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[1326b] [1] in some cases smallness and in others excessive largeness will make it sail badly. Similarly a state consisting of too few people will not be self-sufficing (which is an essential quality of a state), and one consisting of too many, though self-sufficing in the mere necessaries, will be so in the way in which a nation1 is, and not as a state, since it will not be easy for it to possess constitutional government—for who will command its over-swollen multitude in war? or who will serve as its herald, unless he have the lungs of a Stentor? It follows that the lowest limit for the existence of a state is when it consists of a population that reaches the minimum number that is self-sufficient for the purpose of living the good life after the manner of a political community. It is possible also for one that exceeds this one in number to be a greater state, but, as we said, this possibility of increase is not without limit, and what the limit of the state's expansion is can easily be seen from practical considerations. The activities of the state are those of the rulers and those of the persons ruled, and the work of a ruler is to direct the administration and to judge law-suits; but in order to decide questions of justice and in order to distribute the offices according to merit it is necessary for the citizens to know each other's personal characters, since where this does not happen to be the case the business of electing officials and trying law-suits is bound to go badly; haphazard decision is unjust in both matters, and this [20] must obviously prevail in an excessively numerous community. Also in such a community it is easy for foreigners and resident aliens to usurp the rights of citizenship, for the excessive number of the population makes it not difficult to escape detection. It is clear therefore that the best limiting principle for a state is the largest expansion of the population, with a view to self-sufficiency that can well be taken in at one view.

Such may be our conclusion on the question of the size of the state.

Very much the same holds good about its territory. As to the question what particular kind of land it ought to have, it is clear that everybody would command that which is most self-sufficing (and such is necessarily that which bears every sort of produce, for self-sufficiency means having a supply of everything and lacking nothing). In extent and magnitude the land ought to be of a size that will enable the inhabitants to live a life of liberal and at the same time temperate leisure. Whether this limiting principle is rightly or wrongly stated must be considered more precisely later on,2 when we come to raise the general subject of property and the ownership of wealth,—how and in what way it ought to be related to the employment of wealth3; about this question there are many controversies, owing to those that draw us towards either extreme of life, the one school towards parsimony and the other towards luxury. The proper configuration of the country it is not difficult to state (though there are some points on which the advice of military experts also must be taken): on the one hand it should be difficult for enemies to invade and easy for the people themselves to march out from,

1 i.e. presumably an Ethnos in the usual sense, a community composed of villages loosely bound together by relationship and trade, and united for defence, but not for political life; not an Ethnos of associated cities.

2 This promise is not fulfilled in the work as it has come down to us.

3 The distinction seems to be between owning (or perhaps getting) wealth and using it; but a probable emendation of the Greek gives ‘how we ought to stand in relation to its employment.’

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hide References (3 total)
  • Commentary references to this page (3):
    • W. W. How, J. Wells, A Commentary on Herodotus, 1.32
    • T. G. Tucker, Commentary on Thucydides: Book 8, 8.66
    • Walter Leaf, Commentary on the Iliad (1900), 5.785
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