The primary concern of political theorists is to determine by what form of constitution the state will most likely succeed. According to Aristotle the definition of political success means the general happiness of the citizenry. Both Aristotle and James Q. Wilson share the belief that molding excellent character within the citizenry is the first and most important step towards solidifying the happiness of the state as a whole. The basic structure of Aristotle’s philosophies are derived by gathering as much information about the history of a subject as possible (in trying to develop the ultimate constitution Aristotle went through 150 constitution from historically great nations) taking from the good and removing the bad Aristotle thought he could develop superior political theories. The conclusion Aristotle came to in his effort to write the perfect constitution was that it was necessary to first pay attention to the development of the parts of a society (the citizens). Once the parts are in harmony the emergence of the whole is the next logical step. In developing political theory Aristotle begins by addressing issues of personal character on a microscopic level believing that in turn this will assist the state on a macroscopic level. Developing character or as Aristotle refers to it, “human excellence” is an activity of the soul, rather than the physical body. Aristotle refers to the cultivation of human excellence as an activity of the soul because on a spiritual level he believes the soul to be the whole of an individual, similar to his belief that on the political level the state is the whole of a group of citizens.
Aristotle’s ideas concerning the relationship between the cultivation of character and the maintenance of a just, free, and orderly political system can be most clearly seen in book VIII of The Politics when he discusses the value of molding the minds of the youth. Aristotle proposes that the constituents of a nation establish the character of government and depending on the goodness of the character formed a political structure either sinks or swims.
What Aristotle is saying is that in order to put together a political system of maintained justice, freedom and order, society must start with the right materials. The “right materials” are young minds trained to pursue the virtues that comprise excellent adults. The sentence at the end of the first paragraph of book VIII of The Politics shows the value Aristotle placed on excellent character being a fundamental part of excellent government where he says the better the character, the better the government. The issue of government policy concerning character formation and the implications of politicians passing legislation specifically aimed at improving moral character as a means of eliminating social ills is precisely the same issue James Q. Wilson addresses in his essay The Rediscovery of Character: Private Virtue and Public Policy.