The Politics - Aristotle, Carnes Lord The final thought that Aristotle leaves us in Nicomachean Ethics is the main source of tension in The Politics. The goal of existence in Nicomachean Ethics is happiness which can be achieved through the contemplative life, but Aristotle is rooted in Greek culture and cannot conceive of happiness outside the city-state. His opening line in The Politics sets his baseline:
Since we see that every city is some sort of partnership, and that every partnership is constituted for the sake of some good (for everyone does everything for the sake of what is held to be good), it is clear that all partnerships aim at some good, and that the partnership that is most authoritative of all and embraces all the others does so particularly, and aims at the most authoritative good of all. This is what is called the city or political partnership. Pg. 36/ 1252al.
The city is thus the vehicle for goodness (aka virtue) which leads to the contemplative life and therefore happiness.

Aristotle, like all of us, cannot escape all of his societal conditioning. This foundational belief that the city is a partnership designed to lead to good is grounded in the oft-quoted “man is a political animal“ or, more accurately, “man is much more a political animal than any kind of bee or and herd of animal is clear.” Pg. 37. An idea Marx latched onto. This lack of separation between the individual’s pursuit of contemplation and study and natural social tendencies is the underlying principle of The Politics. This is not a political book espousing freedom, productivity or the perpetuation of some other code. It is about constructing a state designed to survive and permit its citizens leisure.
Since the end is evidently the same for human beings both in common and privately, and there must necessarily be the same defining principle for the best man and the best regime, it is evident that the virtues directed to leisure should be present; for, as has been said repeatedly, peace is the end of war, and leisure of occupations. Pg. 222/VII ch.15; 10-15.
Much of what is contained within its pages is not meant to be a theoretical rendering of government. Aristotle spends considerable time attacking the flaws he sees in Plato’s Republic and Laws. Just as Nicomachean Ethics was a book about “practical” ethics, The Politics is about “practical” politics. Again, Aristotle sees great value in the mean as a way of traversing problems that arise at the extremes of political positions. He puts great value on the middle class as a stabilizing force and a way to undercut discontent. Aristotle’s goal is to minimize corruption, maximize stability and encourage correct thinking which is thinking that sees value in the contemplative life. Unlike Plato, he refuses to ignore what he perceives as the realistic consequences of division of property and labor. Poorly apportioned equity can lead to sloth and discontent.

Overall, if Aristotle was alive today, he’s the guy behind the scenes as some presidential advisor. He has an idea of what government should do, but he refuses to let his ideals rule his actions. He compares other forms of government, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, and comes to a thoughtful analysis of what will get him closest to his goal of happiness. Few will probably read The Politics and come away with any great insights into governance, but Aristotle’s method is admirable. Though not above his times, he is a masterful deliberator of his times.