Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More Aristotle--On Polities

A reminder of societal objectives from the old dead Greek guy.

The essayist, Patrick Deneen, is a PolySci prof at Georgetown.

...sharing the view of Aristotle that a proper economy is cognizant of limits to moneymaking in the name of fundamental human goods of which prosperity is a part, but only a part. Those goods include healthy and stable communities which are both formed by culture and in which cultures are maintained and preserved; a sound culture that inculcates central human virtues and that is ably passed on from one generation to the next; a culture that makes and keeps good families; a culture that inculcates the very virtues that will be necessary for a good, humane, and moral economy (one that avoids the abuses that we have recently seen in our financial markets); a culture that strongly emphasizes a sense of gratitude and obligation between generations; a culture that encourages stewardship, conservation and fidelity; and perhaps above all, a culture that reins in and chastens our eternal temptation toward Promethean or sinful self-aggrandizement, that teaches and enforces limits, that calls to our mind our flaws, and that does not allow us to lose sight of our fundamental condition of being dependent upon one another. A further good is our ability to act in concert with one another to achieve and maintain such a culture and polity - citizenship as shared and mutual governance, which goes far beyond our current conception as citizenship as suffrage.

So--which Party currently runs America? Or better put, which Party orients the polity?

This general form of a polity is a legitimate end of guvment, but it is one that is now largely rejected in our own society in the name of individual liberation from such culture - on the Right, in the name of economic liberty and unlimited growth, and on the Left, in the name of personal autonomy. Because we are so often engaged in the discrete political battles of our day - and I wouldn't suggest that they don't matter, for they do - nevertheless, we easily lose sight of the deeper similarities between our two main Parties, parties that are both defenders of what John Stuart Mill indicated was actually one Party - the Party of Progress.

Mill didn't have much use for the other guys, today's Burkeans:

In our current society there are few defenders of what he identified as the other Party, the Party of Tradition. Mill was a severe critic of this latter Party, inasmuch as it discouraged what he called "experiments in living" and the obstruction of our experience of ourselves as "progressive beings." The Party of Tradition, he suggested, held the view that humanity had a certain kind of nature and end, and thereby sought in various instances to limit or restrict activities that it viewed as contradictory to that nature and end. He was particularly scornful toward traditional religion that sought to restrain our acquiescence to our appetites: he viewed "Calvinism" as pessimistic and restrictive.

...and since Mill's 'Calvinism' died about 100 years ago with the Lambeth Conference, it's likely that Mill's spleen would be vented at the Roman Catholic Church today.

And the effect of this Party of Progress?

...we are not truly capable as a society of debating over legitimate ends, because very few of us are even able to articulate any alternatives.

There is a legitimate debate to be had. It cannot be had, however, because we are largely incapable of considering whether "liberty" as we currently define it (largely the absence of restraint) is even debatable

Properly, "liberty" is the freedom to do what is right...

Were that debate to be advanced, it's entirely possible that Gummint could recede:

...what is at issue is not "guvment" vs. our liberty, but a different conception of liberty altogether - one in which, ultimately, we govern ourselves by governing our appetites, and in so doing become ourselves a government, a democracy of citizens (not "consumers") enacting laws that we impose upon ourselves with an appropriate and chastened acceptance of limits and humility

(I was with him until he mentioned 'humility.')

But in reality, as "progress" of the Left or Right strains at bounds, Gummint grows to counter the strain--preventing a hernia, more or less.

So--is this a re-work of the "nominalism" thing, or the "relativity" thing?

Yes. The Party of Progress must define Ends; and those Ends are not necessarily the Ends which Aristotle (and Aquinas, and others such as Hawthorne and Melville, Orestes Brownson, Henry Adams, Jonathan Edwards, Santayana and Royce, the Southern Agrarians, Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, Christopher Lasch, Alasdair MacIntyre and Wendell Berry) defined. Therefore by definition they are either 'relative' or 'nominalistic' ends, when viewed against the 'ends' of Santayana and Kirk, e.g.

One may argue that the Ends of the Burkeans are not the best ends. But the argument should be about the Ends, and it's an argument which will not be undertaken so long as the Party of Progress is hegemonic.

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