Home > Uncategorized > Aristotle: When they had attained empire they fell, for of the arts of peace they knew nothing

Aristotle: When they had attained empire they fell, for of the arts of peace they knew nothing

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Aristotle: How tyrants use war

Aristotle: Leader not praiseworthy in training citizens for conquest and dominion

Aristotle: A man would be regarded as a bloodthirsty monster if he were to make war just to produce battles and slaughter

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Aristotle
From The Politics
Translated by Benjamin Jowett

The law of which I speak is a sort of convention, the law by which whatever is taken in war is supposed to belong to the victors. But this right many jurists impeach, as they would an orator who brought forward an unconstitutional measure: they detest the notion that, because one man has the power of doing violence and is superior in brute strength, another shall be his slave and subject….

Others, clinging, as they think, simply to a principle of justice (for law and custom are a sort of justice), assume that slavery in accordance with the custom of war is justified by law, but at the same moment they deny this. For what if the cause of the war be unjust? And again, no one would ever say he is a slave who is unworthy to be a slave. Were this the case, men of the highest rank would be slaves and the children of slaves if they or their parents chance to have been taken captive and sold.

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The charge which Plato brings, in the Laws, against the intention of the legislator, is likewise justified; the whole constitution has regard to one part of virtue only – the virtue of the soldier, which gives victory in war. So long as they were at war, therefore, their power was preserved, but when they had attained empire they fell, for of the arts of peace they knew nothing, and had never engaged in any employment higher than war. There is another error, equally great, into which they have fallen. Although they truly think that the goods for which men contend are to be acquired by virtue rather than by vice, they err in supposing that these goods are to be preferred to the virtue which gains them.

Once more: the revenues of the state are ill-managed; there is no money in the treasury, although they are obliged to carry on great wars, and they are unwilling to pay taxes. The greater part of the land being in the hands of the Spartans, they do not look closely into one another’s contributions. The result which the legislator has produced is the reverse of beneficial; for he has made his city poor, and his citizens greedy.

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A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature…For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms, meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends. Wherefore, if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony. But justice is the bond of men in states, for the administration of justice, which is the determination of what is just, is the principle of order in political society.

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