Oligarchy, Aristotle and suffrage


The debate went on a little longer on “The current struggle against uncommon sense“, which itself carried on from “The Venetians and the concept of Oligarchy“.

If there was error, it was in calling a view Aristotelian when, as I’ve expanded in the previous post:

aristotle interp

This was an observation by Raymond Preston, Trinity College, Washington [A/P English] and referred to literature but the thought is applicable across Aristotle – that he was extended by the Renaissance academics to a general rule in the field of the rulers and the ruled, irrespective of vailidity. This is what the Venetians used as justification.

Deogolwulf and Gracchi on the one hand and I on the other, are arguing cross purposes. The former are taking issue with calling something Aristotelian, whilst I am zeroing in on interpretation. They would take issue in that it is hardly Aristotelian then but Venetian … and this I concede – it was clumsily worded in the post.

So what of Aristotle on slavery?

Property is “part of the household”(Aristotle, 1253b23), and “the art of acquiring property [is] a part of the art of managing the household”(Aristotle, 1253b24). Like property, a slave is “not only the slave of his master, but wholly belongs to him”(Aristotle, 1254a12-13), however, a “master is only the master of the slave [because] he does not belong to him”(Aristotle, 1254a11).

And on the city-state?

The city-state is neither a business association to maximize wealth (as the oligarchs suppose) nor an agency to promote liberty and equality (as the democrats maintain). Instead, Aristotle argues, “the good life is the end of the city-state,” that is, a life consisting of noble actions (1280b39-1281a4). Hence, the correct conception of justice is aristocratic, assigning political rights to those who make a full contribution to the political community, that is, to those with virtue as well as property and freedom (1281a4-8). This is what Aristotle understands by an “aristocratic” constitution: literally, the rule of the aristoi, i.e., best persons.

Oligarchs make a simple transference that they are not oligarchs but aristocracy and a natural aristocracy, a Form.  Now we get into their concept, in Venice, of the ascended Being of the ancient families – hence the mania for genealogy and the establishment of bloodline.  They are attempting to establish a Form, pre-existent and with the right to rule.

Aristotle helps in this respect because he can be interpreted.  Though he does indeed, in Politics, layout all the forms of rule and divides them according to good and bad, the Venetian oligarch uses this model as showing that the aristocracy, in Aristotle’s perceptions is good, they are of the aristocracy and therefore they are born to rule.

Both Plato and Aristotle held democracy to be bad and in my reading of them, correct me if I’m wrong, the good of the city-state and the concept of meritocracy are the cornerstones of a happy society.

It’s interesting what the Venetian oligarchs make of usury, their own cornerstone because Aristotle was diametrically opposed to it.

Meritocracy a la Higham

I’m democratic only insofar as one has the capacity to reason politically.  Would you give suffrage to a child?  Why not?   Because we deem the child not sufficiently au fait with the issues or capable.  Why would the citizens concerned only with the hip pocket be au fait with the broader issues?

And yet sovereignty ultimately lies with the people for the reason that it does not lie with a small group of ancient families who like to think they are the rightful rulers.  So yes – the smallest baby has a portion of sovereignty within the State.  The politicians act on his behalf, even if he is the baby of a pauper.

However, just as baby kings have regents until they are “of age”, so participation in the political process presupposes that the people participating know at least something of it, just as you’d expect that those participating in flying a plane would know something of how to fly one.

The very people who argue that electronic boxes be put in the hands of absolutely anyone free of charge then concede, in the next breath, that many people are stupid [one proof of this being the way the Labour government was re-elected] when they’ve decimated the country.

It’s not that they’re necessarily stupid [though the subset of stupid people is included in the whole] but that they are not au fait with the facts and the arguments.  Just as I would not debate Aristotle with Deogolwulf, I’d very much debate the Venetians with him.  One has one’s directions and even then, as my mate says, just how far in that direction has someone gone?

All of this could be circumvented by inserting a qualification into it – not an NVQ or other meaningless construct but a test of at least a rudimentary knowledge of what one is talking about.  We do it with every other sphere of life so why not with this as well?

The answer some would make is that sovereignty automatically means the right to fully participate.  My answer is that I have every right to travel on the road in a car.  However, to activate that right, I need to be of a certain age, show that I can in fact drive and that I am not going to be a menace on the road.

At no point is my right to drive taken away in this sense but acting on the right, because it involves the wellbeing of others, not just myself, must necessarily be postponed until I am capable.  Well isn’t the management of the State connected to the wellbeing of the people?  And look at the people up there running the show now.  How did they get there?  Universal participation by both the knowledgeable and the non-knowledgeable.

Example – a Scottish Labour politician answered us that he was most pro-EU membership because it was in his interests up there and he laid out an argument.  Now his politics, argument and position are all flawed but he at least had thought it out and was looking at the political process with at least some knowledge.  No one would argue here that he should be excluded, given that the criterion is knowledge.

And it is flexible.  You don’t know today – then come back tomorrow when you do.  It’s not exclusive.

Sticky wicket, I know but truths are always inconvenient.

So again – no, no one is being finally excluded but a certain knowledge is a good idea before one starts in practice.

3 comments for “Oligarchy, Aristotle and suffrage

  1. January 13, 2010 at 20:31

    Here is my view on a good way to start improving democracy (as I understand it) in the UK: http://www.independent.org/blog/?p=3758#comment-59469

    I have several additional suggestions, that I could also reference or describe, should that be considered helpful.

    Best regards

    • March 21, 2010 at 12:17

      Quite helpful, Nigel.

  2. March 20, 2010 at 11:15

    A new cousin a day keeps the boredom away.

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