Extreme democracy and mixed constitution in theory and practice: Nomophylakia and fourth-century nomothesia in the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia

Mirko Canevaro, Alberto Esu

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract / Description of output

This essay explores how Aristotle’s normative function of nomophylakia (guardianship of the laws), as described in the Politics, shapes the assessment of the constitutional stages of Athenian history in the Aristotelian Athenaion Politeia, and especially of the restored democracy after 403 BCE. It argues that the methodological baseline governing the Aristotelian account of Athenian constitutional history in the Ath. Pol. is the socio-economic ‘anatomy of the city’ theorised in Politics IV chapter 3, pre-eminent over the institutional taxonomy of chapter 4. Thus, the socio-economic mixing of different ‘parts of the city’ (the wealthy, the mesoi and the demos) represents the key measure for evaluating the adherence of a constitution to the principle of the sovereignty of the laws. As result, within Aristotle’s framework, the function of nomothesia cannot be exercised by the same part of the city that deliberates in the assembly and appoints the magistrates. This theoretical framework explains the Ath. Pol.’s judgement of the eleventh metabole as an extreme democracy, and the puzzling absence of nomothesia in the account of the fourth-century institutions of Athens. It is the same part of the city, the demos, that controls every institutional function including the nomothesia procedure, which does not constitute an effective form of nomophylakia. The first part of this paper discusses the Aristotelian methodology in Politics IV and his two anatomies of the city (section 1). Building on this section, the essay then analyses the Aristotelian assessment of the successive constitutional regimes in the first part of the Ath. Pol. with emphasis on their organisation of the nomophylakia (section 2). In section 3, it provides a concise account of the institutional architecture of nomothesia in fourth-century Athens. Finally, this essay explores the silence on nomothesia in the second part of the treatise and identifies the nomothetai with demos legislating in the Assembly (section 4).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAthenaion Politeiai, tra Storia, Politica e Sociologia
ISBN (Print)978-88-7916-852-6
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Publication series

NameQuaderni di Erga-Logoi
ISSN (Print)2280-9678
ISSN (Electronic)2282-3212

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Aristotle’s Athenaion Politeia
  • Athenian Democracy
  • Aristotle’s political thought
  • nomophylakia
  • fourth-century nomothesia
  • constitutionalism
  • politeia
  • decrees
  • graphe paranomon
  • laws
  • graphe nomon me epitedeion theinai


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