Thursday, May 29, 2008

Garrigou's Summary of Aristotelian Politics

From Garrigou-Lagrange, Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought, Ch. 1: Philosophical Writings.

The Politica

St. Thomas commented the first two books, and the first six chapters of the third book [of Aristotle's Politica]. What follows in the printed commentary comes from Peter of Auvergne. [75].

We note at once how Aristotle differs from Plato. Plato, constructing a priori his ideal Republic, conceives the state as a being whose elements are the citizens and whose organs are the classes. To eliminate egoism, Plato suppresses family and property. Aristotle on the contrary, based on observation and experience, starts from the study of the family, the first human community. The father, who rules the family, must deal, in one fashion with his wife, in another with his children, in still another with his slaves. He remarks that affection is possible only between determinate individuals. Hence, if the family were destroyed there would be no one to take care of children, who, since they would belong to everybody, would belong to nobody, just as, where property is held in common, everyone finds that he himself works too much and others too little.
Aristotle, presupposing that private ownership is a right, finds legitimate titles to property in traditional occupation, in conquest, in labor. He also holds that man is by his nature destined to live in society, since he has need of his fellow men for defense, for full use of exterior goods, for acquiring even elementary knowledge. Language itself shows that man is destined for society. Hence families unite to form the political unity of the city, which has for its purpose a good common to all, a good that is not merely useful and pleasurable, but is in itself good, since it is a good characteristic of rational beings, a good based on justice and equity, virtues that are indispensable in social life.

These are the principal ideas proposed by Aristotle in the first books of the Politica, and deeply expounded by St. Thomas. In the Summa [76] he modifies Aristotle's view of slavery. Still, he says, the man who cannot provide for himself should work for, and be directed by, one wiser than himself.

In the second book of the Politica we study the constitutions of the various Greek states. Thomas accepts Aristotle's inductive bases, and will employ them in his work De regimine principum. [77] In the nature of man he finds the origin and the necessity of a social authority, represented in varying degree by the father in the family, by the leader in the community, by the sovereign in the kingdom.

He distinguishes, further, good government from bad. Good government has three forms: monarchical, where one alone rules, aristocratic, where several rule, democratic, where the rule is by representatives elected by the multitude. But each of these forms may degenerate: monarchy into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, democracy into mob-rule The best form of government he finds in monarchy, but, to exclude tyranny, he commends a mixed constitution, which provides, at the monarch's side, aristocratic and democratic elements in the administration of public affairs. [78] Yet, he adds, if monarchy in fact degenerates into tyranny, the tyranny, to avoid greater evils, should be patiently tolerated. If, however, tyranny becomes unbearable, the people may intervene, particularly in an elective monarchy. It is wrong to kill the tyrant. [79] He must be left to the judgment of God, who, with infinite wisdom, rewards or punishes all rulers of men.

On the evils of election by a degenerate people, where demagogues obtain the suffrages, he remarks, citing St. Augustine, that the elective power should, if it be possible, be taken from the multitude and restored to those who are good. St. Augustine's words run thus: "If a people gradually becomes depraved, if it sells its votes, if it hands over the government to wicked and criminal men, then that power of conferring honors is rightly taken from such a people and restored to those few who are good." [80].
75. Cf. Msgr. Grabmann, Phil. Jahrbuch, 1915 pp. 373-78.

76. IIae, q. 94, a. 5, ad 3; IIa IIae, q. 10, a. 10; q. 104, a. 5.

77. See the first chapter of that work.

78. See the Summa, Ia IIae, q. 105, a. 1.

79. De regimine principum I, 6.

80. Si paulatim idem populus depravatus habeat venale suffragium, et regimen flagitiosis, sceleratisque committat, recte adimitur populo talis potestas dandi honores, et ad paucorum bonorum redit arbitrium.

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