Polity Explained

For other uses see Polity (disambiguation).

Polity (Greek: Πολιτεία or Πολίτευμα transliterated as Politeía or Políteuma) was originally a term used by Aristotle to describe a political system that is a combination of an aristocracy and a democracy. Aristotle theorized that the problems of democracy such as rule of the ignorant masses would be kept in check by the wealthy. In turn, the problems associated with oligarchy such as rule of the wealthy would be kept in check through the rule of the many. However, as Aristotle pointed out in his work Politics, there needs to be a large middling element such as a middle class to help balance the rule of the wealthy and the rule of the few, and divide power accordingly between the groups. In Ancient Greece, polity referred to the many Greek city states that had an assembly of citizens as part of the political process. Suffrage did not include women, slaves, serfs, or resident aliens. Thus, voting citizens usually included only a minority of the adult males. The assembly did not hold absolute political power, however, the way it did in a classical democracy (e.g. Athens in the days of Pericles), but rather shared power with a more oligarchic body such as an elected council or a hereditary gerousia or Senate. By this definition, the Athenian democracy was originally a polity under the laws of Solon; the reforms of Cleisthenes, in the view of Aristotle in his Politics, began the descent of the Athenian polity into a corrupt democracy.

Today, polity is used as a general term referring to the political organization of a group. It can be used to describe a loosely organized society such as a tribe or community, but can mean any political group including a government or empire, corporation or academy. Polity is used in the phrase ecclesiastical polity as a synonym for church government.

See also