Public and Private in Aristotle’s Politics

Swanson, J. and D. Corbin. Public and Private in Aristotle’s Politics. Ithaca: Cornell U. Press, 1992.


“In this work Swanson  set out to challenge modern liberal interpretations of the Politics.  At issue is whether or not Aristotle that here’s to the rigid public/private that emerges, for example, in Hannah Arendt’s decidedly negative portrait of the Greek oikos. The dreary place that Arendt’s envisions is both privative and violent, at best a necessary evil insofar as it makes the good life  (the political life) viable. In response to this villification Swanson  extends the power of private beyond the oikos,  proposing that the distinctive traits of privacy Aristotle’s Politics  is “virtue uncompromised by prevailing morality.”

More insidious, Arendt  Charges, is that the oikos  can provide a foundation for leisure only because within its confines, citizens youth violence to force noncitizens (slaves) to perform necessary labor.  Consequently Swanson  undertakes a rare contemporary defense of Aristotle’s theory of slavery in book one of the Politics. Swanson  concentrates on demonstrating “the edifying”  aspects of the slave relationship for both master and slave and emphasizes both the natural conditions and the constraints which allegedly legitimize it.  constraints include limiting the number of slaves, sharing household possessions, confining corporeal punishment to the recalcitrant, and using reason and especially the word of freedom in order to foster compliance. Swanson  Shows that Aristotle is not utterly indifferent to humane treatment of slaves, but left unaccounted for is the obvious incoherence of this thriving slavery as beneficial to the slave while at the same time holding out freedom as a reward for service.”

– Review from Bryn Mawr Classical Review