Social Philosophy and Policy



ARISTOTLE ON THE MIXED CONSTITUTION AND ITS RELEVANCE FOR AMERICAN POLITICAL THOUGHT a


Carrie-Ann  Biondi  a1
a1 Philosophy, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

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Abstract

Contemporary political discourse is marked with the language of democracy, and Western countries in particular seek to promote democracy at home and abroad. However, there is a sublimated conflict in general political discourse between a desire to rely on alleged political experts and a desire to assert the supposed common sense of all men. Can the struggle between the democratic and aristocratic values embodied in this conflict be reconciled? The question is perennial, and raises issues that are central to constitutional design. Aristotle, developing in significant ways insights made by his teacher Plato, grapples with it in his Politics. Aristotle's views on these matters are relevant—by way of the American Founders'—to contemporary American politics and modern democracies generally. During the eighteenth century, the Founders, some of whom explicitly reached back to Aristotle's work, also struggled—especially in The Federalist Papers—with these thorny issues of constitutional design. They created the U.S. Constitution in part to address these very same problems and issues. We are living in some ways, then, in the shadow of Aristotle's political theorizing, albeit as transposed by the American Founders. Both Aristotle and some of the American Founders theoretically favor aristocracy over democracy, but concede that in practice a blend of the two has to be integrated into the fundamental structure of political society. We need to reconnect with these important political discussions in order to come to terms with aristocratic and democratic values in our current circumstances.



Footnotes

a I am grateful to Fred Miller and David Keyt for many helpful suggestions and thoughtful questions throughout the editing process. I would also like to thank Irfan Khawaja for valuable feedback on an earlier version of this essay.



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