Buying Offices: Oligarchy and the Corruption of Elections Based on Wealth

Aristotle, Politics 2.7 (1273a-1273b)

“If election based on wealth is oligarchic while election according to excellence is aristocratic, there can be a third system according to which a state is organized as the Carthaginian polity is constructed. For they choose their leaders looking at two issues, especially the most significant offices, that of kings and generals.

But it is right to think that this departure from aristocracy is an error by the lawmaker. For among the most critical issues to consider from the beginning is how the best citizens might be able to have the free time and to refrain from anything inappropriate, both in office and in their private life. If it is right to consider furnishing the means for free time [to rule], it is bad for the most significant positions to be for sale (the kingship and the generalship).

For this law makes wealth more important than virtue and makes the whole state structured around money. Whatever the power structure considers valuable, the opinion of the rest of the citizens will follow. Wherever virtue is not honored above all else, the constitution cannot be aristocratic. It is also likely that those who purchase their offices will make a profit from them when they rule after spending their own money. For, it would be strange if a respectable man who is poor will want to profit but a corrupt man who has spent his own money would be disinclined to do the same.”

εἴπερ οὖν τὸ μὲν αἱρεῖσθαι πλουτίνδην ὀλιγαρχικὸν τὸ δὲ κατ᾿ ἀρετὴν ἀριστοκρατικόν, αὕτη τις ἂν εἴη τάξις τρίτη καθ᾿ ἥνπερ συντέτακται καὶ τοῖς Καρχηδονίοις τὰ περὶ τὴν πολιτείαν· αἱροῦνται γὰρ εἰς δύο ταῦτα βλέποντες, καὶ μάλιστα τὰς μεγίστας, τούς τε βασιλεῖς καὶ τοὺς στρατηγούς. δεῖ δὲ νομίζειν ἁμάρτημα νομοθέτου6 τὴν παρέκβασιν εἶναι τῆς ἀριστοκρατίας ταύτην· ἐξ ἀρχῆς γὰρ τοῦθ᾿ ὁρᾶν ἐστὶ τῶν ἀναγκαιοτάτων, ὅπως οἱ βέλτιστοι δύνωνται σχολάζειν καὶ μηδὲν ἀσχημονεῖν, μὴ μόνον ἄρχοντες ἀλλὰ μηδ᾿ ἰδιωτεύοντες. εἰ δὲ δεῖ βλέπειν καὶ πρὸς εὐπορίαν χάριν σχολῆς, φαῦλον τὸ τὰς μεγίστας ὠνητὰς εἶναι τῶν ἀρχῶν, τήν τε βασιλείαν καὶ τὴν στρατηγίαν. ἔντιμον γὰρ ὁ νόμος οὗτος ποιεῖ τὸν πλοῦτον μᾶλλον τῆς ἀρετῆς καὶ τὴν πόλιν ὅλην φιλοχρήματον· ὅ τι δ᾿ ἂν ὑπολάβῃ τίμιον εἶναι τὸ κύριον, ἀνάγκη καὶ τὴν τῶν ἄλλων πολιτῶν δόξαν ἀκολουθεῖν τούτοις· ὅπου δὲ μὴ μάλιστα ἀρετὴ τιμᾶται, ταύτην οὐχ οἷόν τ᾿ εἶναι βεβαίως ἀριστοκρατικὴν πολιτείαν. ἐθίζεσθαι δ᾿ εὔλογον κερδαίνειν τοὺς ὠνουμένους, ὅταν δαπανήσαντες ἄρχωσιν· ἄτοπον γὰρ εἰ πένης μὲν ὢν ἐπιεικὴς δὲ βουλήσεται κερδαίνειν, φαυλότερος δ᾿ ὢν οὐ βουλήσεται δαπανήσας.

 

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Elections and the Good Life

Seneca, De Vita Beata 2

“Now, in truth, the people stand against reason as champion of their own wickedness. And this happens as in elections when, the flitting breeze has changed direction and the very people who chose their candidates are amazed that these candidates were selected. We approve the same thing one moment and hate it another. This is the product of every decision which is dependent upon the majority’s opinion.

