Document: Aristotle Criticizes Communism
Author: Wallbank, Taylor
Date: 1992

 

Aristotle foreshadows the failure of communist regimes in our world today.

Next let us consider what should be our arrangements about property:
should the citizens of the perfect state have their possessions in
common or not?...

There is always a difficulty in men living together and having
things in common, but especially in their having common property....

The present arrangement, if improved as it might be by good customs
and laws, would be far better, and would have the advantages of both
systems. Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general
rule, private; for, when every one has a distinct interest, men will not
complain of one another and they will make more progress, because every
one will be attending to his own business. And yet among the good, and
in respect of use, Friends,' as the proverb says, will have all things
common'...

For, although every man has his own property, some things he will
place at the disposal of his friends, while of others he shares the
use with them .... Again, how immeasurably greater is the pleasure,
when a man feels a thing to be his own; for the love of self is a
feeling implanted by nature and not given in vain, although selfishness
is rightly censured; this, however, is not the mere love of self, but
the love of self in excess, like the miser's love of money; for all,
or almost all, men love money, and other such objects in a measure.
And further, there is the greatest pleasure in doing a kindness or
service to friends or guests or companions, which can only be rendered
when a man has private property. The advantage is lost by the excessive
unification of the state .... No one, when men have all things in
common, will any longer set an example of liberality or do any liberal
action; for liberality consists in the use which is made of property.

Such [communistic] legislation may have a specious appearance of
benevolence; men readily listen to it, and are easily induced to
believe that in some wonderful manner everybody will become everybody's
friend, especially when some one is heard denouncing the evils now
existing in states, suits about contracts, convictions for perjury,
flatteries of rich men and the like, which are said to arise out of
the possession of private property. These evils, however, are due to a
very different cause - the wickedness of human nature. Indeed, we see
that there is much more quarrelling among those who have all things in
common, though there are not many of them when compared with the vast
numbers who have private property.

Again, we ought to reckon, not only the evils from which the
citizens will be saved, but also the advantages which they will lose.
The life which they are to lead appears to be quite impracticable.
The error of Socrates [i.e., Plato] must be attributed to the false
notion of unity from which he starts. Unity there should be, both of
the family and of the state, but in some respects only. For there is a
point at which a state may attain such a degree of unity as to be no
longer a state, or at which, without actually ceasing to exist, it will
become an inferior state, like harmony passing into unison, or rhythm
which has been reduced to a single foot. The state, as I was saying, is
a plurality, which should be united and made into a community by
education .... Let us remember that we should not disregard the
experience of ages.

From the translation by Benjamin Jowett, Aristotle's Politics (Oxford:
Clarendon Press, 1908), pp. 60-64. 56,

 

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