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[1279b] [1] but they can best excel in military valor, for this is found with numbers; and therefore with this form of constitution the class that fights for the state in war is the most powerful, and it is those who possess arms who are admitted to the government.) Deviations from the constitutions mentioned are tyranny corresponding to kingship, oligarchy to aristocracy, and democracy to constitutional government; for tyranny is monarchy ruling in the interest of the monarch, oligarchy government in the interest of the rich, democracy government in the interest of the poor, and none of these forms governs with regard to the profit of the community.

But it is necessary to say at a little greater length what each of these constitutions is; for the question involves certain difficulties, and it is the special mark of one who studies any subject philosophically, and not solely with regard to its practical aspect, that he does not overlook or omit any point, but brings to light the truth about each. Now tyranny, as has been said, is monarchy exerting despotic power over the political community; oligarchy is when the control of the government is in the hands of those that own the properties; democracy is when on the contrary it is in the hands of those that do not possess much property, but are poor. [20] A first difficulty is with regard to the definition. If the majority of the citizens were wealthy and were in control of the state, yet when the multitude is in power it is a democracy, and similarly, to take the other case, if it were to occur somewhere that the poor were fewer than the rich but were stronger than they and accordingly were in control of the government, yet where a small number is in control it is said to be an oligarchy, then it would seem that our definition of the forms of constitution was not a good one.1 And once again, if one assumed the combination of small numbers with wealth and of multitude with poverty, and named the constitutions thus—one in which the rich being few in number hold the offices, oligarchy: one in which the poor being many in number hold the offices, democracy,—this involves another difficulty. What names are we to give to the constitutions just described—the one in which there are more rich and the one in which the poor are the fewer, and these control their respective governments—if there exists no other form of constitution beside those mentioned? The argument therefore seems to make it clear that for few or many to have power is an accidental feature of oligarchies in the one case and democracies in the other, due to the fact that the rich are few and the poor are many everywhere (so that it is not really the case that the points mentioned constitute a specific difference), but that the real thing in which democracy and oligarchy differ from each other is poverty and wealth;

1 i.e. it would be absurd to term government by the people democracy if the people happened to be very rich, or government by a few oligarchy if the few were poor and the many whom they governed rich.

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    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Antigone, 393
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