There are three true forms of political constitution and a corresponding number of corrupted forms:
- Monarchy, the best of the true constitutions, turns into tyranny when it is perverted. Both are rule by one man, but a king is concerned with the good of his subjects while a tyrant only looks out for his own good. Wicked kings invariably turn into tyrants.
- Aristocracy (rule by the best) turns into oligarchy (rule by the wealthy) when it is corrupted. The best and most honest men have power in an aristocratic state and all goods are distributed on the basis of merit. In an oligarchy a few rich men have power as a result of their wealth and nothing else.
- Timocracy is the system where political power is based on property qualifications and is considered government in the interests of the people since all who meet the qualifications are held to be equal. It easily deteriorates into democracy (rule by the people) since both tend to be government by the majority. Democracy is the least bad of the perverted constitutions since it deviates least from its corresponding true form.
There are many resemblances and analogies to all these constitutions in the realm of household and family, and these may have been the original models used by legislators when states first came into being and constitutions were devised (e.g., the true relation between a father and his sons corresponds to monarchy, the association of a master and his slaves corresponds to tyranny, etc.).