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SSI0010.1177/0539018414532040Social Science InformationBates


The centrality of politeia for

Aristotles Politics: Part II the
marginalization of Aristotles
politeia in modern political

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The Author(s) 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/0539018414532040

Clifford Angell Bates, Jr

Institute of the Americas and Europe, University of Warsaw, Poland

Political theorists today are addressing issues of global concerns confronting state
systems and in so doing are often forced to confront the concept of Homo sapiens as
a political animal. This article continues the presentation of Aristotles treatment of
politeia (initiated in The centrality of politeia for Aristotles Politics: Aristotles continuing
significance for social and political science, in this journal) as the concept allowing us
to understand the nature and workings of human political community in a way that
lets us see how the fundamentally social nature of human beings manifests itself. I look
at how Aristotles politeia became marginalized as a useful means to understand the
shape and direction of human community. While the state has become the new frame
for the human political community, the concept of the state rests on the fundamental
a-social assumptions of early modern thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc.,
whose model of how the state emerges denies the fundamental social character of man
and instead insists that political action consists merely of the rational calculations of
willing agents for common utility and society. In doing so the model renders politics and
political actions as merely another form of economics.
Aristotle, political community, political theory, politeia, rational choice
Les thoriciens politiques daujourdhui traitent de problmes dordre global auxquels
sont confronts les systmes tatiques, et se trouvent ainsi souvent confronts au
concept de lHomo Sapiens en tant qu animal politique. Larticle continue la prsentation
Corresponding author:
Clifford Angell Bates, Jr, Institute of the Americas and Europe, University of Warsaw, Al, Niepodleglosci 22,
Warsaw, 02-653, Poland.

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du concept de politeia dAristote (commence dans la revue, dans The centrality of

politeia for Aristotles Politics: Aristotles continuing significance for social and political
science) et de son traitement en tant que concept permettant dapprhender la nature
et les rouages des communauts politiques humaines de manire voir comment la
nature fondamentalement sociale des tres humains se manifeste. Lauteur analyse
comment la politeia dAristote sest vue marginalise en tant que moyen de comprendre
la forme et la direction des communauts humaines. Alors que ltat est devenu le
nouveau cadre des communauts politiques humaines, le concept de ltat repose
sur des prsupposs fondamentalement asociaux de penseurs prmodernes tels
que Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc., pour qui le modle dmergence de ltat nie le
caractre fondamentalement social de lhomme et insiste au contraire sur le fait que
laction politique ne consiste quen calculs rationnels dagents dont la finalit est lutilit
commune et la socit. Ce faisant, ce modle ne fait de la politique et des actions
politiques quune autre forme dconomie.
Aristote, choix rationnels, communauts politiques, politeia, thorie politique

In The centrality of politeia for Aristotles Politics: Aristotles continuing significance
for social and political science (Bates, 2014) I maintained that Aristotles use of the
concept of politeia the given form and way of life of a given political community
was the best way to understand how human political animals are able to fulfill their
capacities as human beings and live well, that is to live in such a way that Aristotle would
argue that they were fulfilled or happy (eudomonia). In the present article, I would like
to make the second half of the argument, that with, first, the corruption of the Aristotelian
philosophical model by Roman Catholic theology of scholasticism and then the rejection
of Aristotelian political teaching by leading political philosophers of early modern political thought, Aristotles concept of politeia became increasingly marginalized and was
either reduced to a rigid legal formalism understood as merely typologizing constitutional forms or was ignored outright and replaced with the concept of politics as the
manifestation of self-aware, willing agents asserting, articulating, calculating and then
negotiating through mutual consent not only their mutual interest but even the foundations of human political community.
The modern take on the origins of man is that man is an a-social being, solitary
and isolated, and that the political community is this artificial and willed construct that
these solitary creatures create to secure those goods that by their own means they are
unable to (see Hobbes, 1991 [1651]; Kant, 1991; Rousseau, 1964). Thus the modern
notion works on the level of wills and the bonding together of separate and autonomous wills via their agreement to secure mutual benefit and security. And this renders
the political community as a merely voluntary construction by naturally a-social individual persons a fundamental rejection of the Aristotelian teaching that man is by
nature a social being.


This view of human political community, of modern political thought, involves an

utter rejection and setting aside of Aristotles view of the political community and the
nature of man as a political animal, which I sketched out in the earlier Centrality of
politeia article. Before going on to present the modern account that marginalizes
Aristotles politeia, I would like to outline how Aristotles concept was able to move
beyond the polis and remain a viable concept that allows us to understand the nature and
character of human political community.

