Aristotle’s Politics



This class seeks to recover the authentic Aristotelian political teaching through a close examination of his Politics. Modern political philosophy is unified in its opposition to Aristotelianism, those who speak well of Aristotle tending also to be dissatisfied with some aspect of modern society and the direction in which it is moving. Aristotle stands as the great alternative, worthy of study both by those seeking alternatives and by those looking to understand modernity by understanding the negation that lies at its heart.

The recovery of the authentic Aristotle presents a challenge. What is preserved in philosophy departments that still feel duty-bound to rehearse what they regard as the history of error is a tamed Aristotle who cannot challenge, except by his foreignness, what is taught as “theories of justice.” Where he is still attacked by the hagiographers of the modern scientific revolution, what is called Aristotelianism is in fact a roughly understood Thomism; even where Aristotle himself is excused by these celebrators of empiricism, it is for having been less dogmatic than Aquinas, not for having thought differently. Those pining for a return to classical political philosophy oftentimes really mean just medieval Christian political theology: their Aristotle, too, is Aquinas or on his way to becoming Aquinas. Yet there are decisive reasons for believing that Aquinas either misunderstood or misrepresented Aristotle’s thought. These reasons are separate from the bare historical accident that those Aristotelians who disagreed with Aquinas—the Averroïsts—could find a home in neither the Ummah nor Christendom and so could not affect the public face of Aristotle.

This class will put to the test the hypothesis that Aristotle’s political teaching is not dependent upon his metaphysical doctrines such that the Politics would have to be read in light of De Anima, the Physics, and the Metaphysics. This hypothesis is supported by Aristotle himself, who occasionally directs our attention to his ethical writings (where ethics is declared to be a division of political science) but not to a fuller discussion of the prime mover. Aristotle begins with what is said about politics and does not correct these opinions with the results of the latest scientific research. The Politics is as much a dialogue as any of Plato’s narrated dialogues, except that Aristotle’s characters are fluid and rarely identified clearly. In this procedure Aristotle suggests that the knowledge necessary for political knowledge is already possessed by all reflective men, that it is not the special purview of those already expert in metaphysical speculation. It is this deepened understanding of politics, available in principle to political men in all times and places, that is our prey in this course.

What the division between Aristotle’s esoteric and exoteric works signifies is disputed, but all that remains of the Aristotelian corpus is composed of the esoteric works. They are not the ones that gained him a reputation of almost unrivaled beauty and clarity as a writer. They are sufficiently perplexing that the ill-founded and unsupportable opinion that we possess only some student’s lecture notes still finds someone willing to repeat it. Translators therefore feel a compulsion to expand upon what is actually in the text, sometimes inventing entire sentences from a fragment of three or four words. Lord does us the rare service of noting his interpolations in square brackets. Those students able to read Greek are encouraged to do so.

In order better to facilitate class discussion, I will post my lecture notes online after I have given them. You are thereby encouraged to ask questions during class time, rather than practice your shorthand. Submit all written work via Blackboard.



10% Weekly Papers, no more than 300 words in length, due by the beginning of each class on topics assigned. There will be no paper due in weeks where you hand in an essay. The lowest paper will be dropped (i.e., twelve papers, eleven of which count).

10% Attendance and Participation.

15% Class Presentation. Each class following the first will begin with a student presentation that introduces us to the most important aspects of the sections we have read for that week. Students should be prepared to speak for half an hour and to be interrupted with questions from other students. Once the discussion is satisfactorily concluded, class will continue as normal.

20% First Essay, due March 4 by 5:00pm. Essays should not exceed 3500 words.

35% Second Essay, due April 22 by 5:00pm. Essays should not exceed 4500 words.

10% Take-home Final Exam, due May 10 by 5:00pm, distributed via Blackboard on May 8 at 5:00pm.


