Aquinas’ view of kingship and the Aristotelian response Essay
Aquinas’ view of kingship and the Aristotelian response
St. Thomas Aquinas takes many of Aristotle’s ideas from The Politics in order to create his idea of the best regime. He revisits the good and bad forms of each type of government Aristotle introduced, and then makes his decision that the best regime is a type of monarchy that he calls kingship. This decision stems from his definition of a king as “one who rules over the people of a city or province for the common good” (17).
Kingship is beneficial because it is the rule of one person. Aquinas states that the correct and most useful way to carry out an objective is “when it is lead to its appropriate end” (15). The incorrect way would be the opposite–to lead something to an inappropriate end, or not to lead it to an end at all. In light of this definition, the most effective government would lead the people to their appropriate end, which Aquinas believes is unity. In this sense, Aquinas believes that obviously something that “is itself one can promote unity better than that which is a plurality” (17).
This may not seem quite so obvious to anyone else, and his analogy between unity and heat may seem a little vague, but Aquinas still makes a valid point in that creating a government promoting unity is more difficult when more people are involved. This is simply because of the number of ideas and interpretations present within a group that are not present under the rule of one.
Aquinas also argues that kingship, or the good, just monarchy, is preferable because it is present in nature. He likens the king to God, because naturally God is the “Ruler over all” (17). It is therefore natural for one man to rule many, as long as he is leading the people to their appropriate end, which is unity. The king should be “a shepherd who seeks…not his own benefit” (16), which is an instance of government represented by nature. Aquinas believes that as “art imitates nature” (18), so should politics, and the best art is that which best imitates nature. In this sense, the best government would be that which imitates natural order. The king “has a duty to act in his kingdom like the soul in the body and God in the world” (26). This is the best way in which a government can reflect nature in its practice.
Aquinas understands that monarchy is “considered by many as odious because it is associated with the evils of tyranny” (20). He, however, believes that kingship is so important, that a slight change of the type of monarchy would not be that bad. This is interesting, because Aquinas also says that tyranny is the “worst form of government” (18) because it seeks only the good of the tyrant, and is therefore further from the appropriate end of government, which is the common good and unity. The reasons Aquinas seems to change his mind about the idea of tyranny seem to be a little cloudy.
He suddenly decides that tyranny in its less excessive forms is nowhere near as bad as the better forms of government, even though he says it is the worst. Aquinas would advise the citizens to “tolerate a mild tyranny for a time” (23) instead of doing anything rash that “may bring on many dangers that are worse” (23). These dangers include democracy and oligarchy, which are supposed to be better forms of government than tyranny. In any case, the tyranny would still be the rule of one, although not for the common good. This may be what Aquinas means when he says tyranny is tolerable.
Aristotle would agree with most of Aquinas’ statements, mainly because they were Aristotle’s statements first. Aristotle poses questions on the issue of kingship, and sets up arguments others have against it, while Aquinas attempts to come up with some answers as to why kingship is the best alternative. Aristotle agrees that there are some states that kingship would benefit greatly. His view is not that all states would benefit from a kingship, which is what Aquinas is trying to prove. This is the major difference, as both believe that kingship is a worthy form of government.