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In book two of Aristotle’s Politics, Aristotle defines his ideal state by criticizing the values put forward in Plato’s The Republic. In doing so, Aristotle censures Plato’s idea of state unification through sharing as much as possible, including wives, children, and property. Aristotle counters that Plato’s concept is detrimental to the state’s unity because it prevents the individual citizen from achieving his or her maximum role in society and being as happy as possible. In critiquing Plato’s constitution, Aristotle provides solutions of his own that promote the diversity of function within the state and allow for each citizen to achieve his maximum role in society.
Throughout book two of Politics, Aristotle’s discrepancies with Plato’s ideal state revolve around the idea of communal sharing. Aristotle first attacks Plato’s suggestion that men must share the women of the city and that their children be taken from their mothers at birth and raised in state nurseries. Aristotle argues that Plato’s reasoning behind his claim (to unify the state) is illogical because, in time, all citizens will become the same, which is detrimental. Instead, Aristotle contends that diversity in terms of experience and specialty is essential. He believes that as a state moves toward total unification, it loses its identity as a nation, making the analogy of the unified state as a household rather than a nation.
Second, Aristotle argues that the practicality of Plato’s concept would inevitably lead to a weakened sense of attachment by the citizen. This diluted sense of attachment would without doubt prohibit the citizen from feeling any responsibility toward his fellow citizen or the state and would lead to harmful results. Aristotle is of the opinion that since man is naturally selfish, it would be unlikely for man to innately respect his fellow citizen, as it is not directly beneficial to him. Furthermore, Aristotle combats Plato’s concept by affirming the fact that the greater number of owners, the less likely one is to respect the common property. This idea relates back to man’s natural selfishness, as Aristotle says, “[people] exercise care over common property only in so far as they are personally affected.” (p. 108)
Finally, Aristotle refutes Plato’s idea of communal property, as he believes that this principle not only leads lack of responsibility with regard to property, but also abandons the virtues of generosity and mutual respect.
Although Aristotle finds many flaws in the policies of Plato’s Republic, he is able to propose logical solutions that are built around the principle of allowing the each within the nation’s population to achieve his maximum function as a citizen. Aristotle first addresses the issue of the overwhelming similarity between citizens, stating that a nation must consist of different types of citizens in order to function and be unified. He validates this by stating that different citizens’ duties compliment the other citizens of the state. By saying, “It is reciprocal equivalence that keeps a state in being,” Aristotle is showing that for each and every citizen’s duty, there is an opposite and complimentary duty. The succeeding solution applied to the placement of the communal wives and children, but does not offer an outright solution. Instead, Aristotle claims that a community of wives and children should be in place for the agricultural class rather than the Guardian class. This, he argues, would be supremely more beneficial to the state because this concept undoubtedly leads to a lack of attachment within the society. Aristotle states that “A lack of strong affection among the ruled is necessary in the interests of obedience and absence of revolt.” (p. 110)
Finally, Aristotle immediately responds to Plato’s communist-like theory on property by insisting that property should be owned privately but its yield shared amongst the community. Aristotle adds to this concept by proposing a different work theory in which land is worked on by others, and since the produce of the work is divided equally, it prevents animosity. Aristotle justifies privatizing property by claiming that it promotes individual work efficiency by creating individual responsibility. Moreover, Aristotle relates back to man’s natural selfishness and asserts that owning private property offers immense pleasure and oftentimes leads to benevolence.
Aristotle’s criticisms of Plato’s ideal state lay waste to the proposed constitution of the Republic by effectively pointing out impossibilities that are a result of natural human behavior. Plato’s Republic outlines a Utopian society that is the result of the government’s suppression of functional growth. The society does not allow any fragment of freedom, as people are assigned jobs based on their specialty. Furthermore, all ambition is restricted by the noble lie, in which citizens are organized by their presumed potential, which is determined in early youth. In addition, property and family is communal, which essentially transforms the state into one single entity that prevents citizens from associating with one another. On the other hand, Aristotle takes a more modern approach that allows for individual happiness while promoting that of the state simultaneously. Aristotle’s solutions accommodate human behavior by promoting the citizen’s ability and encouraging him to achieve his utmost function in society.
Plato’s Republic would seem to be the most logical form of government, as it proposes an incorruptible ruling class and an obedient labor class, but it fails when taking into account ambition, the desire for happiness, and greed. The overall flaw in The Republic is that Plato assumes that if the state is happy, its citizens must be happy, and this is certainly not true. Aristotle reverses this structure and focuses on satisfying the citizens in order to create a happy and unified state. Politics’ solutions to the overall flaws in The Republic allow for a healthy, satisfied government while concurrently advocating the happiness of the citizen.
Aristotle., and Trevor J. Saunders. The Politics (Penguin Classics). New York: Penguin Classics, 1981.
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