19 Jul 2011

This City of Gold: The Importance of Wealth-Seeking (Chrematistics) for the Flourishing of Cities, in Aristotle's Politics, Book 7, Part 6

by Corry Shores
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This City of Gold:
The Importance of Wealth-Seeking (Chrematistics)
for the Flourishing of Cities

Summary of
Book 7
Part 6
Paragraph 1

What does our own city's wealth acquisition got to do with us, its citizens?

Perhaps we have lived in a city when it saw bad times, and at another point, when it saw better times (or perhaps we moved between cities, noticing the disparity in their economic life). Although we might have enjoyed life just as well in both cases, was there not a lighter more carefree spirit in cities that are economically thriving? Did we not when times were good go out on wild nights on the town ("We'll burn up the town!" we hear Chaplin's friend declare in
City Lights)?

Drunk party scene with well-to-do crowd in Chaplin's City Lights
"We'll burn up the town!"

It seems understandable that many people would want their city to be succeeding well economically. One way this is possible is through increased trade. And a harbor allows enormous amounts of goods to pass to and from our cities. So cities with access to the sea can have an economic advantage over those which do not. And we might be led to believe that the economic prosperity harbors bring, the continual capitalistic increase of wealth to our city, is a good thing generally speaking for its citizens.

Brief summary

A city should have access to the sea both for strategic military defense and also for economic advantages. This access will allow a city to continually acquire wealth through export, rather than just lose wealth through mere import of needed goods.

Points Relative to Deleuze


Book 7
Part 6
Paragraph 1

It is best that a city be connected with the sea. This provides greater safety and access to needed goods. The military is better capable of defense if it may attack both by land and sea, using one front in support of the other. And a port greatly facilitates trade with other cities. What is interesting here is the unilateral view Aristotle takes regarding this trade. Recall from Aristotle's Politics, Book 1 how it is more natural (and less 'perverted') to conduct non-chrematistic exchange (exchanging not for profit but for the use-value of the good, like buying a shoe so to wear it rather than to sell it to someone else at a profit), and recall from Marx's Kapital how such exchanges are commodity-money-commodity (C-M-C) rather than the chrematistic money-commodity-money (M-C-M) cycles, in other words, exchanges meant to obtain the use of the good rather than make capitalistic profit from it. So we would think that for Aristotle that he would favor a view that would say each city's market has the natural role of equal exchanges to supply, in a non-profiteering way, other city's with their needs while satisfying its own. But what he says here suggests a profit-making or chrematistic perspective.
Moreover, it is necessary that they should import from abroad what is not found in their own country, and that they should export what they have in excess; for a city ought to be a market, not indeed for others, but for herself. (Aristotle, Politics, 1327)
It seems the idea here is that a city should not merely be a marketplace that just imports what it needs from other cities. It should also sell-off its excess goods for a wealth-enhancing profit. So it is not just a market that buys other cities' goods, but also one that sells its own to them, presumably for the sake of wealth acquisition, which will help the city thrive.

From Benjamin Jowett's English translation at Adelaide:

Book 7
Part 6

Whether a communication with the sea is beneficial to a well-ordered state or not is a question which has often been asked. It is argued that the introduction of strangers brought up under other laws, and the increase of population, will be adverse to good order; the increase arises from their using the sea and having a crowd of merchants coming and going, and is inimical to good government. Apart from these considerations, it would be undoubtedly better, both with a view to safety and to the provision of necessaries, that the city and territory should be connected with the sea; the defenders of a country, if they are to maintain themselves against an enemy, should be easily relieved both by land and by sea; and even if they are not able to attack by sea and land at once, they will have less difficulty in doing mischief to their assailants on one element, if they themselves can use both. Moreover, it is necessary that they should import from abroad what is not found in their own country, and that they should export what they have in excess; for a city ought to be a market, not indeed for others, but for herself.

Those who make themselves a market for the world only do so for the sake of revenue, and if a state ought not to desire profit of this kind it ought not to have such an emporium. Nowadays we often see in countries and cities dockyards and harbors very conveniently placed outside the city, but not too far off; and they are kept in dependence by walls and similar fortifications. Cities thus situated manifestly reap the benefit of intercourse with their ports; and any harm which is likely to accrue may be easily guarded against by the laws, which will pronounce and determine who may hold communication with one another, and who may not.

There can be no doubt that the possession of a moderate naval force is advantageous to a city; the city should be formidable not only to its own citizens but to some of its neighbors, or, if necessary, able to assist them by sea as well as by land. The proper number or magnitude of this naval force is relative to the character of the state; for if her function is to take a leading part in politics, her naval power should be commensurate with the scale of her enterprises. The population of the state need not be much increased, since there is no necessity that the sailors should be citizens: the marines who have the control and command will be freemen, and belong also to the infantry; and wherever there is a dense population of Perioeci and husbandmen, there will always be sailors more than enough. Of this we see instances at the present day. The city of Heraclea, for example, although small in comparison with many others, can man a considerable fleet. Such are our conclusions respecting the territory of the state, its harbors, its towns, its relations to the sea, and its maritime power.

Online Text:
Aristotle. Politics. Transl. Benjamin Jowett. ebooks@Adelaide. 2007

PDFs at Archive.org

Original Greek
Aristotelous ta Politika. The politics of Aristotle. With English notes by Richard Congreve (1855)

English Translation
Aristotle's Politics (1926)

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