Brief notes on Aristotle’s classification of States


No scientific classification of states is possible because all the slates are alike in as much as all are supposed to have population, territory^ government and sovereignty.

All enjoy equal status in the eyes of inter­national law. As governments arc the only tangible manifestations of the existence of states the classification of governments is, in essence the classification of states. The government existed in the past and exists at present in various forms.

Monarchy, aristocracy and pure democracy are its old forms. In the present age, representative democracy is an accepted form. It is further distinguished as the parliamentary, presidential, unitary and federal types.


Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, classified states on the basis of two principles :-

(1) In whom the sovereign powers are vested?

(2) Whether it is exercised for the good of the community or for the good of the ruler?

If the supreme power is vested in the hands of the one man and is exercised for the good of community, it is monarchy. If the power is exercised by the monarch for his self aggrandizement it becomes tyr­anny—a perverted form of monarchy.


If power is vested in the hands of a few and is exercised for the good of the community, it is aristocracy. If it is exercised for the good of the rulers, it becomes oligarchy—a perverted form of aristocracy. If power is vested in the hands of all citizens and is exercised for common good, it is polity. If the power is exercised by mobs and demagogues it becomes democracy—perverted form of polity.

Aristotle’s democracy is likely to surprise the modern man, but this surprise will disappear if one bears in mind that Aristotle used the term in a sense different from what we use today. What Aristotle called polity, we designate as democracy; what he named democracy, we call as mobocracy.

Cycle of State:

Aristotle further believes that all the states go through a cycle of revolutions. The state began with the establishment of monarchy which was the virtuous rule of a single man. Though after some time such a virtuous man could no longer be produced yet the rule of one man remained and his power was maintained by force.


It was tyranny or despotism. It was replaced by aristocracy by means of a revolution. The spirit of aristocracy also began to degenerate and was replaced by oligarchy. By a popular uprising, oligarchy was turned into polity which soon degenerated into democracy, a sort of mob-rule.

Out of darkness, then, again arises the supremely virtuous man, some Caesar who restores law and order. The cycle is completed and begins all over again.


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