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[1295a] [1]

It remained for us to speak of tyranny, not because there is much that can be said about it, but in order that it may receive its part in our inquiry, since we rank this also as one among the kinds of constitution. The nature of kingship we have defined in our first discourses,1 in which we examined the question in relation to the constitution most commonly denoted by the term ‘kingship,’ whether it is disadvantageous or an advantage to states, and what person ought to be set up as king, and from what source, and by what procedure; and in the passage in which we were considering kingship we distinguished two kinds of tyranny, because their power in a manner borders upon royalty, because both these forms of rule are in accordance with law (for among some of the barbarians they elect monarchic rulers with autocratic powers, and also in old times among the ancient Greeks some men used to become monarchs of this sort, the rulers called aesymnetae), but these two forms of tyranny have certain differences from one another, although they were on the one hand of the nature of royalty because they were in accordance with law and because they exercised monarchic rule over willing subjects, and on the other hand of the nature of a tyranny because they ruled despotically and according to their own judgement. But there is a third kind of tyranny which is thought to be tyranny in the fullest degree, being the counterpart of universal kingship; to this sort of tyranny must necessarily belong a monarchy [20] that exercises irresponsible rule over subjects all of the same or of a higher class with a view to its own private interest and not in the interest of the persons ruled. Hence it is held against the will of the subjects, since no free man willingly endures such rule.

These then are the kinds of tyranny and such is their number, for the reasons stated

But what is the best constitution and what is the best mode of life for most cities and most of mankind, if we do not judge by the standard of a virtue that is above the level of private citizens or of an education that needs natural gifts and means supplied by fortune, nor by the standard of the ideal constitution, but of a mode of life able to be shared by most men and a constitution possible for most states to attain? For the constitutions called aristocracies, of which we spoke just now,2 in some cases fall somewhat out of the scope of most states, and in others approximate to what is called constitutional government, so that it is proper to speak of these two forms as if they were one. And indeed the decision in regard to all these questions is based on the same elementary principles. For if it has been rightly said in theEthics3 that the happy life is the life that is lived without impediment in accordance with virtue, and that virtue is a middle course, it necessarily follows that the middle course of life is the best—such a middle course as it is possible for each class of men to attain. And these same criteria must also necessarily apply to the goodness and badness of a state, and of a constitution—for a constitution is a certain mode of life of a state.

1 Book 3.9-12.

2 See 1293b 7-21, cf. 1293b 36-1294a 25.

3 Aristot. Nic. Eth. 1101a 14.

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • Walter Leaf, Commentary on the Iliad (1900), 24.347
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    • Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1101a
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