Empires and the political

What came before the polis? Before the polis, one sees only the rule of tribes and empires.
The original character of empire was distinct from the polis because, in order to rule over
its entire realm effectively and securely, an empire had to reply more on coercion than on
other things and hence had a fundamentally despotic character. For Aristotle, political
rule was not to be conflated with despotic rule (see Politics 1.1). When the ruling part
rules without regard for the interests of the whole political community, but acts only for
its own interests/benefit, then the character of the political community becomes despotic.
Hence, tyranny is the political form of despotism. The problem with earlier variants of
empire before Alexander and Rome was that their rule over the various tribes was despotic in character. The birth of politics therefore occurred in Greece with the rise of the
polis as an alternative to the empire and the tribe (ethnos).
The polis allowed a form of community to emerge in which the shared life of its members gave them something in common which individuals understood and recognized as
belonging to themselves and to others within the community. In the polis, although coercion would be needed to correct parts that sought to have their interest/benefit define the
well-being and ability to live well within the community, the degree to which the poliss
politeia had to rely on such coercion rather than on persuasion of shared benefits tended
to indicate that the politeia was more despotic and less political in character, and hence
a defective form of politeia.
Empire tended to emerge prior to the polis as a heterogeneous construct of numerous
peoples/tribes (ethnoi) conquered by the armed followers of a tribe and its leader. Often
those tribes had been conquered or somehow subjugated to the ruling tribe. The empire
as a whole is composed of tribal parts, and the tribe that rules and has control over the
other dominated tribes gives shape to the empire. This gives the ruling tribe in the
empire the same role over the other tribes and plays a similar role in the ruling of the
empire that the politeuma (which on one level is the ruling part of the politeia) has within
the nature of the political community (understood as either the polis or Roman civitas).
But note that the empire is composed of tribal (ethnoi) components, whereas for the
political community the fundamental part of the polis (or civitas) is the oikos, the household. In fact the household of the Caesars can be very much said to be the politeuma/the
ruling part of the empire. Hence this similarity to the politeuma of the ruling household
of an imperial form suggests that there is a politeia at play there.
Later variants of empire we see in polises and/or other variations of human community are also found in tribes as basic units of the imperial entity. Because of the inclusion of polises or the remains of polises under these variations of empire and the attempt

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by the subordinated polises to keep the institutional arrangements that existed prior to
imperial rule over them, the political character of Empire echoes the character of political rule that is found in the political community, in that its rule is a rule over an association of discrete communities. For the polis, those communities are the household,
whereas for the empire the types of subject parts can vary between whole peoples/tribes
or nations (ethnoi) or numbers of different tribes, peoples or nations, or various subordinated political communities (polises). After the rise of the polis, the earlier variation
of empire that incorporated parts of or whole polises under the rule of a tribal unit (e.g.
Persia and Macedon) was replaced by a polis reigning and ruling over other polises and
tribes (e.g. the various Greek leagues under Athens, Sparta, and Thebes, later Rome). It
becomes clear therefore that Rome, by the time of its peak, when it conquers most of its
neighbors in the second century BC, is a polis that reigns over the then-known civilized
world. It was a cosmopolis, a polis that encompasses the cosmos, the whole of the
known world.
The cosmopolis arises in Rome under the res publica (the Roman civic body) not
under Caesar. It was under the res publica that Rome conquered most of the Mediterranean
world, incorporating local elites into Roman citizens. The incorporation of all these conquered parts, including those who were conquered to be made slaves, in Rome only
fuelled and exacerbated the divisions that shaped and always did shape Rome until
Caesar destroyed the res publica. But the Roman fear of a king led key Romans to kill
Caesar, and because of this Roman taboo Octavian (later known as Augustus) kept alive
the forms and institutions from the res publica that effectively cloaked the monarchy it
This reform of Roman rule over the empire by Caesars heir gave rise to public form,
as it was led to create newer forms of rule: (1) caesar, kaiser, tzar; and (2) princeps,
which in Latin is First Citizen, and was the term Augustus took rather than the title of
Rex. The term prince comes from princeps. (3) After the reign of Augustus, the later
Caesars slowly discarded the forms of the res publica Augustus had maintained to shade
the monarchical character of his reign. With Nero and those rulers of Rome and its
empire following his reign, the term became imperator, or emperor. So even with the
death of the polis as a viable form of political community, the politeia remains of use to
understand the structure and character of politics at play in the empire, and this is why
Aristotle and his political science has remained popular up to modernity.

