In the book The Politics, Aristotle analyzes different types of political communities. He examines these political communities on two different levels; first as a city and then as a regime. By studying both city and regime you get the full picture of the different types of governments throughout the world. Aristotle uses this dual approach to describe the different types of regimes. Through his evaluation of the city and regime, Aristotle comes to the conclusion that oligarchies, which are governments that are ruled by the few, are deviant regimes because they govern for the good of the rulers, and not for the good of the whole.
The city is the first level that Aristotle uses to evaluate different types of political communities. A complete city “is the multitude of such persons that is adequate with a view to a self-sufficient life” (Aristotle pg. 87). Villages are collaboration of many households that have come together so they can obtain non-daily needs. Since villages are not self-sufficient, they join together to form cities. Cities provide you with the things your household and your village are not able to provide to you. Therefore, the city is the only thing that can exists self-sufficiently, and it exists for the sake of living well.
The city is also the most authoritative partnership. The city embraces all other partnerships and therefore, it aims at the most authoritative good of all, which is living well. Aristotle uses “city” to generally describe political communities. The city only describes the people who inhabit it; it does not distinguish who the rulers are or what kind of rule the city has. The citizens are an important aspect of political communities because knowing the citizens allows you to investigate what type of regime that particular city has or should have. To find out who rules the city you have to study the city’s regime.
Regimes are the second level of analyses Aristotle uses to describe political communities. A “regime is an arrangement of a city with respect to its offices, particularly the one that has authority over all matters. For what has authority in the city is the governing body, and the governing body is the regime (Aristotle pg. 94).” A regime is a “part” of the “whole” that deals with decision-making. When analyzing a regime, you are determining who is ruling the city and what kind of rule the city has. Examining regimes is the specific way to evaluate political communities; it is the way to tell one political community apart from another.
According to Aristotle, there are both correct and deviant regimes. Regimes that aim at the common advantage of the whole city are correct regimes because the regimes are just with moral laws. They allow their inhabitants to be citizens and participate in government on the basis of virtue instead of wealth, birth or beauty. Regimes that aim at a private advantage are deviant regimes because they are excluding part of the “whole.”
An oligarchy is a type of political community in which the rich, who are the few, have the power to rule. The affluent believe they deserve to have total power, because they contribute more to the city from their extensive wealth. Therefore, the wealthy believe they should have greater voice in the city, because they have more invested into it. To analyze an oligarchy you first need to look at it in general terms, meaning you need to observe the city and its individual citizens. The city is composed mainly of poor people, and they receive very little power or opportunities for political involvement. Whereas, the wealthy believe they should have more representation in the city because they own more of the land even if their representation is basis or corrupt.
The regime in an oligarchy is a small part of the whole city. For example, the rich only consist of a small fraction of the whole city. The governing element is based upon inequality of authority. The wealthy do not believe that it is fair to give everyone the same amount of authority, because authority should be proportional to the amount of financial support that you give to the city. The affluent do not realize that the rule of virtuous, ethical men is more advantageous than the rule of the rich men.
Now that both the city and the governing body, or regime, has been determined it is now possible to analyze an oligarchy as an individual political community. Oligarchies are “those with a private view to the private advantage of the one or the few or the multitude are deviations” (Aristotle pg. 96). As a result, they exclude the participation of the multitude.
There are many different types of oligarchies just as there are many various types of regimes. Some oligarchic regimes are better than others, but all oligarchic regimes are deviant because they do not aim at the common good of the whole city. The oligarchic regime that rules in regard to the law is the best type of regime. When the law has the authority, the regime is consequently more moral and just. In oligarchic regimes where the weathly have the authority, and not the law, then the richest of the rich will rise to power. This will lead to having a regime that is ruled by one instead of being ruled by the few. Therefore, it will undermine the oligarchical principles, because it will become instead a tyranny.
To preserve rule by few, oligarchic regimes should aim to appear as an aristocracy. Aristocratic regimes aim at the good of the whole and are “ruling with a view to what is best for the city and for those who participate in it” (Aristotle pg. 96). If oligarchies continue to aim at the good of the wealthy, they will continue to be deviant regimes. According to Aristotle, “the best regime is one who is capable of being ruled and ruling with a view to the life in accordance with virtue (Aristotle pg. 106).” This means that the regime has to be able to rule in accordance with the whole city.
Cities and regimes are important aspects for describing political communities. To analyze a political community, you need to first describe the city. In order to tell different cities apart you need to examine the regime. Regimes exhibit the different form of ruling within a city. You have to observe a city and its regime together to identify political communities such as oligarchies. After you have analyzed a political community, you can determine whether or not a regime is correct or deviant. We have seen from Aristotle’s examinations of political communities that we cannot fully understand a community without observing its cities and regimes. Not only does Aristotle observe these cities and regimes, but he also analyzes them. We can analyze regimes according to the guidelines that he described and explained in The Politics.