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Aristotle on Immigration, Diversity, and Democracy

By Guillaume Durocher | 24 February 2017

Aristotle (trans. Ernest Barker and R. F. Stalley), Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995)

THE OCCIDENTAL OBSERVER — One measure of the intellectual and moral degeneration of the West over the last decades is the now near-total ignorance of the founding Classics of Western civilization, even among the so-called educated class. Those who remain in ignorance of what superior minds have thought before them are condemned to remain as children, at best reinventing the wheel, rather than standing upon the shoulders of giants.

While the Classics were clearly written for a time and place very different from our own, their concerns often speak to us very directly. Aristotle’s Politics, his main political treatise, is replete with comments concerning the dangers of diversity and egalitarianism. Aristotle’s political thought does not soar to the eugenic and spiritual heights of Plato’s utopia. However, Aristotle’s moderate and pragmatic brand of politics is much more palatable to someone raised in modern liberalism, while at the same time being a better introduction to the communitarian and aristocratic political ethics of the ancient Greeks.

Aristotle is greatly concerned with the preservation of civil peace in the city-state. One of the most common causes of “faction” and civil war, he says, was the unhappy consequences of unassimilated immigration and the consequent diversity. Aristotle’s prose is perfectly clear:

Heterogeneity of stocks may lead to faction – at any rate until they have had time to assimilate. A city cannot be constituted from any chance collection of people, or in any chance period of time. Most of the cities which have admitted settlers, either at the time of their foundation or later, have been troubled by faction. For example, the Achaeans joined with settlers from Troezen in founding Sybaris, but expelled them when their own numbers increased; and this involved their city in a curse. At Thurii the Sybarites quarreled with the other settlers who had joined them in its colonization; they demanded special privileges, on the ground that they were the owners of the territory, and were driven out of the colony. At Byzantium the later settlers were detected in a conspiracy against the original colonists, and were expelled by force; and a similar expulsion befell the exiles from Chios who were admitted to Antissa by the original colonists. At Zancle, on the other hand, the original colonists were themselves expelled by the Samians whom they admitted. At Apollonia, on the Black Sea, factional conflict was caused by the introduction of new settlers; at Syracuse the conferring of civic rights on aliens and mercenaries, at the end of the period of the tyrants, led to sedition and civil war; and at Amphipolis the original citizens, after admitting Chalcidian colonists, were nearly all expelled by the colonists they had admitted. (1303A13)

Thus, immigration of different peoples was a common source of conflict, often leading to civil war and concluding with the ethnic cleansing of either the native peoples or the invaders. […]

1 Comment on Aristotle on Immigration, Diversity, and Democracy

  1. Great find above. Have just posted links to this & to the Durocher original, onto the Unz site. Tho Durocher text citations of Aristotle’s ‘Politics’ above, may have slightly erroneous ‘Bekker numbers’ for Aristotle’s original, per the Perseus site, which has the 1944 H. Rackham translation, which I give below.

    One fascinating passage from the ‘Politics’ of Aristotle (c. 384-322 BCE), speaks of the habit of oligarchs to prefer that their operational mafias be some kind of foreign tribe or aliens or ‘dual citizens’ (1311a, 1314a): “A king’s body-guard consists of citizens, a tyrant’s of foreign mercenaries … And it is a mark of a tyrant to have men of foreign extraction rather than citizens as guests at table and companions … feeling that citizens are hostile but strangers make no claim against him.”

    More applicable-to-today phrases from Aristotle’s ‘Politics’ (1313b-1314a): “It is a device of tyranny to make the subjects poor, so that the people being busy with their daily affairs may not have leisure to plot against their ruler … Tyranny is a friend of the base [i.e., low-quality people]; the base are useful for base business, for nail is driven out by nail, as the proverb goes … And it is a mark of a tyrant to dislike anyone that is proud or free-spirited; for the man who shows a free spirit robs tyranny of its superiority and position of mastery.”

    The longer quote from above in the Rackham translation, Aristotle giving multiple examples of immigration disasters … Aristotle saying that often, either you expel the immigrants or they take over and maybe even expel you (1303a-b):

    Difference of race is a cause of faction, for just as any chance multitude of people does not form a state, so a state is not formed in any chance period of time.

    Hence most of the states that have hitherto admitted joint settlers or additional settlers have split into factions; for example Achaeans settled at Sybaris jointly with Troezenians, and afterwards the Achaeans having become more numerous expelled the Troezenians, which was the Cause of the curse that fell on the Sybarites;

    And at Thurii Sybarites quarrelled with those who had settled there with them, for they claimed to have the larger share in the country as being their own, and were ejected;

    And at Byzantium the additional settlers were discovered plotting against the colonists and were expelled by force of arms;

    And the people of Antissa after admitting the Chian exiles expelled them by arms;

    And the people of Zancle after admitting settlers from Samos were themselves expelled;

    And the people of Apollonia on the Euxine Sea after bringing in additional settlers fell into faction;

    And the Syracusans, conferred citizenship on their foreign troops and mercenaries and then faction set in and they came to battle; and the Amphipolitans having received settlers from Chalcis were most of them driven out by them.

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