The marginalization of politeia in medieval Christian

political thought
Medieval Christian political thought used Aristotle mainly through St Augustines
Platonizing of him (see Black, 1992; Canning, 1996). It is not at all known whether
Augustine or the early Christian Church knew Aristotles Politics. It is also widely held
that the Romans, and especially Cicero and Polybius as well as later Roman thinkers
never had access to the text of the Politics. This is also true of Muslim medieval thinkers; although they had all of Plato and most of Aristotle, they seem not to have had the
Politics text. Because of this, their understanding (Cicero, Polybius, the early Christian


Fathers, etc.) of the politeia came from what Aristotle suggests in Nicomachean Ethics
8.10 and Rhetoric 1.8 and from Platos Republic (whose Greek title is the Politeia) as
well as the Laws. In fact it could be strongly argued that the cycle of politeia that Polybius
teaches in his Histories 8, where he shows the evolution of the Roman politeia, patterns
itself on a cycle that very much echoes the cycle that Plato presents in Republic 8.
With the advent of Christianity, the formation of souls and characters previously unified in the role of politics became separated into the role of the King (secular ruler) and
the role of the Church (spiritual ruler). In the Middle Ages, the political concept of
Empire the remnant of the Roman Empire operated within the political reality of a
multiplicity of smaller political (actors) communities which exercised de facto rule over
the people and territories in the immediate area (see Black, 1992; Canning, 1996). This
mix of separate spheres of political power creates the concept of the mixed constitution.1
Yet the basic form of political rule was still understood as a form of monarchy, and one
could very well argue that, from later Roman Imperial rule throughout the Middle Ages,
politics as the rule of citizens all but died out and what replaced it was the rule of the
monarch (see Wood, 2008).
It should be noted that, during this time, there is no record of any political theorist or
actor having knowledge of Aristotles Politics. For all purposes Aristotles Politics was
lost. It is not until the late Middle Ages that Aristotle and his Politics are rediscovered. In
other words, the political reality of the mixed constitution or the mixed regime is
working well without the intellectual link with Aristotle. Also until Thomas Aquinas, the
so-called intellectual defense of the mixed constitution usually looked to St Augustine.
With Thomas Aquinas and the rediscovery of Aristotle, there was a demand to justify or
rectify Christian practices of not only philosophy but politics, with the rediscovery of
classical philosophy (Blythe, 1992). The demand to justify Christian things in light of
classical philosophy is Thomas Aquinas propos. Since it is clearly Aquinas who links the
mixed constitution of political practice with Aristotle, one begins to see how the identification of the two could be so intellectually commonplace (Black, 1992; Canning,
1996). Further, it is again Aquinas who appears to develop the argument that the mixed
constitution derived from Aristotle is the best regime for human beings on Earth (see
Blythe, 1992; also see Black, 1992; Canning, 1996). Although Aquinas argues that while,
in Heaven, only the Royal rule of God exists, on Earth the best regime is not mere kingship, because of the objections to absolute kingship made by Aristotle at Politics 3.15-17
that it is unstable politically (Black, 1992; Canning, 1996). To repeat: both the identification of mixed constitution as the best regime and the tendency to see the intellectual
origins of the mixed constitutions in Aristotles Politics begin with Aquinas and are
handed down in the Scholastic tradition. Yet as I have shown above, this is not what we
see when we read Aristotle leaving behind preconceptions of what others suggest he
But why does Aquinas begin this erroneous reading of the Politics? There are two
possible answers: (1) Aquinas did not read Greek, and his understanding of Aristotle is
dependent upon translations (Rubinstein, 1987). Also as Blythe shows, the translator
Aquinas relies on in his reading of Aristotles Politics, William of Moerbecke, makes
several misleading mistranslations of the text (Rubinstein, 1987; and especially see also
Susemihl & Guillaume, 2011).2 Unaware of this, Aquinas might have accepted

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Moerbeckes text as what Aristotle in fact said (Blythe 1992: 19, 3334, 4243, 57, 81,
96; see also Susemihl & Guillaume, 2011). If this is the case, then we should not place
too much weight on what Aquinas believes Aristotle says concerning the issue of the
mixed constitution. (2) In his attempt to make Aristotle acceptable to Christianity,
Aquinas may not have attempted to understand Aristotle as Aristotle understood himself
but rather read him with the principle of interpretative charity a common hermeneutic
practice in the Middle Ages. If this is what occurred then Aquinas does not give us
Aristotle qua Aristotle, but an Aristotle that has been cleaned up and make compatible
with Christian teachings. This does not deny that Aristotle may be in fact compatible
with Christian teachings. Nor does it deny that Aquinas in other places does much justice
to Aristotle (see Black, 1992; Canning, 1996).
Furthermore, this tradition of the Middle Ages all too often either reduced all political
forms to the rule of a king or a prince, echoing the view that, since the divine order of
heaven was the monarchy of God, the reflection of that heavenly order would manifest
itself with some form of monarchical rule.3 If other forms are at all understood, they are
seen as deviations from the perfect form to less-perfect forms again the regime cycle of
Platos Republic 8 rather than any position held by Aristotle. And later, when Aristotles
text was recovered and started to be widely used to shape peoples understanding of the
variety of forms of governments (which was how the politeia was understood in this
time), the typical approach to understanding Aristotles use of the politeia was to read it
in terms of the legal constitutional forms. This way of approaching Aristotles politeia
tended to be the dominant view held by both St Thomas and St John of Paris (see Black,
1992; Blythe, 1992; Canning, 1996). And all too often the so-called practical books,
Politics 46, were omitted in version of the Politics text, so that the focus and attention
fell on Politics 13 and 78.

