Aristotle, Tyranny, and the Small-Souled Subject
(2020) Political Theory, 48 (2), pp. 169-191.
Political theorists converge in identifying modern techniques of domination as habit-formative and psychologically invasive, in contrast to earlier, more blatantly coercive forms of repression. Putting Aristotle on tyranny in conversation with Michel Foucault on subject formation, this article argues for continuity across the pre- and postmodern divide. Through a close reading of the “three heads of tyranny” in Politics 5.11 (1314a13-29)—those being the tyrant’s efforts to form subjects who (1) have small thoughts (2) are distrustful of one another, and (3) are incapable of action—I argue that central to Aristotle’s account of tyrannical domination is how tyrants cultivate the ethical vice of “small-souledness” (Nicomachean Ethics 1123b7), thus producing subjects with humbled desires for a proportionate distribution of political power. This article deepens our appreciation of the social and psychological registers of Aristotle’s theorization of domination and gives reasons for continuing to take Aristotle’s insights into tyranny seriously today. © The Author(s) 2019.
Aristotle; desire; domination; Foucault; justice; tyranny