Aristotle famously divided the forms of government into three:
- Monarchy – rule by one
- Aristocracy – rule by the best
- Polity – rule by the many
Each in turn can be corrupted into:
- Rule by a tyrant, who is concerned only with his own interests
- Rule by oligarchs, an elite who protect their own interests
- Rule by the mass or the mob, who look after the interests of the majority
In other words we can distinguish the structural forms of government, from their proper concern: which in all cases is a full and balanced concern for the whole community – over time – including respect for the past, as well as concern for the future.
How would Aristotle classify the modern welfare democracy of the UK today?
Structurally it is a mixed model: (1) a constitutional monarch (2) competing elites, taking turns to control a bureaucracy which is itself an elite, or transferring power to private businesses, where similar elite groups can be found (3) accountability every five years to the population through an election.
But what is the spirit of this trifold constitution? Is it properly concerned with the welfare of all and the communities well-being and continuity over time? Or is it only interested in promoting particular interests? Is it healthy or is it corrupt?
Aristotle was no fool. He would probably recognise that no society can ever manage to avoid some degree of corruption – people will just keep seeking to look after their own interests or the interests of their friends. But he would surely worry, looking at the UK today, that the direction of travel is unhealthy. The elites who run our society begin to look more and more like each other; and less and less like the rest of us. And their conception of what is good for society sounds more and more like what is good for them.