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1. Aristotle draws particular attention to the sort of activity necessary for a noble city, even where that city is free of external powers. The nobility will not rest upon some stability or stasis of internal relationships, but precisely upon the activity and variety of those relationships. And it is not simply activity which is required, but the particular genus of activity wherein one acts for the sake of acting; wherein the activity is its own fruit. Politics, Book 7, Chapter 3, 1325b1-30.

2. Politics, Book 7, Chapter 7.

3. ibid.

4. These points are articulated early in Niccolò Machiavelli's Discourses, First Book, Chapter II. [p.112]

5. ibid.

6. Here, and throughout this paper, I am making particular use of Aristotle's discussion on the nature of being a political animal, and the central role played by speech (logos), which appears in the Politics (Book 1, Chapter 2, 1253a1-20).

7. He states, "that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start from the assumption that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it." The Discourses, First Book, Chapter II. [p.117]

8. The Discourses, First Book, Chapter II. [p.115]

9. While the language here borders upon an Aristotelian reading of the three fundamental permutations of rule, it is clear that it is very close to what Machiavelli has in mind when discussing the merits of the Lacedæmonian regime after Lycurgus. The preceding discussion on the successive and inevitable transformations of governments, and the violence such transformations precipitate, when regimes fail to properly accord sufficient authority to any of the three styles of governance, renders a clear vision of the natural merits of each, as well as a clear vision of the manner of spoilage internal to each when not checked and reaffirmed by the continual pressure of their founding motivations. This discussion appears in The Discourses, First Book, Chapter II. [p.112-115]

10. "Thus sagacious legislators, knowing the vices of each of these systems of government by themselves [of the transience of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy; and their degenerative compliments, tyranny, oligarchy, and "licentious" democracy], have chosen one that should partake of all of them, judging that to be the most stable and solid. In fact, when there is combined under the same constitution a prince, a nobility, and the power of the people, then these three powers will watch and keep each other reciprocally in check." The Discourses, First Book, Chapter II. [p.115]

11. The Discourses, First Book, Chapter IV. [p.119]

12. The Discourses, First Book, Chapter VI. [p.126]

13. This is based upon a principle explicitly developed later, but nonetheless active here: Where "poverty was never allowed to stand in the way of the achievement of any rank or honor, and that virtue and merit were sought for under whatever roof they dwelt; it was this system that made riches naturally less desirable." The Discourses, Third Book, Chapter XXV. [p.486]

14. The Discourses, First Book, Chapter XXXVII. [p.208]

15. In order that proper respect be given to those who deserve recognition in a republic, two measures must be taken: "The first is to keep the citizens poor, so that their wealth and lack of virtue may neither corrupt themselves nor enable them to corrupt others; and the second, so to organize for war as to be ever prepared for it, and always to have need of men of merit and reputation, as Rome did in her early days." The Discourses, Third Book, Chapter XVI. [p.463]

16. The Discourses, Third Book, Chapter XXV. [p.488]

17. Politics, Book 2, Chapter 9.

18. The first point, that a prince (or in this case, a government), while at liberty to elicit fear, ought to avoid at any cost exciting the hatred of his subjects (whatever their material status), is made sufficiently clear in The Prince, Chapter XVII (It is also mentioned explicitly in The Discourses, First Book, Chapter XLV [p.230]). That he holds the second point — that an imbalance of power between the people, nobility and prince is to the peril of any regime — has been shown above.

19. Politics, Book 2, Chapter 9, 1269b12. Aristotle follows this by emphasizing: "... the legislator wished the city as a whole to be hardy, and this is manifest in terms of the men; but he thoroughly neglected it in the case of the women, who live licentiously in every respect and in luxury." 1269b17-20

20. This continues the quote from the Politics, Book 2, Chapter 9, 1269b17, before centering on his subsequent discussion beginning at 1270a10.

21. To demonstrate his disdain for luxury, it will suffice to recall Machiavelli's warning (and the discussion which follows) to republics intent upon expansion: "Moreover acquisitions sometimes prove most injurious even to a well-regulated republic, when they consist either in a city or province that has been enervated by pleasures and luxury; for these indulgences and habits become contagious by intercourse with the inhabitants." The Discourses, Second Book, Chapter XIX. [p.348]

22. Aristotle raises these points directly in Book 2, Chapter 9 of the Politics, between 1271b1 and 1271b15. The intimate connection between these two flaws is something of a gloss, but not so distant from the text that it might provide significant ground for objection.

23. Concerning the foundation of the political drive, Machiavelli observes: "... nature has created men so that the desire everything, but are unable to attain it; desire being thus always greater than the faculty of acquiring, discontent with what they have and dissatisfaction with themselves result from it." (The Discourses, First Book, Chapter XXXVII [p.208]) And later: "... as human desires are insatiable, (because their nature is to have and to do everything whilst fortune limits their possessions and capacity of enjoyment,) this gives rise to a constant discontent in the human mind and a weariness of the things they possess; ..." (Second Book, Introduction [p.274])

24. Aristotle summarizes this view by stating: "Both the element of ruling and the element of freedom stem from this capacity for everyone: spiritedness (thymos) is a thing expert at ruling and indomitable." Politics, Book 7, Chapter 7, 1328a5.

25. It should be recognized that my use of the term "will" here and elsewhere can be misleading. Aristotle had no such term, in the sense in which it was later used in Medieval thought to address questions of spontaneous action. Often thymos is translated directly as will, and at other times as spiritedness, so it might seem tautological to claim that Aristotle is associating spiritedness with human willing (given a suspended understanding of will, such that it is somehow now just another term for spiritedness). Nevertheless, The use of "will" here is intended to implicate a larger class of emotive patterns which includes, but is not limited to, the physical desires (appetites), and highlights its essential role in all action.

26. Although this should be clear in the case of Aristotle, given the extended treatment of education he offers in Book 8 of the Politics, it might not be so readily obvious in the case of Machiavelli. Yet The Discourses wanders onto the topic several times. Typical of such occasions, in the Third Book, Chapter XXXI [p.503], he says: "... insolence in prosperity and abjectness in adversity are the result of habit and education. If this be vain and feeble, then their conduct will likewise be without energy. But if the education be of an opposite nature, then it will produce men of a different character; it will enable them to know the world better, and will teach them to be less elated in good fortune, and less depressed by adversity. And what we say of individuals applies equally to the many who constitute a republic, and who will form themselves according to the manners and institutions that prevail there."

Fundamentals of Political Theory
PHIL-505-01, Georgetown University
Fall 1991
(© David Foss, October 12, 1992)

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Last modified August 26, 1998

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