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[1293b] [1] Now the name of aristocracy is indeed properly given to the constitution that we discussed in our first discourses1 (for it is right to apply the name ‘aristocracy’—‘government of the best’—only to the constitution of which the citizens are best in virtue absolutely and not merely good men in relation to some arbitrary standard, for under it alone the same person is a good man and a good citizen absolutely, whereas those who are good under the other constitutions are good relatively to their own form of constitution); nevertheless there are also some constitutions that have differences both in comparison with oligarchically governed states and with what is termed constitutional government, inasmuch as in them they elect the officials not only by wealth but also by goodness; this form of constitution differs from both and is called aristocratic. For even in the states that do not pay any public attention to virtue there are nevertheless some men that are held in high esteem and are thought worthy of respect. Where then the constitution takes in view wealth and virtue as well as the common people, as for instance at Carthage, this is of the nature of an aristocracy; and so also are the states, in which the constitution, like that of Sparta, takes in view two of these things only, virtue and the common people, and there is a mingling of these two factors, democracy and virtue. These then are two kinds of aristocracy beside the first, which is the best constitution, [20] and a third kind is those instances of what is called constitutional government that incline more in the direction of oligarchy.

It remains for us to speak about what is termed constitutional government and also about tyranny. Though neither the former nor the aristocracies spoken of just now are really deviations, we have classed them thus because in actual truth they have all fallen away from the most correct constitution, and consequently are counted with the deviation-forms, and those are deviations from them, as we said in our remarks at the beginning.2 Tyranny is reasonably mentioned last because it is the least constitutional of all governments, whereas our investigation is about constitutional government.

Having then stated the reason for this mode of classification, we have now to set forth our view about constitutional government. For its meaning is clearer now that the characteristics of oligarchy and democracy have been defined; since constitutional government is, to put it simply, a mixture of oligarchy and democracy. But people customarily give the name of constitutional government only to those among such mixed constitutions that incline towards democracy, and entitle those that incline more towards oligarchy aristocracies, because education and good birth go more with the wealthier classes, and also the wealthy are thought to have already the things to get which wrongdoers commit wrong; owing to which people apply the terms ‘gentry’ and ‘notabilities’ to the rich. Since therefore aristocracy means the assignment of the highest place to the best of the citizens, oligarchies also are said to be drawn rather from the gentry.

1 Book 3. 1279a 35 ff., 1286b 3 ff.

2 See 1279b 4 ff. Actual aristocracies are a falling-off from the Aristocracy and Polity is a decline from Monarchy and Aristocracy; but they are not deviations in the technical sense.

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    • E.C. Marchant, Commentary on Thucydides Book 1, 1.19
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