Saturday, January 17, 2009

Aristotle and the devolution of the state ...

In the Nicomachean Ethics [I.2] Aristotle says "... now, since politics uses the rest of the sciences, and since, again, it legislates as to what we are to do and what we are to abstain from, the end of this science must include those of the others, so that this end must be the good for man. For even if the end is the same for a single man and for a state, that of the state seems at all events something greater and more complete whether to attain or to preserve; though it is worth while to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for city-states."

I'm not going to bore you with a lot of Aristotle, but I do want to note that his teleology gives a high place to politics, one which can not be discerned in our current leaders. For if the end of politics is the good of all men, then how is it that in our own day it is so rife with hostile partisanship?

That's a rhetorical question of course and you probably expect me to launch off on my answer. I'd like to do that but I really don't have an answer except one that is quite unpopular. I think we have simply lost our way and in abandoning the kind of thought which Aristotle represents we've replaced it with with nothing but a kind of selfish commitment to personal gain whether it be wealth or power that is the principle end. Thus we find venal men and women rising to the highest positions in our government and contending with one another to be King or Queen on the mountain. (That's a game we used to play when I was a boy. Since no one goes out anymore except for organized, homogenized, and bureacratized sports, unless you're over fifty or sixty you probably have no chance of remembering it.)

The point of course is that without an end such as Aristotle postulates the state soon enough devolves into a kind of plunder of the people's treasure. I think that may be what we are seeing, as in the name of saving us the government showers billions of dollars on the incompetents that were co-conspirators with the government in creating the problem in the first place.

Is there a solution? Is hope and change the answer? Does President [to be as of this writing] Obama look like someone with answers? Color me skeptical. I've heard nothing but tired, much traveled bromides coming out of the victorious Democratic party. Another New Deal? If so, hunker down for a long slide to the bottom and a big war at the end. That's what happened last time. Why would you expect anything different?
I think what we really need is a return to more ancient and wiser notions of the purpose of politics and the state. The founders of our republic knew what they were doing, but we have lost our way.

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