Politics Summary



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Politics Summary

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Aristotle’s Politics discusses the political state of Greece. During Aristotle’s time, around 335 B.C.E., Greece consisted of multiple poleis, or city-states. Athens was certainly the most famous, and where Aristotle resided and taught. These poleis were governed by citizens—generally males born to other citizens. Everyone else, including women, slaves, and workers were responsible for making the society function on a logistical level—without the benefits and privileges of being a citizen. In Politics, Aristotle discusses, in his opinion, what the best and most efficient ways to govern are.

He begins by discussing how the polis is the best form of community. To Aristotle, men by nature are political animals. Therefore, their purpose in life should be mostly political.  Through being involved in the workings of a city, men create a good life for themselves, which is the goal of life. There are many relationships in a man’s life and Aristotle discusses these. There is the husband and wife relationship; the parent and child relationship; and the master and slave relationship.

Aristotle examines slavery briefly and wonders if slavery is ever good, or if it is always bad. He determines there are two types of slaves, one being decreed by law and the other by “nature.” Aristotle debates whether any slave is a natural slave. If there is such a thing as natural slaves, then they must be different somehow from men, as men are different from beasts. He asserts that all of nature consists of the rulers presiding over the ruled, therefore slavery makes sense, and slaves are just people who are best at basic tasks. A man’s relationship to his slave is likened to a relationship between monarch and subjects. It is often a beneficial relationship for both parties. He does, however, believe that it is unjust to enslave anyone who is not a “natural” slave.

Aristotle then discusses “acquisition,” or how people get the items they need to survive. Acquiring necessary parts of survival—such as food as shelter—are deemed “natural” by Aristotle. Aristotle believes accumulating more than one needs is a bad concept. Accruing money for money’s sake is a never-ending process that leads to over indulgence. In simpler terms, Aristotle is denouncing certain aspects of capitalism.

Aristotle then addresses other relationships in the household. A man’s relationship to his children is kingly, as they worship and love their father. The relationship with a wife is political—although, according to Aristotle, men are the only ones fit to rule, women are not capable. These relationships can change and develop, depending on where they live and what roles they fulfill.

Aristotle discusses the best and worst kinds of regimes. Currently, there is not an ideal regime, though there are three decent ones. The good regimes, according to Aristotle, are constitutional government, aristocracy, or monarchy. The bad regimes are oligarchy, tyranny, or democracy. The good regimes are good because they are equal. Those people deemed privileged by society are all treated the same, whereas those who are not viewed as privileged are treated as such. Those privileged people contribute more to society than those who are not privileged, therefore they should receive advantages. A constitutional government is best, as it has a fixed set of rules. Aristotle admits a monarchy or aristocracy can often be beneficial, if there is a group or one person who stands above the rest.

Aristotle defines the different factions of the other governments. Monarchy when perverted becomes a tyranny where the ruler is no longer just and fair. Aristocracy when corrupted becomes oligarchy, where the requirements to be an aristocrat are too steep, leaving deserving people out of their rights. And a constitutional government when degraded becomes a democracy, which Aristotle believes is the least terrible perversion. Aristotle goes through all the different manifestations of government and how they can be mixed together. To make governments their most successful, society must look to the middle class who form a bridge between the rich and the poor. The middle class decides which opposing interest is more logical and fair, as it concerns them.

Which government to pick depends on what type of people inhabit the area. If there is a large middle class, a constitutional government is desirable. But if there are more poor people, a democracy is desirable. Aristotle concludes that the best form of government is some middle ground between the rich and poor. A middle ground encourages participation, if there is some sort of qualification in governing, such as owning property.

In any civic government, there are three factions: deliberative, executive, and judicial. The deliberative creates the laws; the executive is the commanding faction; and the judicial is the enforcement of the laws and other issues. Different people participate in different factions, depending on the type of government. Who is involved comes down to an election or picking process.

Aristotle discusses the ways in which governments can change, sometimes violently. Change is mostly due to unhappiness in the way the government is run. Aristotle has advice for how to keep stability in government. In his opinion, it comes down to keeping those not in power happy. There must be education available to them, along with respectful treatment. Aristotle’s ideal city has a goal of each citizen reaching his peak potential happiness. Happiness comes from the freedom to reason. Everything else involved in a city is just to bolster happiness.  An ideal city must be of decent size, not overly large, but big enough to be autonomous. Citizens should be able to participate in all city-related ideals including the military and government. They should also be able to own land and participate in that city’s religion. Workmanship and food preparation should be left to slaves or to whoever does labor. There must be an education program. Subjects should include art, literature, music, and physical activity. Anything that encourages the mind is of value.