Armand D'Angour, The Greeks and the New: Novelty in Ancient Greek Imagination and Experience
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 37-38:
From this background Aristotle proceeds to reflect briefly on the question
of political innovation in general, concluding that a distinction should be
drawn between tekhnē, the sphere of specialist disciplines, and nomos, that
of law and politics. Regarding laws, he says,
a case may be made for the view that change (kīnein) is the better policy. Certainly
in other branches of knowledge change has proved beneficial. We may cite in
evidence the changes from traditional practice which have been made in medicine,
in physical training, and generally in all the arts and forms of human skill; and
since politics is to be counted as an art or form of skill, it can be argued logically
that the same must also be true of politics.6
This analysis recalls the words attributed by Thucydides to the Corinthian
envoy to Sparta in 431:
In politics as in technology (tekhnē), the new (epigignomena) must always prevail
over the old. The established traditions may be best in a settled society, but
when there is much change demanding a response there must be much innovative
However, Aristotle ends his discussion by rejecting the parallel between
law and tekhnē, and poses a series of questions about pertinent differences
in the implementation of political innovation:
We must also notice that the analogy drawn from the arts is false. To change the
practice of an art is not the same as to change the operation of a law. It is from
habit, and only from habit, that law derives the validity which secures obedience.
But habit can be created only by the passage of time; and a readiness to change
from existing to new and different laws will accordingly tend to weaken the general
power of law. Further questions may also be raised. Even if we admit that it is
allowable to make a change, does this hold true, or not, of all laws and in all
constitutions? And again, should change be attempted by any person whatsoever,
or only by certain persons? It makes a great difference which of these different
alternatives is adopted . . . We may therefore dismiss this question for the present.
It belongs to a different occasion.8
6 Ibid. [Arist. Pol.] 1268b33–8.
7 Thuc. 1.71.3. See further Chapter 9, p. 221.
8 Arist. Pol. 1269a19–28.