Aristotle's Politics

Questions of Subordination and Law in Early Political Thought

In "The Politics" Aristotle made an explicit rationale for subordination. He suggested that some human beings may possess an innate fitness for either slavery or rule, and that those who are enslaved deserve to be so entirely because they have been dominated by a stronger power. Aristotle's justification rests in part on the example of the perceived properness of the inanimate soul's rule over the body and the mind's rule over the appetite. Since these are beneficial ordinations, he argued, it follows that parallel ordinations, such as a statesman leading a populace and a slave obeying a master, are beneficial as well. Moreover, distinct classes in society, particularly rulers and manual laborers, are understood to possess different skill sets -- one for governance, another for labor. Good rulers (i.e., rulers who possess the appropriate skills and qualities for leadership, such as prudence and experience) ought to be obeyed because they are best suited in society to give orders. Since Aristotle believed that such civic arrangements had the end of common happiness (reaping the benefits of communality and the good life) and safety, it follows that monarchs and masters ought to be obeyed in order to reach...

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