Aristotle on Excellence in Leadership

"But when a whole family, or some individual, happens to be so preeminent in excellence as to surpass all others, then it is just that they should be the royal family and supreme over all, or that this one citizen should be king."(1288a15-20)

The key to Aristotle's quote is hidden in his definition of excellence. In Aristotle's context excellence refers to the excellence of a citizen "relative to the constitution of which he is a member." (III: 4, 30-32) A state is defined by its constitution. The salvation of the state's constitution is the common interest of every citizen of that state. A citizen's excellence therefore is measured by his ability to work towards the salvation of the constitution. With an understanding of Aristotle's definition of "excellence" the meaning of his quote becomes quite simple. When a family or a person demonstrates superior excellence relative to his constitution, that family or person should rule the state.

A citizen who is so preeminent in "excellence" is not the equal of the rest of the citizens of the state or at least his "excellence" does not equal that of the rest of the citizens. This citizen does not fit the mold of the common man. He is an outlier. Therefore, something must be done with him. The community could ostracize the supremely "excellent" citizen for having a quality different from the qualities of the majority. However, this course of action would only waste the gift of a small part of the whole and promote mediocrity. The other option, Aristotle's suggestion, is to utilize the gift of the preeminently "excellent" citizen to protect the state's constitution by making him the ruler of the state. Aristotle further justifies his position by stating that a citizen should not be made the ruler of a state because of his wealth or his ancestry. Unless by some chance wealth or ancestry affects the ability of a citizen to work towards the interests of the constitution. Of course the wealthy citizens and those citizens of glamorous ancestry should not be denied the chance to rule the state, for the ruler should be chosen for his "excellence" alone.

Even in modern democracies like our own Aristotle's ideas hold true. When we vote in the election of the ruler of our country we, theoretically, are voting for the single most "excellent" citizen of our nation. That is we are voting for that citizen who can do the best job of working towards our common interests. The citizen of a state who has the greatest ability to work towards the salvation of the constitution has a gift that all citizens can benefit from. It only makes sense to beseech that citizen to lead the rest of the citizens in working towards the common interests of the state.