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October 21, 2016

Virtue Politics in Modern Democracies and Legal Systems

The role of the state and the attainment of justice within the state has always been a
question for most political scientists. More recent political theories would stress that the role,
ultimately of the state is the protection of its citizens- be it economic, political or social. Thinkers
of the Social Contract Theory would attest to this by arguing that people lose some freedoms
under the social contract, but would expect order and physical protection from the state
(Hobbes, 1651; Locke, 1689; Rousseau, 1755). For Aristotle, however, the role of the state and
the attainment of justice within the state is based on the citizens of the state; that justice is
attained within the state when citizens attain a happy life. And this happy life, according to
Aristotle, can only be achieved from living according to virtue (Bowdon, 2015). This paper is a
critique to Virtue Politics and will argue that the theoretical bases of Aristotle’s virtue politics are
not separated from the modern assertions on the role of the state- whether it is economic,
political or social role. This is to say that Aristotle’s conception of virtue are theoretically parallel
to modern conceptions of law and social values.

Aristotle’s conception of the Telos- the idea that everything has a purpose and that the
analysis of objects must be an analysis of their Telos, is the premise of his assertion on the role
of the state. He argues that the purpose of the state is to ensure the greatest happiness of its
citizens, and it is through living the life of virtue that the happiness can be attained. Aristotle
asserts that “A state is an association of similar persons whose aim is the best life possible.
What is best happiness and to be happy is an active exercise of virtue and a complete
employment of it” (Bowdon, 2015). In contrast to the household and the village, which Aristotle
categorizes differently old are the component parts of a state and have the purpose of ensuring
economic sustainability and security.

Justice as Virtue

In the critique of Aristotle’s Virtue Politics, it is important to ask what kinds of virtues the
state should promote to its citizens, and how should the state promote such.

Virtues are fundamental components in Aristotle’s works. Virtues provide people the
practical actions so that they can pursue in achieving the virtuous life, and since the life of the

that is. through their ability to constrain and sanction individuals. This is in consonance to modern theories of Laws of the state. 17). and the compliance to the law that people can live justly. and the like are laws that promote values of austerity and simple living. the citizens should therefore live virtuous lives to make the Polis virtuous (Anthony. people are able to develop these values because of compliance (Benabou and Tirole. This is a probable start for the development of habits. The second contention. the state becomes strong in its plurality of ideas (Jowett. Laws on sexual behavior. 2010. or should the state coerce individuals just so they can live up to their vision of a happy life? Isaiah Berlin (1958) provides an answer to this question in his Two Concepts of Liberty. 2015. 2010. or government.” (Bowdon. Berlin provides two concepts of liberty: Negative Liberty is the extent to which we are free from interference. 16). Positive Liberty is “to be conscious . It is in this idea that Aristotle’s Virtue Politics maybe nuanced in modern-day systems of state laws: the state propagates moral virtues through systems of laws. These values are in the state’s interest to propagate. are more than just sets of prices but also serves to convey a society’s norms of behavior. The theoretical contention therefore is. so that honing these actions will lead individuals to the highest good. 2011. 61). is the justification on the state’s imposition of moral virtues. the area or realm that a person or a group can enjoy without being coerced by another person. citing Hobbes. 17-20). and it is in the virtues of the law. not hindered to do what he has a will to. 9). however. This means that laws raise compliance of one’s own moral duties (2011. For Aristotle. “A free man is he that…. attraction to vices. Laws on religious displays and flag burning promote respect and allegiance. 1994. 4) In Aristotle’s Ethics (cited by Anthony. religious displays. drinking or smoking in public. a person must practice virtues until the virtues develop into habits. Notable examples include interpretations of symbolic contents of laws on sexual behavior. should the state allow people to be as they are and live in plurality. Aristotle also proposes that the state must propagate virtues for the people to live justly. but on the contrary. group. Laws.Polis is dependent on its citizens. Benabou and Tirole further explains this by arguing looking at empirical evidence: the repeal of Mandatory-voting laws in Switzerland led to statistically significant declines in turn-out. 17).habits that aim to internalize the values that the state wants. and flag burning (Benabou and Tirole. and through starting from sanctions-based propagation.

people are allowed to choose who they are or who they want to be. and the other is transformed to whom he ought to be. As Berlin would re-echo from Imannuel Kant. 2010. there is no entity higher than that of the individual. Amidst this seemingly “coerced” notion of endorsement. Conclusion . so there is no precise “mean” that people should follow. ideology or way of life. and it can never work when people are treated as a means toward an end (because people are means themselves). In a pluralist world which Aristotle would very much envision. one chooses to be whom he wants. By this assertion. torture individuals in the name and on behalf of their real selves. and proves why Aristotle’s Virtue Politics is deemed important amidst his support for plurality. it is important to look at what he means by virtue and what these virtues really are. it would sum up Berlin’s two types liberty. 2010. Aristotle. This is under an assumption that citizens are “prudent persons” which he means “(a prudent person) is thought to be one who is able to deliberate well-concerning what is good and expedient for the person and the kinds of things which are good and expedient for living well” (Anthony. it still remains to the individual how he chooses to internalize these virtues. because the individual citizen is a prudent person. its normative state of existence: a life of justice where everyone enjoys their rights and are virtuous. 61). asserts that the acquisition of virtues must be “mean relative to us”. active being.” A key element in understanding this contention is looking at the element of choice. because he believes that coercion itself gives the state the license to “bully. To break this seemingly deadlock contention from Aristotle. 2015.whether it’s virtue. 61). but “enslaved to the degree that (he is) made to realize that it’s is not” through the state’s vision (Bowdon. in Ethics (cited by Anthony. willing. Positive Liberty is being free to the extent that the person believes it’s true. Berlin stands on the first idea. in the vision of the state. The state naturally has its own vision. 2015. If people are allowed to choose who they want to be and reach a pluralist existence (which Aristotle would support. 14).of myself as a thinking. 15). oppress. and bearing responsibility for my choices and able to explain them by reference to my own ideas and purposes” (Bowdon. then the state’s imposition of virtues would not be justified. In the two types of liberty. The state endorses virtues that would move itself and its people to the direction of virtue and happiness. saying that similars do not constitute a state).

“Laws and Norms”. Nicholas Brealey . Bucknell University (2010) Benabou. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Web Atomics. Bucknell University Digital Commons. states recognize the individuality and the freedoms of its citizens on how they want themselves to be.” Reference List Anthony. The Social Contract Theorists: Hobbes. Finland (2015) ________________. Cambridge: MA. Finland (2015) ________________. National Bureau of Economic Research. It is through laws that these virtues are internalized by the state. Aristotle: Politics. NBER Working Papers. Internet Classics Archive by Daniel C. In modern democracies.nber. In “50 Politics Classics”. Roland and Jean Tirole. 17579. Locke and Rousseau”. Benjamin. Tom Butler. In “50 Politics Classics”. (2011) accessed October 2016 from www. the modern state has to ensure that in the process of enjoying these freedoms. justice will still be upheld. respect and even austerity. “Politics by Aristotle”. Nicholas Brealey Publishing. Working Paper no. Justice is best upheld when individuals internalize virtues that lead towards justice: Bowdon. In “50 Politics Classics”. Finland (2015) Jowett.which Aristotle would call “Virtue Politics. Amidst its respect for diversity. Classics. Kyle Stevenson. Honor’s Thesis. “Aristotle and the Importance of Virtue in the context of the Politics and the Nichomachaean Ethics and its relation to today”. Isaiah Berlin: Two Concepts of Liberty.