Aristotle (Ἀριστοτέλης) was an ancient Hellenic philosopher and scientist bwho lived from 384 BC to 322 BC. At seventeen or eighteen years of age, he joined Plato's Academy in Athens and remained there until the age of thirty-seven. His combined works form the first comprehensive system of Western philosophy.

Philosophy, to Aristotle, was not limited to ethics. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, biology, zoology, metaphysics, logic, ethics, aesthetics, poetry, theater, music, rhetoric, linguistics, politics and government. All those together, he believed, formed what could be perceived with the senses and thus made up the world.

I want to talk about government today--not for any specific reason, but the world being what it is, can you blame me for having a political focus? Ancient Hellas went through quite a few political reforms in its day. Since the whole of Hellas was large, complicated and impossible to summarize, let's focus on Athens. From ~1500 to ~1000 BC, it was ruled by legendary kings. Then a system of archontai was put into practice. The archontai did not rule as kings; where kings were sole rulers of the city state, archontai ruled first in threes, then in nines, then in tens and their power did not extend to law-making. Indeed, the Athenians had a clear understanding of the difference between sovereign power and executive government, and they kept the two separate far more than any modern government.

The system started with three archons: the 'Archōn Epōnymos' (ἄρχων Ἐπώνυμος), the 'Polemarchos' (πολέμαρχος), and the 'Archōn Basileus' (Ἄρχων Βασιλεύς). Together, these three oversaw the tasks the ancient kings had carried alone.

- The Archōn Epōnymos was the chief magistrate. He was in charge of the affairs of Athens' citizens. He served as an ancient mayor for the city, and the year was named after him.
- The Polemarchos--in the early days--was charged with all affairs of war. The entire army fell to him, and it was up to him to make military decisions for the whole of the city-state. As we will see later on, this part of his job was transfered to the 'stratēgoí' when it became too large a job for one man. From that time on, he would be in charge of the city's métoikos, the resident aliens. He became a mayor in his own right, but for anyone not citizen or slave.
- The Archōn Basileus were the spiritual inheritors of the mythic kings of Athens. Most notably, the Archon Basileus was in charge of religious and artistic festivals.

As Athens grew, it became impossible for three men to take on this job on their own. Six others were commissioned. These were the Thesmothétai (Θεσμοθέται), 'junior' archons, who worked at the thesmotheteion. A tenth position was added to the árchōntes (ἄρχοντες) around the fifth or fourth century BC. It was called the 'Grammateîs' (γραμματεῖς) and he who took up the role, served as a secretary with a large variety of tasks.

Originally the árchōntes were chosen from the 'eupatridae'--those who were 'good fathered'--by elections every ten years, but after 508 BC the titles were held for only a single year. Other changes came in 487 BC, when the archonships became assigned by lot to any citizen, and the Polemarchos' military duties were taken over by a new class of generals known as 'stratēgoí' (στρατηγοί). The ten stratēgoí were elected from the ten tribes of Athens, and the office of Polemarchos was rotated among them on a daily basis. The Polemarchos himself had only minor religious duties from that point forward, as well as titular headship over the stratēgoí. When democracy was instituted in Athens, the Archōn Epōnymos remained the titular head of state, although his position became a lot less important.

Slowly, ancient Athens became a democracy, but it was a lot different than the democracy of modern times. In fact, I think the ancient Hellenes would have raised an eye-brow or two if someone were to tell them about our modern ideas about democracy. Ancient Athens was ruled by an ekklesia of about 25,000 voting citizens. The ekklesia, in turn, was managed by the boule of 500 citizens, taken from the ranks of the ekklesia. The boule, finally, was managed by 50 members of the boule, called the prytaneis. Everyone in the ekklesia voted, but their votes were tallied by the boule-members of their tribe, who related the votes to the prytanis of their tribe, who then tallied and proclaimed the votes.

Very roughly measured, about a quarter of the inhabitants of ancient Athens were eligible to vote. At the height of ancient Athens, this would have constituted about 25,000 men. 6,000 were needed before any vote even went up. On slow days, serfs who were part of the Scythian Guard literally wrangled citizens(!) into the halls, with a rope smeared with red ochre--called a 'miltos'--to get enough bodies in the seats. The árchōntes didn't factor into lawmaking at all.

Aristotle wasn't a fan of democracy--or rather, he was afraid of what it could lead to. In his writing, he distinguishes between good and bad forms of ruling in all the basic systems; thus there are good and bad forms of the rule by one (monarchy), a few (oligarchy and aristocracy), or many (democracy).

For Aristotle, democracy is not the best form of government. In a democracy, rule is by and for the needy. This is also true of oligarchy and monarchy, according to him. In contrast, rule of law or aristocracy (literally, power of the best) or even monarchy, where the ruler has the interest of his country at heart, are better types of government. Government, Aristotle says, should be by those people with enough time on their hands to pursue virtue.

The problem, according to Aristotle, lies in the following: citizens, kings and nobility rely on the government to thrive. They all have stakes in what the government must do in order for them to succeed, so when they vote, they vote with their own interest at heart. Take, for example, taxes. A business owner wants taxes to go down. Someone in the employee of the government (or under contract of the government) relies on tax money for his income so he doesn't want them to go down. If a law must come to pass about a raise in taxes, they will vote opposite each other and cancel each other out sheerly because of how much money they'd stand to gain from the outcome, not because of what good a tax increase would do for the state.

Aristotle wanted an aristocracy: a form of government that places power in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class. The idea is that the aristocrats have  enough time on their hands to pursue virtue, not just personal gain. Of course, this assumes that the aristocracy does, indeed, consist of the best qualified citizens and that they are of good character. According to Aristotle, they would have had to prove themselves first as virtuous people before being allowed to lead the state.

There is something to say for Aristotle's views: when a system like this is implemented, you can theoretically avoid the issues of greed and selfishness so abundant within voting and selecting representatives to speak for you in politics. It allows laborers to labor and statesman to lead the state. Of course, if you don't like where the government is leading the country toward, you're not in a position to interfere--which is exactly the point: the aristocracy is assumed to do what is best for the state in all ways and at all costs. You, as a citizen, must trust in their decisions.

It's something entirely foreign to us today because, quite frankly, we don't trust the people we vote into office. But what if we did? What if we put the best of the best in there? The smartest, kindest, brightest of the lot: Nobel prize winners, scientists, strategists, thinkers and doers who lead (small or large) movements now that could make the world whole if funded well enough? What if they ruled the world? Would we trust them to decide for us? Not as countries, but as a global population? We could get rid of money, heal the ecosystem, solve the refugee crisis, end world hunger, cure diseases for which research can't be funded at the moment because we have small economies to keep going.

If these people came up with a plan that would solve all of the issues plaguing us (I am not saying they could, but if. If.), would we trust them to do it? I fear we, as a society, would be too jaded, to self-absorbed. But maybe within a few generations, it could be done. Say five generations, 100 years. We went from the industrial revolution to now in about 200, and we already have a network of global communication and transportation in place.

I understand Aristotle's views. Fear, anger and greed literally rule the world these days. Breaking that would require radical, political change. An aristocracy of the best and brightest might not be the worst idea to have come out of ancient Hellas, I'd say...