Aristotle’s classification of government & Criticism


From logic to ethics and aesthetics, the Greek philosopher Aristotle made an important and lasting contribution to nearly every aspect of human knowledge over the centuries. Among them, Aristotle had a different view on politics from other philosopher’s views. He considered Politics as the master science or master art. That Aristotle had provided important theories to the world like Aristotle’s classification of government, Aristotle’s theory of of the state etc. He believed that the rule of law is the best way to rule but Plato considered philosopher king is the best way to run the state. Aristotle states that the rule of law can bring stability to the Constitution, and can provide proper justice to citizens of the state. That’s why he classified various forms of government. 


Why did Aristotle need Government? 

Aristotle needed the Constitution because the Instability of government in the Greek city-state was disturbing Aristotle. And to establish a stable government, he sought to develop a constitution. So he sent his disciples to various places to prepare case histories of their Constitution. In this process, he studied nearly 158 Constitutions, and later on he gave the theory of the Constitution. 


Aristotle’s classification of the Constitution 

In his theory, Aristotle does not make any difference in the Constitution, state, and government. According to him, the Constitution, state, and government are equal. Constitution=state=government. 

He classified the Constitution based on :

(I) the Number of rulings- That may be:-

 (1) one ruler or

 (2) many 


(ii) purpose of the ruling. It has two forms of Constitution:-

(1) Power is exercised for common people

(2) Power is exercised for self-interest.


According to Aristotle 

1. Rule of one is monarchy and its perverted form is Tyranny. 

2. The rule of few is Aristocracy, which is the normal form of government and its perverted form of government is Oligarchy. 

3. Rule of many is a polity, which is the normal form of government, whereas democracy is a perverted form of government. 

From the above facts, Aristotle had 6 forms of government. He considered monarchy, Aristocracy, and polity to be normal forms of government, and Tyranny, Oligarchy, and democracy are perverted forms of government. 


Aristotle’s Form of Government 

Aristotle had 6 forms of government. These are


1. Monarchy – 

Aristotle defined monarchy as a form of government, where a single ruler holds authority. In this government, power is controlled by one individual, which may be the king or Queen. He claimed that a functional government (monarchy) may be advantageous. This is due to the city-state’s single ruler’s ability to act swiftly and exercise effective leadership. The advantages of the monarchy will be lost, he said, if the exercise of power becomes arbitrary and dictatorial.


2. Tyranny

Aristotle defined tyranny as a type of governance in which a leader abuses total authority for personal advantage. The welfare of its people is unimportant to a despotic regime. This administration is innately violent, repressive, and unaccountable.


3. Aristocracy 

Aristocracy according to Aristotle is a form of government, where wise and virtuous individuals rule the state. To be a leader of this aristocracy government, an individual must possess qualities like wisdom and morality. In the aristocratic government, Aristotle saw an advantage, that leaders have qualities like wisdom, virtue, and morality, which will help in making decisions for the common good. He also acknowledges that, if rulers use power for their interest, aristocracy government will degenerate into Oligarchy.


4. Oligarchy- 

Oligarchy refers to a form of government, where a small group of wealthy individuals control the power of the state. The criteria for being a leader of this government is that an individual must possess wealth. In an oligarchy government, Aristotle pointed out that, rulers of this government can lead to an imbalance in decision-making because few wealthy individuals might prioritize their interests over the needs of the people of the state.


5. Polity- 

Polity is a constitutional government that is run by the middle-class citizens of the state. In this form of government, middle-class citizens play a crucial role in running the government. aristotle believed that middle-class citizens were good because their interests and perspectives could contribute to fair decision-making. These middle-class rulers can establish a balance between different groups and prevent the extremes that can arise in another form of government.


6. Democracy – 

Democracy refers to a form of government, where the majority exercises the power of the state. In this government, decisions are made based on the preferences of citizens. In democracy, Aristotle pointed out that decisions may be taken by emotion rather than rationality. He emphasized that a well-structured Democratic system must avoid the tyranny of the majority and ensure that laws are just and beneficial for all citizens. 

So from the above 6 forms of government, some important points can be noted – 


1. The monarchy was beneficial in its original form, but when there was no effective check on the monarch’s total authority, it led to tyranny since virtue and power cannot coexist. 


2. Now tyranny was followed by a rebellion by a select few who succeeded in conquering it and establishing aristocracy. However, the aristocracy turned into an oligarchy since there was no effective way to restrain their authority. 


3. In due course, the Langer numbers raise against it and polity took its place. This polity government again turned into a democracy. This was eventually overthrown by a single virtuous man who set up a monarchy in its place. 

So in this way, Aristotle’s government cycle continues. But which is the best form of government Aristotle and worst form of government? Let’s see –


The best form of government according to Aristotle

Aristotle considers monarchy and polity as the best form of government. But Monarchy is not a practicable government, whereas polity is the best practicable form of government.



In the Greek city-state, two prominent philosophers, Plato and Aristotle argued that monarchy is the best form of government. Plato considered monarchy to be the best form of government because the state is ruled by a philosopher king 

But Aristotle states that monarchy is the best form of government but not practicable. Because its practical form will be tyranny, where absolute power corrupt. 



In Aristotle’s context, polity is the best practicable government. This government is ruled by many but not so many. In this government, middle-class people hold the power. This government focuses on the common interest and creates a balance between different groups. 


The worst form of government 

Aristotle considered tyranny and democracy to be the worst form of government. 



It is the worst form of government because power is exercised by a single ruler for self-interest, who is not concerned about common interest. Tyranny government does not obey laws and it is involved in violence, corruption, etc. 



It is the second worst form of government according to Aristotle. Because this government is ruled by many and rulers ignore the poor. This results in the emergence of demagogic leaders which makes people fools.



Aristotle’s theory of government is not relevant today. Aristotle considers polity as the best practicable and monarchy is the not practicable form of government. Tyranny and democracy as the worst forms of government. In the present era, many countries are practicing democracy as a government. Most importantly, developed, developing, and poor countries are also following democratic governments. 


Criticism of Aristotle’s theory of government


1. **Democracy is not in its worst form today:**

Democracy is the worst form of government according to Aristotle because it is based on majority rule and, he believed, it could lead to mob rule or tyranny of the majority. However modern philosophers argue that democracy is not the worst form of government. Nowadays many countries are practicing democracy. Democratic countries are progressing.


2. **Aristotle did not differentiate between constitution and government:**

Aristotle’s classification focuses on different forms of government but does not clearly distinguish between the constitution (the system of rules and laws) and government (the individuals or institutions that administer those rules). Critics argue that this differentiation is important for a comprehensive understanding of political systems.


**3. The method of classification is not valid today

Modern critics argue that Aristotle’s theory of constitution is not valid today. It is because Aristotle considers democracy as the worst form of government. But today, many countries are following a democratic form of government. Mainly Aristotle’s theory of government is not scientifically proven which is a good theory provided by Aristotle. 


**4. No distinction between state, constitution, and government.

Aristotle considers state, constitution, and government, all are same. He did not draw any differences between state, constitution, and government. Critics argue that the state, constitution, and government are not the same. It is because the Constitution is present within the state and the government performs its function for the state. So all are not the same. 



Aristotle’s classification of government provides a fundamental framework for understanding the various forms of government, that existed throughout history. It also provides some valuable insight into the dynamic of political power. Yes, it has some criticism of this theory. But Aristotle’s theory of constitution will remain a valuable historical contribution to political philosophy.