, as did some others also, to
restrain persons from possessing as much land as they pleased. And
upon the same principle there are laws which forbid men to sell their
property, as among the Locrians, unless they can prove that some
notorious misfortuue has befallen them. They were also to preserve
their ancient patrimony, which custom being broken through by the
Leucadians, made their government too democratic; for by that means it
was no longer necessary to be possessed of a certain fortune to be
qualified to be a magistrate. But if an equality of goods is
established, this may be either too much, when it enables the people
to live luxuriously, or too little, when it obliges them to live hard.
Hence it is evident, that it is not proper for the legislator to
establish an equality of circumstances, but to fix a proper medium.
Besides, if any one should regulate the division of property in such a
manner that there should be a moderate sufficiency for all, it would
be of no use; for it is of more consequence that the citizen should
entertain a similarity of sentiments than an equality of
circumstances; but this can never be attained unless they are properly
educated under the direction of the law. But probably Phaleas may say,
that this in what he himself mentions; for he both proposes a equality
of property and one plan of education in his city. But he should have
said particularly what education he intended, nor is it of any
service to have this to much one; for this education may be one, and
yet such as will make the citizens over-greedy, to grasp after
honours, or riches, or both. Besides, not only an in equality of
possessions, but also of honours, will occasion (1267a) seditions, but
this upon contrary grounds; for the vulgar will be seditious if there
be an inequality of goods, by those of more elevated sentiments, if
there is an equality of honours.

"When good and bad do equal honours share."

For men are not guilty of crimes for necessaries only (for which he
thinks an equality of goods would be a sufficient remedy, as they
would then have no occasion to steal cold or hunger), but that they
may enjoy what the desire, and not wish for it in vain; for if their
desire extend beyond the common necessaries of life, they were be
wicked to gratify them; and not only so, but if their wishes point
that way, they will do the same to enjoy those pleasures which are
free from the alloy of pain. What remedy then shall we find for these
three disorder; and first, to prevent stealing from necessity, let
every one be supplied with a moderate subsistence, which may make the
addition of his own industry necessary; second to prevent stealing to
procure the luxuries of life, temperance be enjoined; and thirdly,
let those who wish for pleasure in itself seek for it only in
philosophy, all others want the assistance of men.

Since then men are guilty of the greatest crimes from ambition, and
not from necessity, no one, for instance aims at being a tyrant to
keep him from the cold, hence great honour is due to him who kills not
a thief, but tyrant; so that polity which Phaleas establishes would
only be salutary to prevent little crimes. He has also been very
desirous to establish such rules as will conduce to perfect the
internal policy of his state, and he ought also to have done the same
with respect to its neighbours and all foreign nations; for the
considerations of the military establishment should take place in
planning every government, that it may not be unprovided in case of a
war, of which he has said nothing; so also with respect to property,
it ought not only to be adapted to the exigencies of the state, but
also to such dangers as may arise from without.

Thus it should not be so much as to tempt those who are near, and more
powerful to invade it, while those who possess it are not able to
drive out the invaders, nor so little as that the state should not be
able to go to war with those who are quite equal to itself, and of
this he has determined nothing; it must indeed be allowed that it is
advantageous to a community to be rather rich than poor; probably the
proper boundary is this, not to possess enough to make it worth while
for a more powerful neighbour to attack you, any more than he would
those who had not so much as yourself; thus when Autophradatus
proposed to besiege Atarneus, Eubulus advised him to consider what
time it would require to take the city, and then would have him
determine whether it would answer, for that he should choose, if it
would even take less than he proposed, to quit the place; his saying
this made Autophradatus reflect upon the business and give over the
siege. There is, indeed, some advantage in an equality of goods
amongst the citizens to prevent seditions; and yet, to say truth, no
very great one; for men of great abilities will stomach their being
put upon a level with the rest of the community. For which reason
they will very often appear ready for every commation and sedition;
for the wickedness of mankind is insatiable. For though at first
two oboli might be sufficient, yet when once it is become customary,
they continually want something more, until they set no limits to
their expectations; for it is the nature of our desires to be
boundless, and many live only to gratify them. But for this purpose
the first object is, not so much to establish an equality of fortune,
as to prevent those who are of a good disposition from desiring more
than their own, and those who are of a bad one from being able to
acquire it; and this may be done if they are kept in an inferior
station, and not exposed to injustice. Nor has he treated well the
equality of goods, for he has extended his regulation only to land;
whereas a man's substance consists not only in this, but also in
slaves, cattle, money, and all that variety of things which fall under
the name of chattels; now there must be either an equality established
in all these, or some certain rule, or they must be left entirely at
large. It appears too by his laws, that he intends to establish only a
small state, as all the artificers are to belong to the public, and
add nothing to the complement of citizens; but if all those who are to
be employed in public works are to be the slaves of the public, it
should be done in the same manner as it is at Epidamnum, and as
Diophantus formerly regulated it at Athens. From these particulars any
one may nearly judge whether Phaleas's community is well or ill
established.

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