The marginalization of politeia in modern political thought

As we turn to the modern concept of the state, founded as a political concept as we now
generally use it by Machiavelli, we see that he does not use the concept of the politeia or
anything remotely similar to it. Why does Machiavelli not use it? The reason is that his
innovation of the state has no room for it.
Machiavelli, and the tradition that originates from him, understands the state to be a
product of will. For Machiavelli, the will of the prince; for the later thinkers, such as
Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, et al., it is the will of the body politic per se, the
collective will of all the members that form the state. And the state as a will in order to
be effective must have a unitary character. What would one call a divided will that went
off in many directions? Surely not a good or healthy will. Thus the good and healthy will
by necessity has a unitary character. Also, though its application or operation can be
executed by different institutions or entities within the state, those are merely tools that
that are created by and serve on behalf of the sovereign will executing/carrying out
what it desires. Given the character of the state as a unity and thus a homogeneous will,
the nature of the whole is shaped fundamentally by the whole. This is to be contrasted
with the concept of political community articulated by Aristotle, where the political community is composed of the fundamental parts the household and other communities


that give it body. The political community is thus made up of many discrete parts
whose commonality arises from their shared life, and perhaps a shared benefit or utility
from that life, together.
The state is a product of modern political philosophy. The term the state is a creation
of Machiavelli (see de Alvarez, 1989: xiixvii, xxxiixxxiii; Hexter, 1956: 113138;
Mansfield, 1983: 849857; Strauss, 1936: xv; see also Strauss, 1989: 3955; as well as
Manent, 1994b, 1994c). The modern state and its contemporary embodiment, the modern liberal state as we know it, although conceived by Machiavelli, is the child of
Thomas Hobbes and has been continually developed by his intellectual followers (see
Manent, 1994a, 1994b, 1994c). Although Hobbes does not explicitly define the state in
the way the later-19th-century thinker would, it is nevertheless a conceptual product of
this understanding of political community (Strauss, 1936: xv).
The term Hobbes uses to specify the political community is commonwealth. For
Hobbes the commonwealth is the political entity within which human political behavior
will be actualized. The real force of Hobbes commonwealth must be understood in the
expression of the sovereign power toward its subjects (Hobbes, 1991 [1651]). For
Machiavelli the state is the articulated will of the prince an actual person. Hobbes takes
this concept of the state and argues that it is not to be specifically the will of a prince or
actual sovereign.
What is the sovereign power in Hobbes political thought? It is the articulated will of
the social compact that gives legitimacy to the commonwealth. For Hobbes the reason
the sovereign power arises out of a social contract is that a political community does not
exist not by nature, but is instead a humanly made construct (Hobbes, 1991 [1651]). Thus
for Hobbes, political community is an artifact, and as such its political expression is the
abstracted will of that which forms the political community (see Manent, 1994a, 1994b;
Strauss, 1953). Yet the term political community is no longer appropriate for the political entity that is being constructed; instead, such a community is referred to as the body
Body politic is a term or, more correctly, a metaphor drawn from medieval political
thought, which attempts to explain the relationship between a king and his realm (see
Kantorowicz, 1957). Hobbes use of the term sovereign has long led readers to think he
is speaking as if the sovereign will were a single human ruler, a king or a monarch.
Hobbes is not referring to an actual human sovereign, but uses the term as a metaphor to
describe not a person but the embodied will of that which authorizes the body politic.
The sovereign is thus no longer the body of the sovereign, i.e. the king or prince, but the
abstracted will of the whole body politic (Hobbes, 1991 [1651]).
The notion of the state is further developed along Hobbesian lines by both Rousseau,
who shows that the state is a product not only of human construction but also of human
rationality; and by Kant, who (1) shows that all moral action is an act of the will e.g.
the categorical imperative, rather than an outcome of natural predisposition, and (2)
makes explicit that the state is a disembodied will, which can be more clearly seen in
Hegels The Philosophy of Right (see Manent, 1994a, 1994c). Thus the modern state is
no longer understood as the articulated will of any specific ruler, but rather as the collective will of a whole of the society it represents.

