Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Way We Are and The Warning from Aristotle

Fr. James Schall essays on the current situation in America, and tells us why our regime is averse to truth.  Of course, we have allowed that aversion--in fact, we have voted for it in many instances.

...Aristotle described the various configurations that are found among civil states to describe the purpose of their rule and the institutions or divisions of power designed to foster it. He reduced them to three general types—monarchy, aristocracy, and polity—and their corruptions—tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. In addition, we have various types of “mixed regimes” that seek to combine the three simpler forms to counteract the inadequate elements in the other forms....

...The construction of the legislature, executive, and judiciary was designed to carry out most effectively the ends of the regime, be they good or bad. Aristotle also noticed that besides ruling principles according to numbers of one-few-many, each regime also had an intelligible end. The tyrant ruled for himself; the oligarchs usually ruled for money, and the democrats ruled in favor of poorer classes to obtain a liberty that had no purpose but what the individual wanted. The American founders were quite familiar with this background of Greek and Roman political thought. ...

Note the 'democrat' warning above.

[In modern parlance, d]emocracy means majority rule, individual (not community) “rights,” power located in a central ruling body, freedom to do what one wants, and government support for this random freedom. No higher law or purpose is admitted. Nothing is permitted in the public sector that does not conform to state-established laws, themselves changeable. Such a state conceives itself, as it were, as “the kingdom of God” without God

In contrast:  I use the term in the Greek sense—that is, a regime of the many that has no internal principle of rule other than the “liberty” or “freedom” to do whatever one wants. Obviously, a government composed of people who can do whatever each one wants can itself, as Hobbes intimated, do whatever it wanted. In addition, democracy is a regime of the poor who work through the government for the redistribution of goods without much realization of how they are produced. The government in such a democratic regime is conceived as a facilitator for the accomplishment of these distibutionist and free-choice ends. In practice, it is out of this chaos of unlimited choice that the rhetoric of the “leader of the people,” as Aristotle called him, arises. 


...there is such a thing as a “democratic tyranny.” Liberty without limits or principle undertakes to suppress any criticism of itself and its ways. The people are not citizens who rule themselves. They are state objects who are ruled for their own good. Rousseau’s famous law that everyone must be forced to obey because he only obeys himself is the essence of democratic tyranny and its justification...

Sound familiar?

Schall looks at the real organization of society as Aristotle understood it:

...Aristotle understood that a civil society is made up of many different entities—families, tribes, villages, trades, religions, and organizations....

We call those "intermediary institutions."  The Catholic church recognizes them as an essential category of civilization.  Schall notes the other understanding which arose from "the Enlightenment":

...The modern notion of polity from Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau—that the state is an organization made up of separate individuals over against the state—is foreign to Aristotle. In Aristotle’s tradition, human society is made up of many lesser communities, each with its own legitimacy, order, and purpose, none of which is formulated by the polity. The state does not “create” them but only at best recognizes them and provides for an order in which they can flourish. The state is the entity that gives order to other communities. They do not depend on the polity for what they are.  

 In the modern state, these entities, including religion, do depend on the state for their public existence and definition.

And of course, 'dependency' leads, ultimately, to 'subservience.'

...The primary difference between the regime in which we now live and that of the Aristotelian tradition is that, originally, the state was understood to depend on a right order or natural law. Man was by nature political. The state was not itself defined by or subject to its own arbitrary will. In other words, all regimes are subject to judgment even if their laws and customs are “freely” and “democratically” arrived at, even if they serve what the people “want.” Therefore, the distinction of good and bad regimes is based on the difference between good and evil in personal human action. The presence or absence of virtue in the souls of the citizens and their chosen ruler was the proper context of political things. ...

Aristotle would laugh out loud at "social justice," or "sinful structures."

...The United States today has a “constitution” but it is not “ruled” by a constitution. No branch of the government conceives itself to be really limited by the provisions of the constitution. The executive rules by decrees. He selects the laws he will or will not enforce. The courts decide by the will of the judges and their often odd philosophies. The legislature decides what is right by what passes into law. While there may still be some who “follow” the constitution, in practice, they are relatively insignificant. In this sense, Aristotle is a better guide to what we actually are than any of our thinkers, media, or politicians.  He understood what happened in political regimes of actual human beings. What he described is largely what we see before us, if we would but look.

And what does this mean in practice?

...The country’s course is now explained by a “rights” theory of what it stands for. Man is not by nature a “social and political animal,” but a solitary one. Society is only needed to protect the individual’s “rights” against those of others. The state, an independent entity over and above the individuals, is comprised of individual units that have “rights.” They are not “citizens” in Aristotle’s sense. Everything is entitled to them. They belong to nothing but themselves, no family, association, church, or community. Government deals directly with them as isolated beings. These “rights” do not derive from nature but from the will of a people who recognize no limit to their individual freedom to do what they want with their lives. ...

So what IS the way we are?

...The state itself is a struggle for power, for who can promise most and control most. The ruler is beyond good and evil. He must be able to use flattery and force effectively. The ruler is lonely, with few if any friends....His greatest fear is that there is a truth to things, including human things. This is why the real enemy of the present regime is the claim that truth exists, that everyone, including rulers, is bound and judged by it

That is the definition of 'democratic tyranny' in Ari's conception.

The tyrannical answer to truth is a form of “bread and circuses” wrapped in a self-righteousness that brooks no criticism. The political enterprise is conceived as taking care of the needs of the populace. It also makes the people dependent on the state and beholden to is. The populace is left in a condition of boredom and passivity, especially about ultimate things...

And that's the Way We Are.

Buy.  More.  Ammo.

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