When what is debated is the good life, it is useless for you to respond to me “This side seems to be in the majority. For this is likely the worse side. Humanity is not so well governed that the better ways please the majority of people. The crowd is proof of the worst choice.”

Nunc vero stat contra rationem defensor mali sui populus. Itaque id evenit quod in comitiis, in quibus eos factos esse praetores idem qui fecere mirantur, cum se mobilis favor circumegit. Eadem probamus, eadem reprehendimus; hic exitus est omnis iudicii, in quo secundum plures datur.

Cum de beata vita agetur, non est quod mihi illud discessionum more respondeas: “Haec pars maior esse videtur.” Ideo enim peior est. Non tam bene cum rebus humanis agitur, ut meliora pluribus placeant; argumentum pessimi turba est.

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Seneca here echoes some anti-democratic opinion that was popular among ancient thinkers from Plato on. Similar prejudices against majority rule are emerging here and there in response to current events. Such sneering dismissal of the wishes of the majority is likely also a result of a disengagement from the needs of the majority. Blithe confidence–if not satisfaction–in one’s superior taste and sense in respect to the majority serves only to preserve the exclusivity of one’s claims to superiority. It does little to serve the common good. But, hey, some people don’t even believe that there is such a thing as the common good!

Virtue and the Arts: Some Aristotle to Start Your Day

Before I got ready to shovel the snow from my driveway, I read some Aristotle this morning. I don’t think I actually believe the third point–because I suspect that insisting that human character is constant and consistent is actually (1) wrong and (2) impacts mental health negatively. But I like the beginning and the emphasis on that Aristotelian notion that doing something makes you something...

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 2.2-4

“Or is this also true in the arts? For spelling a word accidentally or with someone else guiding you is possible. Then, one will be a scholar if he spells something the way a scholar does, by which I mean according to the scholarly art itself. In addition, there is no real similarity between the arts and virtue. For the products of art are good in themselves—it suffices if they develop while having their own quality.

But acts of virtue don’t have their own intrinsic quality and are performed wisely or justly, but if the person who does them acts in a certain way. First, he must understand what he does. Second, he must choose to do it and for its own nature. And, third, he must act from a fixed and constant character. None of these conditions are necessary for the other arts apart from understanding the act. But knowledge is of little or no importance for the virtues while the other conditions are not minor but rather everything, if truly [virtue] emerges from repeatedly doing just and wise things.”

ἢ οὐδ᾿ ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνῶν οὕτως ἔχει; ἐνδέχεται γὰρ γραμματικόν τι ποιῆσαι καὶ ἀπὸ τύχης καὶ ἄλλου ὑποθεμένου· τότε οὖν ἔσται γραμματικός, ἐὰν καὶ γραμματικόν τι ποιήσῃ καὶ γραμματικῶς, τοῦτο δ᾿ ἐστὶ [τὸ] κατὰ τὴν ἐν αὑτῷ γραμματικήν. ἔτι οὐδ᾿ ὅμοιόν ἐστιν ἐπὶ τῶν τεχνῶν καὶ τῶν ἀρετῶν· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ὑπὸ τῶν τεχνῶν γινόμενα τὸ εὖ ἔχει ἐν αὑτοῖς, ἀρκεῖ οὖν αὐτά πως ἔχοντα γενέσθαι· τὰ δὲ κατὰ τὰς ἀρετὰς γινόμενα οὐκ ἐὰν αὐτά πως ἔχῃ, δικαίως ἢ σωφρόνως πράττεται, ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐὰν ὁ πράττων πως ἔχων πράττῃ, πρῶτον μὲν ἐὰν εἰδώς, ἔπειτ᾿ ἐὰν προαιρούμενος, καὶ προαιρούμενος δι᾿ αὐτά, τὸ δὲ τρίτον καὶ ἐὰν βεβαίως καὶ ἀμετακινήτως ἔχων πράττῃ. ταῦτα δὲ πρὸς μὲν τὸ τὰς ἄλλας τέχνας ἔχειν οὐ συναριθμεῖται, πλὴν αὐτὸ τὸ εἰδέναι· πρὸς δὲ τὸ τὰς ἀρετὰς τὸ μὲν εἰδέναι μικρὸν ἢ οὐδὲν ἰσχύει, τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα οὐ μικρὸν ἀλλὰ τὸ πᾶν δύναται, εἴπερ ἐκ τοῦ πολλάκις πράττειν τὰ δίκαια καὶ σώφρονα περιγίνεται.