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Hence, the concept of the modern state reaches its intellectual peak in Hegels treatment of it. The history of the concept of the state entails a rejection of classical (i.e.
Greek and Roman) political thoughts understanding of political community as a natural
condition (that is to say environment or habitat) for human beings. Rather, the state
connotes a human construct that is nothing but the disembodied will of the body politic.
It does have a will, however, and that will is the collective force underlying the legitimacy of its political rule. But if the state has a will, are we to understand it as a moral
person? This is a question that has haunted modern political thought after Kant and
Hegel. It was this emphasis on unity and will that turned off the early generation of
behavioral scholars of politics. This view of politics as unifying will was thought to
leave out or fail to address things that had a much greater impact on the political behavior
of human beings than the formal administrative institutionalism that followed from this
understanding of the state as the sole and fundamental political actor.

The trajectory of the modern state as the only political

The focus on wills is why the concept of sovereignty becomes so key to the direction
taken by modern politics. Its emphasis on the logic of a unitary will renders Aristotles
politeia highly problematic, since politeia by its very character is an order of parts within
a discrete set of parts that happen to form a given community (koinonia) of households
(oikoi). This type of construction is too dynamic and too interactive even though the
various parts share a common life together and all that will entail but they never form
a single or shared will. Hence the modern view of sovereignty that Hobbes finally incorporates and transforms in his construction of the social compact that creates the state
the modern form of the human political community.
Hobbes construction of the modern state as a product of the social contract he so
famously describes in his Leviathan takes Machiavellis concept of the state and gives it
a new more powerful form allocating to the state the power of the collective will of all
the conjoining members of the contracting union gives the state godlike powers that
Machiavellis model could not. Hobbes offers Machiavellis state the means to become
like god echoing the serpent in the Genesis account of the Fall of Adam and Eve.
Also the rise of this state the moral god occurs at the same time as the breakdown
of the medieval political system, when various powerful kings of entire ethnic nations
competed for power with other such kings and were no longer willing to submit to papal
authority. All this happens right around the time of the Reformation. One of the strongest
voices criticizing the Roman Church and the Bishop of Rome and his interference in
temporal matters was the former diplomat, Niccolo Machiavelli, who served in the late
Florentine Republic. Before the restoration of the Medici familys power over the city of
Florence, Machiavelli served as a diplomat of the Republic at many powerful courts of
Europe, including the Vatican. His first-hand witness to the political intrigue that led to
the Spanish and later French invasion of Italy and their power grab over parts of Italy led
him to be highly critical not only of the contemporary Italian political systems of CityRepublics, but also of the role the Vatican played in this sorry story. What Machiavelli


sought was an Italy that would be free from foreign control; yet such an Italy would
never come from the set of political powers that governed Italy at the time, and especially
never from the Vatican and the Roman clergy.
What Machiavelli demanded was a revolution in thinking about the political system
that would have to govern Italy if it were ever to become free. And for Machiavelli, such
a system would be the state, led and created by a strong and powerful prince (or lawgiver,
as in his other work The Discourse, which tells his readers, mainly those with more leisure time given its great length, all he had learned about politics). For Machiavelli, the
state would be the tool by which the prince would establish his rule and free Italy from
foreign powers, including the Roman Church. Yet Machiavellis understanding of the
state was still too tied to a personal ruler, despite his setting of the state by which the
nation can effectively be governed in such a manner that it empowers the nation so that
it can seek glory and dominance over its peers. In fact Machiavellis use of the concept
of stato as an instrument of princely will to give new modes and orders suggests that it
is an instrument of form, that which gives shape to the principality or republic (de
Alvarez,1989: xiixvii, xxxiixxxiii; Hexter, 1956: 113138; Mansfield, 1983: 849857;
see also Strauss, 1989: 3955). Conceptually Machiavellis concept of stato has more in
common with the Greek concept politeia (regime/political system) than with the unit of
political community the polis and is thus different from how the state as transformed
by Hobbes will appear (see Mansfield, 1983: 849857). For Machiavelli, the state is that
which forms and gives shape to the princes will and thus gives order to the civic space,
be it republic or principality. It is thus the formal part that shapes the entire body of the
civic space, as in classical political thought the politeia shapes the polis as a whole.
If Machiavelli still relies to a great degree upon an older version of the ruler and bodied sovereign, Bodin offers a more important transition to the modern conception of
sovereignty as the territorial body politic of a nation or people. Although Bodins understanding of sovereignty still places kingly power under the norms of law, and justice as
found in the natural law teaching of the Catholic Church in the late Middle Ages, his
introduction of the concept of the body politic provides the needed transition to what
Hobbes does with this concept.4
Bodin does this because he is trying to find a place for the recovery and revival of
political rule that followed the Renaissance rediscovery of classical thought and the
power of various Italian city-states that had embraced the concept of the republic. The
recovery of the possibility of political rule and the recovery of classical understanding of
politics as separate in form from household rule required either a change of political
speech, which at the time spoke of princely rule and the princely cbody his body and
his territorial body or a whole new political language. Given the negative reaction to
Machiavellis even minor revolution, any radical break with the political concepts and
language of the past would not be successful. To avoid the perception that monarchy and
the princely system and the new recovery of political and republican rule were fundamentally different on their level of being and thus incompatible with each other, Bodin
had to find a way to allow both systems to find a common political language. So, using
the language of the sovereigns body and allowing the political community to be understood as this territorial body, Bodin finds a way to connect these two traditions of rule
(Bodin, 1993).


