Aristotle begins his discussion of human communities by stating that they are all formed to fulfill certain needs that humans perceive as good and desirable. Aristotle admits that many animals are political by nature – for instance, bees cannot normally exist outside the community of the hive. However, speech, which grants the ability to articulate complex yet essential concepts of justice and virtue, makes humans the most social and political creatures of all. This propensity for realizing their social and political nature forces humans to enter social relations and form communities in the first place. Since the realization of human nature, with its emphasis on employing reason and socializing, is Aristotle’s theoretical construct, one may also consider an Aristotelian state an example of imagined order.
Aristotle lists four basic types of communities that naturally arise in human society – a marital union, a household, a village, and a state. Each of these has its particular purpose and reason to exist. For example, the union of man and woman serves to fulfill the need for procreation, which is present in humans as well as in any other animals. The household is necessary for the preservation of its members by supplying them with their basic daily needs, which is made possible through the authority of a single-family leader, usually the oldest male. The village is a community of several families united in pursuing the satisfaction of more than the simplest daily needs. Finally, the state, the highest of all communities, appears when several villages can form a self-sufficient economic entity independent from external parties and want the safety and convenience of a common government. Yet apart from the benefits of administrative centralization, the state satisfies the need for socialization and creates opportunities to exercise reason. Thus, originally organized for supporting life per se, the state ends up a vehicle for promoting a life of virtue.
An essential aspect of Aristotle’s political philosophy is his perspective on the relationship between masters and slaves. He proclaims early on that the relationship between a master and his slave is almost as fundamental as the relationship between a man and a woman necessary for procreation. As far as Aristotle is concerned, slavery is completely natural because some human beings are inferior to others. According to him, inferior creatures fare better in servitude because they receive better care than they can provide for themselves. For instance, a tame dog in a household will eat better than a wild wolf. Similarly, a master fares better when having slaves because they can be used as instruments of action, using other instruments for a productive purpose. Hence, Aristotle outlines the relationship between masters and slaves as naturally justified and economically practical at the same time.
As for the free citizens, Aristotle’s definition of those is noticeably different from those employed in contemporary liberal democracies, such as the USA. For him, citizenship is not a universal right but a privilege to participate in the matters of the state, and only a certain proportion of the population can be entitled to it. While in the contemporary American understanding, everyone born within the USA is a citizen, Aristotle imposes harsher requirements on the matter. From his perspective, a citizen ought to have sufficient leisure to partake in public offices and sufficient wealth to practice virtue without having to work day and night for subsistence. In other words, Aristotle’s citizens are a wealthy and privileged class, quite possibly small in proportion to the general population. Their defining qualification is having sufficient time and material resources to devote themselves to self-improvement and improvement of their state.