Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Aristotle: Subsidiarity, Virtue, and the Good State

Grim begins with Aristotle's Politics.

...He who thus considers things in their first growth and origin, whether a state or anything else, will obtain the clearest view of them. In the first place there must be a union of those who cannot exist without each other; namely, of male and female, that the race may continue (and this is a union which is formed, not of deliberate purpose, but because, in common with other animals and with plants, mankind have a natural desire to leave behind them an image of themselves), and of natural ruler and subject, that both may be preserved.  ...
The family is the association established by nature for the supply of men's everyday wants, and the members of it are called by Charondas 'companions of the cupboard,' and by Epimenides the Cretan, 'companions of the manger.'

So.  The first unit of any civilization is the family.

...But when several families are united, and the association aims at something more than the supply of daily needs, the first society to be formed is the village. And the most natural form of the village appears to be that of a colony from the family, composed of the children and grandchildren, who are said to be suckled 'with the same milk.' And this is the reason why Hellenic states were originally governed by kings; because the Hellenes were under royal rule before they came together, as the barbarians still are.

The second is the village--or in Ari's case, more or less the extended family.

...When several villages are united in a single complete community, large enough to be nearly or quite self-sufficing, the state comes into existence, originating in the bare needs of life, and continuing in existence for the sake of a good life. And therefore, if the earlier forms of society are natural, so is the state, for it is the end of them, and the nature of a thing is its end. For what each thing is when fully developed, we call its nature, whether we are speaking of a man, a horse, or a family. Besides, the final cause and end of a thing is the best, and to be self-sufficing is the end and the best.

Hence it is evident that the state is a creation of nature, and that man is by nature a political animal

The third is the State.

Here's an interesting side-observation:

...And he who by nature and not by mere accident is without a state, is either a bad man or above humanity; he is like the. "Tribeless, lawless, hearthless one, " whom Homer denounces- the natural outcast is forthwith a lover of war; he may be compared to an isolated piece at draughts.

Telling, no?

There's more.  But the summary provided by Grim is sufficient:

Aristotle's politics is linked to his ethics:  a state is righteous to the degree that it permits and encourages virtue in the individual.  The point of a good state is to permit a good man to live a good life.

Anent that, recall Ari's golden three:  Goodness, Truth, Beauty.  Ergo--what is not "true" ipso facto cannot be "good."  Christ re-formulated that 'three' into this:  Way, Truth, Life.  Logically, then, what is against Life is not True, nor Good; what is against "Way"--or 'road'--is not, either.  "Way" is crucial to a righteous State--and that's what the fight is all about.


Anonymous said...

A beautiful and eloquent abstraction that's virtually meaningless to most people. You sound just like a Bishop. TECHNICALLY CORRECT AND YET IRRELEVANT TO MOST PEOPLE'S EXPERIENCE - REVEL in your own intellectualism all you want and proudly proclaim how right you (and you are). But it's going right over the heads of most people in the U.S. who read at a 10th grade level. Their the ones who rationalized their votes for the Community-Organizer-in-Chief.

Grim said...

A surprisingly large number of the people who voted for Obama have postgraduate degrees. Their issue isn't that they can't read above a 10th grade level, but that they bring an interpretation to him that makes it had for them to really hear what he is saying. The Politics starts with some meaty stuff: sex and slavery. By the time most contemporary readers get through a couple of sexist assumptions and the justification for natural slavery, they've tuned out.

Which really is a shame, because Aristotle is very much worth reading. His Nicomachean Ethics remains the gold standard for ethical thought; and his Physics, for all that we no longer believe he was right about almost anything, is one of the most rewarding books you can take the time to understand. The problems and questions he raises are still the problems and questions we're thinking about now: there remains a huge debate about the status of the infinite, for example.

By the way, Dad, Goodness, Truth and Beauty are transcendentals. What that means is that everything participates in them to some degree. (Being is another of these: Aquinas says that being and goodness are actually the same quality.) So it's right that what is not true can't be good; but it's also the case that everything is at least a little true. Bill Clinton's lie about Monica was still true in a sense: it was truly a lie.