The political scientist should also be cognizant of forces of political change which can undermine an existing regime
Aristotle notes that “to reform a constitution is no less a task [of politics] than it is to establish one from the beginning,” and in this way “the politician should also help existing constitutions” (IV.1.1289a17). Aristotle criticizes his predecessors for excessive utopianism and neglect of the practical duties of a political theorist. However, he is no Machiavellian. The best constitution still serves as a regulative ideal by which to evaluate existing systems.
These topics occupy the remainder of the Politics. Books IVVI are concerned with the existing constitutions: that is, the three deviant constitutions, as well as polity or the “mixed” constitution, which are the best attainable under most circumstances (IV.2.1289a2638). The mixed constitution has been of special interest to scholars because it looks like a forerunner of modern republican regimes. The whole of book V investigates the causes and prevention of revolution or political change (metabole). Books VIIVIII are devoted to the ideal constitution. As might be expected, Aristotle’s attempt to carry out this program involves many difficulties, and scholars disagree about how the two series of books (IVVI and VIIVIII) are related to each other: for example, which were written first, which were intended to be read first, and whether they are ultimately consistent with each other. For a further discussion of this topic, see the following supplementary document:
5. Aristotle and Modern Politics
Aristotle has continued to influence thinkers up to the present throughout the political spectrum, including conservatives (such as Hannah Arendt, Leo Strauss, and Eric Voegelin), communitarians (such as Alasdair MacIntyre and Michael Sandel), liberals (such as William Galston and Martha C. Nussbaum), libertarians (such as Tibor R. Machan, Douglas B. Rasmussen, and Douglas J. Den Uyl), and democratic theorists (such as Jill Frank and Gerald M. Mara).
It is not surprising that such diverse political persuasions can lay claim to Aristotle as a source. For his method often leads to divergent interpretations. When he deals with a difficult problem, he is inclined to consider opposing arguments in a careful and nuanced manner, and he is often willing to concede that there is truth on each side. For example, though he is critical of democracy, in one passage he allows that the case for rule by the many based on the superior wisdom of the multitude “perhaps also involves some truth” (Pol. III.a39-42). Again, he sometimes applies his own principles in a questionable manner, for example, when he reasons that because associations should be governed in a rational manner, the household should be run by the husband rather than by the wife, whose rational capacity “lacks authority” (I.a13). Modern commentators sympathetic with Aristotle’s general approach often contend that in this case he applies his own principles incorrectlyleaving open the question of how they installment loans SC should be applied. Further, the way he applies his principles may have seemed reasonable in his socio-political contextfor example, that the citizen of a polity (normally the best attainable constitution) must be a hoplite soldier (cf. III.7,1297b4)but it may be debatable how these might apply within a modern democratic nation-state.
The problem of extrapolating to modern political affairs can be illustrated more fully in connection with Aristotle’s discussion of legal change in Politics II.8. He first lays out the argument for making the laws changeable. It has been beneficial in the case of medicine, for example, for it to progress from traditional ways to improved forms of treatment. An existing law may be a vestige of a primitive barbaric practice. For instance, Aristotle mentions a law in Cyme that allows an accuser to produce a number of his own relatives as witnesses to prove that a defendant is guilty of murder. “So,” Aristotle concludes, “it is evident from the foregoing that some laws should sometimes be changed. But to those who look at the matter from a different angle, caution would seem to be required” (1269a12-14). Since the law gets its force from the citizens’ habit of obedience, great care should be exercised in making any change in it. It may sometimes be better to leave defective laws in place rather than encouraging lawlessness by changing the laws too frequently. Moreover, there are the problems of how the laws are to be changed and who is to change them. Although Aristotle offers valuable insights, he breaks off the discussion of this topic and never takes it up elsewhere. We might sum up his view as follows: When it comes to changing the laws, observe the mean: don’t be too bound by traditional laws, but on the other hand don’t be overeager in altering them. It is obvious that this precept, reasonable as it is, leaves considerable room for disagreement among contemporary “neo-Aristotelian” theorists. For example, should the laws be changed to allow self-described transsexual persons to use sexually segregated restrooms? Conservatives and liberals might agree with Aristotle’s general stricture regarding legal change but differ widely on how to apply it in a particular case.