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Thus Bodins reading of both the classical republican tradition and classical understanding of politics works within the linguistic construct of reality of feudal and kingly
rule. And this was accomplished by separating the civic space from the territory of the
household. One must keep in mind the intimate connection between the property-owner
and his property (as most clearly expressed in the concept of the kings two bodies) and
how this would blur household rule and political rule if this connection had to be extended
to non-monarchical/princely forms of rule. Thus the concept of the rulers owning the
property of the territory had simply to be extended. The rulers actual physical body had
to be divorced from the territorial body, especially if this concept was going to work
when speaking about political systems where numerous persons shared in ruling. Hence
Bodins treatment of the body politic his use of the commonplace medieval political
concept and his re-appropriation of that concept as merely the given territorial political
unit from which the rulers power emanates as sovereignty (Bodin, 1993). Bodin offers
a solution to this problem of the immanent connection between the land and territory of
the ruler and the actual body of the ruler by merely separating one from the other and
seeing the royal person as completely separate-able from the territorial unit, which for
Bodin was merely the body politic.
Yet at the same time Bodin still really had no way to resolve the tension between
monarchy and republican-political rule. Yes, they could now talk to each other and
explain their forms of ruling in the same way, however Bodins solution was not a solution but more of a ruse to mask the problem, so as to protect this infant recovery of classical politics from the ruling order suppressing it, as previous projects of philosophic/
intellectual recovery had been doing throughout the Middle Ages.
If Bodins use of the concept of the body politic is a ruse to protect the recovery of
classical politics and help restore political-republican rule, Hobbes takes Bodins concept and sets it firmly on clear and consistent philosophical ground. For it is really with
Hobbes that the modern concept of sovereignty gets its clearest formulation and expression. For Hobbes the formation of the body politic and its sovereign body arises from the
social contract, wherein people consent to form such a body for their mutual security and
protection from the war of all against all that nature permits.
The introduction of the Machiavellian concept of the state had an immediate impact
on the political scene of the 16th century. When various political actors of the period
embraced the concept of the state, they found their political fortunes altered. The concept of the modern state was simply so effective in organizing and empowering the
political actors of the time that it changed the balance of forces among the various political actors of the day within the structure of the Res publica Christiana or the political
embodiment of Christendom that was the remains of the Holy Roman Empire an order
founded by Charlemagne but limited to the feudal mechanism that shaped and constituted its form and structure and thus never really as effective or as powerful as the Roman
Imperium. The political actors who rejected the existing political modes and orders and
opted for the new Machiavellian ones found themselves at a competitive advantage over
those political actors who refused to follow in kind. This imbalance of power and ability
led to a challenge to the status quo of the Res publica Christiana and the imperial institutions that gave political shape to it.



The rise of the actors on the political scene who embraced the state to achieve their
ambitions either by domestic or for foreign conquest in doing so destabilized the
given international political order of the Res publica Christiana, which was the given
political order that shaped the political environment of the Middle Ages. The new unstable environment caused by the introduction of the state onto the political scene led to
conflict, but not the type of conflict that usually defined the conflict of competing rulers
fighting for new realms to rule or merely to retain their reigns. The state was definitely a
game-changer, and those actors who embraced and established their rule into a state
tended to be at a competitive advantage over those rulers who failed to embrace the concept of the state or failed to establish a state in lieu of their older forms of rule.
The breakdown of the Res publica Christiana also broke the rule of the ius gentium
that had governed the European political environment from the time of the Roman
Empire to this point in time. The ius gentium defined rules of ruling (what rulers and any
other political actor could or could not do) and the rules that restrained what political
actors of the time could or could not do in regard both to each other and to their subjects.
The law of nations that the Romans gave and which the Res publica Christiana retained
use of (and by retaining its use claimed this was evidence that it was the true successor
to the Roman Empire in the West) shaped the environment of political action before the
introduction of the concept of the modern state.
The state changed the game so much that the old rules that defined and helped govern
the interaction of political actors no longer seemed to work well with the new political
environment of the interaction of states with other states. Hence the old international law
resting on the Roman ius gentium no longer reflected the political realities that the state
produced. Thus there was a need for new international law to govern or help govern the
interaction of states and provide useful limits in order to prevent the type of conflict that
these states could bring about.
As Machiavelli noted, the new mode and order of the state would lead to innovations
in military affairs, and those innovations in military affairs fundamentally altered both
the ways wars would be waged but also their impact on all parties caught up in conflict.
Thus the new laws of nations were as much a means to regulate and control states and
their actions among themselves as to avoid the negative consequences of the new power
that the state gave to the actors using it, while allowing and encouraging positive
The outbreak of the Thirty Years War is all too often attributed to the Reformation and
the breakdown of the religious consensus that it brought to the Res publica Christiana.
But this view is a bit too one-sided and totally misses the impact that the modern state
had on the given political environment that made any repeat of the Treaty of Augsburg
impossible. Why? Because the Treaty of Augsburg operated mainly under the legal and
institutional frame of the imperial instruments of the existing imperial order. It was
exactly those institutional bodies that were for the most part unable to effectively compete against the new mode and orders of the modern state. This was primarily due to how
the empires guardians understood the character and the role of those institutions in their
traditional legal form as instruments maintaining order over the inferior bodies under
their authority. The outcome of the Thirty Years War required recognition of the new
international environment as that of the reign of states, and they collectively, not the


