Aristotle – From Families to the State

Aristotle in the First chapter of Politics makes the link, even proposes a hierarchy, between the family, the village, and the State.

According to Aristotle, man is “naturally sociable”, i.e. naturally destined to gather in cities. These cities, when assembled, from the State, and consequently the State is a fact of nature.

§ 7 The first association of several families, but formed with a view to relationships that are no longer daily, is the village, which we might rightly call a natural colony of the family; for the individuals who make up the village have, as other authors express themselves, “sucked the milk of the family”; they are its children and “the children of its children”. If the first states were subject to kings, and if the great nations are still subject to kings today, it is because these states were formed of elements accustomed to royal authority, since in the family the eldest is a true king; and the colonies of the family filially followed the example that was set for them. Homer was therefore able to say, “Each one separately rules as a master his wives and sons.”

In the beginning, indeed, all the isolated families governed themselves in this way. Hence also this common opinion which exam questions the gods to a king; for all peoples have themselves formerly recognized or still recognize the royal authority, and men have never failed to give their habits to the gods, even as they represent them in their image.

Book I, Chapter I, The Politics – Aristotle

Aristotle gives in this extract an explanation to the monarchic regimes. The monarchical regime finds its origin in family relationships, and in the habit of considering the elderly as a king. Moreover, the village is defined as the association of several families which has for finality relations which are no longer daily.

§ 8 The association of several villages forms a complete state, arrived at, one might say, at this point of being absolutely self-sufficient, born first of the needs of life, and subsisting because it satisfies them all.

Thus the State always comes from nature, as well as the first associations, of which it is the final end; for the nature of each thing is precisely its end; and what each of the beings is when it has reached its full development, we say that this is its own nature, whether it be a man, a horse, or a family. We may add that this destination and end of beings is for them the first of goods; and to be self-sufficient is both a goal and happiness.

Book I, Chapter I, The Politics – Aristotle

Several families from a village, and several villages form a State. As families are naturally driven to assemble into a village, it follows that villages are naturally driven to form a state, and therefore the state is a fact of nature.

This deduction is possible by considering that the nature of something is its end, that is, its purpose.

§ 9. From this it is evident that the state is a fact of nature, that man is naturally a sociable being, and that he who remains savage by organization, and not by chance, is certainly either a degraded being, or a being superior to the human species. It is well to him that one could address this reproach of Homer: “Without the family, without laws, without home…”

The man who would be by nature such as that of the poet would breathe only war; for he would then be incapable of any union, like the birds of prey.

Book I, chapter I, The Politics – Aristotle

For Aristotle, man is therefore sociable by nature: he is destined to live in relation with others because of his human nature.

Thus, for the one who excludes himself from society, who remains savage, it is always a deliberate act, and not an act due to chance. This man who excludes himself from society is for Aristotle either superior or inferior to other men.

In the same way, the State, which is an association of villages, and thus of families, is a fact of nature: it is constituted naturally.

→ What does Aristotle think about slavery (Aristotle, Politics, Book I)