Why does Aristotle say in book VIII of the Nicomachean Ethics that there are three good polities? What principle of division is he using, so that he comes up with three, rather than two or four? It is normally said that the difference lies in whether the rulers are one (kingship), a few (aristocracy), or many (‘timocracy’). This seems rather too vague to be a good philosophical division. Does ‘many’ mean 10% of the population? Or 25%? Or 50 %? And why should not these differing percentages also be said to yield different polities?

We do not normally divide actions into species by simply looking at how many people are performing them. For example, if we are asking what the species of farming are, we might say that they are arable, dairy, and mixed; but it would be strange to say that the species are farms run by one man, farms run by a family, and farms run by a village. It is true we might distinguish five-a-side football and eleven-a-side as two species of the game; but this is because the differing numbers mean that the games require different skills and strategies, not simply because the players are more and less. In the same way, acts of governing do not seem to be distinct simply because they are performed by different numbers of people.

Another problem with this explanation is that while kingship and aristocracy are corrupted by the one man or the few ruling selfishly, timocracy is said to be corrupted not by the many ruling badly but by the many being extended by the abolition of a property qualification to the all. But why is ‘rule by all’ not a fourth basic species that could be done well or badly, and why is rule by many-but-not-all not also able to be done well or badly?

Another problem is that Aristotle says that the three good polities are patterned on three basic forms of relationship within a family, namely, the paternal, the fraternal and the marital. This is easy to understand for kingship: the good father rules his sons as a good monarch. It is a bit harder to understand why he says that the fraternal relation provides the basis for timocracy: there is no property qualification needed for brothers to be able to relate to each other, and all of them are related to each other as brothers, so why not compare brothers rather to a democracy? And it becomes baffling for the marital relation: for it is not, it seems, the parental rule over the children which is aristocratic, but the husband’s rule over the wife. But since there is only one husband, how is this the pattern for aristocracy, if the essence of aristocracy includes having several rulers?

In the Politics, the key distinction between aristocracy/oligarchy and timocracy/democracy appears to be whether the rich or poor are governing. But this is hardly more satisfying, since how can monarchy/tyranny be fitted into this scheme, using the same principle of division? Again, how would the distinction between rule by the rich and rule by the poor be patterned after the distinction of marital and fraternal relations?

I suggest that the principle of division of polities is to be sought not per se in the number of those who wield supreme power, but in the different ways in which ‘ruling’ can be related to ‘being ruled’. What I mean is this: those who rule may simply rule and not be ruled; or they may both rule and be ruled, while those whom they rule are simply ruled; or they may both rule and be ruled, with none who are simply ruled. So we have:

(i) ruler


This applies to monarchy, tyranny and (good and bad) fatherhood

(ii) ruler



This applies to aristocracy, oligarchy and marriage

(iii) ruling-and ruled


This applies to timocracy, democracy, brothers, and what Aristotle calls ‘dwellings without a master’ e.g. students in shared rented accommodation.

(i) is clear. The subjects of the king have no political authority, as the children have no authority over the household. But it is not essential to kingship that there be only one person with supreme authority; it is simply necessarily so with men, since the wills of more than one man will not always coincide. But the rule of the Blessed Trinity over creation is a monarchy, not an aristocracy.

(ii) is suggested by Aristotle’s remarks about oligarchy, namely that the few rulers ‘always assign ruling offices to the same people’. This doesn’t seem to mean just ‘to themselves’, but also ‘to their favourites’. So, in oligarchy, and in aristocracy, there will be those who are chosen by the rulers but who also themselves have ruling power. This corresponds to matrimony, in that the husband, as Aristotle puts it, ‘assigns what is fitting to each’, i.e. manly tasks to himself and womanly to his wife. The wife is ruled by her husband, but also rules; she has her own sphere of authority and initiative within the household, for example over the small children. The husband’s rule is, or should be, aristocratic, though he is only one man.

(iii)  is the remaining possibility. It is exemplified clearly enough by democracy, and in the case of brothers and of those who dwell in shared accommodation. At first site it is incompatible with timocracy, since in this polity those who do not meet the property requirement (originally, possession of heavy armour) are excluded from rule. I suggest though that this exclusion happens because it is assumed that those below this level will not have the sufficient manliness to be good rulers; hence, per accidens, some are found in this polity who are merely ruled.