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Brtitish Library, Constitution of the Athenians

Epictetus on Scholarship and Sickness

At the end of the semester, sickness and scholarship go hand-in-hand. But Epictetus advises to take time to be sick properly…

Epictetus, 3.10-12

“But, am I not a scholar? Why do you pursue scholarship? Servant, do you do this to be content? Do you do it to be safe? Do you do it to grasp nature and live in accordance with it? What stops you when you’re sick from having your principle align with nature? This is the test of the matter, the crucible for any philosopher. This is also a part of life, like a stroll, a voyage, a trip, the fever too! Do you read while walking? No! And you don’t read while having a fever.  But if you walk well, you deliver the promise of one who walks.

If you have a fever, then do what one who has a fever should do. What does it mean to be sick well? Don’t blame god, or man. Don’t be undone by the things that happen. Await death bravely and correctly, and do what is given to you.”

Ἀλλ᾿ οὐ φιλολογῶ;—Τίνος δ᾿ ἕνεκα φιλολογεῖς; ἀνδράποδον, οὐχ ἵνα εὐροῇς; οὐχ ἵνα εὐσταθῇς; οὐχ ἵνα κατὰ φύσιν ἔχῃς καὶ διεξάγῃς;  τί κωλύει πυρέσσοντα κατὰ φύσιν ἔχειν τὸ ἡγεμονικόν; ἐνθάδ᾿ ὁ ἔλεγχος τοῦ πράγματος, ἡ δοκιμασία τοῦ φιλοσοφοῦντος. μέρος γάρ ἐστι καὶ τοῦτο τοῦ βίου, ὡς περίπατος, ὡς πλοῦς, ὡς ὁδοιπορία, οὕτως καὶ πυρετός. μή τι περιπατῶν ἀναγιγνώσκεις;—Οὔ.—Οὕτως οὐδὲ πυρέσσων. ἀλλ᾿ ἂν καλῶς περιπατῇς, ἔχεις τὸ τοῦ περιπατοῦντος· ἂν καλῶς πυρέξῃς, ἔχεις τὰ τοῦ πυρέσσοντος. 13τί ἐστὶ καλῶς πυρέσσειν; μὴ θεὸν μέμψασθαι, μὴ ἄνθρωπον, μὴ θλιβῆναι ὑπὸ τῶν γινομένων, εὖ καὶ καλῶς προσδέχεσθαι τὸν θάνατον, ποιεῖν τὰ προστασσόμενα·

An Immortal Procession: The Death of the Individual and the Life of the Whole

I fear that Philo is overconfident here, but the passage is still something special

Philo, The Worse Attack the Better  206

“When some musician or scholar has died, then their music or writing dies with them; but their basic contributions persist and, in some way, live as long as the universe does. Those who are scholars and musicians now or who will be in the future will continue to develop thanks to these previous works in an undying procession.

In the same way, whatever is prudent, wise, brave, just, or just simply wise in an individual may perish, but it nevertheless remains as immortal thought and all excellence is safeguarded against decay in the immortal nature of the whole [universe]. Through this advantage people today and those of tomorrow will also become civilized—unless we believe that the death of one individual person in turn visits ruin upon humankind.”

