What did Aristotle say about knowledge

What Aristotle would have said about the Federal Republic

There is a lot of talk these days about democracy and that it is endangered in Germany. A look at the origins of Aristotle's theory of democracy shows a completely different picture. If you apply your yardstick, Germany is not a democracy at all. According to Aristotle, the formal principle of the internal order of a state is the constitution, and the German constitution does not satisfy the arguments of the philosopher. This is also interesting because Aristotle - still a philosophical authority today - is a role model for many because he was not a so-called normative thinker who derives his thoughts from ultimate inevitable reasons.

Germany is an oligarchy

Felix Meiner Verlag has now not only published the previous six-volume Aristotle edition in a new translation, with Aristotle expert Eckhart Schüttrumpf translating “Politics” in Volume 4. An “Introductory Commentary on Aristotle's Politics” by Gustav Adolf Seek has also just been published by Felix Meiner. The retired classical philologist Seek, who had taught in Frankfurt am Main, wanted to make the philosophical classic accessible to those interested in politics, “who above all want to know whether something can be learned from it for the present”. The preface also states that the Aristotelian script appears to be a complicated matter. "On closer inspection, however, the Aristotelian theory of the state turns out to be very simple, because its topic is the core problem of all politics, namely the distribution of power between government and people." And that looks completely different in Germany and in Athens at that time.

What the Germans see as their democracy would be an oligarchy for Aristotle - a rule of the few. Chancellors and ministers have been elected, but they have been elected for far too long for Aristotle. In Athens the term of office was one year and politicians could be punished. Even the great Pericles was once sentenced to a substantial fine. This is also possible in Germany, but only after many hurdles and the lifting of immunity. In the eyes of Aristotle, representative democracy is an oligarchy because it leaves the representatives of the people fairly free after the election. Election promises can be broken and a lot can happen in the hope that the electorate will forget about it by the next election. Aristotle was convinced that once gained power leads to more and more power and to overestimating one's own abilities. That is why Athens was elected for only one year and the government had to be accountable. Aristotle would not have believed that such democracies would once exist with a reign of several years: “That is, he would say today, an invitation not to take critical voices or suggestions from the people seriously. He would have classified a people who gave their government such a license as naive and overly religious, ”writes Seek. Even if the Basic Law states that “all state power emanates from the people”, the Athenian philosopher would only see this to a very limited extent every four years in the Federal Republic. Aristotle would also see the establishment of audit offices as a deception, because the government of the Federal Republic is not really accountable to the citizens, writes Seek. And the Federal Constitutional Court could collect the laws passed by elected representatives again, even if it was just a legal expert commission that was not elected by the people. In Athens, on the other hand, the elected people's assembly is the final instance, which can also overturn any court judgment. In this sense, Aristotle was not yet familiar with the separation of powers, but this does not reduce his possible criticism to absurdity.

Aristotle also took a position on problems that are currently topical again. There was migration back then too and in the third part of the fifth book of “Politics” he names eight states in which a civil war broke out between immigrants and locals. In the mix of peoples in the port cities, he saw instead of an enrichment a danger for the unity of the state and the safeguarding of democracy, Seek explains and in “Politics” it says: “And the citizens of Apollonia on the Pontos were involved in political disputes, after they had brought settlers (into their national territory). The citizens of Syracuse, who after the overthrow of the tyrants, had made strangers and mercenaries citizens, became involved in political disputes and fought (against them) in open field battle. The majority of the citizens of Amphipolis who had taken in Chalcidian settlers were expelled by them. "

Democracy requires a high level of education

Legal normativity, as it is known in modern times, did not exist with Aristotle, which is also related to his "natural conception" of the political. This makes Aristotle attractive to many today who want to evade the ultimate justification of theories or the “ultimate truth” in the theoretical foundation. But it was not as simple as it often sounds today with Aristotle. For him, the polis was the natural space in which man should realize himself. Therefore, the definition of the human being as physei politikon zoon - the naturally political being - does not mean that the human being is interested in politics, but rather that he realizes his / her disposition in the polis community. “This automatically results,” as Seek says, “for the individual, subjective rights. Aristotle would say that they are not based on an abstract superior nature, but on the concrete nature of limited human reason. He would therefore consider 'natural law' to be a mistake in modern political science. ”This argumentation would be comparable with the ethics of Aristotle, for example, in his“ Nicomachean Ethics ”, in which the concrete individual itself, from its nature, becomes a moral one Should develop behavior. Unlike Plato in his “State” took the view that the philosopher kings should rule the state with almost “divine knowledge and completely selflessly”. Aristotle's political theory is not preceded by general concepts. The idea of ​​a "community of nations" is alien to him, as is an idea of ​​the state with sovereign rights. The polis is identical with its civil society, it is not preceded by any over-positive law as in the German Basic Law of the dignity paragraph 1. Seek: "Modern terms such as 'human rights' or 'human dignity' or 'liberalism' would Aristotle take for pious desires where they are held up, they have only relative importance in political practice. "

Nevertheless - according to Seek, Aristotle sees a paradox in political practice: on the one hand, all people are equal, on the other hand, there are differences everywhere, such as rulers and rulers, poor and rich. Especially because of the last contradiction, Aristotle pleaded for only two parties, which represent the poor and the rich and thus should already implement market-economy and socialist elements. There were also two large people's parties in the Federal Republic of Germany, had it not been for the FDP, which tipped the scales over and over again, in the first post-war decades.

For Aristotle, democracy was the best form of government because people could become relatively free and happy in it. However, it is only suitable for people who have a higher level of education - the uneducated should not even become citizens - otherwise the stricter forms of government would be more effective.

Seek's commentary, which leaves the specifically political aspect of “politics” and the other topics in the book to the side, is extremely informative and easily applicable to today's conditions.

Gustav Adolf Seek: Introductory Commentary on Aristotle's Politics.
Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 2019, 230 pages, ISBN 978-3-7873-3618-0, EUR 18.90

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