Monarchy and political community in Aristotle's Politics




Riesbeck, David J., 1980-

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This dissertation re-examines a set of long-standing problems that arise from Aristotle’s defense of kingship in the Politics. Scholars have argued for over a century that Aristotle’s endorsement of sole rule by an individual of outstanding excellence is incompatible with his theory of distributive justice and his very conception of a political community. Previous attempts to resolve this apparent contradiction have failed to ease the deeper tensions between the idea of the polis as a community of free and equal citizens sharing in ruling and being ruled and the vision of absolute kingship in which one man rules over others who are merely ruled. I argue that the so-called “paradox of monarchy” emerges from misconceptions and insufficiently nuanced interpretations of kingship itself and of the more fundamental concepts of community, rule, authority, and citizenship. Properly understood, Aristotelian kingship is not a form of government that concentrates power in the hands of a single individual, but an arrangement in which free citizens willingly invest that individual with a position of supreme authority without themselves ceasing to share in rule. Rather than a muddled appendage tacked on to the Politics out of deference to Macedon or an uncritical adoption of Platonic utopianism, Aristotle’s defense of kingship is a piece of ideal theory that serves in part to undermine the pretensions of actual or would-be monarchs, whether warrior- or philosopher-kings.