ὥσπερ γὰρ μουσικοῦ τινος ἢ γραμματικοῦ τελευτήσαντος ἡ μὲν ἐν | τοῖς ἀνδράσι μουσικὴ καὶ γραμματικὴ συνέφθαρται, αἱ δὲ τούτων ἰδέαι μένουσι καὶ τρόπον τινὰ βιοῦσιν ἰσοχρόνιοι τῷ κόσμῳ, καθ᾿ ἃς οἵ τε ὄντες καὶ οἱ μέλλοντες διαδοχαῖς ταῖς εἰσαεὶ μουσικοί τε καὶ γραμματικοὶ γενήσονται, οὕτως καὶ τὸ ἔν τινι φρόνιμον ἢ σῶφρον ἢ ἀνδρεῖον ἢ δίκαιον ἢ συνόλως σοφὸν ἂν ἀναιρεθῇ, οὐδὲν ἧττον ἐν τῇ τοῦ παντὸς ἀθανάτῳ φύσει φρόνησις ἀθάνατος καὶ ἀρετὴ σύμπασα ἄφθαρτος ἐστηλίτευται, καθ᾿ ἣν καὶ νῦν εἰσιν ἀστεῖοί τινες καὶ αὖθις γενήσονται· εἰ μὴ καὶ ἀνθρώπου τινὸς τῶν ἐν μέρει θάνατον φθορὰν ἐργάσασθαι φήσομεν ἀνθρωπότητι

The Transformation of Philosophy into Philology

Seneca, Moral Epistle 108

“Attalus used to praise a pillow which resisted the weight of the body. I use one like this too, now that I am old, in which it is impossible to leave a trace of my presence. I tell you these things so I might indicate how fiery new students are toward their first attractions to the best matters, if anyone should encourage them or kindle them that way.

But some error comes thanks to our teachers who instruct us how to argue but not how to live; some error too comes from students, who bring themselves to teachers not for the nourishing of the soul, but the cultivation of our wit. Thus what was philosophy has been turned into philology.”

Laudare solebat Attalus culcitam, quae resisteret corpori; tali utor etiam senex, in qua vestigium apparere non possit. Haec rettuli ut probarem tibi, quam vehementes haberent tirunculi impetus primos ad optima quaeque, si quis exhortaretur illos, si quis incenderet. Sed aliquid praecipientium vitio peccatur, qui nos docent disputare, non vivere, aliquid discentium, qui propositum adferunt ad praeceptores suos non animum excolendi, sed ingenium. Itaque quae philosophia fuit, facta philologia est.

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Roman Sarcophagus with Children, Vienna, Museum of Art History (c. 2nd Century CE)

“What is this insanity in anticipating your troubles?!”

Seneca, Moral Epistle 98

“Therefore I do not suggest that you be indifferent. Rather, you should avoid whatever makes you fear. Whatever can be anticipated through planning, anticipate. Whatever would do you harm, spot it and avoid it long before it happens. In this, confidence and a mind hardened enough to tolerate everything will bring you the greatest aid. Whoever can endure fortune, can also beware of it. Certainly, there are no rolling waves on tranquil waters. Nothing is more pitiful or foolish than fearing things ahead of time! What is this insanity in anticipating your troubles!

Finally, to summarize briefly what I believe and to outline for you those troublemakers and self-abusers—for they are as intemperate in their misfortunes as they were before them. The person suffers more than is needed who suffers before it is needed. This kind of a person does not put his sorrow in perspective for the same reason he does not expect it—because of the same intemperance he imagines that his own happiness will last forever and that whatever he encounters will continue to improve as long as they last. Forgetful of the balance upon which all human affairs are chanced, one safeguards for himself only the consistency of chance.”

Nec ideo praecipio tibi neglegentiam. Tu vero metuenda declina. Quidquid consilio prospici potest, prospice. Quodcumque laesurum est, multo ante quam accidat, speculare et averte. In hoc ipsum tibi plurimum conferet fiducia et ad tolerandum omne obfirmata mens. Potest fortunam cavere, qui potest ferre. Certe in tranquillo non tumultuatur. Nihil est nec miserius nec stultius quam praetimere. Quae ista dementia est malum suum antecedere? Denique ut breviter includam quod sentio, et istos satagios ac sibi molestos describam tibi, tam intemperantes in ipsis miseriis quam sunt ante illas. Plus dolet quam necesse est, qui ante dolet quam necesse est; eadem enim infirmitate dolorem non aestimat, qua non exspectat; eadem intemperantia fingit sibi perpetuam felicitatem suam, fingit crescere debere quaecumque contigerunt, non tantum durare; et oblitus huius petauri, quo humana iactantur, sibi uni fortuitorum constantiam spondet.

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Marble Relief on the Copenhagen Sarcophagus, 3rd Century CE