For politics to measure up to reason, two requirements have long been acknowledged: first, that the ends of political action be universal, and second, that the pursuit of such universal ends consist in political self-determination, that is, in self-government.
Aristotle set the stage for all further political inquiry by distinguishing political association through the universality of its end or good, while identifying the end of politics with political activity itself, an activity in which citizens rule over one another while presiding over all other associations, which fall under political dominion owing to the particularity of their pursuits. Aristotle joined the universality of politics with the activity of self-rule by recognising political activity to be an end in itself that is also a master end for the sake of which all other conduct is to be pursued. As such, politics was itself the highest good, making ethics possible by overcoming the hegemony of instrumental action, whose every end is devoid of intrinsic value, leaving conduct ultimately pointless (see Aristotle 1984b: Nicomachean Ethics, 1094a18-1094b12).
Two corollary difficulties, however, undermine Aristotle's enterprise. On the one hand, he is unable to give the universal end of political association a non-arbitrary content. Politics may claim universality by being both an end in itself and a master end, but this is just a recipe for ‘might makes right’, where any prevailing rule would be identical with the highest good. Appeal to a distinctly human function or to forms of rule that pursue the common good rather than the particular interests of some ruler can provide no remedy.