Aristotle's Politics

Aristotle's Politics Summary and Analysis of Book V

Chapter 1

This book is about the nature and causes of revolution, as well as how to prevent revolution. Factional conflict results from disagreements about justice, because different parts of the city have different ideas of equality and each has a partial claim to justice. Those outstanding in virtue would be most justified in engaging in factional conflict but are the least likely to do so. Factional conflict can about a desire to change the type of regime or simply to change specific elements or specific rulers in the regime.

Factional conflict is the result of inequality. The two types of equality are equality by number and inequality by merit. Neither pure democracy nor pure oligarchy are lasting because they each have an extreme view of equality which excludes one of the two types. A regime with a large middling element will be more stable.

Chapter 2

People engage in factional conflict over issues of profit and honor, and are further stirred up because of fear, contempt, and dissimilarity.

Chapter 3

When office-holders are arrogant and aggrandize themselves, factional conflict arises. When a few people are preeminent to a great extent factional conflict may arise in reaction against them. When someone is frightened of paying a penalty for an injustice he has committed, he may engage in factional conflict through fear. Factional conflict may also result from disproportionate growth of one part of a city. A great shift in the regime could occur from overlooking small gradual changes. Dissimilarity of the city's inhabitants could be a cause of conflict until cooperation develops, and a poor location could cause conflict as well.

Chapter 4

Factional conflict resulting from petty disagreements among the rulers can affect the whole regime. If one group in the city gains a certain acclaim for some reason, the regime may shift in order to give that group more power. When opposing parts of the city‹like the rich and the poor‹are equal in number they are more likely to engage in factional conflict than if there are only a few in one group and many in another.

Chapter 5

This chapter examines the causes of revolution specific to democracy. In democracy revolution often occurs because of the irresponsible behavior of popular leaders. In democracies where the popular leader was the general, the democracy often turned into a tyranny.

Chapter 6

There are also specific causes of revolution for oligarchies. The first cause is unjust treatment of the multitude. Sometimes even the well-off themselves begin a revolution in an oligarchy if office-holding is limited to very few. Revolution may also occur from the rise of a popular leader‹either with the well-off or with the masses. If the wealthy expend all their resources in wanton living, or if the type of rule is too much like masterly rule rather than political rule, a revolution may result. If offices are allotted on the basis of property assessment, revolution could come about because the assessments were arranged with a view to the situation when the regime was founded and that situation could change.

Chapter 7

In aristocracies, revolutions occur because few share in ruling prerogatives, much like in oligarchies. Above all, however, revolutions in polities and aristocracies are the result of a deviation from justice in the regime. For the most part, revolutions in aristocracies occur gradually.

Chapter 8

There are several methods by which regimes can be preserved from revolution. First of all, it is necessary to ensure that the laws are enforced. Also, in aristocracies and oligarchies, it is necessary that the rulers act justly toward the multitude, which has no share in ruling. It is also helpful to avoid factional conflicts within the ruling class itself. To prevent revolution in oligarchy or polity where offices are based on assessments, there should be a mechanism for adjusting the assessments when the economic conditions of the citizens change. For all regimes, it is important to prevent any one person from becoming overly powerful in a short period of time, or else he will surely be corrupted. It is excellent if a regime arranges its laws and offices in such a way that it is impossible to profit from the offices. In such a case, the poor will not want to rule because they will make no money from it, and thus the well-off will rule and the poor will be able to spend their time at work and become well-off. In a democracy, the rich should be treated well‹their property should not be redistributed. In oligarchies, it is important to treat the poor very well, such that there is an opportunity for the poor to become well-off. It is advantageous to assign equality or precedence to those who participate least in the regime‹the well-off in democracies, and the poor in oligarchies.

Chapter 9

Rulers need an affection for the regime, a capacity for ruling, and virtue and justice relative to the regime. Advantageous laws are laws that help to preserve the regime. The middling element should also not be neglected in this discussion, because they can act as a stabilizing force.

The greatest thing that helps to make regimes lasting is education relative to the regime. This means not that democratic people should be educated democratically, but rather that they should be educated oligarchically, and vice versa, to counteract the natural tendency of the regime toward its extreme form. The problem with democracies is that they define freedom badly.

Chapter 10

In monarchy, the causes of revolution are as follows. Kingship and tyranny are distinguished from one another in that the tyrant seeks his own pleasure while the king seeks noble goals. Tyranny encompasses the evils of both democracy and oligarchy. Attacks on monarchs occur sometimes because of their disgraceful behavior to others, or because of fear, contempt, ambition, or desire for profit. Tyranny is often destroyed from the outside by a superior regime. It is also destroyed from within when the rulers fall into factional conflict. Kingship is rarely destroyed from outside.

Chapter 11

Kingships are preserved by limiting the king's authority. Tyrannies are preserved by eliminating all potential rivals to power. Extreme democracy is basically the same as tyranny. A tyrant above all needs military virtue, and should command awe but not fear. He should be moderate in his dealings with women and strong drink, and he should show himself to be attentive to the gods. He should honor the good citizens personally and make other officials punish the offenders. The tyrant should not give preferential treatment either to the poor or the well-off. If a tyrant does these things his rule will be long-lasting and not completely vicious.

Chapter 12

Oligarchy and tyranny are the most short-lived regimes. Socrates is wrong when he argues that there is a cyclical pattern of revolution for regimes. Why should the best regime ever undergo revolution? Also, it more frequent for regimes to undergo revolution into their opposite than into a similar type of regime.


Aristotle's understanding of revolution is fundamentally different from the modern understanding. The ancient philosopher considers revolution in completely political, objective and value-neutral sense. Modern political theorists, however, always connect revolution with a notion of progress, which presupposes an underlying philosophy of history. In Aristotle, the term "counterrevolution" would be nonsensical since a revolution is simply a change in regime. The modern use of that term indicates a judgment that certain revolutions‹namely, revolutions toward more democratic governments‹are enacting the right kind of change, and other revolutions‹such as those that go toward a more authoritarian arrangement‹are incorrect and are going against the historical development toward progress. G. W. F. Hegel's Philosophy of History is the primary basis of this modern theory of revolution.

While Aristotle only speaks about in one section of one chapter of the book, the importance of education is a key point in his thought. Aristotle writes that "the greatest of all these things that have been mentioned with a view to making regimes lasting‹though it is now slighted by all‹is education relative to the regimes." What he means by education "relative to the regimes" is very interesting and also somewhat counterintuitive. One would assume that educating citizens relative to the regime means educating them in accordance with the underlying principles of that regime‹for example, educating democratic citizens to value equality on the basis of number rather than merit, or educating oligarchic citizens to value equality on the basis of wealth rather than number. In fact, Aristotle's suggestion is the opposite of what one would expect. Citizens need to be educated, not to recognize the specific claim to justice of their own regime, but to be able to recognize the competing claims of justice. The reason that such education is necessary is that, except in the best regime, the regime is based on a partial view of justice. Educating the citizens requires helping them to see the elements of justice that are not emphasized in the ruling structure of the regime. As a result, citizens will be more sympathetic to competing claims of justice from the parts of the regime which do not have power, and factional conflict will be avoided.

Toward the end of his discussion on education, Aristotle diverges into an examination of the specific weakness of democracy. This brief section will be analyzed in conjuction with Book VI, in which Aristotle elaborates on the underlying principles of democracy.