Aristotle’s Theory of the State

Johnson, Curtis. Aristotle’s Theory of the State. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.


“The main thesis of this … book is that ‘ through the many twists and turns of Aristotle’s writing on the subject of politics which holds the many parts of the politics together one may identify an inner logic, however imperfectly. This inner logic is a development of one fundamental question: what is the essential nature of the state?’. Johnson maintains that the complex and difficult reasoning of the Politics can be clarified by distinguishing between two different levels of logical priority among the questions: the first-order questions that must be answered before it is possible to answer the second-order questions.  The first-order questions are generally concerned with the nature of the state.  The second-order  questions belong to applied political science and are the practical concern of the lawgiver and politician: what is the best Constitution absolutely? What is the best for most states? What is the best under given  conditions? What laws are appropriate to individual constitutions? How are constitutions established and preserved against conflict and revolution?

Johnson contends that the inconsistencies and shifts in view which one finds in Aristotle mainly involve second-order doctrines,  the level of application (for example, what is the best Constitution?), whereas there is a fundamental coherence and Aristotle’s first order views  throughout the Politics.  In addition to this plausible suggestion, Johnson offers original and informative discussions of particular topics, including the classification, etiology  and evaluation of constitutions, the definition of citizenship, the analysis of sovereignty, and the problem of the best constitution.”

– Review in The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 167