Author Topic: What is preferable? Public or private ownership of goods?  (Read 364 times)

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Giuliano Taverna

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What is preferable? Public or private ownership of goods?

Since the beginning of civilization people have taken possession of and exchanged forms of wealth. For as long as we have record of, people have questioned the logic of having privet ownership of goods.  The debate between public and privet ownership is best described by comparing Plato's republic and Aristotle's the politics. So, what is preferable? Public or privet ownership of goods?

   The basis of capitalism or privet ownership of goods stems from the division of labor in early human civilization. People begin to focus on provided one sort of good or one sort of service, which could then be exchanged for another good or service offered by another specialist.  This relationship revolves to include currency which creates a more efficient and standard system of exchange. However the separation or categorization rather of different forms of wealth, as described in Aristotle's the politics Book one, part 10.

   (1) "There are two sorts of wealth-getting, as I have said; one is a part of household management, the other is retail trade: the former necessary and honorable, while that which consists in exchange is justly censured; for it is unnatural, and a mode by which men gain from one another. The most hated sort, and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest, which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. Wherefore of an modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural."

   Is lost in the more communal based reasoning of Plato,

   (3)("And when you want to buy a ship, the shipwright or the pilot would be better?" Polemarchus "True." Socrates "Then what is that joint use of silver or gold in which the just man is to be preferred?" Polemarchus "When you want a deposit to be kept safely." Socrates "You mean when money is not wanted, but allowed to lie?" Polemarchus "Precisely." Socrates "That is to say, justice is useful when money is useless?" Polemarchus "That is the inference." Socrates) seen in Plato's republic, book 1, the dialogue between Socrates and Polemarchus.

   Which equates wealth with greed rather than analyzing wealth as a separate topic. This gap in logic does much to explain the more extremist aspects of the teachings of Socrates, who to quote Diogenes of Sinope, was (6)" a madman."

   Communism as described in Plato's republic is a utopian society in which the wisest rule in an oligarchy of Philosopher kings, (the party) explained in book 2, the dialogue between Socrates and Glaucon. (4)"Then he who is to be a really good and noble guardian of the State will require to unite in himself philosophy and spirit and swiftness and strength?"

   The next are a class of warriors, (the red army) (4)"And the shoemaker was not allowed by us to be husbandman, or a weaver, a builder--in order that we might have our shoes well made; but to him and to every other worker was assigned one work for which he was by nature fitted, and at that he was to continue working all his life long and at no other; he was not to let opportunities slip, and then he would become a good workman. Now nothing can be more important than that the work of a soldier should be well done. But is war an art so easily acquired that a man may be a warrior who is also a husbandman, or shoemaker, or other artisan; although no one in the world would be a good dice or draught player who merely took up the game as a recreation, and had not from his earliest years devoted himself to this and nothing else?"

   Finally a class of workers, (the so called tyranny of the majority.) (4)"Not at all; he will find people there who, seeing the want, undertake the office of salesmen. In well-ordered States they are commonly those who are the weakest in bodily strength, and therefore of little use for any other purpose; their duty is to be in the market, and to give money in exchange for goods to those who desire to sell and to take money from those who desire to buy." "This want, then, creates a class of retail-traders in our State. Is not `retailer' the term which is applied to those who sit in the market-place engaged in buying and selling, while those who wander from one city to another are called merchants" "Yes, he said." "And there is another class of servants, who are intellectually hardly on the level of companionship; still they have plenty of bodily strength for labour, which accordingly they sell, and are called, if I do not mistake, hirelings, hire being the name which is given to the price of their labour." The ideas seam logical as described in the dialogues of Plato, taking out the result of said theories which we in the modern world have the benefit of.

   Aristotle refutes the theoretical new form of government and instead compares existing forms of government, classifying them based on organization of politics and economy. (2)He points to the positive aspects of the Spartan constitution, as being their combination of Oligarchy, (the council of elders) Democracy, (the Ephors) and an monarchy, (the duel kings.) Found in the politics book 2, chapter VI.

