1. General Causes of Revolution:
Aristotle is a piquant thinker who tirelessly investigates all the aspects of any issue. His support for polity is undoubtedly based on his zeal for achieving stability in the political system. But he does not stop here.
Although stability should be the sole aim of any constitution, in practice it is found that government’s rise and fall
We have to discuss what are the causes of change in constitutions, their nature and number, what are the destructive agencies that affect each constitution, and from what kinds into what kinds they generally change.
We must likewise consider what factors make for the preservation of constitutions, both in general and of each king separately, and also by what means each of the types of constitution could best be preserved.
The above comment made by him clearly reveals his intention as regards the change of constitution or government. He has discussed at first the general causes of revolution or change of constitutions.
The synonym of the Greek word stasis is chaos or disorder or confusion. Interpreters of Aristotelian political thought have called it revolution.
Aristotle has stated a number of causes which are generally held responsible for constitutional change or what is generally called revolution. Differing conceptions of justice and equality are regarded as one of the basic causes of revolution. He has said that in both oligarchy and democracy, the people differ about the ideas of justice and equality.
They agree that justice is proportionate and privileges, opportunities and, above all, political power, should be distributed equally. But to what extent they are equal, that creates a difference of opinion among them.
All people think that by birth they are all free and have merit and desert. When some people are deprived of power, they hastily come to the conclusion that justice has not been done to them.
The existing system of distribution of power is the prime cause of injustice and inequality and, therefore, in order to bring about justice and equality the constitution should be changed.
Aristotle further observes that the notion of abstract justice and equality is a great enemy of stability. “Inequality is generally at the bottom of internal warfare in states.”
The nefarious mentality of certain people to harvest benefit or profit and dignity leads them to revolt against the establishment. Profit means economic profit. Dignity or honour is connected with political power.
The desire to get these two things determines the course of action people adopt. It is also found that the loss of profit and status infuriates men and to compensate the loss they launch revolutionary movement.
The third cause of sedition is a peculiar one. Aristotle discusses the point in the following way. Some owners of property and holders of honour instigate revolution by misusing their possession.
Sometimes it is also found that the owners and holders become aggrieved on the ground that others are getting more and this is injustice. This feeling—right or wrong—provokes them. These people very often do not take part in revolution directly; they instigate other men by supplying men and material.
According to Aristotle the fourth cause of revolution is—when one or more men exercise excessive power out of all proportion to the state or to the power of the citizen body, revolution becomes inevitable.
Some rulers or powerful persons give too much importance to dignity and honour. When they see others honoured and themselves degraded, soon they become revolution-minded. Aristotle says that monarchy or oligarchy emerges out of the revolution.
Fear and contempt are the fifth and sixth causes of revolution. According to Aristotle fear operates in two ways—those who have committed a crime look for overthrow of government, because they fear punishment. Fear of punishment leads people to revolution in the hope that they can escape punishment. Contemptuous attitudes also lead to revolution and civil war.
In oligarchies, when those who have no share in the constitution is the largest class, they deem themselves greater than the oligarchs and look down upon them. This attitude is also found in democracies, when the upper classes show their contempt of the disorder and inefficiency.
Disproportionate increase has been termed by Aristotle as the seventh factor of sedition. He has described it with the help of a biological analogy. Animal body consists of many parts and their growth is proportionate to each other. But if any part expands disproportionately, that upsets the whole body. That is, the balance of the body is lost and becomes a cause of concern.
A state consists of many parts any one of which may start growing bigger. In democracies and polities there is possibility of an increase in the number of citizens who are not well-off. In that case the newly emerged class starts an agitation against the establishment to get privileges, profit and status which the existing class is enjoying.
This cause of revolution or constitutional change is similar to the fourth cause—pre-eminence. The difference is partly one of degree. Pre-eminence refers to the relative superiority of an individual or a small group of persons; disproportionate increase refers to a whole class.
The above is a complete list of seven causes of revolution analyzed by Aristotle. To these, as he said, at least four can be added, not quite parallel since they operate differently/three of them leading to revolution without violence. These causes may be described as “incidental” occasions of change.
The first is the effect of election intrigues which may lead to constitutional change without sedition. Aristotle has given an illustration to this point. In some Greek city-states the results of the elections were determined by intrigues. This led to constitutional change. Secondly, wilful negligence, again, may be an occasion of change.
Persons who are not loyal to the constitution may be allowed to find their way into the highest position of the state. Sometimes neglect of small matters leads to great changes.
This is the third reason. Finally, dissimilarity of elements in the composition of the state may be regarded as another cause of change. This is a broad category including a number of different dissimilarities which can produce friction and disorder within a community.
The main one is difference in tribe or stock. The existence of groups of dissimilar origins within a community provides a focus for political strife. He is not thinking of racial differences, but is referring to the differences that can exist between Greeks of different cities.
2. Causes in Particular Constitutions:
After making an in-depth analysis of different causes of revolution which are general in nature, Aristotle discusses why particular constitutions change. This shows his great acumen and vast amount of practical experience.
He first takes up democracy for analysis. In democracies, changes take place mainly due to wanton license of demagogues.
They attack the rich people individually by bringing false accusations. These bitter and false attacks force the rich men to combine together which results in a change in constitution. The demagogues also attack the rich as a class. In this case also the result repeats. The democratic government is overthrown by the combined power of all rich and notable persons.
In oligarchies, revolutions are caused chiefly by two factors. One is unjust treatment, and the other is dissension. The government treats the mass in unjust way and when they are aggrieved discontent comes to surface or revolution appears.
Dissension among the oligarchs is also another powerful factor of constitutional change in oligarchy. Dissension appears when some members of oligarchy—for one reason or other—are impoverished, they turn to the revolution as remedy. Sometimes an inner ring is formed inside the government and this precipitates the fall of oligarchy.
