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1001 deeds, sayings, curiosities and anecdotes of the ancient world

The man is a political animal (Zoon politikon, ζῷον πoλιτικόν)

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We must to be politically correct. But what does this “hackneyed” phrase meant on these days? There is no doubt it referrs to the obviously hypocritical attitude with which people, especially those who play a "political" function, should act to citizens, expressing just what your listeners want to hear or at least it which

Interestingly, the first duty of those who express political correctness seems not defend nor positively assess the political activity itself, now absolutely despised and devalued in some countries like Spain. It is true that recent history offers many reasons for this disaffection with politics.

And yet it is the most noble and lofty absolutely necessary activity.

I know that the two texts of Aristotle, which I reproduce below, will not change the view of the majority of readers, despite the enormous authority that Aristotle has had throughout history until recently. Today it is not "politically correct" to recognize the scientific, moral or political  "authority" of a person.

But  the aim of this blog is to help meet the ancient world in its relation to the current.

As I said in the previous article in this blog, (http://en.antiquitatem.com/gerontocracy-argument-of-authority-  ) Aristotle (384-322 BC) was a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He created the first great philosophical system,  precisely it that most has influenced on Western culture for over two thousand years. In that system he studies the physical world (Physics), the being and the causes of things (Metaphysics) and the man himself and his behavior (Ethics). His most important work about human behavior is called  Nicomachean Ethics (Ethics for Nicomachus, who was his son).

Precisely this work begins with the famous statement that "good is that to which all things aim." We should therefore find out what is the good which man pursues. This good, which he will then determine, is happiness, fulfillment as a man, eudaimonia, tells us it  belongs to politics, supreme managerial activity:

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book I,2 (1094a-b):

Now it would seem that this supreme End must be the object of the most authoritative of the sciences—some science which is pre-eminently a master-craft.  But such is manifestly the science of Politics;  for it is this that ordains which of the sciences are to exist in states, and what branches of knowledge the different classes of the citizens are to learn, and up to what point; and we observe that even the most highly esteemed of the faculties, such as strategy, domestic economy, oratory, are subordinate to the political science.  Inasmuch then as the rest of the sciences are employed by this one, and as it moreover lays down laws as to what people shall do and what things they shall refrain from doing, the end of this science must include the ends of all the others. Therefore, the Good of man must be the end of the science of Politics.  For even though it be the case that the Good is the same for the individual and for the state, nevertheless, the good of the state is manifestly a greater and more perfect good, both to attain and to preserve.To secure the good of one person only is better than nothing; but to secure the good of a nation or a state is a nobler and more divine achievement. (Translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1934).

In the Greece of the time there were no large states or empires but the called "city-states", the polis, political space consisting of a city small by today's standards with its adjacent territory. It is very difficult to know the demographics of antiquity, but in the case of Athens in the classical period, V-IV centuries BC, the extent of the polis was approximately 2,500 square kilometers and its population, at its best, divided into 140 demos or local communities could be about 300,000, of which they are only citizens with full rights 45,000 (Athenians free males over twenty years) and with their families could reach 150,000 people;; the metic  with their families (free but not citizens) 40,000; 110,000 slaves. According to Aristotle himself in his Constitution of the Athenians, fragment 5:

On Lexicon Patm. p. 152 Sakkel.

. . . As Aristotle narrates in his Athenian Constitution, where he says: 'And they were grouped in four tribal divisions in imitation of the seasons in the year, and each of the tribes was divided into three parts, in order that there might be twelve parts in all, like the months of the year, and they were called Thirds and Brotherhoods; and the arrangement of clans was in groups of thirty to the brotherhood, as the days to the month, and the clan consisted of thirty men. (translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1952.)

After Cleisthenes' reforms, 510 B.C., there were ten tribes, each divided into Thirds and also into ten or more Demes; each Deme was divided into Brotherhoods (number unknown), and these perhaps into Clans. (Notes of H.Rackham)

If in this context of population and reduced space,  politics is absolutely necessary to organize social life, how can be neglected it today in our countries and states with multimillion population?

The importance that the Greeks and generally ancient granted to political life is the result of a generalized idea brilliantly expressed by Aristotle himself, for whom the "Man is a social, a political animal", ie man is made to live in a polis, in a city; the lonely man is a bitch. This is the famous expression  ζῷον πoλιτικόν (zôion, "animal" and, politikon political;  social, civic animal).

He  reads it in this same work Nicomachean Ethics, 1097b

"... since man is by nature a social being,"  (a political  thing) .

but he had commented it widely in his Politics I, 2, 1253a2 (where he adds ζῷον, ‘a political animal.):

From these things therefore it is clear that the city-state is a natural growth, and that man is by nature a political animal, and a man that is by nature and not merely by fortune citiless is either low in the scale of humanity or above it (like the “ clanless, lawless, hearthless

” man reviled by Homer, (Iliada, IX,63)  for one by nature unsocial is also ‘a lover of war’) inasmuch as he is solitary, like an isolated piece at draughts. And why man is a political animal in a greater measure than any bee or any gregarious animal is clear. For nature, as we declare, does nothing without purpose; and man alone of the animals possesses speech. The mere voice, it is true, can indicate pain and pleasure, and therefore is possessed by the other animals as well (for their nature has been developed so far as to have sensations of what is painful and pleasant and to indicate those sensations to one another), but speech is designed to indicate the advantageous and the harmful, and therefore also the right and the wrong; for it is the special property of man in distinction from the other animals that he alone has perception of good and bad and right and wrong and the other moral qualities, and it is partnership in these things that makes a household and a city-state.

Thus also the city-state is prior in nature to the household and to each of us individually. [20] For the whole must necessarily be prior to the part; (translated by H. Rackham. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1944.)

Indeed, in the first text we read that the "economy", as the other powers and sciences, must be subordinated to the "political". Not bad advice in these times when  the economy and all production is subordinated to monetary gain.


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