   Aristotle also criticizes their specific institutions; the Ephors being from lower classes have a tendency to be ignorant and thus greedy, and prone to corruption. The council of elders is made up of old men who can be both senile and overly weak. The monarchy lacks the authority to get anything done because of the other branches and is also held responsible for despite their inability to act, (which seams very familiar to a modern American looking at the office of president.) He also criticizes their system of communal living, and the power given to women, (an idea modern audiences are quick to refute with a large degree of justice.)

   The main argument of Aristotle against the excessive unification of state, economy and society is stated as follows. (2)"Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private; for, when everyone has a distinct interest, men will not complain of one another, and they will make more progress, because every one will be attending to his own business. And yet by reason of goodness, and in respect of use, 'Friends,' as the proverb says, 'will have all things common.' Even now there are traces of such a principle, showing that it is not impracticable, but, in well-ordered states, exists already to a certain extent and may be carried further. For, although every man has his own property, some things he will place at the disposal of his friends, while of others he shares the use with them." Aristotle correctly realizes that in a group of people, there will be those that work hard, and those that don't. When everyone shares equally in anything, those that are better managers are aggravated in their attempts to manage by their peers who are less capable. This leads to two possibilities, the better will riot and impose their vision on the less capable, leading to an oligarchy, similar to what in modern times has occurred in the USSR. Or the capable will reason that since their initiative is not rewarded or accepted, they will not attempt to work hard. This the state will degenerate and collapse into anarchy. The fundamental inequality of people, makes total equality an impossibility.

   Another key point of Aristotle's brilliant thesis is that people are fundamentally different and furthermore this is a good thing. That if such differences were erased a state would cease to be a state. As no new ideas or concepts could come from a state that is completely homogenous and unified.

   Aristotle also compares the validity of wealth vs. merit. He does this by demonstrating the Carthaginian state's constitution. He says the following, (2)"But we must acknowledge that, in thus deviating from aristocracy, the legislator has committed an error. Nothing is more absolutely necessary than to provide that the highest class, not only when in office, but when out of office, should have leisure and not disgrace themselves in any way; and to this his attention should be first directed. Even if you must have regard to wealth, in order to secure leisure, yet it is surely a bad thing that the greatest offices, such as those of kings and generals, should be bought. The law which allows this abuse makes wealth of more account than virtue, and the whole state becomes avaricious. For, whenever the chiefs of the state deem anything honorable, the other citizens are sure to follow their example; and, where virtue has not the first place, their aristocracy cannot be firmly established. Those who have been at the expense of purchasing their places will be in the habit of repaying themselves; and it is absurd to suppose that a poor and honest man will be wanting to make gains, and that a lower stamp of man who has incurred a great expense will not. Wherefore they should rule who are able to rule best. And even if the legislator does not care to protect the good from poverty, he should at any rate secure leisure for them when in office." Clearly the concept that position should be based on wealth is illogical.

   Aristotle also considers the Carthaginians as superior to the Spartans on many levels. (2)"The Carthaginians are also considered to have an excellent form of government, which differs from that of any other state in several respects, though it is in some very like the Lacedaemonian. Indeed, all three states -- the Lacedaemonian, the Cretan, and the Carthaginian -- nearly resemble one another, and are very different from any others. Many of the Carthaginian institutions are excellent The superiority of their constitution is proved by the fact that the common people remain loyal to the constitution the Carthaginians have never had any rebellion worth speaking of, and have never been under the rule of a tyrant.

   Among the points in which the Carthaginian constitution resembles the Lacedaemonian are the following: The common tables of the clubs answer to the Spartan phiditia, and their magistracy of the 104 to the Ephors; but, whereas the Ephors are any chance persons, the magistrates of the Carthaginians are elected according to merit -- this is an improvement. They have also their kings and their gerusia, or council of elders, who correspond to the kings and elders of Sparta. Their kings, unlike the Spartan, are not always of the same family, nor that an ordinary one, but if there is some distinguished family they are selected out of it and not appointed by senority -- this is far better. Such officers have great power, and therefore, if they are persons of little worth, do a great deal of harm, and they have already done harm at Lacedaemon."

