I'm writing an article on what would be the best government type (monarchy, aristocracy, democracy, ...). In this article I'd like to explain the basic arguments pro and contra the different types. I know Aristotle was the first who wrote to be pro monarchy. I've read a bit of his Ethics and know one argument for this: the monarchy is the most natural form because it's like parental power. I'd like to have some more arguments, but couldn't find them. So my question is:

What are Aristotle's arguments pro monarchy?

  • Can you unpack your question a bit further for us? What might have made this an interesting or important concern for you? What might you have found out so far?
    – Joseph Weissman
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 18:06
  • Good idea, I edited my question.
    – user2953
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 18:47
  • Actually, Plato argued for a monarchy before Aristotle, in the Republic. Plato's ideal constitution was that of a monarchy or aristocracy, which are (to him) functionally the same.
    – commando
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 19:46
  • I read Plato's Politeia and he thinks an aristocracy is better than a monarchy since the latter can switch easily to a dictatorship. It's an interesting discussion, but not really the question. :-(
    – user2953
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 20:05
  • Not sure that that formualtion is correct, since Platos "Republic" is a dictatorship. I am pretty sure that Aristotle was not the first to write pro monarchy in a time (ancient greek) ruled by monarchies (since there were times before attic democracy and while democracy lasted it had a big opposition, too)
    – Lukas
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 9:22

1 Answer 1


In Aristotle's Politics monarchy is justifiable if the king has practical wisdom and virtue far superior to his subjects (see, for example, 1284b25-34; 1287a12-16). In other words, the desirability of monarchy depends on the kind of people to be ruled.

The argument, roughly, is this. Humans are political animals and although they share a nature they nevertheless are not automatically equal. We know that Aristotle believed that men are different from women, adults from children, and free people from slaves. This, for Aristotle, constitutes a certain 'chain of command' where children need the supervision of adults, slaves of the master and so forth (1260a f.). But male adults are not equally wise or virtuous either. If a community produces someone exceptionally virtuous, it is natural for this community to accept this person as their king:

In the case of the best constitution, however, there is a considerable problem, not about superiority in other goods, such as power or wealth or having many friends, but when there happens to be someone who is superior in virtue. For surely people would not say that such a person should be expelled or banished, but neither would they say that they should rule over him. For that would be like claiming that they deserved to rule over Zeus, dividing the offices. The remaining possibility - and it seems to be the natural one - is for everyone to obey such a person gladly, so that those like him will be permanent kings in their city-states. (1284b25-34)

Further, it seems that a monarchy is particularly useful for controlling small (and unremarkable) populations. Aristotle muses after admitting that aristocracy is preferable to monarchy "provided that it is possible to find a number of people who are similar" : "Perhaps this too is the reason people were formerly under kingships - because it was rare to find men who were very outstanding in virtue, particularly as the city-states they lived in at that time were small" (1286b7-9). He further notes that as the population grows the favored regime tends to be democracy. That is so, again, because it becomes more and more difficult to find just one really exceptional individual. There will likely be several and in such case monarchy cannot be justified on the same grounds anymore.

To sum up, if having eyes were a virtue for Aristotle (which it is not) his argument pro monarchy would be akin to the old saw: in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

  • Why was having eyes not a virtue for Aristotle? Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 0:09
  • It is a good question in itself. Aristotle makes it clear that bodily traits are politically inert (1282b14-1283b21). A two-eyed politician is not more virtuous than a one-eyed politician, partially because physical attributes are incommensurable with, say, wisdom. The former are what Aristotle calls "external goods"-they are not virtues in themselves, but the lack thereof can be an obstacle to attaining real virtues (Nicomachean Ethics 1099b). So, although having eyes is not a virtue in itself, not having eyes may for instance make one bitter about life and thus less generous, temperate etc. Commented Feb 1, 2013 at 15:15

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