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empire acting on behalf of all, were to be the instrument enforcing the peace brought
about by the Treaty of Westphalia.
It could be said that the Treaty of Westphalia merely recognized the reality of a system
of states and established a set of norms by which states would be guided in order to prevent future breakdown into total war. The horrors of the Thirty Years War were so recognized and so destructive that no state actor, especially those Germanic-Bohemian state
actors who bore the brunt of the wars consequences, doubted that any repeat of such a
war was to be avoided. Therefore a new international law to guide the community of
states was needed. This is where Hugo Grotius comes into play. It could rightfully be said
that he helped to shape the Westphalian system that would govern affairs until very
recent times.
Some might argue that I am neglecting Francisco Surez. But I would suggest that
Surez, in his attempt to remain within the Thomistic/Scholastic tradition of natural law,
thus sought only to modify and fix the existing Thomistic/Scholastic Natural Law understanding of the ius gentium rather than establish a new system, which Grotius seems to
be doing. Grotius, not being so indebted to or much enamored with this Scholastic/
Thomistic tradition, was not averse to following in Machiavellis footsteps and establishing new modes and orders. Although for him the older pre-Thomistic natural right traditions were still helpful, the need was to help allow the modern state to work within a
framework that was not created to deal with it. Whereas Machiavelli had no concern with
the claims of natural right, or at least made no open attempt to give heed to those claims,
Grotius sought to find the natural right that would work for states and help govern and
balance the actions of states per se. Thus for Grotius, the establishment of modern international law becomes the only means by which the concept of natural right can remain
in any way meaningful for the modern state.
To repeat: the older classical tradition of natural right was not created in view of the
actions of states, since the very concept of the state did not exist when the tradition of
classical natural right emerged and evolved into the ius gentium of later periods. The fact
that classical natural right was not established for states but for the forms of political
community that preceded it (the polis and later the empire as a form of cosmopolis as
found in the Stoic rewrite of natural right), also led to the fact that it also was not necessarily able to deal with various political concepts that emerge out of the modern state
that of sovereignty, legitimacy, etc. If one looks within classical natural right for the
concept of either sovereignty or legitimacy to name the two biggest new items that
flowed from the concept of that state one will look in vain because these concepts are
nowhere to be found in the works of authors of classical natural right because they did
not yet exist as such. Thus natural right needs to either be modified or re-cast to allow for
the state to fit within it. Grotius opted for a refit but a more thorough refit than Surez
would offer.
Grotius recasting of classical natural right to accommodate the state, and the problems that the state brings into the issues that shape classical natural right, thereby recasts
a new law of nations so as to allow it to be more effective than the older ius gentium in
dealing with the outcomes and actions the new state gives heed to.
Now the means that give shape to this new recasting of natural right is Grotius introduction of the realm of nature (albeit a nature that is inherently social) out of which the



