You may be wondering why politicians in functional democracies insist on talking about the middle class as the pathway to peace and development.

The idea originated way back when Aristotle was orating about the nature of the city-state.

In Politics, Book 4, Aristotle reasoned that in all city-states, there are three parts of the city-state: the very rich, the very poor; and, third, that is, the in-between.

The very rich and the very poor, Aristotle reasoned, have a hard time obeying reason. He posited that those who are exceedingly beautiful, strong, well-born, or wealthy, and those who are exceedingly poor, weak, and lacking in honor have a hard time obeying reason.

The exceedingly beautiful, strong, well-born, or wealthy have a hard time obeying reason because they tend more towards arrogance. These people are superior in the goods of luck.

The exceedingly poor, weak, and lacking have a hard time obeying reason because they tend more towards malice and petty vice. These people are inferior in the goods of luck.

Thus, to Aristotle, wrongdoing for one party was caused by arrogance, and for the other, malice.

Those who are in the middle possess the best balance of the goods of luck and are more likely to obey reason.

Unfortunately, the middle classes are least inclined either to avoid ruling or to pursue it, both of which are harmful to city-states.

This can be harmful because those who are superior in the goods of luck (strength, wealth, friends, and other such things) neither wish to be ruled nor know how to be ruled. This is a characteristic they acquire right from the start at home while they are still children; for because of their luxurious lifestyle they are not accustomed to being ruled, even in school.

Ever wondered why certain political families tend to dominate representative politics?

On the other hand, those who are exceedingly deprived of such goods are too humble and do not know how to rule, but only know how to be ruled in the way slaves are ruled, whereas the wealthy do not know how to be ruled in any way, but only how to rule as masters rule.

Aristotle decried this state, because it resulted in a city-state not of free people but of slaves and masters, where one group is full of envy and the other full of arrogance.

For a city state to work, it needs to have a big middle class, that is, people who are equal and similar, for governance to be optimal. Also of all citizens, those in the middle survive best in city-states, for neither do they desire other people’s property as the poor do, nor do other people desire theirs, as the poor desire that of the rich. And because they are neither plotted against nor engage in plotting, they live out their lives free from danger.

It if for this reason that Phocylides did pray: “Many things are best for those in the middle. I want to be in the middle in a citystate.”

A strong middle class balances the extremes of the excesses of the very rich and the very poor. It tips the balance when added to either and prevents the opposing extremes from arising.

This is precisely why it is the height of good luck if those who are governing own a middle or adequate amount of property, because when some people own an excessive amount and the rest own nothing, either extreme democracy arises or unmixed oligarchy or, as a result of both excesses, tyranny. For tyranny arises from the most vigorous kind of democracy and oligarchy, but much less often from middle constitutions or those close to them.

Democracies are more stable and longer lasting than oligarchies because of those in the middle (for they are more numerous in democracies than in oligarchies and participate in office more), since when the poor predominate without these, failure sets in and they are quickly ruined.

So how can citizens apply this? In countries with unequal distribution of resources, where extreme forms of governing, such as tyranny, are more likely to arise, Aristotle advised that the best legislators are those who arise from the middle class.

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