It appears that my book is officially out. In the hope of further enticing some of you to read it, or at least find a copy and flip through it, I here include a brief snippet from chapter 4 that may be of some interest. We pick up in the midst of my consideration of an alternative view (that of Mary Nichols in her Citizens and Statesmen) of what Aristotle means when he talks about ruling and being ruled “by turns” or “in part.” According to this alternative, I count as ruling “in part” with you provided that you rule me in a way that recognizes my existence as a distinct, independent, free person.
On this view, I can accurately be described as ruling in part even when I do not hold any office, limited or otherwise, and even when I will not hold such an office in the future. Those who exercise rule over me, likewise, are ruled in part by me because their decisions are limited and conditioned by their recognition that I am a free and independent person whose interests they should be aiming to promote. Whatever one thinks of this proposal as a piece of political philosophy, it is inconsistent with what Aristotle says about rule.
On the one hand, the ruled citizen that Nichols envisions would not participate in deliberation and judgment leading to the formulation of binding decisions. He would therefore not be exercising rule even in part, if the interpretation of ruling that I laid out above is correct. On the other hand, whether or not that interpretation is correct, Nichols’ reading fails to account for the distinctive character of political rule. As her appeal to the contrast between free and slave suggests, what she describes more accurately applies to the distinction between despotic rule or mastery and rule over free people. But, as Aristotle insists, rule over the free is not all of one kind. Nichols’ characterization of ruling and being ruled “in part” would be more aptly taken as a characterization of ruling for the sake of the ruled; the recognition of the ruled’s independence and the influence it has on the ruler’s actions are already a feature of a father’s rule over his children. But Aristotle never describes parents and children as ruling and being ruled by turns or in part. Children do not share in rule; citizens do.
The conflation of paternal and political rule entailed by Nichols’ account does, however, point in the direction of a more satisfactory answer to the question I have been addressing. Another way of formulating that question is to ask why a form of paternal rule over free adult males would be unjust. The father’s rule over his children is just because his exercise of authority is necessary if both he and his children are to achieve the good for the sake of which their community exists; the child’s psychological and moral development requires that he be subordinated to his father’s rule without sharing in rule himself. For mature adults, however, to be under that kind of authority is not only unnecessary, but precludes the exercise of their own deliberative faculties in deciding how they will live. To be ruled without sharing in rule is for one’s actions to be guided by the decisions of others and not one’s own.
Exclusion from political rule would not leave the ruled without any opportunity to make their own decisions. It would, however, entail that they have no active role in shaping the decisions that are supposed to be binding on them and that determine the political conditions under which they live. But living well requires living in accordance with one’s own deliberate decisions (Pol. 3.9.1280a31-4, EN 1.7.1098a16-18, 2.6.1106b36-1107a2, 2.5.1106a3-4, 3.3.1113a2-22, 6.2.1139a22-b5; cf. 3.5.1113b3-6, 5.5.1134a1-2). To be deprived of any role in determining the decisions that structure and guide one’s life and actions is, in effect, to be treated as a slave: Even if others seek to decide how I will live with my own best interests in mind, I cannot actually live well if those decisions are not my own. Of course, to be subjected to despotic rule is to be ruled for the sake of the ruler rather than for one’s own benefit, and so it might seem that a misguided but benevolent ruler would not be guilty of ruling despotically so long as he had what he takes to be his subjects’ best interests in mind. But whatever his motivations, anyone with a conception of the human good so deficient as to omit the role of self-direction and choice could not genuinely benefit others by ruling them.
It is important to add several qualifications to the preceding account in order to avoid the misleading impression that Aristotle was a kind of proto-libertarian. First, for Aristotle, living in accordance with one’s own decision is not to be identified with doing what one wants. That sort of ideal, which Aristotle associates with the “democratic” conception of freedom, is incompatible with an objective account of human well-being; living by one’s own decisions is necessary, but by no means sufficient, for living well (Pol. 5.9.1310a28-36, 6.2.1317b11-17). Second, and crucially, living in accordance with one’s own decision does not entail freedom from rule. Though a free adult male may be treated unjustly if he is deprived of any share of rule, this is not because being ruled is inherently oppressive or an obstacle to the pursuit of one’s own good that requires compensation in the form of gaining a share in rule. Being ruled is an essential component of living under laws, and it is law, more than the opportunity for virtuous acts of nobility and grandeur, to which Aristotle ascribes the importance of political community for living well (1.2.1253a29-39, EN 10.9.1179b23-1180a24). For being ruled by laws is necessary for all but the most extraordinarily virtuous human beings to live in ways that are conducive to the common good of the communities apart from which we could not live well at all. Yet we can likewise not live well if we do not live in accordance with our own decisions.68 Sharing in rule is a requirement of justice in politics not because it is a second best to not being ruled at all, but because it is only by co-operative sharing and interaction with others that we can achieve our personal and common good. By contrast, to subject others to my command without any regard for their own judgment and deliberation is not to co-operate with them, but to deprive them of the exercise of their freedom.
If this account of the value of sharing in rule is correct, it explains why having a share in deliberation and judgment is a necessary condition of justice in political communities even though activities like participating in the assembly, serving on jury courts, or holding limited offices are not intrinsically valuable and worthy of choice primarily for their own sake rather than for the sake of goods external to those activities. Aristotelian citizens need not be high-minded analogues of Aristophanes’ chorus of wasps, obsessed with the pleasures of co-operative deliberation rather than with the delights of exercising power over others. Yet this reading raises a question about how expansive a share in rule needs to be in order to meet the standards of justice. If justice requires that each free adult male be permitted to participate in the institutions which exercise the highest authority in the city, then Aristotle’s ideal will look like a form of democracy and his endorsement of apparently exclusionary constitutional arrangements like kingship, aristocracy, and even polity will be incompatible with his theory of justice. If, however, sharing in rule admits of degrees ranging from issuing decisions about the most general rules in the community to formally endorsing or rejecting the proposals of others, then Aristotle’s theory of political justice might be compatible with various forms of polity, aristocracy, and even kingship itself. In the next chapter, I turn to Aristotle’s constitutional theory and argue that it has just these implications.
68. Aristotle thus rejects a prominent modern view when he holds that living in accordance with one’s own decisions is not only compatible with, but even requires, living under an expansive system of strong laws. The assumption that he seems to reject, or perhaps not to consider, is that the value of living by our own decisions depends on our freedom from coercive norms designed to direct us to choose to live a certain kind of life. One thing he does not think is that living according to one’s own decisions is possible if we have no significant options between which to choose. But it is at least not implausible to suppose that our well-being does not depend on our liberty to choose to live in ways that are not conducive to our well-being, even if that well-being necessarily includes self-direction as a prominent component. I return to these issues in Chapter 6.