state is to emerge. This new realm of nature in Grotius allows for the state to arise and
for the possibility that in prior times there might not have been states a view that is
historically factual insofar as the state is a product of modern political thought and not
present in classical or medieval political thought. This state of nature Grotius speaks of
helps address why states emerge where before there were no states. This is because
Grotius realizes that the state is an emerging political property and not simply one that
would be found continually in all human history. So there is a period of political or social
action prior to the existence of the state that needed to be addressed. Thus this concept of
the state of nature can help explain the interaction between the pre- and post-state stages
of political development. Nonetheless Grotius state of nature remains more true to the
classical natural right tradition of classical political philosophy because it remains social.
Because the historical contingency of the state leads to a separation between the state per
se and the natural social condition of man, the state is that political form allowing for a
more perfect ordering of mans social nature. Although Grotius use of a state of nature
allows Hobbes to seem to follow in his steps with similar insistence, there exists a state
of human condition prior to the advent of the state. But unlike Grotius concept, Hobbes
state of nature is not only pre-state but pre-social.
For Hobbes the commonwealth that emerges from the social compact is said to be an
artificial person. All too often people misread Hobbes and his discussion here, and read
the creation of the commonwealth as that of an actual incarnate, i.e. bodied, sovereign.
This is far from what Hobbes is saying. The sovereign in Hobbes cannot be embodied by
a single being in that it is the collective agreement, the collective will of those who
agreed to form the commonwealth. Thus the sovereign is the collective embodiment of
all those who form the commonwealth and cause its creation out of the chaos of nature.
Hobbes sovereign in Hobbes is thus the collective will of those who created the political
community via the social contract. So for Hobbes, the body politic, the commonwealth,
the state, and the sovereign are different terms all ultimately expressing the same thing.
Thus sovereignty is the will of those who form the civic association, body politic,
political community, state, or whatever you call it. In Hobbes reasoning, then, the state
is the whole, not an instrument or part as it was in Machiavelli (Hobbes, 1991 [1651]).
Hobbes thus makes a much more radical break with classical teaching about the political
community than does Machiavelli, in that for the classical model the ruling element is a
part of the whole (that claims to be acting for the wholes best interest and for its good
yet it remains a part of the whole) rather than the body politic or political community
in itself. In classical political thought the ruling part, or politieia (regime/political system), is not identical with the political community, rather it is the part that gives shape to
and forms the given direction in which the political community will go. Whereas for
Hobbes, the state is the whole community, for it is constituted by those forming it when
they form the social compact that solidifies and confirms their creation of one single
Thus for Hobbes the community is a product of human willing, not of mere human
association, and so the creation of a community is a product of human will, not human
nature (Hobbes, 1991 [1651]). Being a product of human willing, the political community knows no limit. The territory of the body politic is therefore not a factor in the logic
of Hobbes thinking. Territory is tied to people who form the community when they join


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together via the social contract. So the act of willing to join together that frames the contractual character of the origins of the state, Hobbes merely takes for granted given communities of people or nations (Hobbes, 1991 [1651]). But there is no logical reason
within Hobbes framework why contracting parties must be of the same racial, ethnic or
territorial make-up. To be sure, such a condition will make contracting easier, but such
parts or limits have no role in the basic logic of the Hobbesian state.
1. For the argument that this mixing of differing sources of political authority is the cause of
modern liberal parliamentary democracy, see Hintze (1975: 302353).
2. Susemihl and Guillaume (2011) is the only readily accessible copy of William of Moerbeckes
translations of the Politics of Aristotle. It is basically Susemihls edition of Moerbecks Latin
text and with a cross-comparison of Immanuel Bekkers edition of the Greek text.
3. Beyond the scope of this article would be the full spelling out of how Medieval Christian
Christology influenced the understanding of the political community in Medieval Christian
political thought. For a further explanation, see note 4. For the death of the Greek invention
of politics (as explained by Meier, 1990), see Wood (2008).
4. The Body Politic language is firmly a product of medieval Christian political thought (see
Black, 1992; Canning, 1996). One of the most explicit treatments of it is by Christine de
Pizan in The Book of the Body Politic (de Pizan, 1994). De Pizan and her treatment of the
body politic is a much more secularized version of what Ernst Kantorowicz proposes in his
1957 classic The Kings Two Bodies (Kantorowicz, 1957). In this work, Kantorowicz views
the sovereign state in human politics as a secular alienation of the understanding of Christs
two bodies that of Christ himself and the Church, a duality symbolized by Christ as God and
Christ as the host in the Eucharist. Thus the dual nature of Christ was transferred to the earthly
embodiment of Christs rule, the secular king as an agent of divine justice.
The body politic was thus the landed and territorial body of the King, versus his corporeal body. And thereby the territorial reign of the given ruler thus increasing came to be
understood as a body. And the body metaphor for the political thinkers of the Middle Ages,
contra the metaphor of the soul (psyche) which was the metaphor Plato and Aristotle used
became increasingly used as the dominant way to understand the nature of the political
community. This reliance on the political community as being understood via the analogy of
a body led to the view that the teaching of Plato and Aristotle about the political community
was organic.

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Author biography
Clifford Angell Bates holds a PhD in Political Science from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb
(IL). Since 2002 he has been a professor at Warsaw Universitys Department of American Studies
(Warsaw, Poland), as well as, from 2004, an instructor for the Masters of Diplomacy Program in
the Online Graduate Program at Norwich University (Northfield, VT, USA).