Aristotle and the problem of oligarchic harm: Insights for democracy

European Journal of Political Theory 18 (3):393-414 (2019)
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This essay identifies ‘oligarchic harm’ as a dire threat confronting contemporary democracies. I provide a formal standard for classifying oligarchs: those who use personal access to concentrated wealth to pursue harmful forms of discretionary influence. I then use Aristotle to think through both the moral and the epistemic dilemmas of oligarchic harm, highlighting Aristotle’s concerns about the difficulties of using wealth as a ‘proxy’ for virtue. While Aristotle’s thought provides great resources for diagnosing oligarchic threats, it proves less useful as a guide to democratic institutional design. Aristotle raises a deep-seated objection to democratic forms of ‘rule by the poor.’ A successful response to oligarchy must move beyond Aristotle’s objection and affirm the demos’ tripartite status as many, free, and poor. I briefly outline the terms of this ‘new’ mixed regime: one that seeks to tame oligarchy through a mixture of aggregative, deliberative, and plebeian institutions.



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Citations of this work

Is This What Democracy Looks Like?Gordon Arlen & Enzo Rossi - 2022 - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy 65 (1):1-14.
Do We Need an Anti-Oligarchic Constitution? [REVIEW]Samuel Bagg - 2021 - European Journal of Political Theory 21 (2):399-411.

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References found in this work

Justice as Fairness: A Restatement.C. L. Ten - 2003 - Mind 112 (447):563-566.
Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality.R. M. Dworkin - 2002 - Philosophical Quarterly 52 (208):377-389.
Against Elections: The Lottocratic Alternative.Alexander A. Guerrero - 2014 - Philosophy and Public Affairs 42 (2):135-178.

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