The Ecumenical Councils of Trent and Vatican I and the Creed of Pius IV all require us to:

…accept the Holy Scripture according to that sense which holy mother the Church hath held, and doth hold, and to whom it belongeth to judge the true sense and interpretations of the Scriptures [and] never take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers.

If is often said that the Church has, in fact, only very rarely defined the precise meaning of a biblical passage. Whether or not that is true one clear instance of such a definition is the Bull Unam Sanctam which has very precise teaching concerning Luke 22:35-38 and John 18:11. In ordering the disciples to buy a sword if they had not one already, and in telling them that two swords are enough, and in ordering Peter to sheath his sword Our Lord laid out the precise nature of the jurisdiction of the sacramental hierarchy and  the Supreme Pontiff over the temporal power.

Both the temporal and the spiritual power are intrinsic to the Church. The spiritual sword is to be exercised for the specific ends for which the Church was instituted and by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. In contrast, the temporal sword must be exercised by members of the Church but cannot be wielded by the members of the ecclesiastical hierarchy (although they may confiscate it if it is misused and assign it to another) because it is not a means by which the specific ends of the Church may be advanced.

What rarely seems to attract much notice is the reason Our Lord gave for this arrangement:

And he said to them: When I sent you without purse, and scrip, and shoes, did you want anything? But they said: Nothing. Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise a scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword. For I say to you, that this that is written must yet be fulfilled in me: And with the wicked was he reckoned. For the things concerning me have an end. But they said: Lord, behold here are two swords. And he said to them, It is enough.

The apostles are told to obtain a sword because Christ will be treated as a criminal. As Our Lord also said at the Last Supper “the servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.” The opposition between the Church and the world is such that the Apostles (and their successors) need to have the protection of force in order to function. Yet, a short time later when Peter uses his sword to try to defend the Lord he is rebuked. “Put up thy sword into thy scabbard”. The Apostles have two swords but they are permitted to wield only one. The word of God is in the power of the clergy the state is to be in the power of the laity.

How does this fit with the prohibition on coercive conversion? The temporal sword of Christendom is essentially defensive. It is not ‘for’ the Church as Boniface VIII insists, it is wielded ‘by’ the Church (the lay faithful). The essential purposes of the Church cannot be advanced by violence but the non-ordained members of the Church can use the temporal sword to defend the Church from external persecution. Once the state is no longer in the hands of the Church this is not possible. So long as the state is non-Christian the Church’s business lies in buying the sword (bringing the temporal order by consent into the possession of the Church). Once it is purchased the sword may be drawn – but only by the laity – to stave off temporal impediments to the operation of the spiritual sword. We do not live by the sword. The life of Christendom is established and maintained by the peaceful spreading of the Gospel. However, once that life has reached the highest temporal level of social organisation the temporal sword can and should be drawn in its defence.

As St Cyril of Alexandria teaches:

He says sell his cloak, and buy a sword: for henceforth the question with all those who continue in the land will not be whether they possess anything or not, but whether they can exist and preserve their lives. For war shall befall them with such unendurable impetuosity, that nothing shall be able to stand against it.

At the beginning of the Song of Roland Charlemagne (in deference to his council) seeks to negotiate a temporal peace with Islam. He seeks to keep his cloak instead of buying a sword. He forgets the truth that he remembers later in the midst of battle with the Emir of Babylon: “Never to Paynims may I show love or peace.” The Lord tells us “the things concerning me have an end” there is no new revelation to dispense us from the unremitting opposition of the world. As Leo XIII teaches “Christians are born for combat”. The faithful must sell their cloaks and buy a sword because the state cannot simply be left in the hands of the pagans if the Church is to survive. This is why the Song ends with a weary Emperor roused from his bed by St Gabriel to carry on the war. He sought not first the Kingdom of God and His justice and so earthly peace is taken from him until he learns his lesson.

United Kingdom:Independence Day

Formerly, when the father of a family voted, he did so as the head of his household. The household as such was thus represented in the counsels of the nation. What should we think of an army where the commander-in-chief would take advice from the lower ranking officers but not, on principle, from the higher-ranking officers who have charge of these? We should say that the army was functioning badly, and that its proper hierarchical requirements were being ignored. How much more incongruous, since contrary to a more basic and universal hierarchy, for a State to seek to be directed by private citizens and not by heads of families. The family is the cell of the State; that is, it is the only natural society that exists beneath the level of the State. So it is a disorder to give some authority over the State to a private citizen while denying any authority over the State, in principle, to the family.