Required Readings

  • Aristotle. The Politics. Translated by Carnes Lord. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1984.
  • Leo Strauss. The City and Man. 1964; repr. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Recommended Readings

  • Ross J. Corbett. “The Question of Natural Law in Aristotle.” History of Political Thought 30, no. 2 (Summer 2009): 229–50.
  • Harry Jaffa. “Aristotle.” In The History of Political Philosophy, ed. Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, 2nd ed., 64–129. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.
  • Carnes Lord. “Aristotle.” In The History of Political Philosophy, ed. Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, 3rd ed., 118–54. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
  • Thomas L. Pangle. “The Rhetorical Strategy Governing Aristotle’s Political Teaching.” Journal of Politics 73, no. 1 (January 2011): 1–13.

Literature Often Cited

  • Larry Arnhart. Aristotle on Political Reasoning. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 1981.
  • Robert C. Bartlett. “Aristotle’s Science of the Best Regime.” American Political Science Review 88, no. 1 (1994): 143–55.
  • Clifford Bates. Aristotle’s “Best Regime”. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002.
  • Richard Bodéüs. The Political Dimensions of Aristotle’s Ethics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993.
  • John Burnet. The Ethics of Aristotle. London: Methuen, 1900.
  • Harry Jaffa. Thomism and Aristotelianism. 1952; repr. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1979.
  • Curtis N. Johnson. Aristotle’s Theory of the State. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.
  • David Keyt and Fred D. Miller, Jr., ed. A Companion to Aristotle’s “Politics”. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.
  • Richard Kraut. Aristotle. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Carnes Lord. “On the Early History of the Aristotelian Corpus.” American Journal of Philology 107 (1986): 137–61.
  • Carnes Lord and David K. O’Connor, ed. Essays on the Foundations of Aristotelian Political Science. Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
  • Fred D. Miller, Jr. Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle’s “Politics”. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • R. G. Mulgan, Aristotle’s Political Theory. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.
  • Mary P. Nichols. Citizens and Statesmen. New York: Roman & Littlefield, 1992.
  • Lorraine Pangle. Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Thomas Smith. Revaluing Ethics: Aristotle’s Dialectical Pedagogy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001.
  • Aristide Tessitore. Reading Aristotle’s “Ethics”. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.
  • Aristide Tessitore, ed. Aristotle and Modern Politics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002.
  • Bernard Yack. The Problems of a Political Animal. Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Course Expectations and Policies

CANCELLATIONS: I have a cell phone, and will call to cancel class if necessary.

LATE ESSAYS: No weekly papers will be accepted if submitted late. Late essays will be penalized 1% per day (including holidays and weekends). The last day to turn in the final essay is three days before grades are due, unless you have been granted an incomplete for the course.

INCOMPLETES: Incompletes are given at my discretion and only when it is possible that the completion of the remaining work could result in a grade of A or B. An incomplete must be resolved within the appropriate time limit or it will automatically be changed to an F. You are responsible for seeing that incompletes are made up before the expiration date.

ACADEMIC DISHONESTY: All work must be the product of the student’s own original effort. It is the student’s responsibility to familiarize him- or herself with university policy regarding plagiarism and academic dishonesty. Students should take the university’s Academic Integrity tutorial ( Those uncertain how to avoid plagiarism should consult the resources that the Political Science Department has made available on its website ( All transgressors will fail the course and risk expulsion from the graduate program.

DISABILITIES: Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, NIU is committed to making reasonable accommodations for persons with documented disabilities. Students who believe that their disability may have some impact on their coursework and for which they may require accommodations should notify the Center for Access-Ability Resources (CAAR) on the fourth floor of the Health Services Building. CAAR will assist students in making appropriate accommodations with course instructors. It is important that CAAR and the instructor be informed of any disability-related needs during the first two weeks of the semester.


Tentative Class Schedule

01/20    Introduction
01/27    Book I, chapter 1-2
02/03    Book I, chapters 3-13
02/10    Book II, chapters 1-6
02/17    Book II, chapters 7-12
02/24    Book III, chapters 1-5
03/03    Book III, chapters 6-13; First Essay Due Tomorrow
03/10    Book III, chapters 14-18
03/17    [Spring Break]
03/24    Book IV, chapters 1-10
03/31    Book IV, chapters 11-16
04/07    Book V
04/14    Book VI
04/21    Book VII, chapters 1-3; Second Essay Due Tomorrow
04/28    Book VII, chapters 4-17
05/05    Book VIII

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