July 20, 2009

Aristotle on heterogeneity as a cause of civil war

Aristot. Pol. 5.1303a
A difference of race (1) is also conducive to civil war, until they acquire a common spirit: just as a city (2) cannot come into being by a chance multitude, nor in a chance length of time: this is why, whoever has accepted co-settlers either in the beginning or later (3), most of the time they revolted.

στασιωτικὸν δὲ καὶ τὸ μὴ ὁμόφυλον, ἕως ἂν συμπνεύσῃ: ὥσπερ γὰρ οὐδ᾽ ἐκ τοῦ τυχόντος πλήθους πόλις γίγνεται, οὕτως οὐδ᾽ ἐν τῷ τυχόντι χρόνῳ: διὸ ὅσοι ἤδη συνοίκους ἐδέξαντο ἢ ἐποίκους, οἱ πλεῖστοι διεστασίασαν

1. A. is not speaking of a difference of race (τὸ μὴ ὁμόφυλον) in the modern sense of continental groups; his examples following this passage all involve different Greek peoples who were involved in a common settlement. Indeed, the very word translated as "conducive to civil war" (στασιωτικὸν) refers to inter-Hellenic conflicts (cf. Plat. Rep. 5.470c, where the terminology of στασιάζειν is applied to "unnatural" inter-Hellenic conflicts, while war itself (πόλεμον) is reserved for inter-ethnic conflicts.)

2. Note that by city (πόλις), A. is not speaking only of the physical entity of a city, but rather its political identity, i.e., a city-state. A physical city can certainly exist with a "chance multitude", but A. warns that a city-state cannot, until a sufficient length of time has transpired for the different elements in it to acquire a common spirit.

3. A. uses the words συνοίκους and ἐποίκους. The first one denotes those who live together, and is usually used for those who participate in the act of foundation of a city-state. The second term denotes those who are later added to the population, after the city has already been established.

Aristotle's emphasis on common descent (ὁμόφυλον) as a preventive factor against war seems strange by present-day norms, especially since he is speaking of the co-existence of different sets of Greeks, rather than the co-existence of different ethnic groups, or even different races.

This is why he does not suggest that the possibility of peaceful cohabitation is inherently impossible, but that it takes a long time, until the constituent elements "acquire a common spirit" (ἕως ἂν συμπνεύσῃ).

It appears that Aristotle did believe in inherent differences between nations (cf. Aristot. Pol. 1.1252b, 7.1327b) which would presumably make the possibility of acquiring a "common spirit" even more remote, if not impossible. States with a Greek and non-Greek citizen body were unheard of at his time, so the issue does not seem to have even crossed his mind.


Kepler said...

Wasn't Pythagoras perhaps the son of a Phoenician and a Greek mother?

Obviously a state needs to have a common civilization, a common set of values, a language all speak (although there is the Swiss case). Now the question is rather: how many external elements are admissible?

If Pythagoras' dad was really a Phoenician, probably others were also "integrated Phoenicians" or the like.

As for A. not even thinking about X: so? In ancient Athens people would not think of letting women be full-fledged citizens, they were considered as children.

Andrew Lancaster said...

As it happens I am an Aristotle reader. In the passage you mention, Aristotle as always is describing a balance and not looking to support an extreme of any kind like modern theorists often do. For him, a polis is always by definition diverse and richer for it, but he believes it will not be too diverse. Babylon is too diverse, and what's more it became diverse by people coming together within a rich empire - which is not really a good thing for A. (Difficult to find a modern person who'll agree on this in any whole-hearted way.) In fact, for just about everything, Classical Greece is described as the mean between rich Asian multi-cultural super powers and European barbarians. I have seen it suggested that passage like this one should be read as careful criticism of ideas of Hellenic imperialism which were of course alive in Aristotle's day.

Andrew Lancaster said...

By the way, obviously my explanation, that Aristotle is actually criticizing the idea of empires, and anything bigger than a polis, is in conflict with saying that he "refers to inter-Hellenic conflicts". I am traveling, but I think this can be shown by reading through the text carefully. Keep in mind that our modern idea that it is good to let polities get big and strong for the sake of "economies of scale" in terms of things like running a military or managing trade, was an idea already known to Aristotle and politicians of his time but one he clearly opposed. When people like Machiavelli, Bacon and Hobbes started encouraging the idea that we should openly aim at "artificially" planning and building large peaceful empires of unity and law and order, everyone at the time knew he was taking on Aristotle, and in fact it is hard to understand Machiavelli without keeping this in mind.

Andrew Lancaster said...

It occurs to me to add as explanation that for Aristotle it was very important that people should not obey laws because they have to, but rather because that is how they were brought up and they believe it is simply best. See NE V. Large multicultural communities will always be more diverse in their beliefs (however they formed), and rely more upon rational political planning, including force, than small free communities do (10,000 free men being the ideal I seem to recall him saying). Machiavelli on the other hand says that the Romans are superior to the Spartans (a favorite of the Classical Greeks) because they allowed conquered peoples to become citizens and soldiers and they cleverly designed integration schemes which brought new people into the political system slowly and in steps. Aristotle surely knew this was a possibility.

Dienekes said...

Wasn't Pythagoras perhaps the son of a Phoenician and a Greek mother?

The ancient sources do not agree on the origin of Pythagoras' father, with some of them saying that he was Syrian (not a Phoenician), or Tyrrhenian, or Samian.

But, even if his father was a barbarian, his case was special, as he apparently is said to have saved the city by bringing in a large quantity of grain in a time of famine.

Nor, was the later history of Pythagoras himself a model of happy co-existence as he was apparently driven off both from Samos, and later from Croton where he founded his school.

Dienekes said...

my explanation, that Aristotle is actually criticizing the idea of empires, and anything bigger than a polis

That explanation is in conflict with Aristotle's advocacy of Greeks uniting in one politeia in order to dominate the barbarians (7.1327b). Arisstotle believed in a political union of the divided Greeks which would allow them to found an Empire.

Anonymous said...

The example of Pitagora, as of a whatever single man, but also a single family, is wrong. The studies must be made on the great numbers of immigrants, not on a single case. the single one or few individuals are easy to be assimilated, not a whole people, that will have the tendency to defend its own customs.
The Ostrogots lived in Italy for about 70 years, living isolated, today we would tell they had a regime of "apartheid", because they knew to be few and they would have been assimilate in little time by the local population, as in effects it happened later to the Longobards.

Andrew Lancaster said...

Dienekes, Still traveling so sorry for giving a quick answer. It would be a major revolution in the understanding of Aristotle if someone were to come up with a convincing reading of him as NOT saying that the polis was the state most in accordance with Nature. He specifically felt it needed a population cap. That military alliances are therefore somehow necessary when local superpowers start causing trouble is indeed a complex point, and one picked on by modern political philosophers such as Machiavelli, but that free poleis can unite in such an alliance without becoming an empire would not be a shocking idea to Greeks, as per the Iliad and the Herodotus. Leagues of poleis are also of interest to Machiavelli who pointed to the example of Switzerland as a possible way of the Tuscan cities staying free.