The following reason may be advanced’ as a cause of revolution in aristocracy. We know that both aristocracy and oligarchy limit the entry of persons to government and this limitation is so stringent that large number of persons who are equally qualified remain away from office and discontent simmers in their mind.
Defective distribution of power or defective balance is the main factor of change. It may happen that one section of oligarchs captures power or that power may go to the mass of men which is democracy.
Tyranny is particularly susceptible to external attack from hostile neighbours. Those tyrants who have not won their position for themselves but have inherited it from someone else are likely to be overthrown because they have been brought up in softness and luxury.
Because the tyranny combines the evils of both extreme democracy and extreme oligarchy, it is liable to be dislodged from power by the same causes as each to these types.
Kingship is not susceptible to external attack. But its fall is accentuated by the conflict within the royal family and illegal action by the king himself. The dissension among the several members of royal family is not uncommon.
Aristotle’s theory of revolution is treated by the interpreters of his thought as very important and of immense value. Many causes of American Revolution have been put forward by historians and textbook writers.
Maxey says that all these causes are superficial. The real cause is the failure of the British government to perceive that the American colonists were the victims of inferiority complex.
This has made them extraordinarily sensitive about their rights. It is not surprising that this cause has been elaborately stated by Aristotle. Again, as regards the American Civil War, it may be added here that it is not the crusade of the Abolitionists; it is the disproportionate increase of any part of state. This undoubtedly reveals the insight and farsightedness of Aristotle on the functioning and stability of any political system.
His theory of revolution has another importance. In his opinion injustice and inequality are the prime causes of revolution. The gross economic inequality between the rich and the poor ultimately forces the latter to revolt against the former. This idea is hundred percent valid even today. Aristotle has said “poverty is the parent of revolution”.
That is why we find him saying that for the stability of polis the rule of the middle class is to be established. Marx has analyzed class struggle and revolution from the standpoint of historical materialism. But the concept of injustice and inequality is still the central idea of Marxian philosophy. Everywhere inequality breeds discontent and when it assumes an aggressive form, revolution becomes inevitable.
The reasons stated by Aristotle are not a priori at all; they are based on facts and experience of contemporary events. His theory of revolution can be used by serious students of history for further research work. From his observations of revolution we come to know that he had a deep acquaintance with Greek political life, and his power of observation is very subtle.
He had deeply studied the working of the constitutions of various Greek city-states. On the basis of his experience and study he had framed the reasons of revolutions. In Aristotle’s theory of revolutions economics, politics and sociology have met together. Of course his analysis of revolution is not free from shortcomings.
The frequent use of phrases such as “especially”, “for the most part” reminds us that his generalizations are not meant to be universal. Moreover, he has cited only one or two examples in support of his contention. But critics are of opinion that only from one or two examples no generalizations can be framed. His general causes and particular causes are also confusing. In most of the cases no line of demarcation can be drawn.
4. Methods of Prevention:
We have briefly analyzed Aristotle’s views on causes of revolution. To know the causes which destroy constitutions is also to know the causes which ensure their preservation.
He was considerably interested in the stability of constitutional system, because he knew that without stability of the political system good life and progress could never be achieved. As a general rule of stability, Aristotle recommended the establishment of polity that is the rule of the middle class.
The predominance of middle class will be able to remove the gross inequality among different classes, and this recommendation corresponds to the basic cause of revolution—inequality and injustice. Besides this, he has suggested other methods of preserving the constitutions.
There are some constitutions in which several heterogeneous elements are mixed together and in such constitutions lawlessness might surface and lawlessness is the greatest enemy of stability. It is the primary duty of the authority to keep a vigilant watch upon whether laws are scrupulously observed.
The government must be sincere and honest towards its citizens. No hide and seek technique can help us anymore. It is not proper for the government to adopt devices intended to hoodwink the masses.
When the people will come to know the actual position they will revolt. Attempts should be made to establish good relations between the rulers and the ruled. None should be treated unjustly.
Proper care must be taken on the sharing of governmental offices among the several qualified aspirants. Rank and file are not to be maltreated in the matters of money and profit. In a word, discontent should never be allowed to grow and—if it at all surfaces—that shall be destroyed without delay.
Aristotle was well aware of the bitter rivalry among the different city-states which sometimes led to aggression. Aggression dismantles structure and destroys stability. That is why he has suggested that it is the duty of the magistrates to inform the public of any aggression or alarm.
This may prevent disruption or destruction of constitution. It has been found that the nobles and aristocrats are very often involved in quarrel and this sometimes leads to sedition. Aristotle says that legislation should be enacted to prevent such conflict.
Some people with the help of wealth and high connections get superior positions in the state and this is the way for animosity. It should be prevented. One of the important ways of stabilizing the constitution is to create a harmony between the subjects and ideals of the state. To put it in other words, the citizens should be taught to inculcate loyalty towards the constitution and principles of the state.
Of all the means that can be used for securing the stability of constitutions, the most effective, according to Aristotle, is a system of education suited to the existing order. In his opinion, as the end of the whole state is one it is imperative that the education also must necessarily be one and the same for all and that its superintendence must be public and not on private lines in the way in which each man superintends the education of his own children. “Neither must we suppose” says Aristotle “that any one of the citizens belongs to himself, for they all belong to the state, and are each of them a part of the state” .
He has emphasised the value of education in the following words: “It is useless to have the most beneficial rules of society fully agreed upon by all members of the constitution, if individuals are not going to be trained and have their habits formed for that constitution.”
It implies that people of democracy must learn the principles and values of democracy. So also of other types of constitutions. Aristotle’s emphasis on education is worthy to be remembered. The spread of proper education is a vital factor of stability. It prevents disorder and chaos. Consciousness arises only through education.