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The Principal Forms of Government

According to Aristotle, there are three principal forms of government. These are Kingship, Aristocracy, and Polity. According to him, the best form is the Polity, or the rule of the middle class, because: “Where the middle class is large there is least likely to be factions and dissensions”.



The existence of governments is a fact which is universally true to all societies of man. This means that whenever there is a society there exists at least one form of governance (be it primitive or modern).

Governments exist for it is better equipped to administer for the public welfare than any private individual or groups of individuals.

Primary Governments

Most Scholars believed that it was Aristotle who first systemized the study of governments (which the term “constitution” was used to refer to “forms of governance”. For this reason, the government he used in his comparative study is considered the primary forms of governments:

Ruler/Interest of RulingRight Constitutions
(Interest of the subjects are prioritized; Ruling is based on virtues to rule)
Perverted Constitutions
(Selfish Interest of the Ruler is prioritized; ruling is based on wealth; and sheer number)
ManyPolity (the rule of the middle class)Democracy (rule of the poor/ mob)

The best form of Government according to Aristotle is the Polity, or the rule of the middle class, because: “Where the middle class is large there is least likely to be factions and dissensions”. The idea behind this is largely based on his Nichomachean Ethics: The mean of both extremes is good: “Many things are best in the mean.”

Let us consider some other important ideas of Aristotle about politics and governance.

Citizen and Citizenship

According to Aristotle, he who has the power to take part in the deliberative or judicial administration of any State is the citizen of that State; Citizens differ under each form of Constitution (Note: Constitution here is different from our modern idea of Constitution as the fundamental law of the land, for the Greeks Constitution simply means the form of government or simply the government)

However, the common business of all citizens is the salvation and preservation of the commonwealth.

Good Man and Good Citizen

There is a distinction between good man and good citizen, good man is he who posses the moral virtue, committed to the eternal and unchanging ideals of good and justice, while the good citizen is he who posses civil virtues, who respects and obeys the law.

Hence, a good man is not necessarily a good citizen and vice versa: the good man could be a bad citizen since he may resist to obey the law of the ruler which he may perceive as contrary to good and justice, like wise, the good citizen may become a bad man if he obeys the law that is contrary to moral good.

Note therefore that for Aristotle, the virtue of the good man and the good citizen may coincide only if the ruler is good and a wise man.

Hereditary Government

Monarchy is a government which the supreme and final authority is in the hands of a single person without regards to the source of his election or the nature and duration of his tenure. There are two (2) general classification of Monarchy:

Absolute monarchy – one in which the rulers rules by divine right. The State is identical with the ruling individual whose word is law. Thus, the ruler is the law and above the law.

Limited Monarchy – one in which the ruler rules in accordance with a Constitution. Thus, the powers of the ruler are provided by a constitution and are limited by a constitution. (e.g. the present queen of Great Britain)

Representative Government

Democratic government is a government which political power is exercised by a majority of the People (i.e. Citizens). It is a political system in which opportunity for participation in decision-making is widely shared by or among all adult citizens (Dahl, 1995). There are two (2) general classification of Democracy:

Direct or Pure Democracy – one in which the will of the state is formulated or Expressed directly and immediately through the people in a primary assembly. This classification of Democracy could be exemplified when one considers the Athenian experience of Democracy. Athenians assemble in public places whenever issues arise and call for their “informed” decisions. (e.g. declaration of wars, the establishment of economic relations with other city-states, etc.) In his book “The Apology”, Plato described how the Athenians assembled and decided the fate of Socrates.

Representative, Indirect, or Republican Democracy – one in which the will of the State is formulated or expressed through the body of person chosen by the people to act as their representatives. The people’s representatives decide in their (people) behalf.

Under representative, Indirect or Republican Democracy, we have to distinguish three major types: Presidential, Parliamentary, and Mixed forms of Republican Democracy.

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