   There is one last comparison that must be made, the commonality of women, and the public educations of children. The former is understandably alien at first glance but following the logic of communality, (or communism if you like) the logical next step in the unification of society. The latter is quite common, but taken in Plato's teachings (4) to a new level. He asserts that all children should be raised in a state system of education, and that families should be common. In other words, families would cease to exist and communities would take the place of them.

   Aristotle refutes this artificial concept by stating the following. (2)"For usually the same person is called by one man his own son whom another calls his own brother or cousin or kinsman -- blood relation or connection by marriage either of himself or of some relation of his, and yet another his clansman or tribesman; and how much better is it to be the real cousin of somebody than to be a son after Plato's fashion! Nor is there any way of preventing brothers and children and fathers and mothers from sometimes recognizing one another; for children are born like their parents, and they will necessarily be finding indications of their relationship to one another. Geographers declare such to be the fact; they say that in part of Upper Libya, where the women are common, nevertheless the children who are born are assigned to their respective fathers on the ground of their likeness. And some women, like the females of other animals -- for example, mares and cows -- have a strong tendency to produce offspring resembling their parents, as was the case with the Pharsalian mare called Honest."

   The issue with communism is simple, a given thing can not be both "mine", and "everyone's." If all items are everyone's, (common) then no one person can own anything. Who would wish to consent to a society where no one owns anything? Of course if everyone had nothing, then we would have no state. Going back to the main point, (2) property should be in one sense common and in one sense privet.

   The ideas expressed in Plato's republic and Aristotle's the politics have an identical aim. To create an ideal society which precipitates prosperity, justice, and peace. The have similar concepts. Society should be ordered. A state should have wealth, but people should not like wealth for wealth's sake, but for the necessity of wealth. People should have well intended laws. Nations should have an effective military.

   They differ however on key points both in policy, and the process by which they determined policy. Communists are idealists, Plato was an idealist. He reached his conclusions regarding state craft by determining what a state should be, and then coming up with a plan to create an ideal state from scratch. He equates wealth with injustice, and privet ownership or trade of wealth with greed. He asserts as mentioned above that justice only useful when wealth is useless. These connotations attached to wealth are artificial as its not wealth which creates evils, but the way in which people react to it. Wealth being mindless and thus innocent and men being mindful and thus responsible for the negative consequences of wealth.

   Aristotle was a pragmatist, he reaches his conclusions by examining past and present states, categorizing them, analyzing them, determining what was good, and what was wrong in those societies. Then finally basing his assertions on that process. His process being scientific, where as Plato's was purely hypothetical. He came to the following conclusions. Wealth is not one subject. Some of the arts of wealth getting are good, and some are not. In general as stated above, wealth for wealth's sake is bad, wealth for the sake of the necessity of wealth is good. Aristotle asserts that people prefer to own property. Not only that but that people who own their own business will be more efficient if left to their business, than a system where everyone's business is common. We should therefore apply the age old phrase, "mind your own business" regarding social issues, to the sphere of industry. And why not? Its the same concept, the same idea, the same problems are involved. Just as someone is more capable of handling their personal affairs, without the meddling of the penult gallery. So too is someone better capable of handling their business affairs without the meddling of the state.

   In the debate between Aristotle and Plato, to quote Aristotle. "I love Plato, but I love the truth more." Privet ownership of goods is preferable to public ownership of goods. Moreover a privet society of individuals working together is preferable to a united society or fascist state. Fascism being as Mussolini said (5)"Fascist conception of the State is all embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value. Thus understood, Fascism, is totalitarian, and the Fascist  State  - a synthesis and a unit inclusive of all values - interprets, develops, and potentates the whole life of a people." So to willingly disobey Godwin's law, why are you embracing common ownership of goods you fascist!


1. Aristotle's the politics book 1, translated by Benjamin Jowett, found at the following URL.

2. Aristotle's the politics book 2, translated by Benjamin Jowett , found at the following URL.

3. Plato's republic, book 1 translated by Benjamin Jowett found at the following URL.

4. Plato's republic, book 2 translated by Benjamin Jowett found at the following URL

5. Mussolini the doctrine of fascism, URL


« Last Edit: May 27, 2009, 09:17:00 pm by Giuliano Taverna »
"It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not to skin them." Tiberius Caesar

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