A film is coming out, or maybe has already come out, about the suffragettes. I wonder how many of those who oppose the abolition of marriage that has recently taken place in formerly Christian countries would be willing to trace the problem back to female suffrage. Yet the link seems clear.

The ‘same-sex marriage’ advocates require two things: a denial of the complementarity of the sexes, except in the most obvious physical sense, and a denial of the family as a natural society. Female suffrage achieved both things. First of all, it reduced people’s sense of the complementarity of the sexes by giving man and woman in principle an identical role in the direction of public affairs, contrary to the innate tendency of man to act primarily within the public sphere and woman primarily within the private sphere. Secondly, it took away from the man the power to represent his family in the State, and therefore weakened the idea that the family is not the creature of the State.

Politically speaking, female suffrage pulverised the family. The husband and wife may well vote in opposite directions, and then their family for all practical purposes has no voice. But even if this does not happen, their family ceases to have any organic place in the State; it is changed into two isolated individuals who have no more relation to each other than if one were voting at Land’s End and the other at John o’ Groats.

But who will chain herself to the railings in Downing St and demand change?

Is the United Kingdom a legitimate state? I should argue that it is not, since 17th July 2013. This was the day when the queen gave royal assent to the ‘Same-Sex Marriage Bill’. This act of parliament is in fact, even if not in the explicit intention of all the legislators, a rejection of the very notion of marriage and therefore of the family. They have denied not just a property of marriage, as happened with the introduction of divorce, but the very essence of marriage. They have replaced marriage by something else which is not marriage – since it can be entered into by two people of the same sex – while keeping the name of marriage. It is exactly as if the local council were to send round a man with a bull-dozer to knock down your house and replace it with a full-size cardboard model of a house, and then tell you that it was the same thing.

They have rejected marriage. In rejecting marriage they have also rejected the family, since the family is marriage with its fruitfulness.

But “the family is the original cell (cellula) of social life” (CCC 2207). I take this to mean that according to natural law, the family is both anterior in its rights to society and the place in which a child is trained to live in society.

So those who claim power over the land mass of Great Britain and northern Ireland have rejected the very institution in which the State is rooted and by which it endures. It is as if a bishop were to deny the existence of baptism; or as if a doctor were to deny that nature and art have any power to heal; or as if a professor were to deny that the young can learn or remember truth. Or since by ancient metaphor we speak of the ship of State, it as if a pilot were to deny that men can build a craft able to carry them over the waves.

What should we naturally say in such cases? I think we should say, not that the bishop was necessarily deposed from his see, the professor from his chair, or the doctor or pilot from their guild; this would seem to be the task of some higher authority to accomplish; but rather, that they no longer had the right actually to govern those hitherto subject to their authority. The bishop who denied baptism would have no right to move his presbyters from place to place; the doctor who denied that sickness can be healed would have no right to order his apprentices to serve him; the professor would have no right to be listened to with attention while he lectured; the pilot could no longer legitimately command his crew. For after the depositions had duly taken place, no one would blame the priests, apprentices, students and sailors for ignoring the bidding of their former superiors.

Likewise those who deny the family, and enforce this denial by the policeman and the gaol, have no right to govern any men and women among whom they live. Elizabeth II may still be the queen, David Cameron her prime minister, and members of parliament still members of parliament (for the pope has not deposed them) but they have no right to legislate or govern. That is what I mean by saying that the United Kingdom has not been a legitimate state for two years, one month and six days.

The Servile State, properly understood, is not something that may come if somebody does something. It is something that is only too likely to come if nobody does anything. It is almost a negative thing, in the sense of being an unconscious drift of modern society. . . . The unconscious combination of our general desire to provide work and food for the poor, with our increasing impatience with strikes and labour quarrels, may lead to a compromise by which the working classes will be fed even when they are not working on condition that they are always ready to work. And if that compromise is enforced by law, it will be slavery, though it will not be called slavery. It will be the old pagan condition in which men are forced to serve certain masters and masters are expected to support certain men. . . . I am treating slavery as a bad thing; but I am not necessarily treating it as a brutal or abominably cruel thing. The temptation to it is human, and the use of it can often be humane. I know of only one real objection to slavery; and that is that it is not freedom (from ‘The Illustrated London News’, 1st September, 1923).

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